Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chris Wrenn - Bridge 9 Records part II

Chris Wrenn keeping his distance at the B9HQ, Photo: Future Breed

Bridge 9 Head Honcho Chris Wrenn delivers with part 2 of his interview. Throw on some BHC and enjoy! -Gordo DCXX

Since those first few Bridge 9 releases, how would you summarize the growth and changes for the label as well as you personally? At one point did you decide you had to go all in? What would you say is the overriding goal or idea with the label?

I started working for an up and coming record label in Boston in 2000 called Big Wheel Recreation. BWR's owner Rama hired me because he had seen the guerrilla marketing that I had done for my own label, and thought I might be a good person to help with marketing for his. I had no formal experience, I was an art major in college, but he gave me a shot, for which I am forever appreciative.

Working at BWR gave me the opportunity to learn a ton - Rama had far more experience than I at the time, and aside from learning some of the more formal steps to releasing a record, I was able to secure a distribution deal with Lumberjack, who was a big indie distro at the time. At the same time, I had been living with Tim and Wes as they formed American Nightmare for almost a year, and had been their roadie & merch guy, so they agreed to do their first EP on Bridge Nine (after being turned down by EVR initially). I went to their first 20 shows, and would copy their demo tapes one at a time at their merch table.

Over the next year I worked closely with Big Wheel, Doghouse & Hydra Head - and learned a lot. By summer of 2001, I had 8 releases lined up for B9 for the fall, and I couldn't handle my own release schedule while working full time. I stepped down from my position in the newly formed "Initech" office with those labels, and started renting a desk there so I could work on Bridge Nine full time. It was an exciting time because all of the people involved in that original office were extremely creative & motivated. It was easy to get excited and inspired about your own projects with people like that in the mix on a daily basis.

Over the years, I had been a fan of a few different labels, and I had been exposed to a lot of them. I started to model Bridge Nine in a way that took some of my favorite characteristics from the labels that I respected. I was a record collector, and Revelation was a big influence in that regard. I also loved their big 24"x36" posters from the late '80s, so I made sure to do that for some of my bands as well. I also appreciate the kind of music that was rooted in that early to mid '80s scene - so a lot of the bands that I've worked with over the years have shared those influences. If I was to sum up a "goal" for the label, it would be just to continue what those labels started before me, to put a spot light on the style and ethic that I had grown up with in the hardcore / punk scene, and continue to challenge myself and the label with each new band and release.

Bridge Nine has grown a lot in the past 15 years; we will have released over 150 recordings by the end of 2010. We've worked with a lot of different bands, and have gone through changes in personnel at the office, but over the entire time, we've still managed to maintain a strong connection to where we started.

Chris and his wife Elisabeth, Photo courtesy of: Chris Wrenn

Give us an idea of what your typical day is at work, and what types of things go on through the week? What are the biggest obstacles? What are the things you enjoy most?

Bridge Nine has a really talented group of people that work here now. Seth handles a ton of responsibilities that at one time were on my shoulders. Accounting, a lot of manufacturing, and coordinating wholesale orders amongst other things. Stephanie, our new label manager, helps handle a lot of domestic distribution issues, deals with a lot of the bands directly to assist them with their needs, works directly with studios when bands record, handles a lot of the press responsibilities with reviewing and interviews. Matt keeps our mail order running - he makes sure the orders go out quickly and keeps us from getting crushed every time we have a big pre-order. Matteo is our web guy - even though he's now based out of Ireland, he is our full time web guy and is responsible for continually developing our online presence and making it easy for us to get information out to kids.

With everyone's help covering those bases, I'm able to focus on a lot of creative stuff. Because of my art background, I'm the go to person for putting layouts together, designing ads, web graphics, t-shirts and other merch. I spend a lot of time looking into developing new stuff like our grommet-cornered banners, and making them a reality. Lately, I was the one to edit and design the discography companion book for Underdog, as well as deal with all of the manufacturing sides of it, all the way through to taking my van up to the printer and loading the pallet of them to bring back to the office.

Biggest obstacles? Every day is a financial grind. For the most part, Bridge Nine has continued to grow as a label every year - so we've always been playing catch up financially. I enjoy creating things - and seeing bands meet and exceed their potential. When that happens, when a local band is now touring all over the world and knowing that we were a part of making it happen, that's an incredible feeling.

Have Heart Crew, 10/17/2009, find the Wrenn, Photo courtesy of: Chris Wrenn

Obviously the music industry is all screwed up. Even on a HC level, how have things changed even over the last few years? What can you see becoming the biggest liability when doing a record label of any kind?

Labels - both major and indie - are in a difficult position these days. CD sales are declining, and digital and vinyl sales aren't picking up enough of the slack. We're caught in the middle trying to still make enough CDs to cover our distributors, but not too much that we're sitting on them, and not being fully sure of how many will come back from the stores when the dust settles. It's a delicate balance and we don't know the right formula for it yet. Vinyl sales have picked up a bit, but nothing crazy - and the margins on them are a lot smaller so it's difficult to make the money back. It's forcing us to be more creative about merchandise, which might be a good thing in the long run, but for now, it's a matter of trying to not tie up too much money in CDs or vinyl. I know how it is for us, and from what I've heard from a lot of other labels, it's definitely a struggle these days.

I ask anyone who enjoys music - continue to be as supportive as possible of the labels that you like. Order from them directly if possible - that way they get the money immediately. A lot of times, the money that a label gets from their mail order is what keeps them going through the thin times. The people making the money right now are the merch companies who aren't investing in the bands, but making bank on them. A label becomes an investor in the band - we cover their recordings, we help them with plane tickets for tours, we bail them out when they have trouble on the road. We then try to make that money back over the course of a release, and it doesn't always happen. Everyone else around the band though gets paid, with a fraction of the risk. Maybe I'm in the wrong business!

Seriously though, I'm happy being part of the creative half of the equation.

Recent Bridge 9 releases


Anonymous said...

Tell this guy Chris to get back in the office and ship those Antidote 7". I ordered them over 2 weeks back. Where are they. Handle your business bro. Or stop doing what you do. After reading this interview - Bridge nine get's no love from me!

Chris Wrenn said...

Hey Anon- we just got the Antidote records yesterday from the pressing plant, so they started shipping yesterday afternoon - our mailorder guy is here today (Saturday) getting out orders so you should have it in the next week.

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming the first post is a joke. Two weeks is not a long time to wait for an order in the mail.

ShayKM said...

Hey Chris,

This is great stuff. Disregard the comments from people who don't get the details of the work. Your label is righteous, the releases are righteous, and the attitude you have is completely professional. I hope you keep contributing more. ...and the DCXX guys are sharp for having you on this site! There are tons of us out here who need to appreciate how this part of the scene functions. Keep it up guys.

Sebastian R. said...

I ordered from germany one month ago and nothing happened.

Waiting, drinking, hoping ;)

regards & re

Chris Wrenn said...

We had a few high profile pre-orders recently that tend to back things up a bit, but have no fear, your order should be processed shortly. Especially for our friends over in Europe...

Speaking of which, we have just put up the DYS merch that was made for the All Ages show, so check that out...

Sebastian R. said...


Keep up the good work!

Tom said...

A lot of respect for this label. Keep up the awesome work, and all the best for the years to come.

Anonymous said...

Wow.... some records just showed up that i ordered a month back from B9. Talk about snail mail!

Anonymous said...

you lost my business because matt in customer service did not know how to handle my complaint about a record that hadn't come in yet. wish I had dealt with you instead.

Anonymous said...

Just read the interview and the last comment is the exact opposite of how I feel about Bridge 9. My order went awol and Matt fixed it right away and had my vinyl to me super fast. Super friendly and customer focused. I will always buy from B9, amazing label.