Documenting The Scene: Philly labels SRA and Richie Records on their parallel ethos - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
F.O.D. performs at Stalag 13 in the 90s | photo courtesy of SRA Records

Around 2011, Bruce Howze, founder of SRA Records, had been looking for a singer to front his reverb-laden five-piece, Dangerbird, when he got in touch with Jim McMonagle of long-standing Philadelphia hardcore band F.O.D.

Howze would recruit him to help write, sing and play guitar on songs for a four-band compilation in the works. While in the studio McMonagle got to talking about F.O.D. material that’s been out of print since its original presses and that some people were interested in reissuing it at the time but McMonagle didn’t know them well enough to pursue it. Howze explained that he’d already been getting Dangerbird’s first two CDs and seven-inch into stores, so he was fit for the job. McMonagle agreed, and SRA Records was born.

A few years before that, in a similar recording scenario, Richie Records founder and namesake Richie Charles recorded some music to cassette with his friend just for fun. Charles’ friend made copies of the tape, wrote “Richie Records” on them and handed them out to other people they knew. Soon after that, a different friend approached Charles, mentioning the tape and its “Richie Records” moniker, assuming Charles was behind it. However, it was the first Charles had heard about it. Turned out his recording partner was passing the tapes without telling him he made copies, or even named them. After that, they made a couple more tapes together and distributed them informally because, “people wanted them for the novelty,” Charles says modestly.

When Charles was hit by a car in 2004, he used the settlement money to launch the label and Richie Records became more than a series of lo-fi home recordings circulating among friends. Perhaps Howze was in the right place at the right time, while Charles was in the wrong place at the right time. But even though these two records labels, each geared towards loud, hard-hitting and oft-abrasive garage, punk and metal, are completely unrelated to one another, they do overlap in ethos.

Howze has always been interested in the history of hardcore punk in Philly. The way he sees reissuing material from a scene decades ago is much like the way a historian sees sharing their own research – it’s about keeping people aware of what came before their current scene.

“Reissues are about documenting what was there, in a way to currently get it,” Howze says. “Some stuff will make money; some stuff will lose money. But it’s that some of these demos should be out in some way. It’s just to document those bands and a history of Philadelphia. There wasn’t any one person documenting who was recording or releasing stuff [at that time].”

After getting SRA up and running for a couple years, he released early 1980s Philly hardcore outfit Autistic Behavior’s album, Shattered Cattle, that never saw the light of day aside from two songs found on a compilation until Howze put it out through SRA.

“Just the fact that it was almost completely unknown or unavailable,” he says about why he wanted to reissue the album at all. “Austistic Behavior only had two songs released but they had an entire LP with the intention of coming out on Alternative Tentacles, and that was it. They played it for friends. They didn’t have demo tapes; they didn’t have live tapes floating around. One guy had it all (their original bassist). So it was just the idea that there was this classic 80s hardcore band from Philadelphia, that unless you had this one compilation of songs, you didn’t know that they had anything. If you had it then you had everything released.”

This year alone SRA released a cassette demo EP from experimental punk Rabies Shot, Nerve, the latest LP from post-punk Psychic Teens and an absolutely brutal compilation LP from hardcore four-piece Soul Glo of their first two EPs. Howze says he typically has some criteria in mind as to how he selects bands he wants to work with. First, they must be from Philly. Next, bands must be stable. Howze likes to see when bands can tour and endure change, even if it means changing members, which is something impresses him about heavy riffers Hound specifically. Lastly, it helps to mesh with the rest of the SRA roster: loud, heavy and dark.

Howze explains that when it came to Soul Glo, he had some reservations at first because of how young they were when he discovered them. However, he decided to bring them onto the SRA lineup almost strictly by how they moved him when he saw their set opening for F.O.D. a couple years ago.

“I was having this back and forth about, ‘Oh, they’re so young. Are they going to break up?’” he says about the then 19-year-old band members. “… My wife is very involved with the label and she also thought they were fantastic. I explained what I was feeling and she was like, ‘Well, do you make money on your other records?’ And I was like, ‘Well, no, not really.’ And she was like, ‘Well, then what’s the difference?’ I told them that and they laughed. Then they went on tour and ran out of records twice.”

The disregard for turning his label into a for-profit business is much like the way Charles, who doubles as guitarist and singer of smashers Watery Love, feels about running Richie Records. In fact, Charles sees it more as of a hobby than anything else. But with a strong bent for raw, grimy guitar-driven garage rock, Charles has dug Richie Records deep in that corner of the Philly scene.

Richie Records swag | photo courtesy of Richie Records

Richie Records swag | photo courtesy of Richie Records

Richie Records’ lineup of bleary shredders isn’t one for the faint of heart either, enlisting Birds of Maya, Mike Polizze’s burned out Purling Hiss LPs Hissteria and Paisley Montage, and psych rockers Spacin.’ All three of which share at least one member, so it’s clear what Charles means when he says Montana’s peculiar lo-fi Mordecai is the only band on his roster that aren’t “drinking buddies.” Keeping the bands within a circle of friends has helped Charles manage his label at a pace that works for him. He prefers the no-pressure way of running Richie Records because he’s survived the grueling touring lifestyle with Watery Love, and previously in Clockcleaner. Lucky for him, much of the Richie lineup shares the same sentiment.

“There are a ton of records always coming out and you can’t always expect someone to go get everything that comes out,” Charles says. “I think the model is meant for a band to put out a record and then spend six months trying to figure out something miserable like going out on tour. And I think most of the bands I work with don’t have careerist aspirations. I would never ask someone to go out spending months on people’s floors.”

Even though he doesn’t necessarily encourage the touring lifestyle, he has been supportive as far as repressing albums that demanded it such as Spacin’s Deep Thuds, an LP that had a response Charles admits being caught off guard by. He repressed it twice.

Charles keeps good company in Richie Records’ distribution, sharing the same company that covers Goner and In the Red Records, whom released a Watery Love seven-inch a couple years ago. Being a part of the right crowd empowers Charles as he says he every couple months he runs into the doldrums making him feel like letting go of the labels entirely. Then his friends bail him out.

“Every couple months I’d say I think about quitting the label all together,” Charles says. “And that’s just because it’s a pain in the ass. And then it just so happens people keep giving me good music at weaker moments and it gets me to start the arduous process of putting records out again. So here I am with three LPs coming out this winter.”

Richie Records will be releasing the new LPS from, Charles-described “twisted and psychotic-sounding,” Mark Feehan of Taiwan Housing Project, Mordecai and ex-Strapping Fieldhands’ Sparrow Steeple on January 27, 2017.

Whether in-studio or gathered in a barroom, SRA and Richie Records have struck while the iron, rather the record press, was hot for each of them. It’s allowed both Howze and Charles to thrive on the Philly’s prior punk, as well as its current hardcore and lo-fi garage scenes. Charles may sum it best for both labels though.

“I mean, I would want to put out everything I can, but I don’t think everyone’s ears are quite as twisted as mine,” he says, later adding “I think my thing is that I’m kind of lucky to be around a bunch of like-minded knuckleheads.”

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