February 18th, 2015 by Amelia
I know Justin Briggs through MRR. He is one of the characters in San Francisco punk that is still going strong. He has released top-notch local bands here and is an all-around good man with the cutest dogs in the world. Here is Justin on his label and distro Warthog Speak…
Do you love hardcore?
Let’s just say that if I had to choose between friends or records, sorry humans, my dance card is full.
Pretty awkward, right? When I was trying to think of a name for the label I wanted something “different.” In the 2010s most hardcore bands, record labels, distros, and whatever the hell else, are named from song titles, album titles, or lyrics from the same pool of predictable/classic records. I wanted to avoid that. I was also looking for something that related specifically to my beb-punk days by referencing a mid-’90s central-Massachusetts sphere of influence. I scoured the lyrics, song titles, and artwork of the “important” TCHC (Twin City [Fitchburg and Leominster, Mass; not Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN] Hardcore) bands of the era and on first pass I found nothing. I was sure there was something to be found so I looked again. The lyric “Hear the pig, warthog speak…” from the HATCHET FACE track, “Warthog” stood out to me, and “Warthog Speak,” out of context, sounded pretty cool, slightly confusing, and unpredictable, so I stuck with it. But, yeah, in the end I still ended up referencing something created by punks in a previous era.
I guess that works. Why do you release the releases you do?
I do this for me, first and foremost. I and I please I. The bands I ask to release records for are records that I personally want to exist so I can…well, so I can listen to them. I’m my own target audience and I am picky fucker. Don’t get me wrong, I also like to help out my friends whenever possible, but if I’m not fully into the music I’m not gonna release it. As of now, I only plan to do 7″s. There are a couple LPs/12″ EPs always in the back of my mind that if the opportunity arose to release them, there’d be no question. With a 7″ you only have a couple minutes to prove yourself or it’s curtains. To be perfectly honest, there are easily less than 50 LPs that I can listen to in one sitting without getting bored, and nearly all of them were released prior to ’84. Not trying to discredit “modern” music, or anything. I’m trying to discredit all music. As far as my releases go, including what’s at the plant right now, I’ve done eleven records and one demo tape. With the exception of GAG, PERMANENT RUIN, and VACANT STATE, every record I’ve done has been a “debut” record. I think that’s pretty important. All bands eventually morph somehow, and that first record, when their attitudes are more likely to be uncorrupted and everything is still fresh and exciting is most likely to get the most primal offering.
Your last two releases were NARCOLEPTICS and VACANT STATE EPs. How are those selling? Wanna tell us a bit about those bands and how you came to release ’em…
They are actually the first two records where I didn’t know a single member of either band personally prior to agreeing to release their record; odd that they happened at the same time. Both were sent to me unsolicited, and just worked out. VACANT STATE was easy, since I knew the band, liked their previous records and my plate was empty at the time — why not? Great record. NARCOLEPTICS is a different story. I think at the time I got the email from them I was about to leave town for vacation or something. I opened the email and just didn’t have time to respond or listen to the tracks that were attached and just plain forgot about it. Fast forward a month and I stumbled across a link to some band’s tracks—on a message board, I think—and the name rung a bell for some reason, but the tracks I heard were totally ass-kicking. I think it was about a day later that I remembered the name of the band from that email and I went back home to my computer to check. Lo and behold I was right. I wrote back to say how great I thought the record was but that I assumed some brainy, enterprising young label exec certainly must have scooped it up by now, but no one had. Fools!! Haha!! I offered, we worked it out, and the rest is (recent) history. It’s easily one of my favorite records of the last several years. Not just the ones I put out. Since then, Bradley, the NARCOLEPTICS guitarist, who is a native Bay Arean, moved back here and works down the street from my house, so we see each other a few times a week and he’s become a friend. Still never met a VACANT STATEr. They’re both selling well but in different ways. NARCOLEPTICS has been out a couple months longer and the first press is getting very close to being sold out. VACANT STATE is selling at a similar pace, but where NARCOS sold quickly via individual orders, VS is selling more via wholesale. VACANT STATE is also the first record I’ve done where there was a simultaneous European (or any foreign) pressing.
How is your first release different from your last?
I don’t think they are different. I started the label to release the STRESSORS 7″ because after a bit of time trying to help them out and convince Martin to do their 7″, I realized that I should just do it myself, so I did. The ball has kept rolling from there. The CAGED ANIMAL 7″, which was the second release, was supposed to be a demo tape and somehow those idiots convinced me otherwise but I’m glad they did, since I’ve had to repress it twice so far. Now that Tony became a teen sensation… Plus, it’s a cool, pissed off hardcore record. At the time I started Warthog Speak I’d already been working for fairly large, independent record distributor for nine years, so I had the benefit of learning via the mistakes of others and I didn’t have to make them on my own.
What do you have in store for us?
Next up are BUSTED OUTLOOK and FATIGUE 7″s. Both from the Bay Area and both are bangerz. After that I will probably chip in and help TRENCHES with distribution and production of their 7″, but that’s still being worked out. Then I have nothing lined up as of now, so chances are high that I’ll probably be taking a break for a few months while I settle into a new job, but as soon as the right release presents itself…
Who do you use for sleeves, pressing, mastering, and so on? Please, tell us your secrets of a well-oiled label machine.
I haven’t really stayed too consistent with the vendors that I use to manufacture parts. It’s all dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Until recently the only person I used on every single WS (vinyl) release was going to Prairie Cat for cutting lacquers but, unfortunately for the music industry, Mark has now retired. I just used Infrasonic for the BUSTED OUTLOOK lacquers but have yet to hear the tests of that. For audio mastering I’ve used a few people: Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound — he’s a dumbass but he does a killer, highly professional job. Jack Shirley’s mastered a couple. FATIGUE used Jack Control at Enormous Door for their record. For everything else I’ve used Will Killingsworth over at Dead Air and I think he does an excellent job maintaining the big yet gritty tones I enjoy in a recording. For sleeves and inserts I’ve used Imprint a bunch, 1984, and done some myself at K****s. But again, I haven’t stayed consistent. Oh yeah, I’ve used Brian Stern at Bad Skulls for the two screen-printed covers that I did. Another true master of his craft. I’m really looking to work something out with a local printer to try and set up some sort of consistent set up for covers and to designing my own die and all that jazz, but I can’t get one single response and it’s getting super frustrating after contacting printers about once a month for a year or so. For the records themselves, I’ve done one job at Bill Smith and another one there now, and all the rest at Rainbo. The secret to a well-oiled machine is all in the mind of management, tbh.
I do this all out of a love for hardcore punk and hating on squares.
I use Jack Control for all my mastering. Who do you sell wholesale to usually? Do you mostly do wholesale or individual orders? I see you sell in Japan, we all love the Kazu, yes?
Haha, yeah, Punk And Destroy rules. I’ve been been a fan of theirs for a while and ordered a good bit of records from them, but when Kazu wrote to get copies of NARCOLEPTICS, it was my first direct dealing with them on this end and actually the first sales I’ve had to Japan at all, wholesale or individual mailorder. Maybe there were one or two copies early on but I don’t think so. Hopefully that will change. I generally get Warthog Speak releases in with the usual suspect distros: Sorry State, Grave Mistake, Revelation, La Vida Es Un Mus, Feral Ward and a bunch of smaller ones, but I rarely reach out and opt to wait for people to come to me. I have full confidence (and hope) that the tunes I release will speak for themselves via bandcamp sites or whatever, time willing, and people will hopefully hear something they like. But I’m generally of the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” mindset. Is that cocky? Probably, but it’s reality. Except for Revelation. I will always reach out to Rev before they reach out to me, and at this point they sell about 15-20% of what I press. Oddly,r I almost never sell copies through my job unless there’s some sort of non-HC crossover appeal.
It’s not cocky, that’s some TCB right there. Why do you sell what you sell in your web store. Why have a web store?
Being able to piggy-back my shit with records from other labels that I deem kick-ass is a no-brainer.
Isn’t all of this kind of a pain in the ass with very little profit margin and hours wasted at the post office?
Sure it is. As far as profit margin goes, there isn’t one. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking even, I’ve just never crunched the numbers. I doubt I ever will. I’m just happy that some people dig what I dig. Avoiding lines at the post office is real easy if you know how to go about it. However, I am real slow about packing records. Physically assembling records and packing records in boxes is my least favorite part of this whole shebang. I avoid it as long as possible and only pack mailorder once a month or less. Sorry people!!! It’s what I do full time, M-F at my job, so when I get home it’s the last thing I wanna do. As the FEEDERZ say, “Work is a ‘secret touching game’ that molests us all, and what’s touched by work is always ruined.” Packing records is not immune. I have found a great balance of making records pay for records whether you’re talking early hardcore rares or new shit and releasing records, it supports itself to where I can sorta just kick back and let the ox plow.
I’m on a first name basis with my postal employees, it helps! How is the state of hardcore in San Francisco right now?
I dunno. Kinda dead at the moment? There’s quite a few active bands and a crazy amount of secret/studio ones, but there’s nowhere to play, besides bars and a couple rip-you-off-anyway “DIY” spaces, so almost all good shows happen in Oakland now, and I rarely attend. Out of laziness, to be honest, and the fact that there’s never a usable goddamn bathroom, and I always need to shit, so fuck that. It’s sad, ’cause there are so many people in San Francisco moving and shaking for punk, besides bands, but there’s nowhere for it to happen. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with 21+ shows, but the fact of the matter is that bar shows are just a fucking bore. I hate statements like this cause it comes off like “now suux, maaaan,” and it’s not true at all, but when I moved here ten years ago it was a lot more exciting, with good spaces to play, and a giant gene pool of young kids revolving around like WARKRIME, K-BAR, FRAGILE X, SUBURBAN DEATH CAMP and that whole crew. There were hundreds of teenagers showing up to CAREER SUICIDE and STRUNG UP shows at Burnt Ramen and Hazmat and it was insane. Now, I think LIMP WRIST is the only band that can draw those kinda numbers. And it’s usually not teenagers. BOSTON STRANGLER is next week and I’m curious to see if the huge crowd I expect will show up.
I hate bar shows—all ages or bust, baby. I miss WARKRIME too, but punk Brace is dead and never coming back. Have you ever been ripped off buying, selling and trading records?
Not really. The post office losing shit is the only way I’ve been fucked over, as far as the label goes…so far. I can’t claim that I’m perfect either. There are a few personal, decade-plus, very pre-label related trades that I owe people for from the ’90s, where I fucked up/got fucked up and never sent for various reasons, that I’m fully prepared to own up to in whatever way I can, but the majority of the names are long forgotten.
How can we stay up to date with your label?
Sometimes I update warthogspeak.com, or you can email me at , especially if you just wanna chew that fat about FIT FOR ABUSE or ’82 hardcore of the Boston or Finnish variety.
Any last words, Justin?
I don’t know. Hippies, use the side door? I’ve said “I” and “me” and “sell” and “customers” and shit like that quite a bit in this interview, done a bunch of name-dropping, and I’ve talked about punk and music in general as mostly a commodity, but I hope it’s obvious that I do this all out of a love for hardcore punk and hating on squares, and I’d like to think the people that I reach out to in assisting me with getting this shit out there feel the same way about what they do. Live it or leave it. And if you are reading this and have test pressings of any FIT FOR ABUSE records, get at me. I will ball hard. Glad I could sneak that in there. Thanks for the interview, ‘Meels!
See you fucks at the bar.