History Lesson - Alternative Press Magazine

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Alternative Press - December 1, 2004

Interview by Scott Heisel

History Lesson

If they ever make and indie-rock textbook, you can bet there will be a chapter or two on Epitaph Records. From its humble beginnings over 20 years ago as a P.O. Box to the worldwide success it now achieves, Epitaph's story is one of the ages. So, who better to tell it than the founder himself, Brett Gurewitz?

What made you want to start Epitaph?

It started out as just a way to put Bad Religion's music, and then it really became an aspiration to make a positive difference, to have a record company made by a musician for a musician. I wasn't so hung up on the term "independent," because back then, even the Indies were ripping off their bands. I wanted to make a record company that would really be different; one that could stay friends with their artist, and treat them with dignity.

What made you name it Epitaph, though?

I'm gonna give you a scoop here. I'm basically a geek at heart, and before I got into punk-which was before there was punk-I listened to prog. And I used to like King Crimson and Emerson, Lake And Palmer. There's a song on King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King that has the line, "Confusion shall be my epitaph." I thought that was super-cool.

When did you realize Epitaph had made it?

I think it was around 1991, when Bad Religion's Against The Grain shipped 100,000 copies worldwide. Bad Religion was coming off of three good records in a row; by then, I had signed L7, NOFX, Rancid, and Offspring. No one was huge yet, but everyone was starting to do well.

Did you know at the time that these were going to be the bands that helped define a generation of modern punk?

No, but I knew that my business was doing pretty good! [Laughs.] At that, everything was grunge. The media was all over grunge. So I was just kinda quietly doing my punk-rock thing. It was a fun thing; all the bands were friends. It didn't seem important or defining; it just felt like a cool way to be getting by.

So in your 20-year history, what's the one band you wished wouldn't have slipped through your fingers?

Sublime. They did a record on Skunk where they covered a Bad Religion song. I heard about it and was like, "You guys are rad." So I brought them in my studio was West Beach to just to demos and paid for it, no strings attached, because I thought it would be cool if they signed to Epitaph. But I was on tour with Bad Religion at the time, so I asked my partner at West Beach to do the demos. When I got back from tour, the tapes were killer, but my partner said, "Hey man, these guys are drinking 40s and smoking crack in the studio." And at the time, I was clean and sober, and working really heard at it, so it scared me to work with them based on that, and not based on the music. And the record that I funded the demos for got them signed, and they ended up ruling the world, or at least the West Coast.

Labels, indie and major alike, are known for creating crazy promotional tools for albums. What is the worst promotional device Epitaph has ever made?

Well, the really terrible ones are the ones I like. We once made inflatable love sheep for NOFX's Heavy Petting Zoo. I guess that's the worst, but I think it's the best.