About six years ago, Ibrahim Al Said and James Muschinski created a booking company, which according to Al Said "booked all the bands that people didn't want to see." The company, Empirical Booking, supported primarily hardcore bands.
The two had met at a mutual friend's apartment. Their friendship quickly grew, supported by mutual interests in music and participation in the local hardcore scene. Eventually, the booking company disintegrated, but Al Said and Muschinski went on to create their brainchild and perhaps Minneapolis' most underrated propeller of local (and now national) music: Forward Records.
As their music taste expanded, their involvement in the hardcore scene evolved. "I think the good thing about hardcore and punk is that even though we've grown apart from it, it never leaves you," says Muschinski. Al Said refers to hardcore as a "gateway drug" to other forms of music, such as shoegaze. Indeed, shoegaze's recent surge in popular has roots planted deeply within the national hardcore music scene. The bands that Forward Records represents are of a wide variety of genres, yet they share a common thread. "Every single band has a beginning in punk," Muschinski says.
Muschinski came up with the idea to create Forward Records, and Al Said quickly agreed to co-pilot. Their first release was the Funeral and the Twilight's The Cross of St. Peter EP in 2010. "There were so many bands at the time in the area that just weren't getting attention," explains Al Said when asked what initially motivated the two to start Forward. "In Minneapolis, there is so much of every type of music. These bands just weren't getting noticed." The pair were inspired by what smaller labels in cities like New York and Chicago were doing, and decided that Minneapolis needed something similar.
"There's more longevity in starting a label than in anything else we had in mind," Muschinski adds. "Plus, we're vinyl nerds. We love music."
The beginning of Forward Records was somewhat rocky. The duo relied heavily on intuition. "We learned from our mistakes," says Al Said. "Everything we've done we've pretty much learned how to do on our own."
According to Muschinski, one of the hardest aspects of creating a label is deciding upon the aesthetic. Initially, bands were enthusiastic about having the opportunity to record, but were hesitant to place their trust in a label that didn't have a solid amount of records out already.
"We wanted everything to fit, somehow, with the album art and with the image of the label," says Muschinski. Their intent was to intrigue consumers with each individual release, regardless of the genre, by nurturing a uniform artistic aesthetic and ensuring that quality standards for music were high. The project was entirely self-funded. "I sacrificed a lot to start Forward," says Al Said. "I'd say it's a hobby gone wild."
The inner workings of Forward Records goes somewhat like this: First, Al Said and Muschinski scout bands. They are interested not only in their musical ability and their impact on their particular "scene," but also if they are good people. Once they decide to represent an act, it's time to record the material. After the first couple years, Forward began paying to record, master, and own the rights to the music. "There's no contract. You talk over it, and then you put faith into it."
When the material is finished, it gets pressed to vinyl. In the beginning, Muschinski's friend Gordon Dufresne, who created the Canadian punk rock record label Deranged Records, helped Forward Records to establish a relationship with the pressing plant where Dufresne worked. The plant in Canada does work with another plant in California, where the records for Forward were pressed and eventually shipped here to Minneapolis.[page]
Forward Records is currently preparing for the summer release of a Wildhoney split vinyl with Deranged Records. "Sometimes you'll find that labels in the independent market will get together," says Al Said, "for greater distribution and less cost. When a bunch of artists from different communities all put their stamp on it, it helps. It definitely has a place in punk rock, but I don't think it's common elsewhere."
When the vinyl is finally here, Forward Records distributes it to local record stores like Extreme Noise and Treehouse Records. While they don't handle booking for the bands they represent, they are happy to recommend contacts who are able to handle booking needs. They have considered hiring an in-house booking agent, but the logistics have changed as they have begun representing bands outside of Minneapolis.
Muschinski typically handles the press release and PR work, sending the releases out of his own home in Wisconsin. They sell merchandise other than records on their website and in Extreme Noise, including buttons, stickers and patches -- including a Billy Corgan patch. The two share somewhat of an unhealthy obsession with Billy Corgan. "I once sent Billy Corgan some of my hair," says Muschinski. "I never got a response."
"Smashing Pumpkins was a big deal when I was younger. Nowadays, it's funny to think that bands that sound like that are independent. They're not being marketed properly," says Al Said.
When asked if they've been fucked over by any of the bands they've represented, the two adamantly say no. They do, however, make vague references to bands moving from Forward Records to bigger things. "Everybody we've worked with, even if they used us as a stepping stone to get to somewhere else... we're proud of them."
"The only mistakes that we have made are with bands that we did the first pressing with who blew up," says Muschinski. "We didn't see it coming, so we sold the rights to them, and they repressed it tons of times."
Since starting, Forward Records has released an impressive array of local music. Minimal synth band CLAPS released their Lies/White Lies EP on Forward. The label released Sermon on the Plain/The Pith, an EP by doom metal locals Lungs, and Much Worse's Macrocosm is a Wash EP. They will soon release Radiator Hospital's Mall of America EP.
"The one thing that we're on point with, together, is goth rock and shoegaze," says Muschinski. "Doom metal," Al Said cuts in. "Hardcore," says Muschinski. "If you know us and you're from Minneapolis or the Midwest area, you can tell that the independent rock or the 'indie rock' that we do is more James' style," says Al Said. "I definitely do more of the darker stuff. For anything in between that, we usually come together."
They have argued gently over some choices, but always manage to find a comfortable compromise. "I think we do fine," says Al Said. "We always come to a understanding. That's the great thing about doing a label with two people."
"Every record we've done is a triumph," says Al Said.Visit the Forward Records site here.
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