What was I thinking? That’s my first thought when I look back on the fact that we expanded Innocent Words to have a record label.
I wanted to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Innocent Words because, well, I was pretty proud of the accomplishment. My plan was to make a compilation of bands that fit the bill of what we set out to do. There was no charge to be on the compilation album, and there was an overall goal for putting out a compilation.
As someone who was a child born with health issues, I had always wanted to give back to the children’s hospital who took care of me, who literally saved my life. I decided all the money earned from the compilation and the money from a release concert would go to the art department of the children’s hospital. We would buy books and art supplies like crayons, paper, and pencils for the kids. This was very important to me because I love art and I spent numerous hours in the art room while I was in the hospital.
Innocent Words Records was launched with the release of ‘Small My Table’ on December 10, 2002. We secured several local bands including Absinthe Blind and Everybody Uh-Oh and also obtained bigger named bands such as Stickfigure (featuring Jack McDowell); Burden Brothers (featuring Todd Lewis of the Toadies); Dropsonic; Pinkston; and the coup de grace, Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.
The compilation release was a success both financially and for the kids. Over the years, we released a couple more compilations for the kids, and the bands contributing included Ani DiFranco, Veruca Salt, Steve Turner of Mudhoney, Jay Bennett of Wilco, King’s X, Hamell On Trial, Tegan and Sara, and so many more wonderful artists.
Before the first compilation album was released, word got out I was putting out a comp. One night at a local watering hole watching a band, I struck up a conversation with two musicians – David Domal, who introduced me to Scott Kimble. To this day, they are two of the best people I’ve ever met. I told them I was toying with the idea of starting a record label. Much like the magazine conversation, it was just something I thought about, but nothing in great detail.
Scott was in a band called Terminus Victor. I had known him for only a few months from him coming into the CD store I worked at, and we always talked music. He was really laid back like me, never pushing his band on me or asking for a review, which won major points in my book. I hated bands who begged for press.
I had never seen Terminus Victor or heard their music, but when I told the guys that night I was toying with the idea of starting a label, Scott said he would love to be on Innocent Words Records if it ever happened. This struck me as funny because we didn’t know each other that well, and for all he knew I could have screwed his band over or taken money. Then he told me, and I remember this like it was yesterday, that he liked what I stood for and the hard work I put into the magazine, and he knew that hard work would go into a label too. I was flattered.
I went to see Terminus Victor live, which was ironically at an annual benefit called the Great Cover Up where local bands would cover other bands for charity.
I was talking to Scott at the bar before the band went on, and a nerdy guy wearing a suit came up and introduced himself. I had no idea who he was, he was the total opposite of Scott, who always wore grungy black clothes. Sadly, I kind of blew the suit wearing guy off, and I asked Scott who that was, and he said, “That was Don, our guitar player.” I felt like a total ass and would later apologize to Don repeatedly.
Terminus Victor took the stage. They were a two-piece – guitar and bass with a drum machine – and it was the most insane local show I had ever seen. They covered Joy Division, and they were remarkable. They were so loud I felt Scott’s three-string bass reverberate in my chest as he scoured the stage like a serial killer looking for his next victim. Then there was Don, wearing a suit, playing blistering guitar leads, and as he would play he would have these major leg kicks like he was an epileptic. As I took photos he almost kicked me in the face several times.
After they walked off the stage I talked to Scott and Don and just said, “Let’s do this.” A few months later we re-released their debut ‘Mastering the Revels,’ then the follow-up ‘Under Surveillance.’ Then families got in the way, and the band took a really long time to release their third album. Innocent Words Records had folded by that time, but to this day Terminus Victor was the most successful band on Innocent Words, and I still think if everything had lined up correctly they’d be a nationally known band.
We kept signing bands that were local to help them get their music out there. Some were great acts like Terminus Victor, Triple Whip, and the Dynamo Therum. But like any label in a college town knows, once college is over, real life begins and bands break up. We ventured out of our little local area and went global signing Cameran from Austria. They were an amazing powerful band, but I got in over my head with that one. Our final release was back home with the Chicago-based icons The Great Crusades. Another phenomenal bands who had longevity and a big following overseas.
Over a five-year span, Innocent Words Records released 12 CDs, and it was a hell of a lot of fun, not to mention a major learning experience. Being a one-man operation and the magazine getting more distribution at the time, I had to give up one of the projects, and it was the label, because in the end the magazine is my baby; it overrides everything else when it comes to Innocent Words.
Looking back, I am really proud of what we did as Innocent Words Records, because it was something I’d always wanted to do, but in the end, I would never want to do it again.
Innocent Words Records releases:
Various Artist: Small, My Table (2002, IWR-001)
Terminus Victor: Mastering the Revels (2002, IWR-002)
Triple Whip: Slapshot (2003, IWR-003)
The Dynamo Therum: Truth or Consequences, N.M. (2003, IWR-004)
Various Artist: A Warm Breath…and A Scream (2003, IWR-005)
Lorenzo Goetz: Allure (2003, IWR-006)
Legs For Days: S/T (2004, IWR-007)
Lorenzo Goetz: Jesus Elephant (2004, IWR-008)
Various Artist: More Ways Than Three (2005, IWR-009)
Terminus Victor: Under Surveillance (2005, IWR-0010)
Cameran: A Caesarean (2006, IWR-0011)
Great Crusades: Four Thirty (2006, IWR-0012)