ROCK LABEL OF THE WEEK: Epitaph Records

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Rock Label of the Week is focused on highlighting some of the biggest – or most obscure- labels that you may – or may not – have ever heard of.

  • Name Of Label: Epitaph Records
  • Founded: 1980
  • Location: Hollywood, CA.
  • Label Type: Independent
  • Distributors: RED, ADA, PIAS, Fontana
  • Genre of Focus: Pop Punk/Punk/Hardcore
  • Current Roster: Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, Every Time I Die, I Set My Friends On Fire, letlive. Parkway Drive, Social Distortion, Weezer.
  • Inactive Roster: Alesana, The Distillers, Escape The Fate, From First To Last, Matchbook Romance, NOFX, The Offspring, The Sound Of Animals Fighting.
  • Website: http://www.epitaph.com/

Epitaph Record’s beginnings were as rock-and-roll as they get: with a band and the desire to distribute. The label was founded in 1980 by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz with the intention of pressing/selling Bad Religion albums. The first album released on Epitaph Records was a self titled EP from Bad Religion, followed by their debut LP How Could Hell Be Any Worse? The Vandals would get signed to Epitaph as the first band on the label other than Bad Religion, and after the release of a couple more albums, the label would take a hiatus from production along with Bad Religion (due to Gurewitz drug addiction.)

In 1987, both Bad Religion and Epitaph were back in full swing. Next year, Bad Religion would release their highly successful album Suffer, and in 1989 NOFX would be signed to Epitaph.  When the 90’s came around, Epitaph had gone on to sign Pennywise, The Offspring, Rancid, Total Chaos, etc. In 1994, the label would explode into success, with releases of NOFX’s album Punk In Drublic, Rancid’s album Let’s Go!, and The Offspring’s Smash (Smash would end up being one of the most successful independent albums of all time, being 6x certified platinum). Gurewitz describes the moment of realized success for Epitaph after the production of Smash:

“One night I was driving home and didn’t want to go in the house because I didn’t want to stop listening to [the Smash mixes]. I started circling the block listening to the record over and over on ten in my old Volvo station wagon. My wife greeted me at the door, and I said, “Honey, we’re gonna be rich.”” [Oral History Of Epitaph]

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The Offspring’s Smash Cover Art.

Through the successes of Epitaph, Gurewitz would make the decision to leave Bad Religion to focus on the label (he would later return to the band in 2001). In 1998, Epitaph created a sister label, ANTI-, that looked to diversify past punk rock. However, the creation of ANTI- would begin to change the face of Epitaph itself. Gurewitz looks back on signing ANTI-‘s first artist, Tom Waits:

“A turning point for Epitaph is when I began talking to Tom Waits. I knew that I didn’t want the label to only be for punk rock. I listened to more than punk rock, and more and more, I had wanted to diversify the sound of the label, particularly if the label was going to continue to work. That was a major milestone. A label that started as a punk-rock label in a garage had the audacity to sit down with Tom Waits. He’s the Bob Dylan of my generation.” [Washington Post]

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Tom Waits.

While Wait’s would sign to ANTI-, the inception of varying genres of rock began to infiltrate Epitaph (this would be key to the continued success of the label as punk rock decreased in mainstream popularity). Epitaph would later connect with Fat Possum (blues label), Burning Heart (Swedish grarage rock label), and Hellcat Records (partnership between Gurewitz and Tim Armstrong of Rancid that focuses on ska, punk, and hardcore music). All these ventures with other companies, and expanding the Epitaph roster, ultimately made the label more versatile.

As the years have gone on, some of the major bands Epitaph would sign would include Story Of The Year, Escape The Fate, Matchbook Romance, Vanna, and Thursday, to name a few. This detraction from the punk image Epitaph used to purely embody has upset many punk fans, especially when the label shares its roster with “emo” bands. To this, Gurewitz says:

“Whatever. They can start their own label.” [Washington Post] 

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Every Time I Die Performance.

Success is the willingness to expand and adapt, and Epitaph is still relevant in the industry because of this. Today, the company has gone worldwide, with offices in Amsterdam, Toronto, and Australia, and the company boasts a group of 50+ employees. While maintaining a “major” indie label status, the brand Epitaph developed still screams rebellion. Throughout the growth of his career and the growth of Epitaph, Gurewitz always stays true to advice his father gave him while he was starting out:

“He told me that the most important thing is honesty and integrity, and having character in your business relationships. If you do that and have a good reputation, no money can ever buy that, and it sticks with you forever. I’m not going to say I haven’t done some shitty things in my life, but I’ve always been a clean-dealing businessman between my customers, my competitors and my recording artists.” [Billboard]

SAMPLE THE CURRENT ROSTER

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