Giving Vinyl a Spin: Enfield-Based Label Releases Old School Records
Jon Whitney of Enfield holds two of the albums his label, Negative Fun, has produced at Newbury Comics in West Lebanon, N.H., where four albums from his label are sold on Oct. 10, 2013.
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Years ago, Jon Whitney and Chris DeFusco were working together at Newbury Comics in Salem, Mass., when the idea of starting a record label came up.
Just as quickly, the pair threw out the idea.
“It was, at that point, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if,’ ” Whitney said recently, sitting in a back room of the West Lebanon Newbury Comics, which he manages.
Back then, it was a seed of an idea that didn’t take root. Time passed. DeFusco, himself a veteran of several hardcore punk bands in the 1990s, moved to North Carolina. Whitney moved to Enfield. Then, slightly more than a year ago, DeFusco got the bug again, plus some extra money from his day job. He mentioned his interest on Facebook. Whitney, from 750 miles away, said he’d help.
The result is Negative Fun Records, an all-vinyl label that bills itself equally as a product of Raleigh, N.C. and Enfield, which has so far released four small-run 7-inch records from five bands whose hometowns range from around the country.
The obvious question, then: Why vinyl? Or, why only vinyl?
“I guess we both enjoy it as a medium,” Whitney said. “And a small part of it is the collectability of it, and I guess, in another sense, vinyl probably isn’t going anywhere. Whereas CDs...” He paused. “Who knows what the future of that is.”
There’s truth to that. Last month, Amazon reported an enormous increase of vinyl sales since 2008 of 745 percent, while early this year Nielsen SoundScan reported a 19 percent increase in vinyl sales from 2011 to 2012. Meanwhile, in that same time period, CD sales dropped 13.5 percent.
That’s not to say Negative Fun plans to light the vinyl world on fire with massive sales. Of the 7-inch singles released since December, three are 500-copy runs, which cost about $1,500. One run is 300 copies, which cost about $1,000. Most of the bands that have worked with the label were already part of DeFusco’s or Whitney’s personal networks. The songs are also available online as MP3s, and each record comes with a digital download code.
The idea, they said, is to release music they enjoy and, of course, to learn the ins and outs of running a label while keeping the stakes relatively low.
“7-inches were a really good way of learning how to run a record label,” DeFusco said. “I believe in the format. For punk rock bands, it’s kind of like the perfect format.”
If there’s a connective tissue between the bands, which range across the country from New Jersey to Tacoma, Wash., it’s their musical style. Though the particulars change from band to band — some offer high-tempo aggression, others offer tightly wound riffs, plenty offer both — there is a binding force.
“Their catalog so far — it’s rock music,” said Ryan Hebert. “And I love that.”
Hebert is a guitarist and vocalist for the Windsor band Carton, whose inclusion on one half of a split 7-inch, released in August, denotes Negative Fun’s other Upper Valley connection. The song Carton contributed to the Negative Fun split, Fingertips, is a raucous five minutes marked as much by its blasts of distorted guitar as its sudden, disarmingly pretty quieter moments.
The other half of the split is the song The Low Flags, a multipart track contributed by Raleigh band Alpha Cop. Together, they form the first entry in what Whitney and DeFusco plan to call the “Home and Home” series, in which the geographically disparate home bases of the label’s founders meet on wax. Here, it’s Vermont and North Carolina. Future entries, they said, might stretch out geographically, highlighting states such as Virginia and Massachusetts.
“It didn’t really come about as a, ‘We were going to be focusing on these two music scenes,’ but as it progressed we were like, ‘Now we know we can focus a little more attention on both of them,’ ” DeFusco said.
For DeFusco, the realization that there was a cadre of young musicians in the Upper Valley, much of it involved in Windsor’s What Doth Life music collective (Carton included), was a happy surprise. Raleigh, on the other hand, is a city with a more visible scene. The annual Hopscotch Music Festival, at which Negative Fun recently put on a show, attracts about 60,000 people.
But it’s also a more cluttered scene, DeFusco said, which gave him and Whitney a reason to look beyond it. Though the label has gone dark for the rest of the year, the pair have expressed interest in working with some Boston-area groups in the future. And starting in 2014, Negative Fun may return with the all-single model behind them.
“We have talked about possibly doing full LPs at some point,” Whitney said. “I think, again, it’s a question of what band do we throw our money behind to make it worthwhile for both them and us?”
It speaks to the financial model of Negative Fun, which is more about breaking even than breaking out.
“I would love for something that we do to blow up, and be able to make this our day job, but I don’t really see that happening, especially the way the music scene is now,” DeFusco said. “I’d like to keep celebrating anniversaries, you know?”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.