It’s rare we’re gifted a peek behind the wizard’s curtain. In the case of the inimitable Deathwish Records, which needs no introduction, I’ve long felt that there’s an unintentional mythos that I’ve attached to the label. Perhaps it’s that their turn of the century transition from fledgling label into scene stalwarts was seemingly instantaneous, or that they’re single handedly responsible for a battery of landmark releases, but the regard in which I hold Deathwish can’t be overstated.
We’ve long been gifted the rewards of their toil, but rarely is the tireless work as heralded as the classics they’ve committed to wax. Known to both casuals and obsessives (of which I’m clearly in the latter camp), I’ve long wanted to demystify the storied label. Tre McCarthy and Jacob Bannon built the house, of course, but there’s a litany of dedicated folks who’re responsible for maintaining the sails of Hardcore’s flagship.
Aly, Caleb, Keith, Mark, and Rich are, among other things, the five-headed Hydra of hilarity responsible for Death Talk which, alongside the less frequent Dialogues, comprise the Deathwish.fm universe. Deathwish, per usual, was an early adopter when they launched Deathcast way back in 2006, which was truly during the nascent days of podcasting.
Flash forward to fall of 2014 and the aforementioned gaggle of friends began the transition into the freewheeling current incarnation of the show. Having first found the show a couple years back, I was immediately struck by the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and rapport that comes from being friends. As committed to the label, art, film, and to music as they each seem to be, it’s the amity and deep respect that brings me back. In between the kindliness, as it were, is endless ribbing, absurdist humor, character acting, storytelling, tech-talk, serious critique, and passion.
They were kind enough to indulge me some by answering questions that I’ve longed to ask. My inquiries yielded the multifaceted responses I’d expect coming from such unique personalities and experiences, as funny as they are illuminating. If you’ve ever ordered from or done business with Deathwish Inc., you’ve likely dealt with these kind humans. To get involved or just get plain weird, call the hotline at (754)703-8255. “Catch it!” anywhere you listen to podcasts.
For the uninitiated, Death Talk is essentially the Voltron of podcasts. Give us the roll call and brief background on the five of y’all.
Rich: My official title is "Label and Distribution Manager" but like everyone else at Deathwish I wear many hats. Basically I make sure nothing goes terribly wrong.
Caleb: Caleb, product manager, resident cranky man. Photos/video.
Mark: I never received an official title because no one cares about me but I run our distribution side of the company called Deathwish Direct and sell all of our releases and distributed titles to record stores around the world.
Keith: Mark you’re the resident Pop Music Genius/Distribution King. I’m the Warehouse Manager (and resident PMA Smart Speaker). I pack, ship, answer customer service, organize product in the warehouse, all that jazz.
Aly: I work in the warehouse with Keith. We make sure your order gets to you safely. Also if there are any poetry-adjacent issues, I handle those.
You recently eclipsed the 100-episode mark and the 5 year is rapidly approaching. What was the impetus for starting the show? How has it changed and evolved over the years?
Rich: Personally, I just wanted to do a podcast because I liked them. We were already putting out podcasts at the time but I wanted it to be more of a "talk show" approach. I basically wanted to take the water cooler talk that was already happening in the office and record it. I thought some people might find that interesting. Over the years we've incorporated more music news and personal stories into the show.
Caleb: Rich forced us into doing a podcast because he likes to assert his dominance over us. This was years ago so we were all still afraid to say no.
Mark: Luckily we’ve gotten more comfortable talking on the podcast over the years, I invite any of you to go listen to Episode 1 of Death Talk it’s honestly miserable.
Though tied to the label, the format of the show is pretty freewheeling, conversational, and loose. Is there a collective mission statement for the podcast?
Rich: To be honest, if we only talked about stuff going on at the label every episode it would probably be pretty boring and only 10 minutes long. The majority of work we do is not glamorous and most of the time we can't talk about things until they're announced. Once something is out there we can go deeper on it. On a recent episode Caleb talked about directing his first music video for HarborLights and how Aly had to basically hide behind Jordan (their drummer) while filming just to hit play and pause on the music. I think that sums up what the podcast is about. What the people at the label are actually doing mixed with some fun stuff.
Caleb: Don’t want to speak for everyone here but the idea for the show was always to be conversational — a “behind the scenes” of Deathwish. All of our favorite podcasts are just a group of friends shooting the shit and get by on the chemistry of the hosts. We wanted to give an idea of what it’s like to work here at the office/warehouse.
Aly: I thought our mission statement was to socialize Rich. If he answered “DO WEED” to this question, then we know we failed.
Keith: Rich and Caleb did a good job summing things up. We’re all goof balls in our own ways (maybe Rich would disagree since he’s perfect) and it makes for fun discussion about any topic.
There’s a ton of good-natured ribbing on the show that belies a group of friends that genuinely like each other a lot. Among other things, the authenticity of that chemistry keeps me invested. Is that apt or do you all actually hate each other?
Rich: I just give shit to everyone and can be hypercritical at times. I guess that's what makes me fit to manage.
Caleb: I’m seriously blushing at this question. Glad our constant bickering comes off as genuine love. My coworkers are some of my best friends but at the same token we see the best and worst of each other. AKA they deal with my manic ranting <333
Mark: I feel very lucky to work with everyone here, I genuinely like spending time with all of them.
Aly: Not to be super cheesy, but yes, I really have fun with everyone who works here. One of the best parts of this job is the people who do it with me. We’re also all united against our common enemy of USPS, so that helps.
Keith: It’s super awesome to be in a workplace where we all genuinely enjoy each other’s company, thoughts, ideas, interests, rants, jokes, etc.
I really respect the fact that you all seem deeply invested in the record label, both ideologically and as fans of the music. Yet, the show never feels like a PR campaign or longform advertisement. How do you strike that balance. Were you all fans of the label before? Care to share any insider stories/peeks behind the curtain?
Rich: If the show was some giant ad no one would listen. Honestly, everyone in the office is a music freak. Keith told me that sometimes he stays up until midnight so he can hear all the new music that's released on Fridays. Mark knows so much music info it blows my mind. I think that comes across in the show.
Deathwish was huge for me when I started interning for the label in 2004. I believe Converge You Fail Me had just been released, Killing the Dream just recently signed on and we were releasing Blacklisted We're Unstoppable in the Spring. I could go on about the impact these bands had on me. It was a really cool time to start working for the label.
Caleb: I definitely started out as a DW super-fan before working here. Now I’ve seen how the sausage is made and hate every minute of it. So it’s pretty easy to not talk about it too much on the podcast.
Mark: I’m so psyched that’s how the show comes off to you. We obviously like to get the important Deathwish news talked about but at the same time Rich’s fruit bowl updates are just as important to be honest. I was a fan of the label before and it truly felt like a dream to start working here. Caleb and I started around the same time in 2013 a few months before Deafheaven Sunbather came out, so it was a very exciting time.
Keith: Just like Rich and Mark said; we talk about DW stuff — but that only scratches the surface of the “company culture” as a whole. It’s fun diving into a rabbit hole of discussion and seeing what everyone has to say. I was definitely a fan of the label before, I think the first DW title I heard was Shipwreck A.D. Abyss. I remember I started interning here around the time [Code Orange] I Am King came out, which I was and still am super pumped on.
Aly: We all were definitely fans of the label before. Personally, when I moved to the area, I stalked them for a bit trying to figure out any way to infiltrate. I was, and still am, shocked that it worked.
Though I’m reluctant to call them “bits," there are recurring themes and segments that are absolutely hilarious. For those unaware, what’s the origin of “Dark Mark” and could you give some context for the highly rated Melissa Etheridge “Cruise” episode?
Rich: Well just earlier today Mark said him and his girlfriend were going to buy a new laptop. We live close to New Hampshire where there's no sales tax so I asked him if he was going to drive up there to buy it. He responded with "Isn't that illegal?" Aly will have to give you all the details on the Melissa Etheridge Cruise.
Caleb: As you may or may not know Mark is a damn sweetheart and can basically do no wrong. So Dark Mark is essentially his “worst timeline” self, which is still better than any of our “best timelines.” It came about when Mark was very hyped on and trying to sell us all on Apple’s Dark Mode. So we took it and ran with it. Dark Mark puts regular detergent in ‘High Efficiency only’ washing machines. Dark Mark only flosses once a week. Dark Mark uses screens in bed. Dark Mark treats himself to an extra espresso shot in his iced mocha. Dark Mark is everything you wish you could be. I’ll let Aly handle the cruise story.
Mark: Dark mode forever
Aly: So my mother and I went on the Melissa Etheridge Cruise for vacation. It was dope. When I came back to work, they asked me to talk about it on the podcast. So I did. It’s highly rated because my mom has more twitter followers than all of us combined, and she retweeted the link to the episode. Long story short, if you need hype on something, get my mother on your side.
I recently waxed nostalgic about the Lewd Acts LP for this very site. What’s one album that each of you feel goes unheralded in the label’s back catalog that you feel needs a little shine?
Rich: Killing the Dream's In Place Apart.
Caleb: That Lewd Acts LP is a good call, one of my favorites too. A few others and underrated gems: Doomriders Darkness Come Alive, New Lows Harvest of the Carcass, Coliseum Anxiety’s Kiss, Blacklisted When People Grow, People Go.
Mark: Shipwreck A.D.'s Abyss.
Keith: Cast Aside's The Struggle.
Aly: I answered these separately and guessed what everyone else would say. I was right except for Keith. My answer is Life Long Tragedy's Runaways.
I’m a shameless list junkie. What’re your top 5 non-Deathwish albums of all time?
Rich: These are all the correct answers:
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Nirvana, In Utero
Saves the Day, Through Being Cool
Metallica, Ride the Lightning
American Nightmare, S/T EP
Caleb: Of all time?! Uhhh some favorites in no particular order:
Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser…
Mind Eraser, The Prodigal Son Brings Death
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77
True Widow, True Widow
Mark: I couldn’t keep it to 5, so I picked 7, sorry!
The National, High Violet
Saves the Day, Through Being Cool
Title Fight, Floral Green
Manchester Orchestra, Cope/Hope
Chris Staples, American Soft
The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter
Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous
Keith: Mark, I was gonna try to name yours as we’re both filling out this Google Doc and see what your reaction would be [laughs]:
Songs: Ohia, The Magnolia Electric Co.
Praise, Lights Went Out
Cro-Mags, Best Wishes
Into It. Over It., Proper
Catherine Wheel, Adam & Eve
Aly: This is so hard. I had to stick to the first records that came to mind that changed me:
Waxahatchee, American Weekend
Rainer Maria, Rainer Maria
The Hotelier, Home Like Noplace Is There
The Jesus & Mary Chain, Darklands
w/ honorable mentions for Fuck Your Emotional Bullshit by Snowing and Good Vibes by William Bonney
Approaching a milestone is a cliched time for me to ask this, but what’re some of your favorite moments from the show? What’s in the future for the podcast?
Rich: My favorite moments are usually the ones that make me laugh the most. When Caleb did Brobo for first time that got me real good.
Caleb: Don’t have any specific favorite moments because I can’t remember anything past lunch. The recurring Film School segment where I showed Rich classic films was a real joy for me. Also any funny stuff that happens organically. We went over some favorite moments on our 100 episode extravaganza.
Mark: When Caleb read me a top 40 song title year by year and I had to guess the artist, that was thrilling. It felt like I had talent and purpose for the first time in my life.
Keith: Gotta say Marky Pop Songs (What Mark mentioned above). Film School has been super cool too!
Aly: I loved when Caleb did that experiment where he had to read a paragraph backwards and stand on his head or whatever. We usually get shit from Rich for doing visual jokes on a non-visual platform, but screw him, that was funny.
If you wanted someone to listen to the show, where do you suggest they jump in?
Rich: I think it's cool that the show doesn't have to be listened to in order and you don't have to start from the beginning to be interested. Yes, you may miss some inside jokes but there will always be new ones. Most people can jump in whenever to be honest. Just don't listen to the first 30 or so episodes. We legit had no idea what we were doing.
I'm terrible at social media so subscribe to the podcast at deathwish.fm if you want to hear me complain about everything.
Caleb: Whatever the latest episode is! Jump in! There’s no continuity other than me bugging Mark.
Keith: I’m gonna say around Episode 70 is a good place to start! The listener should be able to understand most inside jokes starting from there.
I’ve saved the toughest question for last. What’s the best Converge album? In my opinion, it’s a knife fight between No Heroes and All We Love We Leave Behind.
Rich: You Fail Me is my favorite. It was released right around the time I started working at Deathwish so it was cool to be part of that process.
Caleb: You Fail Me
Mark: All We Love We Leave Behind is my favorite because I was listening to it a ton right before and after I got hired as an intern. It was fueling my excitement the more I listened to be apart of something special like Deathwish.
Keith: Personally I’d say Petitioning the Empty Sky.
Aly: Jane Doe, for sure.
Check out every episode of Death Talk at this link.