Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every month on KEXP.org.
In this month’s column, Martin Douglas speaks to Rich Evans, founder (and sole employee) of the now-Portland-based record label Total Punk — in Martin’s estimation, “the most reliably great punk label in North America today.” Evans speaks about his (as well as Total Punk’s) Florida origins, moving to the Pacific Northwest, the genius of Personal and the Pizzas, and much more.
The Pacific Northwest music scene, particularly in Seattle, has more or less become one big industry mixer. Many artists are obsessed with streams, which pays less than any other music distribution method that exists currently. Instagram is basically just bikini baristas posting next to a landfill of handbills. I’m not on Twitter anymore (the only X we acknowledge at Throwaway Style headquarters is DMX or that one band from L.A.) and it’s honestly the best personal decision I’ve made this year. I’ve bemoaned the influx of young professional normalcy in music; same with the very nice people, real sweethearts, in bland pop-rock bands in town.
Truth is, I like quite a few of these people very much personally. I just don’t like that they’re gentrifying this beautiful, emotional, dangerous thing I have quite literally given my life to; its name is music. Music, formerly the province of the freaks and the weirdos.
I am fully aware we all eventually have to make way for future generations; this is no country for salty middle-aged punks. But I need the kind of music that makes me write from the pit of my stomach. Because if I’m going to be a career writer, I have stuff that still inspires me, that still challenges me, that still delights me, that still helps me continue my lifelong love affair with music.
Because this career thing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.
While some labels have pivoted away from punk in both interesting and deeply uninteresting ways, Total Punk has grown into the most reliably great punk label in North America today. The bands are all grimy and delightfully cracked; the nihilistic-but-fun Sick Thoughts, the constant reinvention of Buck Biloxi, and Theee Retail Simps, probably the greatest evidence of Quebecoi rock ‘n roll.
Sometimes when I see the types of bands people who could be defined as my peers praise, I feel like the one little boy in the crowd that sees what the Emperor is actually wearing. But the beauty of life is that we are all forced to coexist.
Rich Evans was born in Germany (his father was an Army man) and raised in South Florida. He was told that as a very young child, his favorite song was the foot-stompin’ hit single “Black Betty.” By age 12, he asked his mom for a Dead Kennedys album on compact disc, but received a Dead Milkmen full-length of the Parental Advisory Sticker on the cover of the DKs release he wanted. “But as a twelve-year-old kid,” Evans tells me from his home in Portland, OR, “that’s my sense of humor level.”
Though the Dead Milkmen often traffic in comedic sensibility with songs like “Bleach Boys,” “Everybody’s Got Nice Stuff But Me,” and “My Many Smells” (all from Beelzebubba, the album from which “Punk Rock Girl” also blasts), the band was reportedly named after a character from the Toni Morrison classic Song of Solomon. I’ve written about the smart-dumb divide in punk for this site before, and that line is a border Total Punk straddles deftly.
Miami’s punk rock scene was incredibly influential to Evans. Places like Churchill’s Pub, people like Iggy and Ivy and Chuck (“There was a small group of people who were responsible for setting up everything,” Evans says). He describes the scene as “thriving and vibrant.” He mentioned the cool generator shows (for the uninitiated, guerilla shows where generator boxes are the only source of power for bands’ gear) being held around the region.
“One of the first shows I went to was out in the Everglades. They had set up some PA out there and it was like twelve bands [playing the show] from all over the place. The [very] first punk show I went to was underneath an overpass in Miami.”
As all scenes do, the Miami scene of Evans’s youth changed. People moved away, onto new scenes and new ventures. But the loss of key figures in his punk community inspired him to step up. “You really noticed [their] absence; things changed drastically. So it really put in my brain just how major an influence a few people can be on the area. And when I moved to Orlando (in late 1999), there wasn’t really much going on that I liked. Rather than just complain about it, I just decided to start doing stuff.”
Evans booked shows and started a record distribution operation (“There were no cool record stores in town that sold stuff I liked [...] I could sell records to people in town and turn [them] onto stuff I liked.”
The thing about a good concept is that a big part of it falls on the mercy of timing. So many good ideas flounder under the auspices of bad timing. Conversely, a fucking lot of bad ideas have been propped up by Father Time’s infrequent convenience. Around the time Evans started booking shows and putting out records, bands started cropping up in the Orlando area that he was really into. He turned the idea of Florida being viewed as a cultural wasteland by people who fancy themselves as “cool” or “progressive” by naming his label Floridas Dying.
Regarding the label’s name, Evans says, “You would go places and mention you were from Florida and you’d immediately get the, ‘Ohhh, you’re from Florida. There’s nothing down there. What do you do? You got to Disney World every day?’” Evans was focused on the idea of putting out regional music during a time when regional music scenes were being deemphasized in wider music circles, initially conceptualizing Floridas Dying releases as split seven-inches (or 45s, the naming of which I will oscillate many times during this feature) with a Sunshine State band on one side and an out-of-state band on the other, “but I only did a couple releases that way. And then after that, I was mainly putting out Florida music, and then branching out into other stuff.”
Overlapping with Floridas Dying was his next venture, Total Punk Records.
As it has been thoroughly foreshadowed, the impetus of Total Punk was brought forth with tongue planted firmly in the corresponding cheek. Evans found himself in a rough period (a divorce, which I’ve been told is its own special trauma even when it’s amicable) and decided to travel for two months, booking shows all over the country and selling records — but, lol, not playing music, even though he was in Golden Pelicans at this time — at each date. He dubbed the tour “Everyone Gets Rich.” During the Everyone Gets Rich tour, Evans joked about and then (jokingly) conceptualized Total Punk.
“The whole idea was that it was this label and it was gonna [appear to] be run by someone else, not me.” (The name on Evans’s email is displayed as “Randall Cummings.”)
“And then I would say I was putting out a record and taking preorders, people would give me the money, and I would just wait months without responding to them.”
“The idea was that I was gonna take the money, I was gonna wait a while to release the record, let people get really mad, and then have this insanely punk excuse, like, ‘I got picked up by the train police’ or ‘I was kicking drugs,’ [for why it didn’t get sent], send everybody their records and do it again.”
Evans notes this was right around the time when Blank Dogs accepted preorders for a seven-inch that never came out. “It was causing turmoil on [beloved underground rock forum] Terminal Boredom and other message boards, so it was playing on that.”
The first Total Punk release was a 45 by New Jersey cult icons Personal and the Pizzas, delivering a fist-pumping tune called “Dead Meat” on the A-side. Drew Cramer of the band was one of the people who shared the Total Punk joke with Evans … until Cramer suggested Total Punk actually release a Personal and the Pizzas single. “The two fit together perfectly,” Evans says about the connection between the label and the band behind its flagship release, “‘cause they’re both jokes that went too far.”
Might I add he says this with a “funny because it’s true” chuckle in his voice.
“So the joke became reality in 2012 when we did that seven-inch,” Evans says. “I grew up loving Ripoff Records and Asterisk. I loved how they had an aesthetic, and I wanted to have a very strong aesthetic with Total Punk.”
After working with Personal and the Pizzas, which Evans describes as the “archetype of punk rock,” he describes to me his vision for the label in its early days: a very short series of 45s (“maybe 10”). But the Total Punk project proved to be too much fun, especially in the face of Floridas Dying leaving Evans feeling lost and directionless.
Total Punk started with a very high concept but DIY bent; the famous hand-stamped covers, the delightfully fucked inside joke of a release strategy (which, to my recollection, never actually happened), the original plan to put out ten or so singles and call it a day. The hand-stamped covers eventually became more expensive to produce than just having them printed, and the rest of that shit was said in jest anyway. Evans would reach out to bands, certain Total Punk would live a short life, but eventually bands would begin recommending other groups to him. Rob Fletcher from Tractor Sex Fatality (bet you didn’t have that on your Throwaway Style bingo card) is the one who put Evans onto Lumpy and the Dumpers, another cult icon band in the Total Punk orbit.
Evans once told New Noise Magazine that a Total Punk band is “always on the verge of implosion.” That guiding principle came from when he ran Total Fuck Off Weekend, a punk music festival (what gave THAT away? Maybe the name?) that more often than not landed him in debt.
“For each of these festivals,” Evans explained, “there would be at least three bands having their first practice with that lineup at my house, like two to three hours before the festival started. Or it would be like, ‘Oh, this guy couldn’t make it, so we’re having this person fill in.’ It’s just a lot of the bands were falling apart.”
He notes a few bands started out as bedroom projects and gradually metastasized into bands like the groups of Buck Biloxi (Buck Biloxi and the Fucks, New Buck Biloxi).
Evans initially moved to Portland for love and a change of pace. Between Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, he had been living in Florida more or less his entire life. He practically dedicated his life to highlighting the state’s garage-punk community. “The first band I agreed to put out [a record with] after moving here was Cherry Cheeks, who were from Orlando,” Evans says, “so I was super excited. Then as I was talking to them, they made the decision that they were gonna move to Portland.”
Portland has been the frontier for Evans since New Year’s Day 2020. He spent the subsequent number of months selling his van, quitting his job, making big plans, and telling people he was going to move. Cultivating an entire music scene was fun and rewarding for him, but he was excited to take up residence in a place where the scene was already established and thriving. He relished the thrill of getting to be a spectator.
By the time he made the cross-country move in May of the same year, Evans was stuck in the house for a year and a half like everybody else. He still appreciated the fact that Portland’s population included relatively fewer mosquitoes and cockroaches.
When lockdown restrictions lifted, Evans enjoyed getting to see bands like Lavender Flu, Nick Normal, and Cut Piece (“It’s nice to be somewhere where I can just sit on the sidelines”), and though he rarely books shows anymore, “when I book a New Buck Biloxi show, I have like twenty bands I could ask that actually fit the bill.”
Evans’s ethos for Total Punk is to do it until it’s not fun anymore. So my final question for him was, with Total Punk being one of the go-to punk labels in the country, with Total Punk having a showcase afterparty lined up for Gonerfest 20 — the annual music festival of one of American punk music’s most storied imprints — is running Total Punk still fun?
He noted after the singles run — over 70 releases and 40,000 hand-stamped covers later — the fun began to subside, so he focused on releasing LPs (of which he has been very successful lately). “I’m really happy with everything I’ve done,” he says near the end of our conversation. “I made it seven years in. Around the seven-year mark, I was like, ‘I need a change.’” When he started Total Punk, he released those hand-stamped 45s for seven years before he switched up the approach.
“I guess it’s the seven-year itch,” he half-joked.
It feels like a lifetime since Versing’s last release (2019’s 10000, broken down for this very column), so it kind of makes sense that this surprise Versing EP feels like a breath of fresh air. Even though there are plenty of artful effects of pedal manipulation, Tape II goes deeper than the numerous and favorable comparisons to shoegaze greats; Daniel Salas has found a great footing as a distinctive songwriter (“Float” is a great song even underneath the weighted blanket of fuzz) and engineer Dylan Wall keeps the sound clean and crisp (the first thing I noticed about tape highlight “Circles”) which make the blasts of noise and whirring distortion feel earned and special. Aesthetic flourishes rather than that thing bands do where they use squall to distract you from the fact they don’t really know how to write songs. Tape II bodes incredibly well for Versing’s imminent third LP, which might very well be where the band puts Northwest left-field/underground rock back on the map.
The cover of Goddess Energy, the follow-up to the Seattle indie supergroup’s pretty great debut Seattle Gossip (the album from which, “Seattle Freeze,” one of the most enjoyable songs ever written about the city, came), is a depiction of the 3 of Cups. For those of my readers who aren’t tarot witches (and shout out to all of my readers who are), the 3 of Cups is the manifestation of celebrating friendship, which is self-evident in the union of Robin Edwards (aka Lisa Prank), Julia Shapiro, Tacocat bassist Bree McKenna, and their newest member, Tacocat vocalist Emily Nokes. I made the mistake of listening to Dusty Henry’s masterful piece on the new album (completing the hat trick of coverage, which includes what the band could legally say regarding being uninvited from Climate Pledge for offending Jeff Bezos) and now I don’t really have anything better to say about it, other than it’s a welcome (and pretty hysterical) edition to the veritable cottage industry these musicians have cultivated through their various combinations.
For the uninitiated, Spencer Sult is a longtime member of Washington State’s DIY music community. (For a little personal context on just how long, I remember playing an early evening show in the lobby of the Vera Project where Generifus was also on the bill.) After a songwriting hiatus, Sult began working on the songs for what would become Rearrangel and recorded them last summer in Portland. The results are absolutely stellar: A country-pop-leaning opus touching on regret, drugs in various hidden places, rabbits dying inside of rocks, forgetting to look at the mountain on a nice day, and the small moments in life that feel big under the open spaces of the sky.
I don’t want to imply because of the brilliance of artists working on the edge of the experimental/jazz/soul/hip-hop axis that Kassa Overall is easy to take for granted, but the Seattle-bred musician’s debut for the legendary Warp Records should definitely be a bigger deal. Each of Overall’s three full-lengths (along with various singles, remixes, etc.) have a range, scope, ambition, and weird individuality that should set clearly apart from anything happening in music right now. “Clock Ticking” (with Wiki and Danny Brown) is easily one of the best rap songs I’ve heard this year. “Make My Way Back Home” is begging to be put on repeat during a smoke session. And any song that can get The Based God Lil B and Shabazz Palaces on the same, beguiling track (gorgeous closer “Going Up”) should be credited for doing the Lord’s work. I’m certain time will favor ANIMALS profoundly, once the world catches up.
Martin Douglas speaks with the founding members of the uber-influential feminist punk band in a wide spanning interview.
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