Interview by Avinash Mittur
Tankcrimes is an Oakland CA-based DIY metal/punk record label owned and operated by Scotty Heath, and aside from working hard on a select few releases such as the Exhumed/Iron Reagan and Ghoul/Cannabis Corpse split albums that came out recently, Tankcrimes also puts together the Brainsqueeze Festival, the second edition of which is slated for April 18-20 in Oakland and boasts of a killer lineup. Our Bay Area expert Avinash Mittur did this detailed and very insightful interview with Scotty Heath to talk about Brainsqueeze, the recent releases, and about all other things Tankcrimes. Enjoy the conversation below.
Do you still operate Tankcrimes out of your garage? What do you do during a typical day at Tankcrimes? Are there any jobs that you outsource to other businesses?
Yes, I’m sitting here in my garage now. It can get crowded and hectic when a bunch of new records come in but it’s the right size for me. I don’t have any intentions of moving into a proper office/warehouse plus my dog is here hanging out all day.
My typical day at Tankcrimes consists of waking up and checking all my computer stuff, email, twitter, facebook and absorbing what’s going on. If we have a track stream or album preview online it’s usually up by the time I get up and I’ll share the links and what not. Then I’ll do some work on my fitness (skip rope, run, push ups, basic shit), shower, coffee and walk the dog. I never like to deal with money before coffee, that’s a rule over here. I’ll usually do some phone calls while I’m out with the dog, distributor, manufacturer, press, bands, whatever is on the table that day. Those are the only constants, after lunch each day is different. I usually hit 2-3 shows a week. I used to handle all the mail order myself and would spend the rest of the day packing orders and at the post office but now I source that out to Merchtable who do a killer job! I used to think that doing all my own mail order and a distro was what was keeping me in business, but letting go and out sourcing that is what has really helped us grow this past year. I also have a PR company I work with, Earsplit, who I communicate with all the time organizing interviews, track streams, press releases, ect. Another job I used to do myself but the woman who handles it now, Liz, is a total pro.
You discourage cold-calls/emails when it comes to signing on to the label. How did you end up with your roster of artists?
Every band on the label has ended up working with Tankcrimes based on our personal friendship. There are a couple examples of bands I didn’t personally know but I was a fan and we shared lots of friend in the underground, I knew they were/are good people. It’s important to me that I know the bands and they know me because once I put my logo on the back of the record, we represent each other. I know that my bands are being respectful and cool out on the road or in their towns dealing with fans, friends, promoters and what not. I can only work with nice people.
The last Brainsqueeze was four years ago. Was the festival a success at the time? Why was there a four-year break between the two fests?
The first Brainsqueeze was a huge success, the shows sold out and I feel like the recognition Tankcrimes got as an underground label doubled or tripled over night. Brainsqueeze isn’t just for the kids at the shows, its about promoting the entire label worldwide and letting people know what we’re doing over here. The four year break was not intentional it just seemed other things were coming up and I couldn’t assemble everyone to be here at the same time. This year I was determined not to wait another year and actually booked this date with the bands almost 9 months ago.
What did you learn from doing the last Brainsqueeze that you’ll be applying to Brainsqueeze II? How did you go about selecting the bands for this year’s Brainsqueeze? Deciding which bands play which days? Running order?
Planning and promoting are the biggest factors, it’s not really a challenge you just have to be super motivated. All the bands work with the label so I just see who is available. This time I invited Negative Approach who are not on the label but one of my personal favorite bands that I wanted to share with Tankcrimes fans. Running order I just try and mix it up, all these bands are potential headliners at any given show so I just like to keep it diverse all night and have the funnest band close out the night.
What steps go into organizing a fest like Brainsqueeze?
It’s really not that hard and I’d love it if others were empowered by what I’m doing to do it themselves. I book a date, book the bands and then save up a shit ton of money to pay for it all, then the fans reimburse me with ticket sales. You can’t be lazy about promoting, not only am I doing lots of interviews, I’ve co-hosted some radio shows and podcasts, we gave away a free comp with all the bands, made a bad ass commercial for the event and I’ve personally stapled over 1400 posters and flyers all over the Bay.
This year, Tankcrimes put out two well-received splits, Splatterhash and the Exhumed / Iron Reagan split. Are there any split releases that you consider legendary? What would be your dream split release?
Thanks! I’d say the most important punk splits are Filth / Blatz and Void / Faith. My dream split would be Suicidal Tendencies / Captalist Casualties.
Final Conflict’s Ashes to Ashes is the oldest album reissue that Tankcrimes will do. How did you go about getting the rights to release that album? Can you imagine Tankcrimes reissuing more old classic albums? What out-of-print albums would you want to personally see put back in circulation via Tankcrimes?
Yes, this is my first reissue and I’m proud to say we’ve treated it with the respect it deserves. That came about because Ron Martinez of Final Conflict happens to be the booking agent for Ghoul and Toxic Holocaust (and a ton of other killer bands) so that’s where our friendship spawned from. One day he called and asked if I’d be interested and I said yes, we made a verbal handshake over the phone then and there and we’ve been working on it for a little under a year now. I feel like I will be getting hit up by other bands once they see what a killer job we did on this one. I’d like to do one for Sick Pleasure, we’ll see what comes our way.
You’ve been a member of the Bay Area’s underground metal community for over a decade. Have you noticed a resurgence in punk and metal in Oakland in the last year or two? Could you imagine a festival like Brainsqueeze succeeding in SF or a different Bay Area city?
There has always been a huge scene here, trends and people come and go but there’s always a lot of active bands and fans. I would only do Brainsqueeze in Oakland in the Bay. I’m not from here, I moved here, so I try and do my best to contribute to the community I live in. We’re gonna start moving it around the country next year but it will always come back to Oakland.
Nowadays, the idea of “signing to a label” is becoming more and more frowned upon. What does a small label like Tankcrimes have to offer bands that they may not be able/want to do themselves? What does Tankcrimes offer fans that other labels don’t?
Of course any band can record and release their own stuff easier than ever these days, what a label provides is distribution, promotion and also a familiarity to the fans so they know what to expect. I’m not sure exactly what I offer that other labels don’t but sometimes I feel like I’m not sure who my peers are because not many small labels go so big with production and events and promoting. All I want to offer to the bands is a home for their music where everything will be treated with respect.
A few Tankcrimes bands also have deals with other labels concurrently. How do you and the bands avoid violating their other record deals? Are some labels more open to collaboration, or is it purely competitive between all labels?
I am not in competition with any other labels. I’m a music fan and if a label is doing something cool, I’m into it. It all depends on the band’s contract with the other label, but generally Tankcrimes just doesn’t get the digital rights with some of the splits (so we give it away free, problem solved!). For the bands and the other labels it can be great help in promoting the band and music by doing a split or EP with another hardworking label, I put as much energy into those bands and releases as anything else I do.
It seems that few label heads are also musicians, but you play in a local thrash band called Voetsek. Does being a musician and playing in a band make you a better label owner? Has it made it any easier for you to connect and work with fellow artists?
I’m not sure it’s made me a better label owner but it has made it easier for me to connect and work with other bands. My first tour was the summer of 2002, Voetsek and Municipal Waste from ABC No Rio in NYC to 924 Gilman St. in Berkeley. I met those guys the first day we showed up and that single example of band related friendships changed my entire life. Most bands on the label I met from either playing a show with or booking a show for. It’s been a wild ride. The only advice I have for anyone who cares is to try your best and be nice.