A decade and a half is a long life span for an independent label. The first shout at the world by Madison-based Crustacean Records was a cassette-only album in 1994 by a band that included label founder Chris Langkamp. Since then, there have been more than 70 CDs (and some LPs) released, plus a double DVD of live performances. The label has expanded beyond Wisconsin's borders during the last 15 years, and seems well-positioned to unleash many more albums from their ever-growing roster of aggressive and inventive rock, metal and punk bands, whatever the dominant release format may be in the future.
Crustacean is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a compilation CD featuring previews of upcoming albums by The Giraffes, 20 Dollar Love and Droids Attack, previously unreleased numbers by label mainstays Drunk Drivers, Ouija Radio and Mad Trucker Gone Mad, plus some classic tracks from past releases. The compilation will be available with online orders, and is available for online download.
Also marking the anniversary will be some behind the scenes changes for the label, including the departure of co-owner Jake Shut for the Twin Cities. Shut and Langkamp answered a few questions via email for The Daily Page.
The Daily Page: Before looking ahead to the future, what's a brief history of Crustacean's 15-year history for the uninitiated?
Chris Langkamp: I started/founded the label back in the spring of 1994 as a vanity label for my band. The band was called Crabshack, hence the name, Crustacean. It started as a little imprint for our cassette demos, then came the first compilation; pretty much us and like eight of our friends' bands.
Then those bands hung around and it grew from that core. Bands broke up, new bands started and it just grew. The majority of our Wisconsin-based bands are still from that early core. We did have a couple of East Coast-based bands in the earlier years, but it was mostly focused on Wisconsin music. When Jake came on board in 2005 we started focusing on out of state and touring bands more to take a little more of a swipe at the national scene.
Jake Shut: It's been through ebbs and flows of high and low productivity over the years, but the last four or five have been busy and ambitious.
Jake, how did you get involved with the label?
Shut: I knew the guys in Mad Trucker Gone Mad before that band formed and started booking them as soon as they did start playing out. Eventually thru them I got to know the guy, Chris Langkamp, who ran their label. A couple years later Crustacean ended up signing a bunch of Madison bands I was friends with so I was just sort of in the Crustacean extended family. In 2005, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to try pursue a long time goal of mine, helping run a record label, and dived in once I cleared with the other folks in ownership and volunteering at the time.
About how many releases has the label had since starting up?
Shut: Seventy-seven official releases at this point, not counting a bunch of label samplers and other promotional one-offs. Almost 30 of them have been in just the last four years so its clear we're not slowing down -- we'll be at well over 80 by year's end.
The label's reach has extended far beyond Madison at this point; what are the differences in coordinating recording and releases for bands from far out of town, like the Giraffes or The Von Ehrics, as compared to local acts?
Shut: Not a whole hell of a lot in this connected world. I would say the emphasis as to the market we are trying to target has changed, but it tends to effect how we work with bands local or out of state. I don't care about Crustacean being the king shit of Wisconsin, I am more about us being a small, but reputable national indie label. So we send out a lot more packages and press releases to out of state media then we used to. It has paid some dividends, but we're still a pretty small fish in that ocean.
Jake, 2009 marks not only the label's 15th anniversary but a milestone for yourself as well, with your upcoming departure from Madison. Where are you headed, and how will it affect the day-to-day operations of Crustacean?
Shut: I'm moving to the West Bank of Minneapolis to get a geography degree now that I'm unemployed, which is great because cubicle world was slowly eating my soul and I love my new neighborhood -- two blocks to the geography department and two blocks to my favorite punk rock bar/venue/restaurant in Minnesota, The Triple Rock. Without a doubt the Twin Cities has been and remains one of my favorite music scenes so I'll be right at home.
It will probably shift the center partially to the Twin Cities, which is fine because five of our acts live there and it's the town where we sell the most records. It frankly seems to be a more supportive and appreciative music town than Madison from my experience. With email and cell phones I don't see a lot changing besides less face to face meetings. I may be stepping back from the label a bit as my education and paying my rent are going to be my top two priorities for the next year. In fact I'm actively trying to sell out some of my shares of the business to diminish my role to a certain degree.
Langkamp: Jake, being in Minneapolis, will work on establishing our roots there a bit more and spreading our base. Seeing that a few of the bands are located there, it's nice that they will get a little more face time with a rep. Although Jake is pulling back from some of his duties in the day-to-day running of the label, our intern, Marty Finkel, will be stepping up and taking over some of the Madison-based duties such as stocking stores, checking the post office box and filling some orders. Should be business as usual, but there will be a small adjustment time to the long distance setup.
Crustacean Records is holding a series of special online sales in July and August with deals on new releases, back catalogue albums, and vinyl. Droids Attack singer and guitarist Brad Van created a puppet-starring spot promoting the deals.
Fans can also pick up a copy of the new Crustacean compilation at a series of concerts by 15 current and reuniting label bands this week in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and Oshkosh. Madison will host a total of four shows featuring all 15 bands, Thursday through Sunday nights:
- Thursday, July 16: Crusteacean showcase with The Gusto, Screamin' Cyn Cyn & The Pons, and Droids Attack at the Inferno.
- Friday, July 17: Crustacean showcase with Imperial Battlesnake, 20 Dollar Love, The Skullcranes, and The Von Ehrics at the Frequency.
- Saturday, July 18: Crustacean showcase with Birthday Suits, Things Fall Apart, SevenOneFive, and The Skintones at the High Noon Saloon.
- Sunday, July 19: Crustacean showcase with Plastic, Bloodcow, Uncle Eddie, and Mad Trucker Gone Mad at the High Noon Saloon.