“The first thing that comes to mind is how un-metal this background music is,” chef, restauranteur, and metal label founder Chris Santos starts. We’re sitting with him in the curtained off gold lounge in the basement of Vandal, a Bowery must-visit restaurant for the hungry art lover, as Justin Timberlake plays over the PA.
Photo Credit: Sean Sullivan
If there is anything better than hardcore it’s puppies, and if there is anything better than puppies it’s finding a way to help puppies that are in need. Enter Kevin Oakley, local NJ show host, fervent hardcore kid and animal rights activist. If you’re part of the New Jersey Hardcore Facebook group, you’ll know him as one of the guys who posts almost every other day. If you’re part of the local show circuit–band or fan–you’ve heard of his mission before. If not, here’s your chance to meet him and get ready for his next Mosh For Paws show on September 23rd featuring acts Suburban Scum, Maximum Penalty, The Banner, Friend Or Foe, Steel Nation, Laid 2 Rest, Jukai, and Threat 2 Society at Mexicali Live in Teaneck.
There are a lot of horror stories out there about the music industry being a ruthless machine; ultimately unfriendly and not beneficial for the artists themselves. Be it just a perception or a harsh reality, there are people who are trying to change that. In the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in intimate artist-created, artist-centric labels. Revival Recordings and Esque Records are a couple that HXC Magazine have personally covered. Now, we’d like to get you better acquainted with L.A. based Luxor Records, currently run by As They Sleep guitarist Nick Morris.
When I first met Chef and metalhead Brian Tsao it was at his Heavy Metal Happy Hour event on Friday the 13th (fitting, right?) at the Kimoto Rooftop in Brooklyn. I stepped into an elevator at the Aloft Hotel and as the attendant pressed the button that would take us more than 20 stories high, one of her fellow employees at ground level asked, wide-eyed, “How is it up there? Is it crazy? Are They smashing guitars?”
“The goal was exposing fans to a variety of bands and we did just that.”
What happens when a show gets cancelled? You turn it into an all day music festival instead. At least, that’s what Dean Santa, 23, of Staten Island did, and that decision has started to put some life into the local scene. Even if it was all by accident.
“Screening my calls?” I accuse, jokingly.
“Yeah (laughs). I was like, who do I know [with a number] from Hackensack, New Jersey?”
Travis is sitting on the other end of this conversation in Sacramento, CA., home to both A Lot Like Birds and Dance Gavin Dance, as well as his recently established record label, Esque Records. It’s this hyper-involvement in the music industry that’s got us talking. Between being a vocalist for multiple prominent bands, putting out his own solo project, being a band manager and now owning a record label, Travis fits the HXC Magazine “Diehard” description.
You’re going on the 10 year tour for Dance Gavin Dance soon, right?
Yeah. A Lot Like Birds is playing. A band I manage called Strawberry Girls (Tragic Hero Records) is gonna be on tour. I feel awesome about it. I feel super stoked. A Lot Like Birds and DGD haven’t done a tour in a while and it’s mostly A Lot Like Birds’s decision. We kind of wanted to branch out and play with other bands other than like the homie bands…But now that we got to do some other tours—we played with Enter Shikari and Stray From The Path and the whole Warped Tour thing a few years ago—it just seemed like a good idea to do another Dance Gavin Dance, homie tour.
So since you’ve done vocals for both bands, will you be making appearances for both bands on tour?
Yeah. I’m supposed to do three songs with [DGD]. I’ll probably do four. They’ll probably get me to do another one. Jonny (Craig, former vocalist for DGD) is doing the same thing, that’s why Slaves is on the tour. (Laughs) I think he’s gonna be doing a few songs as well. It’s gonna be an easy tour for Tilian (Pearson, current vocalist for DGD). Maybe we should get Tilian to sing on some A Lot Like Birds stuff.
You guys should just swap all your members.
(Laughs) Yeah, it should be really fun. I haven’t toured with DGD in a while and they’re always really fun to tour with. Ticket sales are doing really well, too.
You recently launched Esque Records, too.
Yes, literally like a month ago.
Why did you decide to start that up?
A lot of reasons. For one, I want something for when I can’t sing anymore. I don’t know when that’s gonna be, but you know, if my wife (Lauren Travis, web designer/public relations for Esque Records) and I have kids and I don’t wanna tour anymore…I’ve [also] toured so much that I’ve gotten the privilege to meet all these other bands and they always ask me, “Hey, what do I do to get big?” and I just kind of shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know, just keep doing what you’re doing.” So this is my way of helping other bands out and trying to get them where they wanna be. Also, when touring all over the country and even the world, you get to hear bands that open up for you. When I was younger I didn’t really pay attention much to it, but now that I’m getting a little older and I don’t drink and get fucked up as much, I’m actually paying attention to the talent that’s playing….and now I’m honestly listening to everything that people send me and show me and give me. And I just really want to help the music scene that has helped me. I figured a record label would be the perfect way to do it. Even though CD sales aren’t what they used to be in the decades before us, with the whole technology thing, I still think it’s a big representation, being on a record label. This band is on this record label. Well, why are they on that label? They take care of them and it’s like they’re part of their family. And that’s kind of what I want to have is a family of musicians.
“I just really want to help the music scene that has helped me.”
What kinds of bands do you want to support?
My first band that I put out, they’re called Floral, a two-piece instrumental math rock band. But honestly I’m looking for everything. I kind of want an element of each sound to be representing Esque. And that’s kind of why I named the record label Esque, because the word Esque [means] “to be like something”; my point being that if you’re a part of Esque records you are also like it, no matter what. Even if you are different, you are a part of it. But yeah, we have like, a throwback emo band, they’re called Lemix J. Buckley. We have a band that kind of reminds me of Lower Definition meets Chon, they’re called In Angles. I have an indie pop band called Rome Hero Foxes, and I’m looking to maybe sign a hip hop act. I love rap and hip hop and stuff like that.
Any post-hardcore acts you think you want to sign? Since that’s where you came from as a musician.
There are some post-hardcore elements in In Angles. I manage a band that’s very post-hardcore, they’re called Adventurer, but they’re on Blue Swan Records and that’s kind of a sister label to us. They’re actually the first band that I started managing before I even thought about a record label. I got them signed to Blue Swan Records, and their demo is coming out pretty soon.
So you’ve been in a ton of bands, you manage other bands, you’ve started a record label. What keeps you so motivated to be so involved in the music scene?
Honestly, it is hard to stay motivated. It’s hard to keep the excitement level of anything going. You know, when you’re a kid, you get a new toy, you like it, like a Transformer—I loved my little Transformers when I was a kid—but they’d end up being at the bottom of the toy chest in a week. It’s hard to keep that spark alive, but honestly it’s the bands that I work with. I love every single second of music that they play and it really, really, really excites me to hear new music. So that always recharges me if I’m feeling frustrated…Also [the] fans. I try not to look at comments online just because it gets too overwhelming, but every now and then I’ll look up and see what they’re saying about my solo record or something like that and I’ll see a lot of good comments and it helps me get through it. It really does. This nice lady, she sent me a long Facebook message on my band page and just talked about how I got her through, and when times were hard for her she turned to my music and so that really keeps me going. Hearing things from people and seeing how much I’ve impacted other people. It’s very, very energizing and gets me right back on track if I’m in a slump. Music is definitely the thing that I think I’m supposed to do with my life. It’s been hard financially, mentally, even spiritually sometimes. Weird shit goes on and you just don’t know what to do, but at the end of the day you can look back on what you’ve done and be proud of it. Or even cringe, too.
What are some cringeworthy moments for you looking back?
Oh god, they’re everywhere (laughs). Mostly my very first band, my high school band. I can’t even listen to that whole thing. I was in a band called Five Minute Ride. We actually got pretty big. There’s a lot of kids that still know about that band. I actually got the gig to sing for Dance Gavin Dance because of my old band….So even though it was cringeworthy, it definitely opened some doors for me. You know, you’re always more critical of yourself than other people are but it really is pretty bad (laughs). I used to sing kinda low because my voice was already too high and my band was like, “Dude, you’re singin’ way too high. You need to have a lower, grittier sound.” ‘Cuz it was like, the late 90’s and we really didn’t know what was gonna be popular. It’s weird, it’s super weird (breaks out into laughter).
What about some of your favorite moments?
Oh my gosh. There are so many. That’s the cool thing about having opportunities to tour around the world. I feel like I’ve lived a couple lifetimes already. I’m 31 years old, so I’ve got plenty more to go. But I really enjoyed the last European tour that I did with A Lot Like Birds…So yeah, looking back on the memories, just being able to sightsee with my homies, you know being able to go to like the Eiffel Tower. Those are some really cool memories. I still haven’t gone to Japan. I really wanna go to Japan. I’ve got a frickin’ Totoro tattoo on my arm. I’m really, really about Miyazaki films. But looking back on it, the memories, the sightseeing, being able to hang out with my bros–priceless. It really was.
Interview condensed for clarity.
“The most annoying sound in the world is your own phone ringing,” Marquis Green laughs as his home phone shrieks its way into our interview. While the incessant alarm of one’s phone is sometimes enough to warrant throwing it across the room, what Green admits has him most troubled these days is the current state of the music industry, most particularly, the hardcore scene. A quick Q&A about his business, Triforce Studios, quickly evolves into a manifesto on the over-saturation of media, the under-appreciation of local bands, and what he wants to do to bring about change.
Green began the NYC-based Triforce Studios with friends Daniel Briones and Peter Lanza in 2012. The name, which owes itself to the trinity of founders and not, as many happily assume, to Legend Of Zelda, quickly came to represent more than just a recording studio. The endeavor branched out into the realm of cinematography and even music lessons, filming live shows and taking professional grade photos of both local and well-known acts. While Triforce has showcased names like Our Last Night and Crown The Empire (live video “Menace” below), Green reveals that this is not where his passion lies.
“As far as bigger acts go, I personally try to stray away from working with them because everybody wants to work with them,” says Green. “I feel like to put my work out there that way isn’t going to make much of a difference.” Instead, Green prefers to work with lesser-known bands for the reason that the word ‘local,’ like the word ‘scene,’ has become stigmatized. Having worked with bands like Call It Home, The Machinist, Illusionist, and Young Graves amongst others, Green laments the fact that the local bands who work so hard to get noticed are far less likely to be. “You don’t hear the locals anymore. You hear the word ‘local’ and it’s like, “Oh man, shitty EP production, terrible merch, bad image.’ It’s so negative.”
According to him, this is is partially why many are quick to eulogize the hardcore scene as if it were a thing of the past. “There are too many bands and there are too many promoters and there are too many things that are over-saturating this scene in particular. I feel like a lot of bands don’t get a voice because there is always someone else willing to play that same sound cheaper and look better, look the part. It’s not really allowing the music to be heard firsthand. I think that over-saturation is what’s making people feel like the scene is dead, because in a sense it is because it’s becoming numb to good music.”
Yet Green also claims that the future does not have to be so bleak and believes in his and Triforce’s ability to help change the music climate for the better. As he talks about the future remolding of the company, he does so with a surge of energy in his voice. “We’re going to start packaging media for bands on our featured artists list and then we’re going to give that to them to use to promote [themselves] to labels,” he explains. “We wanna be that line where people say, ‘Oh, you’ve worked with them before? We need to take a closer look at you.’”
So where does this need to help musicians keep their drum heads above water come from? With the mantra of the Studio being, “Triforce is for the people, by the people, and it will always be that way,” one has to wonder why these democratic ideals are so important. The answer lies in Green’s own failings as a musician.
“I have failed multiple times trying to get into the industry, and not because of me. I believe that now that I know the business from the inside, trying to make it and seeing other things drag you down, I know what tools need to be there for you to get an extra foot in the business. That’s why I enjoy working for the people, because I know what it’s like to be you. I know money is always tight and I know that opportunities don’t always come. I want to be able to audition some opportunities for you that you might not have gotten.”
The injustices Green speaks to resonate with a fundamental tenet of HXC Magazine: Never separate the audience from the show. Noting a distinct separation between “The People” and the institution that the music business has become, Green holds fast to the idea that improvements can be made; that the term ‘local’ doesn’t have to be blacklisted as long as the right steps are taken and the right elements put into place for change.
“That’s the urgency we need for the scene,” he claims, and his phone yells out one more time.
Some of you may question what it takes to be a true HXC Diehard. While the answers to that inquiry may be varied, one trait we look for is entrepreneurial spirit. No, we’re not talking about stiffs in suits walking down Wall Street. We’re talking DIY. The term ‘DIY’ is significant enough in the hardcore scene historically, and when applied to bands conjures forth a few well-known facts: Zero label support, hard work, and relentless pursuit of passion. But what about when it’s applied to one person? Meet Leonel Salcedo, founder, manager, and contributor for CrossHeart Industry. We interviewed him for our Diehards section because he had an idea that he chose to follow, and it led him to be not only a participator in his local scene, but an active shaper thereof. Read the interview below to find out more about him, CrossHeart, and what makes the New York hardcore scene worth investing in.
Christopher Tito from Zoumé named you an HXC Diehard—someone who really goes above and beyond for the hardcore scene. Why do you think you deserve this nomination?
[Laughs] I’ve been attending [local] shows for three years. I’ve never missed a show, and I have a bunch of local friends in local bands and I support them. Not only that, but I’m creating a social media platform that help bands promote themselves around the world, and also helps fans connect with every band they wish to.
You’re talking about CrossHeart Industry. How did the idea for that come about?
To be honest, I was just sitting at home and I was just like, ‘Fuck it.’ It was just random, one of those random ideas that just happen and you’re just like, ‘Okay, let me see what I can do with it.’ Things just happened and it ended up shaping up on its own.
So you say it’s a way to help bands promote themselves. How does it work?
So, if you have a new single coming out, you’ll be able to preview it to a few thousand people, depending how much you pay and how much [exposure] you wish. Not only that, let’s say you have an album coming out, you can stream it for free, you could play your whole album on the website. For the fan part, if you attend shows, if you purchase merch, tickets, albums, if you take pictures with the bands you can also earn rewards for doing basic stuff like that. In return you get [more of] the band’s merch, new albums that are coming out, and more.
“They don’t even know your whole history, they just easily become your friends. Just saying ‘hello,’ it automatically sets something off.”
What is your role?
I’m just the founder and manager. I keep the whole team in tact. I’m also a photographer. That’s it for me. We have three other photographers, we have another manager, and we have someone who writes reviews on albums and upcoming events, someone to run our social media websites, and a graphic designer.
Is that how you know Zoumé or did you hang out with those guys before you launched CrossHeart?
That was before we launched CrossHeart. I met Christopher Tito when he was really in his scene phase. I don’t really recall how I met Jeff (Freedman, bass/vocals). One day he just came to one of my parties I threw. Brean (Holguin, drums), I just randomly met. Farhan (Tanvir, guitar) was just from hanging out with the guys.
Where are you from?
I’m Dominican. I was technically born there, but I came to America when I was one year old, so I’m kind of an American in my own way.
Where in the New York area do you live?
I live in the Bronx.
Why has the local NYC scene become so important to you?
Damn, that’s a tough question. I guess one of the main reasons is because I see a lot of my friends struggle with their own bands. A lot of them, their dream is to make it out there and tour the world. I see a lot of these other mainstream bands that really don’t deserve it. So it’s like damn, these guys are really struggling to make it out there and these other bands are like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so beautiful. Sign me.’ It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s just something you grow up with. I’ve been going to shows for three years. I don’t want to say I grew up with those kids, but they became family. When you go to shows, all these kids have their own life but when you chill with them and you hang with them and you actually spend some time with them, it’s so easy off the bat. They don’t even know your whole history, they just easily become your friends. Just saying ‘hello,’ it automatically sets something off. It’s really weird, but cool.
How long have you been working for CrossHeart? Where do you see it heading?
It’s been six months since we’ve started. For the future, we’re planning to launch our beta by this summer. If it goes well, then we’ll become a full website by next year. That’s what I have scheduled for now. But if everything does go well, I’d see us becoming one of the major milestones in the music industry.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I guess it would be Samuel L. Jackson, Dave Chappelle, Lelouch.
Why those figures?
Because Samuel L. Jackson is one badass motherfucker. If I could be any motherfucking badass in this world, it would be him, and I just have to say ‘fuck’ a lot because that’s his character. Dave Chappelle because he’s one of the funniest men on this planet. It’s something great to make people laugh a lot and if you have that talent, fantastic. Lelouch, because he pushed the boundaries of himself and he did anything possible to make his dream true.
Stick To Your Guns, Fit For A King, Scary Kids Scaring Kids.
Why are those your favorite bands?
Honestly, I really don’t know. I’m not a person who listens to music lyric-wise. When I hear it, it’s just something my body is very accustomed to. I can’t explain it.
Who would you name the next HXC Diehard?
Oh, crap. I’ll go with Marquis Green, Hector Sabino, and Tyler Andrew.
Webster Hall is a New York City music venue needing no introduction; a fact well-represented by the black-lettered “Most Tweeted Venue of 2014” printed above the entrance. Yet while many know of the neon-clothed ravers that attend the EDM shows held there, The Studio in the basement remains a haven for the hardcore. It is there in that dark cove of headbangers that we at HXC Magazine became aware of a person who occupies the venue as if he himself holds up the walls. Without fail, every time we attended a show at The Studio @ Webster Hall this person, to whom we affectionately referred as the “Kellin Quinn look-alike,” (so dubbed because the resemblance has affirmed my belief in doppelgängers) would be front and center. He became a fixture for us, a kind of skinny-jean’ed Where’s Waldo. Upon attending the Palisades album release show on January 6th and witnessing him hop on stage for a fierce vocal guest spot during For All I Am’s set, we learned his name is Christopher Tito, he is the vocalist for the NYC metalcore/post-hardcore band Zoúme, and he is an HXC Diehard.