Record labels tend to be more families than business arrangements. Western Massachusettes' Sounds and Tones Records continues that theme. This family has established themselves as a force to be reconned with in the underground rock scene. Rob had a chance to exchange emails with the labels headman Christopher and here is the conversation that transpired.
Rob 1340 (RF): Can you please tell me the story of how your label came to be?
Christopher Hantman (CH): Sounds and Tones Records started in 2011. A group of friends who always had an interest in local and independent music decided to start the label as a side project when they were bored and jobless over the summer. The goal of the label was to help the artists we already knew and loved and to find new ones in the process. At the same time, I was starting a radio show at my college and was going to call it Sounds and Tones. We loved the name so much we decided to use it for the label, and the radio show never even happened! We released our first compilation that summer called, “It’s a Pop-Punk Kind of Summer” which featured acts such as Transit, State Champs, The Hotelier, Born Without Bones and more.
Once school picked back up a number of us started to get jobs, and take on other responsibilities that just made it impossible to continue with the label. The label fizzled out quick and we all thought it was dead, and very short-lived.
Fast forward to May 2015 - I’d been out of college for a year and working 5 part time jobs, half to pay bills but half because I was bored and felt creatively unfulfilled. In the time between the compilation and now I had worked with a number of arts organizations and gotten a lot of marketing experience. In addition to that, I had booked a ton of shows but was looking for a name to host them under and start approaching things in a more professional way. I wanted to build a name and a community that people could recognize and rely on. To mark our return we released our - “Don’t Call it a Comeback” Compilation featuring over 40 acts from Singapore to California.
In the 10 months since our return, we have grown exponentially. Here are a few of our things we’re proud of:
-Signed 8 acts/bands
-Released 7 albums across various mediums (of CD/cassette/digitally to Spotify and iTunes), -Printed shirts, stickers, and various other merch
-Our artists have played a number of local festivals/fairs and community events.
-Host a consistent 3-4 shows a month
-We finally have our own radio show as well - which is actually transitioning into a podcast
-Added 10+ members to our crew who contribute with event help and social media.
RF: Where did you find all the artists for the “Don’t Call it a Comeback” comp?
CH: There is a WIDE selection of artists on this compilation that we found through a number of ways. A lot are ones we had booked for a show in the past or written a review for their album for our own blog or a few others Chris used to work for. We always want to work with new and different bands and like to consider our compilations as an opportunity for anyone to get their foot in the door. The rest are people who saw our call for submissions or were referred by friends to submit a track for consideration.
RF: What is your current roster and how did you come up these bands?
CH: Our current roster is -
A Day Without Love - Indie rock project of Brian Walker from Philadelphia.
Heart of Gold - Acoustic Emo from Western Mass
Izzy Heltai - Acoustic Folk from Boston
Francesca Shanks - Ukulele Folk from Western Mass
Crafter - Melodic Hardcore from Western Mass
Flannel Dan and the Pan Handle Band - Roots Rock from Western Mass
Christopher Hantman - Poetry from Western Mass
Corkbush Field Mutiny- St. Louis Alt Rock
RF: Brian (A Day Without Love)’s story is one I’ve been following for a while. How did the two of you connect?
CH: We actually connected through a few facebook groups about music, diy and touring. He and I kind of connected fairly quickly - there was something about our characters that clicked. He’s a hardworking and talented guy and saw enough in me and the label to be our first artist and release (and he’ll always hold a special place in our heart because of that). Brian and I have also gone through similar struggles with depression. He and I also both lost our grandparents this past year to cancer and there were many times when we were there for each other and it’s been a blessing to have him as a friend. His new album is going to delve into a lot of these issues, and the stuff I have heard so far of it is leaps and bounds above anything he’s ever put out. We’re so excited for it to drop.
RF: Do you find it easier to work with friends or artists who came to you after the label was formed?
CH: I have been booking and unofficially managing my friends for so long it’s hard to tell the difference. In the end, I want to be friends with the artists, I want to amplify their art and create a support system for them to succeed. Sometimes it’s easier when there is no past between you and an act, but there’s also a level of chemistry and magic you can’t get from a new relationship.
RF: What is your dream for your label? When would you feel like you ‘made it’?
CH: Our dream is to help artists improve their craft, as well as create a safer/more diverse and impactful music scene. I would feel like we have made it when our artists use their autonomy to work with larger and more mainstream labels and surpass a level that we can no longer help them. I tell my artists a lot, “If you move on as an artist to a larger label than we are doing something right”.
I also always have the goal of using our art in a positive way for our communities, and anytime I see that I feel like we’ve made it. Whether it’s giving someone the platform to perform for the first time, or helping artists realize their potential and turn an idea into a tangible piece of work, it’s all so rewarding.
RF: What is the thing about your label that makes it important to you?
CH: I think what makes us important is that we are willing to work with everyone in some way (or at least try). We cannot sign every band that submits to us, but we can help them get a show, help them learn how to write a press release, connect them with other promoters, we can tell them what we think needs to be done in order to be more apt to being signed. We don’t believe in blind-carbon-copy rejection letters without substance, we want to help every artist get better in some way. If we always strive to better not just ourselves, but those around us, great things can happen!
RF: Man, your positive energy is amazing. How do you juggle having so many irons in the fire?
CH: Personal care and a hell of a support network/team. The label roster/crew has really grown recently and all the artists are self-starters and don’t wait for gigs to come to them. Last weekend I was sick beyond belief and two other members stepped up and ran sound and lights and the full deal at two shows I couldn’t make. It is easier then to heal and be your best self when you can rest assured business is being taken care of by your partners.
RF: Do you ever fear getting burnt out with having so much going on?
CH: I get burnt out all the time but I enjoy the challenge and pushing myself. When I'm burnt-out, I'm open about it. I tell the crew and everyone steps up saying “Hey, how can I help”. I’m also fortunate enough to love my day job in addition to the label, so it makes things a bit less stressful.
RF: If you could sign any band out there, who would you sign?
CH: This is a real tough question to answer.
My gut says Mewithoutyou because they have been one of my favorite bands for over a decade, and their sound has evolved so much with each album that they transcend genre (not to mention put on a hell of a live performance). In addition, Aaron Weiss (vocalist) really embodies the values of community, love, harmony and spirituality that we too follow.
I’d also love to sign the hip-hop supergroup, Doomtree, because of how autonomous and self-sufficient they are. They epitomize a musical community, with DJ’s that make tracks and have multiple MC’s lay down on, it creates a really dynamic piece of work.
If we aren’t limited to the living, I’d probably say the Worcester Hardcore band, Last Lights, because, in addition to creating awesome punk music, they were a band that gave a voice to those who felt lost, forgotten, or misunderstood and THAT is powerful music. They were able to play aggressive music, in a welcoming way… and that is something special.
RF: It seems to me that the attitude and ethos of an artist are more important to you than the style. Is that the case?
CH: Definitely. My personal tastes are so wide that I can get into any genre. I am looking for an artist that is going to make a difference with their art. It’s one thing to play music and sell a few records, that’s cool, but giving a kid his first show, getting an artist on the road to give mental health workshops, getting someone to play in a state they’d never been to.. THAT is what makes it all worth it.
RF: How can people find out more about your label?
CH: We are all over the internet. We have a web page at www.soundsandtonesrecords.com which will point them pretty much everywhere else.
We are also on a lot of social media sites such as:
RF: Thank you so much!