Chattanooga's Failed Recordings label releases music no one else will
Today in the digital age, the barrier for self-releasing music has never been lower, but that doesn’t solve every problem. “If you really want it to work, you really have got to hustle,” said Jerry Reed, the main force behind the local cassette label Failed Recordings (failedrecordings.bandcamp.com).
Originally founded by Reed’s friend and fellow musician Tony Levi, Failed Recordings has built a reputation for releasing daring, intense and uncompromising music, including noise, metal, hardcore and unclassifiable offerings.
Reed is a solo noise artist under the moniker Rurnt and has drummed for several hard-rock groups such as Rough Rope and Hoth, and he is also the organizer of the annual Leaky Sockets festival, featuring “way-out sounds” from regional and national musicians, the next of which will be held at Sluggo’s North on June 19 and 20.
Recently, Failed Recordings has unleashed a flurry of new releases and re-pressings for acts including the chopped-and-screwed beat-oriented alias of local artist Joseph J. Micolo III called GTRUK, the Knoxville black metal band Argentinum Astrum, the blistering Kingsport power electronics project Mannequin Hollowcaust and the two-piece sludge band Red Necklace featuring Bill Robinson (of the Bohannons) and Patrick Wilkey.
The most mysterious and intriguing of the new releases is by a solo act called Tombwrecker, about which Reed has little information.
“Maybe the guy lives in Europe, maybe Japan?” said Reed. “It’s totally destructive breakcore fashion, lots of beats; you’re definitely not dancing to them, unless you happen to be dancing with knives in your brain.”
Although Reed is a vinyl collector, one of the reasons Failed Recordings concentrates on cassettes is a financial one.
“I don’t do vinyl because vinyl is expensive, and you have to do pretty intense minimums, like 300 copies,” said Reed. “Try not to ever go into debt for anything you have to pay. Just doing tapes is pretty cheap. You could have a decent markup and still charge $5.”
“Some people are like, ‘Why do you do tapes?’” said Reed. “The main reason I got back into tapes is because they are a cheap, portable way to still experience finding new music through a physical medium, as opposed to just going on Bandcamp, although there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Keeping financial pressures to a minimum also allows for creative independence, as Reed explained.
“As soon as you try to cash in on something that brings you joy, you’re probably going to have to break a few rules you’ve set for yourself, or have an outside interest be a part of it that you can’t really argue with since they’re invested in it financially,” said Reed. “I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t want to take away the joy I get out of just making music to feel like I have to change the music I make to feed my kids.”
With Failed Recordings being more like a fun obsession than a business, Reed only deals with music for which he has a passion, and one reissue—the 2010 album Ceiling by the Australian band Loomer—started with a simple question.
“I love that album so much that I reached out and asked, ‘Can I put this out?’” said Reed. “Honestly, that’s the hidden gem, because it’s pretty different from anything else put out by us.”
“I still want to put out the first thing I ever wanted to put out: a Tracers tape,” said Reed. “The Tracers just blew my mind the first time I saw them, at a Pizza Hut in Ringgold.”
Reed explained that the Pizza Hut was rented out for a show in the late ’90s and was memorable for him and many others in the underground northwest Georgia community. It featured punk and rap acts, the first live noise set Reed ever witnessed and The Tracers, which he called “the most intense, damaged, Chickamauga crazy insanity rock-and-roll ever.”
For budding do-it-yourself musicians, Reed has some advice for letting their creations germinate.
“Figure out how you want to record,” said Reed. “Honestly, I’d wait a little while and not just throw everything that you have out there. Maybe give your project time to grow before you start documenting it.”
“When it comes to creating, you should only have to answer to yourself,” said Reed. “Once you start answering to someone coming from the outside who doesn’t have the same motivation as you—I’m not saying your bandmates, but like promoters, label guys—they’ll never have as much invested in your music and your art as you do. So do you really need to take what they say for their interest when you’re doing something that should be for you?”