With releases by such bands as Wristmeetrazor, Wake of Humanity, and Glass Killing Floor, Bitter Melody Records is a label that has found love on No Echo a ton since we launched back in 2014. Based out of North Carolina, the label is also a force to reckon with on the reissue front, releasing essential records by the likes of Indecision and Most Precious Blood throughout the years.
I spoke with Bitter Melody Records owner/operator Grant McCracken about the label's origins, his philosphy behind who he works with, and what the future holds for his passion project.
Tell me a bit about how Bitter Melody started and what inspired you to do the label in the first place.
I started the label in 2010. At that time, I was 6 years into my post-college career and felt some distance between me and what was going on in punk and hardcore, but I was still collecting records and going to some shows. I had a very short-term goal when I started doing this. Indecision was the band that really got me into hardcore and made me a lifer and that love carried over to Most Precious Blood.
I started the label primarily to try to press Most Precious Blood's Merciless record, which had come out 5 years prior, but just on CD. Once I had the idea and inquired at Trustkill about it, everything moved really fast.
Josh at Trustkill was fine with me licensing and the band was cool with it. I reached out to a lot of label people who I had dealt with over the years to get ideas and pointers and figure out how to actually press something. Then in a few months I had 500 records showing up at my door. After that, my thoughts turned to Indecision and how Unorthodox could really use a redux version and everything just kind of took off from there. I didn’t plan on it being something I would spend lots of money and hours on for the next decade but here we are. It still blows my mind that we are 63 releases deep.
How do you go about finding the bands you want to work with?
Early on, after the first couple of big, reissue projects, I was seeking out stuff and looking for things to do. I remember seeing the Discourse demo and their Indecision rip cover, and that made me hit them up immediately. They were one of the first new bands I worked with. Doing the label reconnected me locally and I started working with some local and regional bands. It took a while to find a formula of how to plan a release and not just lose money (although that's a possibility with any record). Touring is super important. If a band isn't out playing shows, records tend to sit, no matter how good they are.
In the beginning, we did a lot of different types of records and we still probably would, but I would say we are definitely a hardcore label; but in reality we just release what we like. We don’t seek out too much as far as new releases go, but I do take note when I see friends sharing things or when someone sends something that just blows me away. When I start working with a band, I like to make sure I can keep being there for them, so I try to prioritize people that I already have that relationship with so I can do their new things.
Would you say there’s a certain thing that ties all of the bands you’ve released?
I look at the people in a band more than sound. I try to reach out and talk and see if they are my type of people. Are they good people? I want to work with good folks who, in general, share my beliefs. Left wing politics, veganism/animal rights, and straight edge are important core tenets to us as a label so I definitely am attracted to bands that share those beliefs too. I want to release music that helps make the world better.
Personally speaking, I’m a CD guy. That said, I’m well aware that many people view the format as uncool. Tell me why you still do CD runs? Do they sell well? How about cassettes?
I like for music to be documented physically. It stands as testament to “this is/was a thing and I hold the evidence in my hand” which I think is important. That said, it’s impossible to do every release on vinyl for a host of reasons, so for those releases that you want to document, but vinyl is out, you really only have tapes or CDs. In 2010, CDs didn't have a cool factor at all, they seemed like a dead media to me. Now I feel like they have a bit of nostalgia to them or are of interest to younger folks who grew up in a largely post CD world. Neither tapes nor CDs sell exceptionally well through mailorder, but bands seem to do okay with both on the road.
Via mailorder a "cheap" tape or CD still ends up 10 bucks after shipping, which can't be helped, but 10 bucks for a 4 song demo tape seems expensive. You either need to have other stuff you want to grab from a label or just really want to support a release. Occasionally, I will do a CD run and a super-limited cassette, but most of the time I just ask the band what they prefer. I can go either way on tapes or CDs but I have leaned more toward CDs for the past year or two.
I try to help bands carry out whatever vision they have for a physical release if I can. CDs seem to be pretty popular in Japan too, so if I can help reach more people by doing a CD and getting them into hands overseas then that is a big plus.
Of all the label’s previous releases, which one would you say got the most traction, in terms of visibility and sales?
Obviously, our first couple releases of Indecision and Most Precious Blood did well, but I can't really take any credit for that. They were classic records with a built-in following. We’ve pressed the most vinyl copies of those. The Pizza Underground tapes did really well, as well. We made a lot of those tapes, but again, that band had Macaulay Culkin in it and that certainly helped it get news coverage. It was the only time Bitter Melody was mentioned in a USA Today article.
As far as bands that I started earlier with, Discourse and Old Flings did well and had great traction. I wish both of those bands could’ve kept going and made it huge. More currently, Wristmeetrazor is definitely doing things right. They've been putting in the work on the road and they've just gotten better and better. I'm proud of what they've done and honestly they are some of the most talented musicians I’ve met.
What other stuff can we expect from the label in the coming year?
In the last few months, we just put out the No Right's Senescence on CD, tape reissues of Most Precious Blood's Merciless and Indecision's Unorthodox, and Wristmeetrazor's Take Your Shot, Funboy 7”. Honestly, right now, I don't have too much planned. I have nothing at any plant. That's not that unusual though. I kind of take things as they come; I may find something or get sent something next week.
Right now, as I answer these questions in a locked down country, with a pandemic, and the vinyl industry in turmoil over the only US lacquer plant burning down (Google: Apollo Masters fire) and plants shut down for stay in place orders, I can’t say I mind not having a project in the works. I’m not sure what the rest of 2020 holds, in general and for our well-being, so the label doesn’t feel super important at the moment. I just want us all to come out on the other side of this thing.
Since I released the first two Riot Stares EPs, I have definitely offered to do the LP they just finished. I'm not sure what they want to do yet, but I will say that I've heard the first mixes of the new LP and it's so killer. They have honed their sounds and perfected it on this. It will definitely be on “Best of 2020” lists this year.
Which Bitter Melody release do you think deserves way more attention than it has received so far and why?
This is a hard question. I think every release we’ve done was great and every band should be huge. There are a few specific releases that come to mind though, for different reasons. Some broke up too soon and the release didn’t really get a chance to bloom. I feel like the Gut Feeling 7”s deserved way more attention than they got. I mean, you have some of the best North Carolina hardcore veterans (members of SECT, Undying, Catharsis, and Torch Runner) playing melodic, political hardcore with two of the most ambitious screen-printed cover art that we’ve done. There was no filler on those records:
I’d also throw the last No Restraint Growth 7” on that list too. It deserves way more attention, but they dissolved right after we got that out.
Anything else you'd like to mention to the No Echo readers?
I hope everyone is staying safe and taking care of themselves. I love hardcore and our community. I would encourage everyone during this time to read, research, and reflect to find ways to better ourselves. Now is a good time to conquer some demons, give up addictions, and go vegan. If you are having a hard time in isolation, seek out others and talk, don’t bottle it up.
Tagged: record label profile