Manic Kat Records is a New York-based, independent punk label that puts their artists first. They work with their bands “every step of the way to help make their music everything it can be and more.” I got the chance to talk to label president Peter James about his love of music, where the name for the label came from, what the label looks for in potential new artists, their plan to double their active roster by the end of the year and much more.
Where does your love of music come from?
I’ve playing since I was 12 years old. I first got into it by listening to an old Green Day record for 10,039 happy hours and just kind of loved it from that point on and had been in bands ever since. I had a real passion for the scene and grew up in the North Jersey punk back in 2007/2008 and saw a lot of big bands come out of that. It’s just been my genre ever since.
What inspired you to get involved in the music industry on a professional level rather than playing in bands?
It’s kind of an interesting story. I’ve been in bands that have been signed to a major label to [ones] that have been signed to an indie label, [and it was] not the best outcome in both cases. So it was probably the tail end of 2009, we were recording our latest record at the time and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with it. We ultimately decided to put it out on our own; pull all our resources, start a new label and just put it out. We had gone, several years prior, on the Warped Tour, so we were going out on a month run and were like, “Let’s just just do this and see what happens.” We got a good reception while we were out on tour, so we came back and were like, “Let’s make this legitimate. Let’s sign a few bands underneath us.” And we kind of got the ball rolling from there.
It’s interesting because back then, I was basically doing everything from social media to A&R to booking. I was doing it all plus I had a full time job and had a full time band, so needless to say, it kind of burned out pretty quick. It wasn’t until the end of 2014 that we brought the label back around and kind of put the right opportunities in place and had people support us and help out with a lot of the other stuff that I mentioned. There was a big team behind [the whole thing] instead of a ‘one man behind the curtain’ sort of deal.
So in between 2009, when you started it to put out your own record, and 2014, when you brought the label back, what happened to it?
It just kind of went dormant, honestly. I was in the corporate world and stepped away from it. I didn’t like what was gong on in the scene, I had a couple bad experiences with a few of the bands on our roster at the time. So I just took a little hiatus just to kind of get myself together on a personal level and learn and grow, too. I took a lot from the corporate world when I came back to this. I like to think that I took the best part of the corporate world and put that into this as far as good teams in place and things of that nature and left all of the corporate B.S. behind, because that’s one of the main reasons that I left [laughs].
So was your return to the label more of a ‘I miss music’ thing or more of a ‘I want to get away from the corporate world and here’s a way I can use those skills’ kind of thing?
Probably both, honestly. I missed it a lot. I never stopped playing and I was still in bands. But I kind of stepped away from the label side of it, just for a while till I could figure out how to do it the right way and do it differently too. Because at the end of the day, a lot of labels nowadays are all kind of the same. You’re signing a similar sort of deal at whatever label you sign with typically. Our label structures agreements deals way differently than anything that’s out there currently.
Gotcha. Where did the name “Manic Kat” come from?
I’ve never been asked that question. It’s kind of funny. Back in 2009, we were trying to think of a cool label name and at the time, one of my guitar players was really into Rancid and Hellcat Records. So a part of it came from that. Instead of being conventional and making it the regular c-a-t, we were like, “Yeah, let’s make it punk-rock and really difficult for everybody and change the ‘c’ to a ‘k’.” So that’s kind of how we got started. It was pretty much a concept thing from a few people and just kind of merged into that.
What’s the criteria for an artist/band to be signed on by Manic Kat? Is there anything unique you look for in the artists that you’re thinking about signing?
Definitely. A lot of labels fall into this trap so I can’t really begrudge them: they basically sign a band of a particular genre because that genre is blowing up at the time, so they’ll sign 5 or 10 other bands that sound exactly like that and just kind of repeat the process cookie-cutter style over and over again, to the point where it’s hard to tell what band is which. So with us, we try not to have bands stepping on each other’s toes when we’re signing. We find try a band that brings something unique in their own way to the table. For example, we might find two female fronted bands, but they might be different genres or [have] their own different take or their own different vibe. There’s enough uniqueness to our roster where there’s something for everybody.
I know you mentioned earlier that you guys do things a little bit differently in that you guys do really put your artists first. So I was wondering if you could talk about how the label functions, specifically about artist development and what you guys do to help them succeed?
We are very much involved on the day-to-day level with our artists. Their success is our success so we’re always pushing them towards every opportunity possible. We can handle the booking in house. Bands at this level, they’re not at a point where they are working with APA or UTA [talent agencies] or anything like that. When they’re finding smaller agencies, [it might be] some guy in his mom’s basement trying to book some shows and 9 times out of 10, they don’t come to fruition. So they’ll go out on the road, roll up to a venue and either a) that show is not happening or b) the venue doesn’t even know about them. So it kind of hurts everyone all the way down; the band has spent all of their time, energy and money just getting out to that show, where they weren’t even going to be compensated for their play, then they aren’t able to sell any merch, so they aren’t making money. And ultimately, if they’re not moving product, we’re not making any money. It’s kind of a lose-lose all the way around. So with us helping them on that front, we can kind of control what’s going on and mitigate the risk as much as possible. That’s just one example.
Manic Kat Records had some big releases recently including Right On Kid’s excellent EP and The Anchor’s “Make It Last”. Can you tell us more about those bands and what you liked about those releases?
Well “Make It Last” was very unique. It was a very unique release for us, and for the band too. They’ve had a tremendous amount of success on their own prior to us picking them up. But this release was the first for us to chart on Billboard, it was the first for them to chart on Billboard on the Heatseeker chart. It was high-charting on iTunes as well on the alternative-rock chart. For us, it was one of the bands that was really starting to break out for us and kind of create a name for ourselves. So that release was phenomenal.
Right On Kid is a totally different genre of music [as they are] more straight pop-punk. Their release was solid. Ironically, I just listened to their new EP that is going to be coming out this spring and it is far superior. It blows that last EP away. They recorded with Seth Henderson of Knuckle Puck and it’s going to turn so many heads; it’s going to blow everyone’s minds. That’s going to be one of our highly anticipated releases of the year. That along with the new release from The Anchor, which is going to be out sometime this summer.
What is the most rewarding part about your job?
I think it’s when the bands hit a level of success, whatever the case maybe, whether it’s a huge writeup or a huge interview. Whatever it maybe that is a huge milestone for them tends to be a pretty big milestone for us because we’re at the point where we are still growing ourselves. We are still very DIY. My wife and myself still run the company and we self-finance it. There are no major venture capitalist firms putting hundreds of thousands of dollars behind us and we are saying we’re DIY and indie when we’re not. So as they grow, we’re getting bigger. It’s a partnership; we help each other out. That’s kind of the main thing we look for with our bands. A lot of bands have a ‘I’ mentality and its not their fault. A lot of it is engrained in them; they’re out on their own and kind of just worried about themselves. But we sign bands that are like-minded and it’s kind of like we’re all one big team. We’re all helping each other. Right On Kid’s success is our success which is also The Anchor’s success which is also Noise Brigade[’s success] and so on. So as our bands get more recognition, the label gets more recognition and people check out other bands on the roster.
You were just talking about how the label is still growing, do you have any specific goals for the label in the next couple of years?
Absolutely. I mean one big goal, even for 2019, is we’re going to be expanding our roster tremendously. We’ve gotten to the point where we are very comfortable with how we do our operations and our day-to-day and we’re really looking to expand our talent. So you’re going to see a lot of new signings in the next coming months and probably throughout the end of the year. We’re probably going to be doubling our active roster.
Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Oh I’m a total gear head. Oh, man. I love any kind of recording gear, musical gear, anything like that. I’m a big comic book nerd, too, as far as the DC world and Marvel world and things like that. So there are a few things I geek out about.