Legendary Outspoken/Amednment 18 guitarist Mark Hartsfield kindly took the time to answer some question on the past, present and future of his awesome record label, New Age. Check out their webstore and bag some bargains from the back catalogue; Unbroken vinyl, Lifetime, Turning Point, Kill Holiday etc.
You have been involved in hardcore for over fifteen years now, do you have a different approach to how you and your label 'fit in' to a scene that is very diverse and very different from how it was in earlier periods?
Yes, I think we fit in much differently now than before. In 2007/2008, I'm not sure where of if we fit in at all sometimes. Haha. My approach I would say is the same. My ideals including picking bands that I actually listen to on a regular basis and can believe in them, at least for the time being.
New Age is well-known for defining mid-90s hardcore, releasing some of the most significant records by bands like Unbroken, Mean Season, Lifetime etc. Personally I hate to think what the time, already considered as being a 'lull' by many, would have been like if those releases didn't get released properly. Is it rewarding now to know that in many respects you 'saved' hardcore? Did you feel like you were something of a solitary force at the time?For me, it was the right place at the right time. I was still just finding bands that I liked and could work with. Little did I know that getting a poorly recorded demo from a band based in the suburbs of San Diego called Unbroken, would impact the hardcore community as it did. It wasn't a vision or thinking where these bands will take us. I just love hardcore and straight edge and that's where we were headed.
I myself tend to look back at the mid-90s with great appreciation of the value that was placed on socio-political messages among bands like your own Outspoken and others you were associated with like Unbroken. Do you ever miss that time given the honesty and sincerity that the bands seemed to project?
100%. We didn't have doubt in anyone around us. Everyone was so active in their stances, lyrics, ideals. Most people didn't really spend much time thinking about where we will be in 15 + years.
Recently there has been something of a resurgence of interest in what are essentially the 'lost days' of the 90s. The re-release of the anti-matter zines and that 'Burning Fight' book seem to be challenging the idea that hardcore ended with the break-up of Turning Point and didn't really kick off again until Ten Yard Fight rolled along six years later. Are you glad to see a scene you were so influential in getting some recognition for its contribution to 'hardcore history'?Everything comes and goes in stages, or so it appears to me. We will always miss certain aspects of the scene and our sub genres. Things get popular, we over saturate, it goes away when everyone has had their fill, then it goes away and we miss it again.
Financially, how were the mid-90s to cope with? Was it hard keeping the label as productive as it was or did the fact that your relative monopoly on most of the West Coast help things ticking along? I'm sure you never imagined you'd be able to keep it up for so long.
At the start at the 90's till about 93, thing were going well for us. Trusting certain distributors turned out to be our greatest downfall. I wouldn't say we (New Age) had some sort of strong hold on things. There was/were Revelation, Nemesis, Workshed, Ringside, Conversion, Indecision, etc. It was a time when there we a lot of venues, labels, bands, kids.....just a damn good time!
Onto those famous two words…straight-edge still holds a big value as far as the label goes – I think almost all of your current roster are edge and you have just started an self-proclaimed edge band, do you ever feel like the images of those bands or their 'aesthetic' – do you ever feel like that overtly straight edge message has lost currency in today's scene?
Not to the kids here today. From my position i have seen 99% that claimed they would be "true till death" come and go so I could be bitter about straight edge but it's not that way at all. It makes me reflect on an old New Age straight edge shirt that said "watching you fall only makes me stronger". That is something that relates to me daily. I really feel that the YOU and the ME are most important in that phrase. The overly straight edge message can seem passe to those gone from it now, but not to those who still believe. In regards to the label and a straight edge message, it goes back to the fact I listen to our bands. I love the straight edge, simple as that. So straight edge will always dominate most of the roster.
It seems to me like you've always wanted to the label to be a fair reflection of your own idea of hardcore rather than something to make money from. Does this approach make you feel slightly alienated from the likes of Rev who seem to have jumped back into releases a few hardcore records by bands they seem sure of decent sales from? While you were keeping hardcore alive they only seemed interested in the post-hardcore wave, always seems a bit weird to me.New Age Records is absolutely a reflection of what I believe, love, like about hardcore as a whole. I have luckily avoided trends, flashes in the pan, etc. If I have stuck the label in a rut with letting straight edge bands dominate the roster, I will die happy and still straight edge. I'm not a business man in the realm of what most record labels are or aspire to be. I have seen many labels change their tastes in different directions many many times. It's not something I need to point out, but I think that actions like that, sell outs, etc. cheapen our causes, view points, stances and unfortunately make hardcore and punk blend into the soulless types of music that we are set aside from for the most part.
Following on, I do understand that you were once going to have an A18 record put out by them and it never happened, any story behind that at all?
A18 signed to Revelation Records for a 2 record deal. Whoever the A&R rep that took over thought we weren't worth being on Revelation and "weren't going to tour enough". Rev gave us the option to either be releases on one of the in-house exclusive labels or we could buy our recordings back and they would void the contracts. I told them specifically that we had signed a deal with REVELATION records and weren't going to be shelved by being put out on some side label they couldn't care less about. We spoke to our friends at Victory and they were happy to have us. We bought the masters back for "ForeverAfterNothing" from Revelation and sent them to Victory. While with Victory we toured Europe twice, the U.S. 3 times and the west coast three times! As well as being busy locally most weekends with shows, A18 also did 3 music videos and recorded a second full length called "Dear Furious" for Victory. Nothing would have been possible with Revelation not believing in us. I would like to take a second and thank Victory Records for taking a chance and believing in us. Without Victory, "ForeverAfterNothing" would have died on the shelf at Rev as would have A18 as a whole. Victory seems to get a bad shake from time to time and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them (Tony, Clint and the gang) for coming though with every promise made, thanks.
What are your favourite records that you have been proud to put the New Age logo on?
It would be quicker to list the ones that I'm not proud of! Hahaha.. They all hold special places (even the bad ones) in my heart/mind. Each had special rewards and headaches. Some releases I can't believe the impact they made and others I had higher hopes for.
Any records that you wish you had released but they never worked out? Would you ever take on releases for bigger current band slike Have Heart who I think fit in quite well with the style of the label?
I will take any band I like listening to and that will tour! So Have Heart totally qualifies! Back in the day I must admit I got the Earth Crisis demo and Snapcase demos in the mail and turned down the 1st Strife full length. Like I said before, I'm no business man! Haha. Those bands becoming what they did would have really placed New Age on a whole different level wouldn't you say?
Do you want to say a few words about your new band, One Choice?
I sure would. One Choice is myself and 2 of my pals from the later years of A18 (Colin and Nicholas). The band also features Vic from Collision and Rob from Built to Last. It's easily the most relaxed position I have ever been in with any band. Everyone has been edge for a pretty long time. With most bands I have been in, I have had to be the primary driving force where with One Choice everyone is constantly pushing the band forward and it makes for a much better environment.
Outspoken re-united for a couple of show sin 2005, how did you feel it went; is that band still something you hold with the same esteem as you did back in the day?
The Outspoken reunions have always gone well, in 1998 with Unbroken, in 2003 at "Sink With Cali Fest" and in 2005 at the "Coming of Age" fest. Its definitely a different group of people than would take the stage in 1990, '91, '92, '93 or '94. When we played back then, we were fired up and had such a stance on so many things. Have people changed in the last 17 years? Absolutely. Are they still people I value and love? Absolutely. When we get the interest in doing something, for me it's just a time to have some fun and reflect and get to hang out with some of my best friends. back then I just viewed them as my buddies and we were on the same level with the edge, etc. But now through the years they have proven to be amazing people and when I get the chance to hang out and play with them, I cherish it.
And one final question; will you ever re-unite Outspoken for a Europe show? I know you played a few covers with A18 a few years back but we need a full re-union!
We talk about it every few months but with 4/5 grown men, with families, houses, jobs, etc planning it is next to impossible. I would love to do it with those guys since most of them have never toured Europe and I have been lucky enough to go 3 times. I might die of laughter, they are some funny dudes! Maybe we just need an offer...wink wink!
Thanks so much for doing this interview! Sorry it took me a few weeks to pull it together.