The Tankcrimes Interview with Scotty Heath
Tankcrimes is one of the premier underground record labels of the West Coast, firmly rooted in the do-it-yourself ideology and located in Bay Area CA, Tankcrimes showcases a wide array of leading thrash, punk, metal, and even hardcore bands. Having seen legendary releases from the likes of Annihilation Time, Vitamin X, Voetsek, Toxic Holocaust, and even Cannabis Corpse, label head Scotty Heath sits down with Blow The Scene Editor, Joshua Cohen just a few weeks before the first Official Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze fest (Oct 8-9) featuring almost all of the current Tankcrimes roster and special guest headliner, Municipal Waste.
Joshua BTS: Good-day Scotty! We at Blow The Scene are stoked to get a little Tankcrimes history from you and some insight into the upcoming label showcase, Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze on Oct 8-9!
Scotty at Tankcrimes:Thanks for the interview Josh and also thanks for coming out to see me play with Voetsek this summer in Philly, was great to meet you.
Joshua BTS: Great to meet you all as well! We’ll have to do it again soon! What exactly is Tankcrimes? Obviously you do label work, but is there more to it than that? Do you function as a collective? Have any staffers or friends who help out? Take us back to the early days..How did Tankcrimes come to be? What is the significance of the name Tankcrimes?
Scotty: Tankcrimes is a record label, run by myself here in my garage in Oakland, California. I also book shows here (much less frequently these days) and occasionally tag the Tankcrimes logo onto the bill depending on who’s playing. Over the years I’ve tried to have friends help, but I’m truly a control freak when it comes to my own shit so it hasn’t worked out. The bands are all a part of this but the daily operation is all me. That said I absolutely could not do this without the bands and the hard work of Jason, Tracy and everyone at ILC (Independent Label Collective, distributor), Kent and Lisa at Ebullition (other distributor) and especially Eric Mueller, owner of Pirates Press (manufacturer). I’ve got Mark Reategui working with me on all the layout and design and Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound doing my mastering, both of these guys are true pros and basically sitting at the very top of the underground in their fields, just a scratch below the surface.
Tankcrimes was not only not originally started by me, but wasn’t always called Tankcrimes. In 2002 my first release came out and this is how it happened. My first band, Deadfall had started playing in 2001. At this point I had only been involved in what I consider the true underground for about a year. We were approached at a show at (the now legendary) Burnt Ramen venue by this cool dude Bob Scammon to release a record on his new label, Controlled By Plague. We agreed right there to do the record and were back in the studio at Burnt Ramen within a couple of weeks. Two months later, Bob informed us that he would be traveling all summer and that our records would arrive soon, all of the records. Bobs insanely generous vision of a record label was to just pay for an entire record and hand it over to the band. Suddenly I had 1100 copies of the thing I was the most stoked about in my entire life, I had to get them out to people. So I slowly figured out what to do with them, mostly trading 6 at a time and meeting other small label folks. I got most all my early advise on running the label from Jeff and Athena at Six Weeks Records and also from reading Felix Havoc’s “Wall Street Journal of Hardcore” column in Maximum Rock n Roll. I was absolutely thrilled to be doing this, I was making lots of new friends and really getting the word out on my band. I knew right away I wanted to keep running the label. Shortly after I teamed up with an enthusiastic friend from shows who also happened to be good buds with Bob, who was still on the road. This friend convinced me to keep the Controlled by Plague name, in honor of Bob and also all the work I had done promoting the first release. He also funded the next 2 releases but then quickly faded into a life of hard drugs that set me back a couple years.
I returned as Tankcrimes in 2005 and kept the catalog numbers CBP as a tribute to Bob and his generosity up until my 10th release. Now I’m on #41 and right about to have my first label showcase and it feels really good. The only real tradition maintained over the years is to work with friends. I had only done Bay Area bands for years but as I traveled more, I made more friends worldwide and the label expanded its scope.
The only significance behind the name Tankcrimes is that’s its bad ass. Sounds cool as shit. I made it into one word, and that gets lost, especially since I also use the initials T.C. I came up with it on the bus one day and it was unstoppable, I drew the logo right away and it was a done deal. It can be interpreted many ways and I like that. I also have stuck over 10,000 Tankcrimes stickers around the world in my travels. A lot of people don’t know what it is; they just know the sticker and the word. That’s fine too.
Joshua BTS: What would you say were some early lessons you learned when starting up a DIY label? The good, the bad, and the ugly?
Scotty: The only thing that has ever burned me is consignment, several bigger independent distributors went out of business in the past few years and I’ve lost some records and money that could have worked out cooler for me but what’s done is done, I’m still here and they are gone, that money would be nice though.
The good is, all my friends and their incredible music, I love it. I find it very rewarding to be a part of these records it’s fantastic.
The ugly is the anonymous voice on the internet, cutting down what you work so hard on. I can still get upset and defensive sometimes even though I know better.
Joshua BTS:What has been your criterion for release selection? It would seem that with successful releases from the likes of Annihilation Time, Population Reduction, Voetsek, and more recently Toxic Holocaust, Inepsy, and Cannabis Corpse – you probably have bands beating down your door to drop their new works?
Scotty: All my friends.
Annihilation Time – the dudes I party with here at home in Oakland.
Population Reduction – went to high school with my ex-girlfriend, they’re still here and she isn’t.
Voetsek – easy, I play drums.
Toxic Holocaust – toured Europe with these guys.
Inepsy – booked their first and only California tour
Cannabis Corpse – one of my best buds puts this band together with his brother and introduced me to some other chill ass dudes. I smoke weed.
There are quick and easy explanations like this for all my releases.
As far as bands clamoring to get onto Tankcrimes, my FAQ reads…
*Where do I send my demo?
Preferably to a different label, I strongly discourage you from sending me anything.
*How about if I send you some mp3’s or a link to our myspace?
Please do not do this, I will not respond.
Joshua BTS:With a name like Tankcrimes and a history deeply rooted in punk culture, I am assuming you have some strong beliefs about our current social issues? What is your take on the current state of politics and social dilemmas facing us today? I mean we have oil rigs blowing massive leaks by the day, divisive political campaigns reaching all-time lows, and a general sense of social unrest throughout the US. Your back-yard was the focus of serious racial tensions with the recent B.A.R.T. trial. Do you use Tankcrimes as a vehicle for social commentary and action, or do you keep this aspect of your life separate from Tankcrimes?
Scotty: I do have my own beliefs in our current social issues but Tankcrimes is about music. I did come out and make a statement through the label in the 2008 election with this advert.
I think problems on Earth are always there; right now may seem massive but remember 4 years ago? 8 years ago? 40 years ago? 140 years ago? 1400 years ago? Man is the bastard and what I think is most important is living your own life the way you want, finding passions, meaningful relationships, making and achieving goals, letting loose. My opinions on social and political issues, though mostly shared throughout the bands, cannot define the label; it is our sound, our noise.
The Oscar Grant murder and trials that happened here in Oakland is a reminder that racism and classism are very alive in our society. And that police can get away with murder. I wonder if Officer Messerly were black or Mexican and he shot a 21 year old white kid on the BART train, how would have things gone down in court and the media? The evidence is clear, he shot him in the back while he was face down had cuffed. Check youtube for that one. That said, I’m a white guy in a black neighborhood and I don’t feel any racial tension here. But I can’t speak for any of my white or black neighbors.
Joshua BTS:Tell us about the upcoming Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze showcase! What sparked the idea to have this 2-day jamboree of amazing punk, thrash, and metal bands?
Scotty:I’ve been working on this for the last few months and it’s going to be a huge event. I’ve got almost all the current bands that I’m working with on the same stage over one weekend. I really just wanted to have a really big party for everyone here in the Bay Area. It’s been dry out here for years for an underground event of this magnitude. I will fly all these great bands out, and they will pay me back by coming to the show and we will all have an amazing time. It’s really a very selfish act, I get most of my best buds all out here at my house for 4 days and I can get the fans to pay me back for it.
Joshua BTS:Tell us what the planning for this event looked like. Did you know the venue and bands you wanted from the get, or did the fest develop over time?
Scotty:I always knew I wanted Municipal Waste to headline; they are some of my closest friends and one of the top bands in contemporary metal and punk. I knew I wanted to use the Oakland Metro when I realized you could drink cheap and stage dive there. I knew I needed Andrei Bouzikov to do the poster art because not only is he one of the best out there, he’s done album covers for most of the bands on the bill. The commercial was a real surprise. Ross Sewage was the main motivator and voice, while Mark Reategui came through with the sick motion graphics and Mauz hooked up the audio. I was so hungover the day they did it I was hardly help at all, just did what Ross told me.
Joshua BTS:What should concert goers expect from Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze? Anything new or unusual happening apart from an amazing roster of bands?
Scotty:All the bands are friends and know a lot of people will be there, that leads to good sets. Everyone is going to bring it for sure. I know GHOUL have several new characters involved in their live set including some sort of brain squeezer. I have worked out some surprise guest with some sets, nothing too crazy but it will be fun.
Joshua BTS:Any plans of making this a yearly event?
Scotty:Let’s get through this one first but I would love to not only do more Brainsqueezes but also work in different cities.
Joshua BTS:Any words of wisdom for those interested in starting their own label imprint?
Scotty:This is always my favorite question when I read an interview with a label. I’ve never gotten anything profound, they usually they say get ready to stay up all night and spend a shit ton of money. That’s true and I can’t do much better.
Remember, there are a hundred of other labels doing the exact same thing and a thousand more bands. We all know our stuff is the best. We all can’t understand why everyone else in the world doesn’t know that our shit is the best.
I just think you should try as hard as you can at everything you do, try to do something different somehow and be nice.
Joshua BTS:Here is where I ask you to shake that magic eight ball and tell us – What does the future hold for Tankcrimes?
I’ll be putting out records, putting on shows, trying my best, trying to somehow be different from the rest and being nice.
Coming in November on Tankcrimes
TC37 A.N.S / Agoraphobic Nosebleed “split” 5” vinyl
TC41 DIRECT CONTROL “Bucktown Hardcore” LP
TC42 VITAMIN X “About to Crack” 12”
Playlist…. ECOLI, VICTIMS, KICKING SPIT, MF DOOM, VOLTURE