If for nothing else, counting titles by such heavyweights as Trapped Under Ice, Turnstile, and Terror in its discography, Reaper Records would have built its reputation as one of the best hardcore labels of the last decade. But with other releases by the likes of Backtrack, Down to Nothing, and Angel Du$t also proves that you don't have a band name that starts with "T" to be considered one of the great acts on the label.
Reaper Records is owned and operated by Patrick Kitzel, a German-born, NY-based music fan and musician who has been part of the hardcore community going back to the '90s when he fronted the band True Blue. In this new interview, I chat with Patrick about everything from his German upbringing, his introduction to underground music, and the story behind his beloved label.
Tell me a bit about your upbringing.
I grew up in Essen, Germany in a typical blue collar family. Both my parents were lifelong alcoholics, which definitely shaped my childhood. They strictly drank 7 days a week and had little interest in their kids. It was right up my alley to rebel and be into anything that went against their lifestyle: skateboarding, loud music, straight edge, and the thing that really got them going was me starting to get tattoos. At the age of 8 I was already convinced that any place is better than being at home. I clearly remember getting a BMX bike from my grandparents for my 8th birthday which meant I didn’t have to borrow the neighbor kid's bikes anymore and could ride around and leave anytime I wanted. Anyways, that’s what my upbringing was like.
What kind of music did you first fall in love with?
Elvis Presely was my first love and still is one of my all-time faves. I never really worshipped any bands persay. It was always singers. Elvis was #1. Nothing was even close then and still isn’t. I've lways loved all the singers from the ‘50s. I also really love female singers from that era. Skeeter Davis comes to mind, her early stuff. The whole getting into bands thing didn’t really happen until I got into punk and hardcore. Before that, I never really thought of bands much, just singers.
How were you introduced to the world of hardcore? Did someone show you the way, or did you find it on your own?
Skateboarding. Probably the most generic answer possible but that’s the way it was in the '80s. Up until hip-hop kinda took over, the soundtrack for skateboarding was punk and hardcore. Metal, too, I guess. In 5th grade, which would put me at 10 or 11-years-old, back in Germany, one of the kids in my class had all sorts of punk band logos drawn on his army backpack. We started talking and the backpack was his older brother's and was a hand-me-down kinda deal, but the kid was my first contact with that kinda stuff. I changed schools the next year and got into skateboarding.
At the new school there were maybe 4 or 5 kids that were also into skating and one of them had two home made band shirts. Both blew me away visually. The one shirt had the Can’t Close My Eyes 7” cover on it and the other one was the Minor Threat cover with the dude sitting down holding his head. Both were made downtown at some copy shop. Some type of heat transfer. So fucking cool. Making your own one-off shirt. Blew my mind in so many ways. That was DIY before I even had any sort of concept what that means, ya know?
Who were some of the first hardcore bands that knocked you out?
There were a bunch of bands that blew me away with their intensity and raw power. Youth of Today was definitely one of them. Minor Threat, Misfits, but there was only one band that “knocked me out” and that was Bad Brains. If you don't consider them the best hardcore band of all time, I don't know what or who would be. Pure magic. Perfect in every way. The Brains capture everything that I would consider magical in music. Diversity, Power, Intensity. Fuck, man, they got it all. I would also like that to point out that there last few records rule too. Bite me!
What was the local hardcore scene like where you lived during your teen years?
The venue that was probably the coolest was called Zeche Carl. I saw so many cool bands there way back. Sick of It All comes to mind...Slapshot the list is endless. It was the club for bigger bands. You’re going to laugh but one of the best shows I saw there was NOFX. Early NOFX. It took me some time to actually slip into the underground hardcore scene. It was an age thing, too. I was 12 when I first started listening to punk/hardcore. Once I was in, it was another “other” world. That’s when I connected with people doing bands, fanzines, distros, and snail mail exchange. I did my first fanzine in 1994. That was another stepping stone to connect even deeper with the hardcore scene locally, but also internationally.
Another thing that comes to mind is how many youth culture types were at shows. Psychobilly, punks, metalheads, grunge losers, skinheads... Every hardcore show had 1/3 of the audience be some type of mix of people that came from a different kinda scene but came out cause they liked whoever they came out to see and it was always cool. It's something that got lost as hardcore grew bigger I think, sadly.
Tell me about the formation of True Blue.
René [Natzel] and I started True Blue in his bedroom at his parent’s house, Fall of 1997. At first we were gonna name the band Harsh Truth. We had no lineup, yet somehow stickers were made right away [laughs]. It was done paper, photocopy style, which then was transferred onto double-sided sticky sheets. A week later we decided the name came across too caveman style and considered changing it. I love this story because people would come to us all the time and be like “We love the name True Blue, great Underdog song!” Well, the band was never named after that Underdog song, even though they were right, it is a great song. René and I love Madonna and named the band after the Madonna song, "True Blue." It always bummed out people when we would tell them [laughs].
That is amazing and I'm also a big fan of the song! Anyway, did you guys have a clear vision of what you wanted the band to sound like and stand for from the very beginning?
We absolutely had a vision and a mission as well. The previous year the whole Youth Crew revival started and Rene and I hated it with a passion. It instantly turned from a resurgence of faster style hardcore to an “elitist” poser club. We hated it! True Blue was supposed to be the absolute opposite. We wanted the band to be more than sneakers and old hardcore shirts people bought of off eBay, etc. The 7” came out only on black wax on purpose to go against the colored vinyl uprise. Looking back, it all seems a bit funny but it was serious back then.
What’s the story behind the Friday, May 13th cassette True Blue released? Also, who ran Repel Records?
I ran Repel Records from 1994 until maybe 1999. Friday, May 13th was the title of the demo tape. Not much of a story behind the tape. It was one of the last releases I put out on Repel, since it was a cassette tape-only label. I did stuff with some of Scott Vogel's bands, like a Despair live tape when they were a band. I put out the original Buried Alive demo, Born from Pain. I also did a couple of tape compilations.
True Blue's The Ice 7" was issued on Crucial Response, an important hardcore German label owned by Peter Hoeren. How did you guys come to work together?
Peter was a friend until shortly after The Ice came out. The band had some momentum and for reasons that are beyond me he started acting like we were Metallica. The thing that broke the camel’s back was him getting us t-shirts made for a short run. Maybe a weekend worth of shows. We picked up the shirts—not more than 3 or 4 dozen simple shirts on a Friday morning—and he asked for money upfront, which we didn’t have. We agreed on paying him back ASAP. Long story short, no more than a week after we picked up the shirts, we had a letter from his lawyer looking for his $200. It blew our minds.
This is someone we knew for years and years. Again, looking back, it’s just laughing material, but back then we cut all ties with him. He must have been really desperate for money. Anyway, that was the end of our relationship with him. Also, it doesn’t help that over the years he kept making these ridiculously lame limited record covers to sell copies without asking the band to approve the artwork. That happened a few times.
How do you feel about the material True Blue released during your run? Do you think the recordings captured what the band was about?
I have mixed feelings about all that. I was never a gifted singer. None of that came naturally to me. René, the drummer, was the main writer on all the material and someone that’s just naturally gifted at many things he does. He's a musical wunderkind! I always felt I was holding his vision musically back a bit. To me, it was about playing shows and having fun. I was an inner-city hardcore kid that loved nothing more than to not be at home. I wanted to be on tour with my friends. I could care less if a guitar was in tune. That took its toll on the fun level from my perspective. To me, it was about jumping around, traveling with friends, and playing shows. Being a hardcore kid in a band meant to me life was good... and it still does.
Why did True Blue break up?
It was probably a multitude of reasons. Its crazy that it’s been 16 years since the break up. That’s nuts. After we came back from our US tour in 2001 that we did with Hatebreed and Death Threat, we were all headed in different directions, mentally. I started dating this girl from the US and so was Daniel [Bebber]. We were going through a lineup change and eventually I think people just stopped caring. People stopped talking to each other. René and I never stopped. He also kept in touch with Frank [Olma] and started World Collapse. I had moved to the States by then, so it was probably just what had to happen. In a way, it's nice now thinking about it as we talk about it today cause we never forced the band to do more stuff while not getting a long. We stopped when it was time.
Why did you choose to go upstate New York instead of somewhere closer to the city?
Again, a few factors played a role. The main reason was that my girlfriend—who had moved from the US to Germany—wanted to go back to take care of her mom, who had suffered severely from multiple sclerosis. If I remember correctly, True Blue was already in the process of breaking up and I made the decision to go with her and try something new. She was from upstate NY and was friends with all my friends that I knew up there. Basically all hardcore kids that I knew from touring with them or years of hardcore-related stuff. It was somewhat easy because I knew people and it wasn’t like going somewhere being a stranger.
I would love to hear about the genesis behind Reaper Records. What inspired you to start it, and how tough was it to get things right during the early days of the label?
It seemed like the thing to do at the time. I didn’t want to be in a band and doing a label would keep me involved with the scene while being more bound to one place. I pitched the idea to my friend D.J. [Rose] (Path of Resistance, Prayer for a Fallen Angel) to partner up and he was into it. He actually came up with the name. Everyone associates the name with the Grim Reaper, which we thought was cool, but the real meaning comes from the saying “you reap what you sow.” So, a “Reaper,” in a sense, is someone that’s responsible for his action because you constantly face the consequences of your actions. I hope that makes sense [laughs].
What ended up happening with D.J. and his involvement with Reaper Records?
In 2004, when Reaper started, there weren't as many labels around as today. It was fun. Unfortunately, D.J. didn’t have the time due to family and other business responsibilities and I ended up taking over things by myself. As far as running the label being tough, I don’t thing it's been very tough. The first release was the AWOL 7” with local people in the band that I am still friends with/work with. I always think about this release, folding covers, making different covers for pre-orders, record release shows, all that jazz. Fun stuff.
Terror started around that time and I did the demo on vinyl. That marked the third band in a row of Scott's that I did stuff for, and obviously, I did a whole bunch of Terror releases. Maybe 10? Scott and I go back to 1995 and doing stuff with him is always super cool throughout all these years. Reaper always took great pride in doing a mixture of underdog bands and established names. I'm always drawing from the the same source, which is a pool of friends. I never got a band on Reaper I didn’t know cause they would sell records. Quite the opposite. I told a bunch no because I didn't know them as people.
What were some of the first Reaper releases to do really well for the label?
The first release that really helped put Reaper on people’s radar was definitely the Terror Rhythm Amongst the Chaos EP. That's one of my favorite Terror releases all around. After that, Trapped Under Ice really pushed things forward. Those two I would say got things going.
Some of the bands Reaper was early to the party on include Turnstile and the aforementioned Trapped Under Ice.
Trapped Under Ice played a local show early on in their existence and their demo had some hype going, so I went to check them out. Boy, were they terrible live [laughs]. Nothing was in tune, everyone was off time, and Justice [Tripp] lost his voice two songs into the set. But let me tell you—they had heart and were unique and that’s what matters more than all the chops in the world, in my book. They didn’t pose. It blew me away. Everybody I saw around that time was just dressed in their ‘Core uniforms with expensive sneakers and $200 vintage hardcore shirts playing pretend. And here comes this young band from Baltimore that just puts it down perfectly. It was love at first sight, you could say.
Turnstile was a side project of Brendan [Yates], the drummer from Trapper Under Ice, where he was singing. Their roadie, Franz, was on bass, and some other friends. It was just a project in the beginning. Eventually, TUI broke up and they started playing full time. Again, it was a very organic thing. Everybody knew what they had in each other and we just did things. All those guys in the bands are awesome people.
Tell me about a few Reaper releases you feel are underrated.
I would say beyond any doubt, one of the best releases I put out over the years is the Maximum Penalty Life & Times LP. That record should have sold a million copies. It’s a perfect hardcore record from start to finish.
The Naysayer LP and the Take Offense releases. Maybe some bands are just too good for hardcore kids to get. Take Offense should be the size of Hatebreed [laughs]. Anyway, those come to mind.
Let’s talk about Reaper and where the label is today.
The most recent release was the Don’t Sleep 7”, which features Dave Smalley (DYS, Dag Nasty, ALL, Down by Law) on vocals. It's a great record. That guy hasn’t skipped a beat.
Before that I put out a flexi 7” by a young straight edge band called DARE from Southern California, and I just released their new 7” as well. I love having a full-blown straight edge band on Reaper. The new Sheer Terror 7” called Pall in the Family is out and rips. I fucking love Sheer Terror! The new lineup is great.
What’s the story behind the Tribal Tattoo Tour?
A few years ago, while being out on tour with Terror and Suicidal Tendencies in Europe, I was laying in my bunk on the tour bus and thought it would be cool to do a tour on a big bus across Europe with tattooers instead of bands. A different tattoo shop in a different city every day just like a tour with a band. Check out the website www.tribaltattootour.com or our Instagram.
If you had to pick one Reaper Records release that you’re most proud of, which one would it be and why?
I hate this question. It’s like picking your favorite kid. I got to work with so many great bands over the years. What I am most proud of is not a specific release but the fact that I got to do so much stuff with my friends that are in bands. Another thing I am very proud of is doing records with bands that I admired since I was a young kid. The Icemen and Zero Tolerance, for example. One milestone for sure is the the Maximum Penalty Life and Times LP. Trapped Under Ice Stay Cold—that’s a record right there that it so important in many ways. Terror’s Keepers of the Faith LP was a project that everybody got behind. It became a movement—I’d like to think—and definitely some very important hardcore records all around.
Check out Patrick talking about his record collection in a previous feature piece.