Label Spotlight: Fat Wreck Chords

posted February 15, 2010

by Corinne

Fat Wreck Chords

Please introduce yourself.

I'm Chad and I've been at Fat for over 9 years, and am the production manager.

When and why was the label started?

Fat Mike started the label in 1990 for the simple purpose of releasing records by bands that he liked.

What kind(s) of music does the label put out?

Punk rock almost exclusively, although we just released an acoustic album by Tony Sly.

What was the first release and how was it financed?

The first release was actually a 1990 re-release of the NOFX 7-inch, The PMRC Can Suck On This.  I wasn't around back then, but I believe it was financed entirely by Mike, probably from whatever little money he made off of NOFX.

What is the most recent release?

Tony Sly's debut solo album 12 Song Program, out on February 16th.

What has been your most successful release?

Most successful in terms of record sales would be NOFX's I Heard They Suck Live album.

Is there any difference in being a label run by an active musician as opposed to a label run by a regular music fan?

Yes. The label owner is on tour and out of the office for weeks at a time, all throughout the year.  That can sometimes make it difficult to get timely decisions made.  The biggest upside is that he can take our newer bands on tour with NOFX and give them a much larger audience than they'd have on their own.

Fat Wreck signs bands for one record deals. Why did you decide to go that way? What are the pros and cons?

We always want bands to be happy, to WANT to be on the label.  One-record deals ensure that we won't ever have bands recording a half-hearted record, just to fulfill a contract.  By the same token, we aren't obligated to put out any band's next record if we don't like the songs.  There really isn't a downside. 

The label isn't shy about being politically and socially active. Why do you think it's important for a record label to be outspoken in those areas?

I don't think it's important for a label to be politically outspoken at all.  It's really about the music.  If we think the music can be a vehicle for something positive, like what we did with the Rock Against Bush comps, that's great.  There are plenty of great labels that don't touch politics, and that's fine too.

Fat Wreck has a long history of releasing compilations. Why did you start releasing the series of comps and why are you still doing it?

We actually haven't released an official Fat Music comp in over 7 years, although we did just release a label history called Wrecktrospective, which is 3 discs.  We started doing it as a way to get the music of our then-unknown bands out to people for a cheap price.  Myspace and Itunes have made the compilation kind of obsolete.  Anyone can find out about any band, any time, without paying a cent.

What do you see as the future of record labels?

I think the record label still serves a meaningful purpose.  Whether it's physical distribution, financing recordings, or publicity, there are still a lot of tasks involved in releasing albums that most bands either cannot do themselves, or don't want to.  Record labels aren't going anywhere, but the great thing about this whole industry taking a nosedive is that the people who were only in it for the money will be getting out of it. People like us who are passionate about music are going to be here for a long time to come.

How has your label adapted to changes in society, business, etc?

Of course we've had to cut down on recording budgets, advertising, and overhead expenses.  But when it's always been about the music, a lot of what we do hasn't changed at all.

Any words of wisdom for those brave souls interested in running their own label?