Dustin Umberger is a wizard. Or perhaps, he’s at least the impossibly prolific, punk proprietor behind Laptop Punk Records. Launched in 2020, the jovial and, at times, corpse-painted figure is still somehow responsible for upwards of 50 releases.
In addition to adhering to a dizzying release schedule, Umberger makes music under the moniker Grim Deeds and The Gungans. In the spirit of straight-ahead punk rock and Lookout! Records-era pop punk, he approaches the label in both a custodial spirit and full embodiment of the DIY ethos.
Of all the things born of this decade’s disposable first years, Laptop Punk Records is a worthwhile and increasingly rewarding dig for an endless supply of killer tracks and the spigot shows no signs of drying up anytime soon. Drink up, punks.
Hey, new friend! Introduce yourself to No Echo readers!
Hails to No Echo! I'm Dustin, aka Grim Deeds, and I started Laptop Punk Records a year ago. I also record my own songs as Grim Deeds and The Gungans. I love punk rock and am obsessed with songwriting. Pleased to meet you!
What was the impetus for the label? Is it a very 2020 story?
Yeah, it's definitely a very 2020 story. I used the pandemic as an opportunity to tackle a lot of projects I'd been thinking about. The label idea came to mind around that time and I had a different concept in mind—focusing on digital releases and encouraging DIY recordings. I also wanted to showcase songs that deserved to be heard despite their obscurity. I am lucky to have a lot of talented friends who were willing to let me release their tunes. I'm currently 62 releases in, and I've got plenty more on deck!
Glancing through your label’s discography, it’d seem more reasonable to assume it’d been around for a decade. It’s impossibly stacked with rad albums. How have you defied all logic and been so prolific?
Thanks for the kind words. As Grim Deeds I've released 3 albums per year for the past 7 years plus side projects and other collaborations.
I've always strived to be as prolific as possible with my own music, so my approach to the label has been similar. It's also doable with the digital format—all you need to do is maintain good communication and be semi-organized. The rest is pretty easy, to be honest.
And to make the label more "official" I'm doing the compilation CDs. Volume 2 will be ready before the end of the year.
Your attention to and spotlighting of international artists is seemingly unmatched. Tell us some both some artists to watch out for and how to keep up with everything you’ve got coming!
Thank you! The pop-punk scene is very international, so I always pay close attention to bands from abroad. I find that they often do it better than we do here in the USA! In particular, the scenes in Indonesia and Japan have produced very talented bands. Germany has also been a pop-punk hot spot for a long time.
The online community makes it possible to keep up with everything pretty easily, thanks to great community resources like The Dummy Room podcast and all of the great labels putting out quality pop punk. If you're part of the "Bubble," then you'll have access to everything that's going on. Join us!
There’s obviously a clear DIY througline running through Laptop Punk but it also feels sonically indebted to some past labels (Lookout, etc.), albeit with a decidedly current bent. Thoughts?
I appreciate the Lookout! comparison, as they're one of my favorite labels. Mutant Pop would be an even more appropriate reference point, because Timbo was basically doing the DIY pop punk thing ahead of anyone else that I know of, and his catalog and approach definitely inspired me. The current technology most people have at their fingertips makes it possible for any artist to create music and release albums themselves.
There are no more gatekeepers in our scene, so to speak—everyone supports each other and home recordings are just as vital as what comes out of the studios. There's also a more intimate feel to the DIY aesthetic that I've always valued. It's aesthetically pleasing and also invites the listener to contribute. That's one of my goals for the label - to provide an outlet for the everyday songwriters whose talents deserve some shine.
Some of the artists you’ve worked with are eye-poppingly rad, especially for someone who grew up with that stuff. What’s it been like to work with members of Cub, The Fastbacks, Screeching Weasel, etc.?
It's been a wonderful thing, and the best part about it is that all of those releases came naturally through my ongoing activity in the pop punk community. It really pays to reach out to other artists who inspire you. Sometimes great friendships and projects are born from taking that risk. That's basically how I linked up with Lisa Marr, Kim Warnick, and Jughead.
In a scene full of legends and great, down-to-earth people, good things are bound to happen. I simply took the initiative to facilitate and everything else fell into place. I'm very grateful to them, and everyone who's allowed me to put out their songs.
Tell me a bit about Grim Deeds, as I’m guessing you have the inside track [laughs].
You could say that! I've been operating as Grim Deeds since 2014. That's my alter-ego and artistic passion - I love writing and recording songs so Grim Deeds has been my main vehicle for doing that, and it's also led to me creating Laptop Punk Records. I was able to build up enough momentum with my own music to justify taking on a new role as a facilitator and supporter of other projects. I wanted to give back, and it's been a very satisfying experience so far.
And I just released my 20th Grim Deeds album with more releases scheduled before the end of the year, so the madness continues.
Like me, you seem to inherently understand how cool compilations are. Was that always an important part of the label? Do you think they’ll ultimately make a comeback?
I'm glad you also value comps! For many of us who grew up in the '80s and '90s, comps were the best way to preview new bands and get to know the broader community of artists and labels affiliated with bands we already loved. I think comps are still relevant today, and it's a physical format worth producing.
Comps bring people together and spread the good vibes around for everyone to enjoy. As long as you choose quality songs, there's no downside from my point of view.
There's also a motivating factor for both the listener and contributors—if the first volume is a banger, people are going to get stoked on Volume 2!
Give us the skinny on upcoming releases to look out for!
There's always something coming down the pipe. I just released the Dumbskull full-length (one-man garagey-pop-punk from Iowa), and I've got a few coming that I'm excited about, too. Noodlebrain from Illinois is recording a full-length, Dave Strong from Maine is recording new singles, Patrick McVay, aka Classic Pat, from Tennessee is working on a new covers album, and Marisa In Pink from California is about to premiere her new single.
I'm beginning to compile the best songs from the past 6 months or so in preparation for Laptop Punk Records Compilation Volume 2, which will be available on the label bandcamp as well as via OUTLOUD! Records on CD.
How can people best keep up with the label?
Befriend Grim Deeds on Facebook, or follow Laptop Punk Records on Bandcamp. I'm always posting in the pop punk Facebook groups, so if you go looking you're bound to find something good.
And to all the secret songwriters out there—hit me up! Let's do a single.
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Tagged: record label profile