In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels who’s DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.
When some kids graduate from high school, their parents buy them a car, or maybe an expensive piece of jewelry to commemorate the day. As for me... I asked my parents to send me to Arlington, VA, home of Teen-Beat Records.
My boss Kevin thinks this sounds charming, but nowadays, I think it’s called “stalking.” I first discovered Teen-Beat Records from Christina Kelly’s “What Now” column in Sassy Magazine. Label head Mark Robinson was also the frontman for the band Unrest, an alumni of Kelly’s infamous “Cute Band Alert” list:
As a starry-eyed youngster, I found Teen-Beat absolutely irresistible. Apparently, Mark started the label as a teenager himself, along with some friends at Wakefield High School. And as the label and its founder matured, they became a touchstone for indiepop, and home to the aforementioned Unrest, as well as Versus, Eggs, Blast Off Country Style, Tuscadero, and so much more. Teen-Beat was also known for its incredible design sense, thanks to Robinson, who also works as a graphic designer.
And they were known for their sense of fun -- more than just music is assigned catalog numbers in the Teen-Beat discography: their old headquarters that I shyly visited in the ’90s is #97, a staff member’s hospital bill is #180, and the frontman for True Love Always is tattooed with catalog number #310 on his bicep!
[ You can view all the Teen-Beat catalog numbers & items at their rad OCD-ish website, which happens to be catalog #450 itself... ]
Mark was gracious enough to answer a few questions over e-mail about Teen-Beat:
What initially inspired you to start an independent label?
I had always wanted to open.a record store. At age ten, my mom took me to the library and we researched how to start your own business.
Starting a record store is a lot more expensive than starting a record label, so record label it was. We bought and dubbed cassettes one at a time which cost a fraction of a dollar to make.
One of the thousands of cassettes from the Teen-Beat Audio Archive®
// photo courtesy of the Teen-Beat Facebook page [Teen-Beat #473]
What is your favorite part of running an indie label?
Knowing the people in my favorite bands, designing record covers, and sometimes helping out with the recording.
What is your least favorite part of running an indie label?
Accounting; crunching numbers for taxes and royalty statements.
What is YOUR favorite independent label, besides your own?
I suppose Factory would be my all time favorite, but I’ve got lots more. Trunk, Cubist Pop, Slumberland, Cherry Red, Dischord, No Trend Records, DSI, and countless others.
Teen-Beat HQ now resides in Cambridge, MA. Most recently, for Record Store Day, they re-issued the incredible Perfect Teeth 7″ boxset, and other recent releases have ties to the past: the long-awaited Fang Wizard LP, a Versus EP, and a new project of Mark’s called Cotton Candy, featuring Evelyn Hurley, former vocalist for Teen-Beat band Blast Off Country Style (and the recipient of Teen-Beat #180).
I, for one, cannot wait to see what future Teen-Beat catalog numbers bring us.