Starting out in a boarding school dorm room sometime in 2004, Run For Cover Records came into existence at a time when trust in labels was at an all time low. The bands that current RFC flagship Modern Baseball would’ve grown up listening to were entrenched in legal battles for unpaid royalties, breaches of contract and just about everything else. It makes sense then that when Jeff Casazza, a high school hardcore kid from Boston, decided to start a label to put out an EP by his friend’s band, he’d be doing so with the intent to do things the right way.
Today, Run For Cover is at the forefront of their genre. If you look at the timeline that runs through these pages and the records on it, it’s almost hard to believe that this is an independent label essentially run by Jeff and a few of his mates. The impact RFC has made, the artist-first ethos and honest approach that they’ve stuck to the entire way through, show that there truly is an alternative way for record labels to operate. A way that puts to bed the myth that you have to be a bit of a bastard to succeed in the music industry.
It wasn’t easy getting RFC to this point, though. While it may have been a manageable start back when Jeff was “pretty much just putting out 7”s for a bunch of hardcore bands I knew,” reflecting on it now in a West London cafe, it’s clear that the early success of the label became something of a double-edged sword.
“In 2010 RFC was still in my apartment,” Jeff recalls. “We had just put out the Title Fight 7” six months earlier, and put out the Man Overboard, Transit, Hostage Calm, Fireworks, Tigers Jaw, Wonder Years LPs when the label was still just me. This could have gone way worse from a label standpoint all considering – the orders all got sent out in a relatively timely manner which was a feat in itself – but the company was growing so quickly mainly due to all these bands gaining a lot of traction all at once, that it became obvious that we didn’t have a lot of resources, especially to the bands who were touring a lot.
“So when bands started signing to Rise, and Triple Crown and these big labels who actually had money and an office and employees, instead of this friend who’s in college with a hobby and boxes all over his bedroom, I think it made sense. I somehow handled all those releases myself to the best of my ability, and the next year is when we hired Tom [Chiari, former guitarist of RFC band Hostage Calm, who has since become Jeff’s right hand man at the label]. At that point we made it a goal to do what we needed to do to provide more resources to our bands and keep bands on our label, which obviously included getting a staff, an office, etc.”
– Sean Huber, Modern Baseball
At this point, in 2011, the label had finally left behind the dorm room it’d long outgrown. Instead, Jeff, Tom and Tay (Sullivan, Jeff’s longtime friend and star of the label’s mega-popular YouTube series, ‘Tuesdays With Tay’) had now set up shop in a friend’s apartment. Boxes still filled the hallways and the living room was dominated by the label’s merch stock, as well as a few Tetris-packed desks, but it was still a significant step up. “Luckily,” Jeff explains, “it was the apartment of Kevin Duquette, one of the guys who ran Topshelf Records, so he understood the mess.”
It was in that apartment where things really started to take off for the label. Riding the momentum generated by Tigers Jaw’s ‘Two Worlds’ album coming out just before the move, the living room office saw the release of Basement’s breakthrough ‘I Wish I Could Stay Here’, as well as its follow up ‘Colourmeinkindness’ and an unpredictably well-received split EP between the then-unknown Citizen and Turnover. (“I think we got about a thousand pre-orders for that, which was insane for bands of their size,” Jeff recalls.) Things went so well, in fact, that the label moved into its first ‘real’ office after only a year and a half and have gone on to need two more office moves since, in order to keep up with the growth of the operation.
Often with growth, especially of such a rapid nature, you’ll find greed following not too far behind. It doesn’t need illustrating that success can all to easily go to the head and see people abandoning their ideals in the quest for more. One glance around at the quotes from bands on the very pages you’re reading however, will tell you that Run For Cover have avoided that particular pitfall and at the core of their operation even to this day is the same artist-first attitude that they set out with back in 2004.
“Honestly, it’s not hard to be accommodating,” Jeff explains. “That’s the whole point of the company really – and if we weren’t, they’d probably hate us. We’re all on the same page at RFC and have the same goals. A band like Captain, We’re Sinking, for example, there’s no crazy expectations on them. Our aim with them is to not lose money on putting them out and there’s no reason for us not to be happy with that just because of how good they are. We just love their music and want to put it out.”
“Yeah, being artist-friendly is pretty much the whole point of us doing this.” Tom Chiari continues. “That’s really just it, we want to give the bands the best platform and service that we can while giving them the best chance to go as far as they can while still being the band they want to be.”
– Brianna Collins, Tigers Jaw
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why bands would sign to them. That noble approach, however, hasn’t been enough to make the label invulnerable to the shittier side of the game. Even early growing pains aside, it’s been far from an easy ride. “A year before Tigers Jaw’s ‘Charmer’ came out,” Jeff reveals, “Brianna [Collins, vocals/keys] had called me to tell me that they were going on hiatus.”
Tigers Jaw, of course, figured things out and with a bit of luck we might even see a new album from the band this year. Some situations have gone much further than a near-miss, though. From having to step out and denounce Whirr late last year after a transphobic attack on queer-punks, G.L.O.S.S., was posted from the band’s Twitter account, to losing bands even in more recent years, RFC have had to navigate some incredibly trying circumstances.
A band wanting out is a rarity these days though, and those that have stuck by the label are reaping the rewards in a big way. “In terms of those bands like Basement and Tigers Jaw, we’ve grown as they’ve grown,” Tom beams. “We’re at a point where we just put out this Basement album and delivered everything they wanted and gave them everything they needed on it, despite how big of a record it was. We’ve taken the label to the point where it’s able to do that. If those bands had gone to some other label that forced them into a five record deal, who knows what could’ve happened? We’re all friends at this point, too. We’re really flexible and it’s all very comfortable and they can fully trust us. Trust is a huge part of it.”
Trust might be a huge part of it, but in 2016 RFC offer a lot more than just niceties. Two years ago, Run For Cover signed a deal with ADA Distribution – a huge operation under the Warner Music umbrella that offers major label distribution opportunities to independents worldwide. It meant that Run For Cover could have 10,000 copies of Tigers Jaw’s ‘Charmer’ pressed and sold (that’s just the first pressing, too), allowing them to bring in and reinvest an entirely new level of revenue.
As a way of paying their success forward, RFC started up their own distribution wing last year, where they exclusively distribute other indie labels’ releases. Currently this outlet works with Double Double Whammy, Exploding in Sound, Count Your Lucky Stars, Broken World Media, Triple B Records and a few others, handling the distribution of all their releases with their distribution partner ADA.
– Sam Ray, Teen Suicide
They didn’t let that newfound clout go to waste for their own goals either. Not long after the success of ‘Charmer’, Run For Cover announced that they’d signed emo-leaning indie-rock legends, mewithoutYou. This was a huge coup for the label since it marked the first time an established band – for perspective, their 2004 record ‘Catch Us For The Foxes’ has sold over a quarter of a million copies to date – chose Run For Cover as their new home.
Jeff and Tom credit producer Will Yip (who RFC have started new label Memory Music with) as being a big part of making the deal happen, as well as taking them to “this really great Chinese place” which Jeff maintains played a key part, but it’s not as though the label wasn’t ready for it. ‘Pale Horses’, the record they signed to release, sold 10,000 copies in its first week, something that wasn’t just a new feat for RFC; incredibly, it was also the first time that mewithoutYou had hit that landmark in that timeframe.
Clearly able to hang with anyone in the game at this point, the future is looking very bright for RFC. As well as starting a new label under RFC called Joy Void (where they’ve put out records for Teen Suicide and Julia Brown already, with more on the way soon), this year they’ve already very successfully released ‘Promise Everything’, Basement’s excellent third full-length, as well as Pinegrove’s ‘Cardinal’ – a country-leaning indie record that’s garnered an impressive amount of attention. Add the upcoming releases from Teen Suicide, Pity Sex and Turnover to that and 2016 looks set to maintain the label’s incredibly positive momentum.
Not forgetting, of course, the small matter of the band who opened this article: Modern Baseball. The Philadelphia-based outfit that Jeff decided he “had to sign as soon as [he] heard three songs off their debut record,” have their third full-length, ‘Holy Ghost’ on the way – a record that looks set to bring both band and label up yet another level still.
“The sky is the limit with that band,” Tom attests, but the label are fully prepared to match their ascent. “We’re able to handle it now,” continues Jeff. “They can sell 20,000 copies or 80,000 copies and we’ll be fine. Macklemore uses the same distributor as us and he sold a million records. We have the scope to do whatever insane numbers they bring in.”
– Alex Henery, Basement
Just as well, too, because judging by the raucous reception the band received at the show that brought the RFC crew to London, they’re a band on the verge of going supernova. As Jeff and Tom finish up their lunch, it’s proposed half-jokingly that what’s around the corner for the label must be at least a little intimidating, but they are unmoved.
“All this is,” Tom concludes, “is the next phase of Run For Cover as a label. We’re ready to move onto having everything selling 50,000 copies.”
Those are ambitious numbers to deliver with the resolute seriousness he carries in his tone, but without that ambition, without the earnestness of their approach, they wouldn’t have made it this far. And if – no, when – they’re proven right in their ambition, you can be damn sure there’s no one out there that will have deserved it more.
Taken from the April issue of Upset, out now – order your copy here.