Tankcrimes Founder Runs Mini Punk Empire Out of His Garage
People in the music industry love to throw around the term "DIY," but few people live by its credo as much as Scotty Heath. The Bay Area resident's Tankcrimes is one of the most vital record labels in the underground scene today, and he's done it all on his own. Working out of his Oakland, CA garage, Heath has released records by the cream of the crop of the punk and death metal scene. Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Municipal Waste, and Toxic Holocaust are just a few of the killer acts Tankcrimes has unleashed during its run as a label.
2011 is shaping up to be another busy year for Tankcrimes, with upcoming releases from Victims, Ramming Speed, Annihilation Time, and many others. Heath has also just launched a new downloads section that offers free full streams of Tankcrimes' entire catalog, as well as free and cheap downloads. He also runs a huge vinyl webstore where he distributes all kinds of cool punk, metal, hardcore, and grindcore records. Noisecreep wondered how he does all of this on his own, so we gave him a call.
Noisecreep: You started Tankcrimes in 2002, when the music business was already in decline. Were you hesitant to get into it at first?
Scotty Heath: It wasn't my choice, but I wouldn't change a thing. I had been submersed in underground punk for a few years [after] moving to San Francisco in 1998. I started a hardcore band, Deadfall, and we'd been playing shows at warehouses and basements for a few months when we were approached to do a 7". We accepted, and were to be the first band on the Controlled by Plague label. The label head, Bob, was really excited and so were we. When the record was ready, Bob sent all 1,100 copies to us.
That was his intention as a label, to just hook up a band with records, so I ran with it. Bob's generosity inspired me to run the label full on. I figured things out along the way thanks to advice from Jeff and Athena at Six Weeks Records and Felix Havoc's 'Wall Street Journal of Hardcore' column in Maximum Rock n Roll. I did a couple of releases under the name Controlled by Plague as a tribute to Bob, but [then] changed it to my own thing, Tankcrimes, once I realized I wanted to really go for it.
Was there an early release that was a turning point for the label?
Yeah, the Ghoul 'Splatterthrash' LP in 2007 was a big moment for me. Not only was a great seller, but it was really my first metal album. After that it was obvious Tankcrimes was [going to be] doing punk and metal plus hybrids and everything in-between. But now, it seems like every day is a turning point. Doors keep opening.
Punk and metal record collectors feverishly trade your vinyl releases these days. Is the vinyl side of your business profitable?
The vinyl side of the business really is the focus. My take on profits is probably way different [from] most labels. Tankcrimes is self-sustaining at this point, and that makes it all worth it. Before that, I didn't mind splitting my paycheck with Tankcrimes every other week to keep things going. I have a job that pays my personal bills and Tankcrimes pays its way, and that's awesome. Watching the out-of-print back catalog become more and more valued by collectors and fans is great and a tribute to how far things have come.
What's been your most successful release so far?
The fastest-selling release so far was the Toxic Holocaust / Inepsy split 12". [We sold] seven hundred overnight, [and sold the] full press[ing] of 2000 in two weeks. The best-selling overall has been Cannabis Corpse's 'The Weeding' EP. I have a good gauge on what the demand is for a release, so there are only a few that have become furniture in my house. Most are successful enough to sell what I project.
There seem to be a lot of smaller niche labels releasing cassettes again. Do you see that as a trend, or is it something we'll be seeing a lot more in the next couple of years?
I like it and I've actually done tape formats for some of my albums. They're cool and cheap. I will be doing my first tape-only releases soon. These will be for new bands and we'll give the download away for free. It's a cool and easy way to put a band out there. I'm even gonna do some cassingles for the bigger albums coming out later this year.
I [also] like the resurgence of tapes as a way for any band to self-release their music. It's empowering for bands to be able to put out something onto a physical format. Accomplishment is motivating. I think we'll be seeing a lot more [cassette releases]; I just heard a cassette piece on NPR yesterday.
You run Tankcrimes on your own and work out of your garage. Does it ever get overwhelming for you?
No, I love it. I've tried to have friends come help out but it turns out I'm a total control freak. I really like doing every aspect, from choosing the band to work with to folding and stuffing their inserts and mailing them out, and everything in between. My garage is my sanctuary, I work another job during the day and I come home to my passion at night. I can handle it.
What releases do you have coming out in 2011 that you're particularly excited about?
I'm super stoked to be re-issuing Annihilation Time's 'II'. It is one of my favorite records and means a lot to me because listening to it takes me back. Not [too] far back, but to a different era in my life and the local punk scene here. Coming this fall will be the new Cannabis Corpse album followed by a world tour, so I'm stoked that the band is motivated to get their music out and tour their asses off. I'll do all I can for them from here.
If you could put out the ultimate 7", which two bands would be on it?
A Suicidal Tendencies / Capitalist Casualties split 7" would be my pick. Switch one of those bands with Led Zeppelin or Screeching Weasel and it would be cool too!