Guest Post by Bryce Fricklas
Run For Cover: The New Face of Boston’s Independent Music
“Mama mama please don’t cry / Mama, I don’t wanna die,” singer/songwriter Michi sang as she plucked the chiming strings of her baby blue Les Paul. An audience of about thirty bearded 20-somethings in skinny jeans and flannel surrounded her near the entrance of the office of Run For Cover Records, staring with silent intensity as she sang songs about a friend’s battle with brain cancer. Michi’s music is typical of Run For Cover Records, an indie label that has become synonymous with confessional, emotionally driven rock music.
“I’m not used to people being so quiet and respectful. It’s scary!” Michi joked, looking up from under her worn baseball cap. With that, the weight of the silence was lifted and the Run For Cover office, the venue of the night, was buzzing with excited conversation between fans, musicians, and record label employees.
Jeff Casazza, 31, stood at the back of the audience, before the office’s desks and computers, Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand. “Hey Man, do you want a beer?” Casazza asked with a relaxed and welcoming smile.
Run For Cover is his vision, and this benefit show is part of it. Everyone is here to raise money for the Red Warrior Society, an organization protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as to see the earnest music of Michi, The Hotelier, and Born Without Bones.
“Yesterday the protestors were evicted from their campsite, where they’d been fighting against the pipeline for almost a year,” explained Christian Holden, the shaggy haired vocalist of The Hotelier and second performer of the night. After explaining the severity of the situation the protestors were facing, Holden launched into an impassioned acoustic set.
According to Casazza, this was the first of a series of monthly benefit shows to be held at the office. Visitors are free to wander from the makeshift stage at the door to the warehouse in the back, where shelves are cluttered with boxes filled with record sleeves and band t-shirts.
Since the rise of internet piracy with Napster, there have been reports that the internet is killing record companies. Yet independent labels like Run For Cover thrive as they continue a tradition that traces its roots back to “do it yourself” punk rock labels of the 1980s like Washington, DC’s Dischord and Los Angeles’ SST. Those labels each had an identity, sound, and aesthetic that their fans were dedicated to. Likewise, Run For Cover has a recognizable, distinct identity of own – heavy guitars, often melancholy vocals, and lyrics about the pains of growing up. With the label’s strong sense of identity, it has earned a fanbase that looks to it for new music.
Despite continuing the tradition of identity-driven independent punk rock labels, Run For Cover’s fanbase is surprisingly young. Although many grew up alongside the label, its main demographic is around 18 to 27. “It would be cool to have 35 year old married people buying our records,” said Casazza with a smirk, “because, you know, they have money. But the bearded Jawbreaker fan might be a little too elitist for us.”
Casazza’s black bowling shirt and slicked back hair sharply contrasts with the loud Hawaiian shirt and dyed blond hair of Dane McGoldrick, who has worked with Casazza since Run For Cover was a hobby operated in Casazza’s bedroom six years ago, when he was Run For Cover’s very first intern.
“Nothing’s changed about the way Jeff runs the label,” said McGoldrick. “He’s never compromised. That’s why it’s successful – he works with bands he believes in. The direction has stayed the same.”
When Run For Cover started as a high school hobby in 2004, Casazza faced stiff competition from punk labels like Deathwish, Inc., which would sign any band with talent. Casazza started reaching out to bands through online message boards. “I was just some random kid, and I wasn’t a really cool kid. I mostly worked with people I knew through the punk and hardcore scenes.”
Run For Cover continued as a home operation while Casazza studied business administration at Suffolk University. Everything changed in 2010, when records by two groups on Run For Cover, Tigers Jaw and Title Fight, found sudden success. Casazza suddenly needed to get an office and hire people. “I was trying to run an actual company. It didn’t go really well and it was hard to do while trying to learn macroeconomics in school at the same time.” Since then Run For Cover has had to move through progressively larger office spaces until it found its current home in Allston, complete with a lounging area, a large kitchen, office spaces, and a warehouse.
The mutual dedication between Run For Cover and its fans has since paid off. In June Run For Cover’s most popular band, Modern Baseball, reached #1 on the vinyl Billboard chart with their third album, Holy Ghost. A month earlier another of its artists, Pity Sex, reached #5 with their album White Hot Moon.
Run For Cover’s reach has gone international, with acts as far afield as Sweden. Their first foray across the Atlantic was with the British band Basement. “Even in 2011 they were bigger here than they were in their own country!” said Casazza.
Through social media, Casazza has seen how supportive fans are of the bands he works with. “Modern Baseball just said they’re going on hiatus because of mental health issues. You’d think they might get a hostile reaction, but the response has been caring,” said Casazza. “People care so much.”
It’s now Run For Cover’s twelfth year, and by year twenty Casazza hopes for his label to become a household name in independent music like Merge or Matador. But unlike those labels, which are associated with musical eras long past, for Casazza it’s critical that Run For Cover remains exciting and continues to release records worthy of its fans’ devotion.
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