Counting Up with 1-2-3-4 Go! An interview with Steve Stevenson.
I wrote this article for GET BENT, a collaborative blog that provides news, reviews, and features about underground garage and punk rock. Be sure to check them out. Here is the article in it’s entirety.
Pedro Hernandez of Night Fog Reader checked in with Steve Stevenson, founder of 1-2-3-4 Go! Records to ask him about the label’s humble beginnings, the record store, the struggles, and this weekend’s action packed anniversary party.
Based out of Oakland, CA, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records stands out as a local punk rock Mecca. Not only has it put out dozens of records over the last decade, its roster includes local favorites like Shannon & The Clams, The Sandwitches, and Personal and the Pizzas. But it’s more than a label. It also acts as a retail store that provides punk rock vinyl to hungry ears in the Bay Area. The label celebrates its 10 year anniversary this weekend July 22-24 at Oakland’s Metro Opera House and is bringing some real cut-up talent like Nobunny, The Bananas, King Khan, Zero Boys, Ringers, plus tons more.
It was in 1997 when Stevenson naively flirted with the idea of starting a label. “I asked pretty much nothing but huge bands that I didn’t know personally. So obviously I got a lot of no responses…” It wasn’t until 2001 when 1-2-3-4 Go! put out its first release. At the time, Stevenson was working at Singles Going Steady, a record store located in Seattle, WA. Stevenson explains that it was there where he received a demo from a band called Spitting Teeth. “I asked them if they wanted to do a 7 inch. They said yes, and in August of 2001, their record came out, and it just snowballed from there.”
Putting out that first record gives you a hundred times more credibility than someone who hasn’t, Stevenson says. In a world where there’s so much talk of starting a label, putting out cassettes, 8-tracks—yes, seriously, 8-tracks—Stevenson explains that “only a handful of people actually do it, and only a handful of those are actually serious about it.” But like any serious business, Stevenson has met some challenges. “There’s a ton of money you have to put out up front that takes around 6 months to start recouping in a meaningful way.”
And even after those 6 months, there are still hiccups along the way. Just ask Stevenson if Phil Collins has a place in punk rock. “I’ve had small stuff, like a whole pressing held up because something stupid, like a picture of a guy holding a Phil Collins record cover over his face on the inner label. Because we didn’t have permission from Phil Collins for that picture to appear on there, they wouldn’t press the record at all. So we had to have all new labels made, and $100 or so dollars got pretty much thrown in the trash.” I guess Phil Collins would prefer to be featured in a Bone Thugs & Harmony music video than on the insert of a punk rock record. What would Peter Gabriel do?
Within this challenging industry, a lot of major labels have struggled with the changing nature of the record biz, but Stevenson credits the shop to the label’s current success. “Having a store really gets you face-to-face with a lot of people you may not have met or talked to otherwise. My label has taken the direction it has over the last 3 years because of the store.” And every year, the label gets into a musical rut, but it’s this rollercoaster that he finds interesting. “You’re sure you’re not going to hear something new and interesting, and then some brand new thing comes along and blows your mind, or you hear something old that sets you off on a new musical tangent. I still enjoy discovering music and learning new things about it. It exposed me to all kinds of things I probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
That raw enthusiasm that Stevenson employs in exposing himself to new music is just as potent when directed towards his label. “Take it seriously, and go for as much gusto as you can muster. Oh and it’s not a crime to keep a record in print. To me, the point of doing a label is making music available to people. Not doing stupidly small pressings and never repressing when there’s huge demand. I mean, it’s kind of cool to see your stuff go for crazy prices on Ebay, but I’m about making records. Not collectors’ items, exclusively.”
With a work ethic like that, it’s good to see that despite the ups and downs, 1-2-3-4 Go! is still going strong. The action starts tonight, Friday July 22, with a sick set from The Cute Lepers, Personal and the Pizzas, Nobunny, and more. Full details on the anniversary fest here. Still not sure what to expect? “Fun, and 17 of the coolest bands going at the moment. There is ZERO filler on these shows. I don’t have the time or willingness to do something like that. I really encourage people to watch every band, even if they haven’t heard of them before. I was really thoughtful about putting together these shows, so you may find your new favorite band this weekend.”