Broken Circles is one of the many young upstart labels that are doing it right. They’re not just businessmen, they’re music fans. Which is obvious, considering that they have pressed a large amount of the back catalog of Tooth & Nail Records, from Further Seems Forever to Zao, as well as the releases from their own bands. As an avid record collector, I am a big fan of their work (I personally own about 20 of their releases), and I was dying to get a chance to talk to the company’s founder, Brent Lakes. Thankfully, he was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to chat with me.
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TIS: First things first, what is your name, where are you based out of, and what do you do?
Brent: My named is Brent Lakes; based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a graphic designer at a non-profit arts organization by day and I run the label Broken Circles by night.
TIS: What is your personal history with music, particularly the styles and bands that Broken Circles frequently releases?
Brent: I’ve been going to hardcore, indie, punk, etc shows for over ten years now. Judging by a number of releases we’ve done, it shouldn’t be surprising when I say I grew up listening to music from Tooth & Nail and the like. I’ve gone to Cornerstone every year since around ’03, so I have definitely been immersed in that world for the majority of my “musical life.” It was a good stepping stone to get me into a lot of other bands that don’t fall under that umbrella at all.
TIS: When did you know you wanted to start Broken Circles rather than just being a part of it all in a strictly fan-oriented way?
Brent: I’ve never really been in bands, but I’ve always done stuff involving the scene in some capacity, like I ran a small CD distro in high school that I took to shows and had online, and I always did a ton of merch designs and album covers for local bands. As I got older, I started getting into vinyl more and realized that a lot of the albums I loved when I was growing up had never been pressed. So in college, after I had saved up some money and had a little help from my parents, I looked into what it would take to press some of those records. It was weird because it was right before the vinyl boom and there weren’t that many other people trying to reissue albums on that format, so it was relatively easy to work out the terms for.
TIS: What was your first release as a label? Was the work involved more than you thought it would be? Were there any major frustrations?
Brent: Further Seems Forever – How To Start A Fire on vinyl. And it was definitely more involved than I thought. I did a bunch of research beforehand and talked to some people I respected that also ran labels, so I knew what I was getting into – to an extent. Once you dive in, there are a lot of little things you have to do that you didn’t really account for from the start. The first release turned out really nice, but there were definitely bumps along the way. Pressing vinyl is a pretty frustrating process just because of the amount of time it takes and the fact that there are so many different moving parts to it that it’s almost guaranteed that something will go wrong along the way. It was a learning experience.
TIS: Oh, I didn’t know that was your first! I definitely have three of those, but missed out on the orange (and the matchbook). So yeah, that really was just probably six months before the real boom got going.
Brent: Yeah, it was early/mid 2008; probably six to twelve months before it took off.
TIS: What’s the process like – going out and getting the rights for certain releases? What are some that you wanted and didn’t get?
Brent: It really depends on the release. There is so much variance in the process that’s it hard to make a blanket statement. It’s actually pretty straightforward once you get the green light, but getting the green light is what makes all the hassle. It was a lot easier five years ago than it is now, which is why I am getting away from it. But honestly, the best way to go about it is to know someone in the band or someone at the label. Cold calling or emailing doesn’t get you very far. There is a huge list of stuff I wanted/want to do but couldn’t/can’t. There won’t be any T&N records coming out from the label in the foreseeable future, or any other label for that matter.
TIS: Too bad, I was really hoping you would get all of As Cities Burn’s stuff since, you had done the Hawkboy EPs. When we interviewed the band, they were hoping you would get it too, but there’s too much money in it now I guess.
Brent: I Love the ACB dudes. I’ve been trying to get those releases for years and years now. I’m bummed I didn’t get to do it.
TIS: With the nature of vinyl being frequently delayed, how do you decide when to do a pre-order? How much risk is involved?
I normally do pre-orders like a month and a half before the release date – usually around when the plant says the tests are on their way. They’ll listen to them before they ship them and let me know if there are issues, because once you have tests, not many things can go wrong besides maybe breaking a stamper. So if you know what you are doing, the risk shouldn’t be very high. But then again I’m extremely unlucky and something always goes wrong for me. I’d love to not sell the records until I have them in hand, but pre-orders help raise some of the money for that pressing, or whatever is going to the plant next, so it’s hard not to do them.
TIS: Very understandable. I can imagine it all gets very expensive. I noticed some of your releases have featured different artwork than the original release, notably Zao – Liberate Ex Infernis and Hopesfall – The Frailty of Words. How do you go about that process? How much say does the band or original label have?
Brent: Usually, if the release has new art it is because the old art files don’t exist. After all, some of these albums came out 10+ years ago. I make sure the band has a lot of say, but the original label usually doesn’t care or have any say. In the case of Hopesfall, the band took care of the art. It was a good friend of theirs who had done all their previous covers. In the case of Zao, I created the artwork and got it approved by the band.
TIS: I didn’t know that Zao was yours, it turned out great.
Brent: Thanks. I’m stoked on how it came out.
TIS: So the website’s been down for a little while, I assume for a re-design. Can we expect any major changes when it goes live? And maybe a date on that?
Brent: Haha, the website. So I took it down and created a new one for myself, and it was 95% finished. Then my friend Charles from First Platoon (a design shop) offered to design one for me, and he’s a lot better at web development and coding than I am, so I gladly took his offer. It’s essentially done, I’m just populating all the content right now. It’ll be up before the end of the month for sure. No major changes. It just looks cool and will look really nice on cell phones. That was something I really wanted and the main reason for the second redesign.
TIS: Nice, we recently went through the same thing. It’s a pain in the ass for sure, and always takes ten times as long as you think. But I guess with you being in the record game, you expect it.
Brent: Haha, exactly. I’ll be really happy when it’s finally up.
TIS: So in your total experience with Broken Circles, what has been the one thing (or two) that you are most proud of?
Brent: The thing I’m most proud of is really broad and also happens to have some relatively small negative effects as well. I’m really stoked to have been able to put out stuff like Further Seems Forever, Beloved, Zao, and Hopesfall. It’s cool to see there are people like me who still love those records; it’s awesome to get emails from people who thank me for putting that stuff out on vinyl. I think most people think of Broken Circles as the T&N label. The downside to that is that I’ve also put out a bunch of stuff that isn’t T&N related, but it just gets ignored or written off because it’s not T&N. That’s the direction the label is going now – working with bands and putting out new material. I guess the other thing I am proud of is the actual product. Lots of labels put out reissues and charge $17-$25 for a single LP because kids really want it and will buy it for that much. There is no reason you have to sell records for that much. $12-13 is the perfect range.
TIS: And lastly, what releases are coming up that we should know about? And is there anything else in the works that you are free to divulge?
Brent: We just put out a record by a band in town called Sacred Spirits. It’s one of my favorite albums to ever come out of a “local band.” The Venna LP and …Of Sinking Ships/Glower 7″ will be out in a month as well. As far as unannounced releases, we are doing the …Of Sinking Ships full length LP this spring. I just heard masters, it’s super good. I also have some stuff in the works with a few bands we have worked with previously that’ll be out later this year. As much as it’ll bum a lot of people out, we’re not really working on any reissues at this point.
TIS: Those sound great and we will be sure to check them out. Thanks for taking some time to talk with us.
Brent: Thanks for the interview. It’s always fun to talk about records.
Thanks again to Brent and Broken Circles Records. Please support up and coming labels like this, they deserve it for putting out a quality product at a fair price. We look forward to all of Broken Circle’s future releases.
Banner image received from musformation.com
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