Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

Run for Cover Records stands today as one of the most recognizable names in the independent, DIY music world. And over the past two years, the Boston-based label has become more deeply entrenched in that community than ever before. 

The label's knack for transforming unknown bands into favorites among a young, online-obsessed demographic has become its calling card. Bands like Basement, Tigers Jaw, Citizen, Modern Baseball and countless others have, with Run for Cover's help, risen to the crest of a new wave of emo, indie rock and grunge groups. Recently, these bands have earned their way past basement royalty status and graduated, one by one, into a territory marked by Billboard Charts and snarky bloggers. You know, they're making it.

At the center of this movement is Run for Cover founder Jeff Casazza. Armed with one of the most consistent ears for spotting promising young talent, Casazza has spent the last 10 years developing a stacked roster. Now he's riding the high of a renewed interest in the loosely defined world of "emo" and "indie rock."

But Run for Cover has been here before... kinda. In 2009 and 2010, the label got its breakthrough with a buzzing community of pop-punk bands like Man Overboard, Transit, Fireworks and others. But Casazza eventually saw his best-performing acts picked off his roster by bigger fish. Now that Run for Cover is becoming a decent-sized fish on its own merit, the label is leading the way again.

During the 2013 CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, Fuse TV sat down with Casazza to discover more about Run for Cover's beginnings, this year's "emo revival" and much more.

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

How would you introduce Run for Cover Records to an uninitiated person like, for example, my mom... 

We release a wide range of music that falls into the broad category of "indie rock." Sometimes I’ll throw the word "punk" in there; that usually throws people off pretty quickly. And then when they look at me confused or don't know what I'm talking about, I tell them that we've released everything from a rap record to an alternative country record. That probably confuses people even more. On the other hand, people who listen to bands on the label understand why there are so many different genres. 

On the flip-side, what other labels would you suggest for fans of Run for Cover bands? 

Topshelf and Deathwish are the obvious ones. Big labels for me growing up were Jade Tree, with Lifetime and Avail and Paint It Black, bands like that. They released so many groundbreaking records at the time. Equal Vision was big, obviously. Second Nature, who put out all the Casket Lottery and Rocky Votolato records, was big for me. That was what I was listening to when I was growing up, so I would assume that people who listen to Run for Cover would like most of that stuff. Deathwish was a huge one for me growing up, too. They’ve been around forever.

As you built Run for Cover into a career, did you learn from those other labels?

Yeah, definitely. I learned a lot from paying so much attention to what other labels were doing just because that's what I was interested in. It's crazy to think that what we're doing is similar to what a label like Second Nature or Jade Tree was doing 10 or 15 years ago. It definitely wasn't a conscious decision, but that's what happened—I have definitely emulated what I was into.

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

Run for Cover has been releasing records—from emo to country and beyond—for almost a decade. But recently, everyone is talking about an "emo revival." Thoughts?

I don't really think about that. The music that the emo revival is referring to is definitely bigger now than it was five or even 10 years ago. Bands that fall into the emo category, like The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and even bands like Dads and Modern Baseball, have a lot of attention right now. It just sounds so corny to call it an "emo revival." That music definitely never stopped; it's just that there's a large focus on it now, which is cool.

That sound is reaching more people now, thanks in part to press coverage from more popular publications...

Right. Even people like Mike Kinsella and all his bands have more people paying attention now than they were even in Owen's heyday, you know? That guy and his bands are getting more press than they ever were. And people love Evan Weiss (of Into It. Over It. and other Chicago-based indie bands). There are more people talking about American Football now than when American Football were a band. Or even five years after American Football were a band.

The term "emo revival" implies that the genre was once successful. But pioneers like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral never topped the Billboard Charts. That original wave, which fans are romanticizing now, never broke into the mainstream...

Yeah. And people definitely thought Sunny Day Real Estate were gonna be the next big thing, and they weren't. Sunny Day Real Estate are now a legendary band from that genre, but there are just as many people listening to Sunny Day Real Estate now as during their hay day [in the mid-'90s].

Which are the most influential and vital bands from the original wave of emo music? Which should new fans go back and discover or rediscover?

These aren’t in any particular order, but… 

  • Lifetime: I think this is a big one, just for the fact that people are still arguing almost 20 years later whether they're a hardcore band, a pop-punk band, or an emo band, and I think Hello Bastards combines all those sounds in a way that you can't really describe. That's weird because those are usually pretty definable genres, but when they're put together like this, there are some gray areas.
  • The Casket Lottery: They're another band that was huge for me. They were doing the whole jangly kind of emo thing, but never got a lot of credit for it. They kind of took what Sunny Day Real Estate did and made it a little more accessible. That's one band you never hear people talk about, or even associate with the main emo bands, but I don't understand why.
  • Built To Spill: They're super important, which some people might think is weird, because they've got the whole jam band thing going on, but I think they influenced a ton of bands. They're up there with Modest Mouse, who made that [jammy] music more accessible to people who didn’t listen to it.
  • Ghosts and Vodka: This is a band that I feel like no one knows about, which is crazy because of who they're associated with. It's dudes from Joan of Arc—it's a fully instrumental, totally crazy noodle band. With the attention that American Football gets, who I don’t particularly think are that good of a band, I would have thought Ghosts and Vodka would have legendary status. You can't really buy their music and no one really knows about them, but they're awesome.
  • Kind Of Like Spitting: They really went under the radar. It's like Bright Eyes—really, really sad, almost too sad. But there are light screamo influences in songs that sound like acoustic Bright Eyes. They definitely nailed the "being sad" thing better than a lot of other bands.

What releases helped the Run for Cover label get where it is today?

Definitely Title Fight's The Last Thing You Forget. That was our 14th release, which seems absolutely insane because we're at 100 now, and that doesn’t seem like too long ago. It seems like it was two years ago that I was assembling all those records and being mind-blown about how well it was doing. The same thing goes for Tigers Jaw's self-titled record; I think that and Title Fight will be legendary releases for that genre of music, and people will be listening to them 10 and 20 years from now. 

Basement’s Colourmeinkindness was a huge record for us too. It was our best-selling record at the time and the first record we had in the Billboard Charts. It was really cool for us to have that success with an international band (Basement is from the UK). It was crazy. There was also nothing like it on the label at the time. Daylight’s Jar is amongst those records too. People will be listening to that record 10 years from now.

What was an early record that made you realize that RFC was growing into more than a hobby?

The whole year of 2010 made me realize that, because we put out a lot of those records that year. I mean, every record that we put out that year is of high importance to the label. Man Overboard’s Real Talk, the Transit record (Keep This To Yourself), Tigers Jaw’s self-titled and Title Fight’s The Last Thing You Forget all came out that year. 2010 made me realize that we could really do it, and that's what drew a lot of attention to the label. At the time it was just me running everything and it quickly got out of hand; I realized then that RFC could be a sustainable business, but that we had to operate differently than we were.

Do you see parallels between the current "emo revival" and the pop-punk explosion in 2009 and 2010 with The Wonder Years, Man Overboard, Fireworks and others? 

Totally. It’s because people who were too young to be listening to Saves the Day and The Get Up Kids discovered pop-punk around that time and were mind-blown. They didn't know it had been going on for the last 20 years. I get that—when you're a young kid, your perception is skewed and small, and those bands (in 2009/2010) are from the same area and all blew up at the same time.

In both of these cases, it's a community coming up together, rather than one band breaking out...

Definitely. Fireworks did a headlining tour in 2010 with Fireworks, Transit, Man Overboard and The Swellers. Those were the favorite bands of every kid at the show at the time. [That community of] bands played together all the time, toured together all the time, and all the same fans liked them.

Which is your favorite band ever?

Probably the Counting Crows. Queen and the Counting Crows. As far as emo music, well, you could argue forever, but Lifetime was a big band for me.

Which albums do you wish RFC had released? 

Ariel LeBeau for Fuse

That's really hard. The Grown Ups LP (More Songs) that Topshelf put out is definitely one of them. That's probably one of my favorite records from the last five years or so. Whirr's Pipe Dreams is a record that I've been listening to probably more than anything. That's one of my favorite bands for sure. 

What about albums from a while ago – stuff that would have been impossible to do with RFC?

Lifetime’s Jersey’s Best Dancers, the Casket Lottery’s Moving Mountains and Rocky Votolato’s Suicide Medicine.

What do you constantly strive for with RFC?

Just growing as a business, which is a hard thing to do. We want to become a label that people know, and we’re doing a pretty good job of putting it in people’s faces. A very specific goal that we had was to get good distribution and we just got a distribution deal with ADA a few weeks ago, which was huge for us. We try to do better every year and grow, but we’ve also got to be aware of not growing too fast and getting out of hand by spending too much money. Growing as a business is the goal.