Michael Cammarata and Chris Radwanski of Born Losers Records | photo by Anthony Green
I’m A Loser, Baby: Going inside the world of Born Losers Records ahead of the inaugural Losers Fest
Formed in 2016 by Suburban Living’s Michael Cammarata and Chris Radwanski, Born Losers Records is one of Philly’s boutique labels built on garnering personal connection and ambitious, yet still authentic, musicality. Having been on the receiving end of the industry’s ups and downs with other prominent labels, Cammarata and Radwanski decided to use their collective management skills to launch Born Losers from their homes. Having a realistic understanding of what makes the relationship between an artist and a label flourish is the foundation of their work, and in response, they’ve earned a reputation based on unwavering support and — let’s be honest — really good taste.
Radwanski and Cammarata built out their roster to include local favorites like Ali Awan, Sixteen Jackies, Total Rubbish, and the new arrival of Fuckin’ Whatever (featuring Circa Survive frontperson and Doylestown native Anthony Green). They’ve also signed acts in LA, Canada, and Europe, which is a testament to their long-standing mantra: good people attract good people.
“Born Losers…took a chance on me as a brand new artist with no history of performing,” says recent signee Catherine Moan. “Mike and Chris are so friendly and have been totally supportive and accommodating throughout this artistic journey. I spent the last year and a half using my free time from unemployment to teach myself to write music and sing, and to see it come to fruition through the support of a label is quite literally a dream come true.”
The label is set to host its first-ever showcase at Ortlieb’s, a venue close to Cammarata and Radwanski’s hearts, on September 10th and 11th, featuring The Slaps, Sixteen Jackies, Ali Awan, Johnny Dynamite and the Bloodsuckers, Total Rubbish, Catherine Moan, Grey Haas, and Night Sins.
“Working with Born Losers has been great,” Ali Awan tells us. “I’m excited to meet all the other artists on the label. Having it at a place like Ortlieb’s will make it really comfortable to play and party after the show, and the out of town bands can make some good friends and connections.”
We chatted with Cammarata and Radwanski about the growth of Born Losers ahead of Losers Fest this weekend; read our conversation below, and get tickets and more information on the festival at the XPN Concert Calendar.
The Key: Born Losers Records has had a really busy last couple of years, 2020 in particular. How’ve you both been? How did your approach to running the label change through the pandemic and after?
Chris Radwanski: Suburban Living’s tour had been canceled back in March 2020, and shortly after that everything else sort of fell apart. All of the guitar lessons I was teaching were canceled, the shows I was booking at Triumph Booking in New Hope were canceled. Mike’s restaurant gig closed. So we were able to throw ourselves into the label full-time, and that had never happened before. We always had upwards of three jobs going at any one time, so we were able to put in an eight to ten-hour a day every day while we were working remotely on this, and it was either do that or let this fall into nothing, which just wasn’t really an option. We had a couple of planned releases; They/Live, Dante Elephante, and Jaguar Sun were scheduled early during the pandemic and we had the conversation of, “Do we hold off? Do we wait a month and then maybe this will all be over in a month?”
Mike Cammarata: The time when that was even a thought — “Maybe in a month things will be better.”
CR: Whatever deliberation process we went through, we ended up just sticking with the original release and seeing what happened.
MC: There was a philosophy that led us to say, “Fuck it. Let’s just stick with the plan,” and that was because people needed music then more than ever. There were a lot fewer distractions so everyone could actually consume music in a way that wasn’t passive — on your way to work or in the background at a bar. People could really sit and listen. That’s one of the main reasons why we just kept at it.
CR: I remember reading articles a month or two into the real quarantine that said no one was listening to new music, everyone was just going back to “nostalgia acts” because it reminded people of better times. So that sort of made me wonder if quarantine releases were right, or if people were just going to be listening to things that were comforting. But we did it, and we kept signing acts and we kept selling records.
MC: It allowed us to throw a little bit of caution to the wind because, as musicians ourselves, being sold on the live set was a really big component of how we pick up a band. A big part of our system is getting people on the road. When that wasn’t even an option, we had to base everything off of running a release cycle without any of the live components attached, which enabled us to sign a lot more bands.
TK: How were you able to keep all of this forward momentum and differentiate your label from others? From an outsider’s perspective, you never lost relevancy and you took on more projects than anyone I’ve kept up with. The last year and a half seems like it was really good to you.
MC: As long as you keep a standard for yourself as to what you’re delivering to an artist, the reputation slowly grows — if a friend in another band has had a positive experience with the label and they share that with their friends, that’s great. The more releases we put out and the more time we’ve had to really give a shit is something that gets around, word-of-mouth style.
CR: We’ve had some really awesome successes doing this. It’s always a little nerve-wracking investing in a band that doesn’t have any releases prior. Or if they’ve never even played a show; that was the case with Total Rubbish. They sent us the record, and they had never played the songs live. It sounded great, but there was literally no foundation to go off of. We were able to take that and go — Vans even got behind it. It was just a really amazing release. We sold out all the tapes and shirts relatively quickly.
MC: Now that shows are happening, there’s such a welcoming for them and everyone wants them to play all the time. It’s amazing to see them blossom into this band. When we started working together, it was just a recorded project and we didn’t know how this was going to take place if they wanted to just casually release music or really go for it. It’s been so cool to see them grow as artists as well as the people around them being so supportive. The show that they played at Underground Arts a few weeks ago — it was amazing to see them really command a stage and have everyone be super into it.
CR: They’re making moves and that was a complete COVID project. I’m sure the pandemic screwed over thousands and thousands of people in regards to putting out their music. But wherever bands we were working with, they were very receptive to just doing the online work and building that presence. Some people hate it. If that were my band, I would have fallen apart immediately. I don’t put my face on the Internet. I don’t do the “Here I am, doing *this thing* “ on stories. The fact that the bands we had were willing to create the content to keep things moving forward was so important. I feel like that’s a new part of the questionnaire that we probably have to have when we sign a band before we have the initial conversation. Before, it was, “Are you willing to tour?” Now, it’s like, “Are you willing to post a lot online?” That’s what we need right now.
MC: If you understand TikTok — even better. We don’t get it.
TK: That’s totally true. I think a lot of people are weirdly thankful for the time to be able to really dig into how to market their band as a product, which isn’t a thing a lot of people are comfortable with. It’s funny that you say you aren’t, either, because Born Losers Records has such a fantastic online presence. You make sure all of your bands and their supporters are amplified, so I’d say you know what you’re doing.
CR: I think a lot of the successes throughout that year allowed us to make even bigger moves. Landing the Fuckin’ Whatever project was great. We’re really excited for the rest of this year and next to play out because we have a lot of really cool things we’re about to announce.
MC: It’s funny because we feel like we’re sort of in a slow period right now, even though we have three active releases. Just knowing what’s coming up — it’s going to be wild.
TK: It’s relatively obvious that there’s an innate sense of community between you and your artists. Is that something you seek out when building your roster? Why is that so important to you?
MC: We want to make sure that everyone we work with are just good people. And good people can tell when you’re a good person. Everyone on our label thankfully is that, and they all support each other and get along.
CR: A lot of it kind of just happened naturally. We started seeing the bands like and repost each other’s content and it was amazing to see that community grow. Most of our artists, if not all of them to date, have done their follow-up releases with us. That feels really good. I look at bands like The Coathangers who have been on the label Suicide Squeeze for probably ten years — that’s a goal of ours. We want bands to just come and live here until they don’t want to be a band anymore. I think that’s the ultimate reward.
MC: Definitely agreed.
CR: I wasn’t even there this night — I saw a post that Total Rubbish, Korine, and Catherine Moan were all hanging together at Ortlieb’s during a night Mike was DJing. I love that. You can see the community forming in real-time, it’s amazing.
MC: That’s the night the festival was born.
TK: You’ve definitely earned a reputation of being the “cool” indie label, but also one that’s built on mutual support and respect. You guys work hard to make your artists happy, and those things always come up when I talk about you.
MC: I’m just shocked and flattered that we can even have a reputation. That’s always amazing to me.
TK: Let’s go back to that night at Ortlieb’s — what specifically sparked the idea for Losers Fest?
MC: My wife and I DJ together at Ortlieb’s a lot, and our first gig back was when all of the COVID cases were down, all the mandates were lifted, and most of our artists in the area came to hang out. Total Rubbish had a headlining show there and they were thinking of who could open for them, so Catherine Moan joined the bill, and then we thought to just make it a Born Losers night. I’ll DJ, we’ll get more of our bands to play. Then Kyle Costill, the owner of Ortlieb’s, always has such grand ideas, so he came up with the weekend, and it just came together really easily. We’ve always wanted to do this, but we’d never really had enough “clout,” for lack of a better term, until now. This feels like the right time because people care. I think it came together in a day or two after we sent out a bunch of texts.
CR: One of my biggest fears in life as a musician, and as a show promoter, is having an under-performing show. It used to give me the worst social anxiety when we would have a show — headlining or not — and the room was half-full. I don’t even want to think about it.
MC: It’s worse when your friends come and they’re the only handful of people there.
CR: That was always the fear of jumping into this too early. But I think the lineup that we have at the venue that we’ve chosen means we’ll have a successful two nights.
MC: I hope this is something we can do yearly.