Will Kinser is a name I’ve heard tossed around in the punk scene for years. He’s released records for many punk bands under New Dark Age Records and No Options Records. He traded Oakland, California, for Hamburg, Germany, and I thought I’d catch up with this expat for all you punks out there, and find out why he released records in the first place and what advice he has for anyone wanting to start a label. Here’s Will…
Who are you, what bands have you been in and how’d you wind up in Germany?
My name is Will Kinser and I come from among other places like Oakland, California, not to be mistaken for the rest of the USA, which is far too vast to pigeonhole under one cultural bias. I release records under two labels: New Dark Age and No Options Records. Bands I was/am part of… Hmm, let’s see… NO OPTIONS, BORN/DEAD, DESOLATION, IN THE WAKE OF THE PLAGUE, DOPECHARGE, SUICIDE BOMB, RED DONS, and NO MORE ART. How I ended up in Germany is a long story, but the short version is that I wanted to live abroad, to have the experience of living outside of the USA. I’d traveled to Europe many times before, and just ended up here because of logistics and wanting to live near good friends and have some fun times.
How is punk different in Europe versus the US and different in Germany as opposed to the rest of Europe?
I could write a book about the differences. Europe has a totally different flow than the USA for starters. Everything here is slower and older, and therefore more thought-out and consistent. The show spaces here and network have been developed over decades and are well organized and well funded. Europeans in general are more stable in their friendships and with their lifestyle, so you get people who are still going to shows and being involved that are 50+ years old here. The downside of that, because punk is fun when everything is fleeting and chaotic, I find that people take things for granted. The scene isn’t as alive and evolutionary as in the USA. I guess it comes down to culture and the fact that people get away with a lot in the US that people here would be held accountable for. Like, say, a house show probably wouldn’t take place in a major city in Germany because for one thing there are mainly only apartments, and everyone has neighbors and would have to pay huge fines for noise complaints. In my opinion, the biggest drawback here is that not so many people play music, and if they do it is mostly just a hobby, so you don’t get the quality or urgency of bands like in the US where music is a way of life and it takes precedence over most other things like jobs, housing, and general security. Of course Scandinavia is the exception because the beer there is way too expensive, so all there is to do after work or school is to play music. Germany is very different than the rest of Europe in that everyone here is taught to be a citizen and to achieve social security and to be an active participant in the social system from birth. People are very stressed when everything isn’t going as planned. It comes down to everything being a bit regimented, even in the punk scene. I find in other countries in Europe, especially the southern countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece, people are more laid back and let things slide, and I like that. But there is no work there for a foreigner like me…shittay.
Any good punk in Hamburg or Berlin these days?
I live in Hamburg, and yes, there are some good bands in Hamburg and Berlin. Some of my favorites in Berlin are MODERN PETS, FLUFFERS, DIÄT, BLANK PAGES, JEMEK JEMOWIT, PIG//CONTROL, MINUS APES. Here in Hamburg: KÜKEN, YARD BOMB, INSTINCT OF SURVIVAL, MOUNTAIN WITCH, AUXES, OMA HANS.
Where are your favorite records stores and venues in Berlin and Hamburg?
Berlin record stores: Static Shock Records, Bis aufs Messer, Vinyl-a-GoGo. Venues: Kopi, Kastanienkeller, Bei Roi, SO36, etc.
Hamburg record stores: Fischkopp Recordshop, Burnout Records, Freiheit und Roosen, Crypt Records, Championship Records. Venues: Hafenklang, Gangeviertel, Gun Club, Komet, Rote Flora, Molotow, ect..
What was your last release?
THE WAR GOES ON This Shitty Life EP
It’s been a few years, are you planning on another release?
I was supposed to do THE WAR GOES ON album but those dudes are so fucking lazy…haha. I don’t have something planned at the moment as I am perpetually broke, but I’m sure something will come up. I might do a release for FLUFFERS if they aren’t too busy courting indies like Captured Tracks or In the Red. There are literally tons of bands I would love to release (mainly in Scandinavia and the USA), if I just had a bit of money then I might even ask them.
Are you satisfied with the releases you’ve done?
Between the two record labels, New Dark Age and No Options, I would say I am extremely satisfied. Of course there were a few flops over the years but I think that happens when you operate on a DIY scale and you release stuff for friends bands, or bands that aren’t really striving for success as much as artistic freedom. Twenty-six releases is pretty good for someone who doesn’t take it that seriously.
Do you think you helped punk by having a label? I personally view anyone who has a label as being a contributor to punk because you are supporting bands, working with distros, and keeping punk alive…
I don’t know if I helped punk so much as it has helped me. I get just as much if not more than I put in, which is the reason I always want to do more. The punk scene, although imperfect, has helped guide my life, for better or worse. The music is always with me and the philosophy has made me the person I am today. I am proud to have been involved in the productive side of punk.
So, why did you start a label in the first place?
It was a necessity when we were young to put out our own bands records, but I quickly made the jump to releasing friends’ bands, due to the initial success of my first releases. It was a fun way to be active in the scene. Also, I am a collector so running a label definitely has its perks.
Has it gotten easier or more difficult to release records over the years?
It has gotten harder because the network has broken down, in my opinion. It is no longer cost effective to ship records overseas. Trading is a waste of time if you don’t have the means to transport a distro from show to show, or have a website. The record market has shrunk due to downloads as well. Maybe I have also grown tired of fair-weather fans? When something is popular, then it sells in a week. The next week the next band is popular and they have moved on. I release records which I feel will stand the test of time. I would like it if I could keep my records in print, but it’s nearly impossible these days with the market. Also I have to say I haven’t given it my all with the label, I always have focused more on my own bands and touring, but I still hold all the releases dear to my heart. It has been a long and bumpy ride for me, with some fallouts with bands and other labels, but I have always done my best so I won’t get too critical on myself. Some of my releases have been taken over by other labels because I don’t operate on a consistent level and can only move forward with releases which I am very pleased with for the most part. Although, consent is always a nice thing when you re-issue a record that was previously released on another label that spent a lot of time and effort on it.
Are the pressing plants and sleeve companies you first used still around today?
By in large they are. I started with United Record Pressing and they are still going strong. Bill Smith was my favorite to work with in the USA — nice people and a family business. Pirates Press does a great job, but I’m not a big fan of DMM mastering, and they are a bit pricey in my opinion, even though it’s sort of a one-stop shop which makes life easier. These days I press EPs at My45, which is a one-man operation, so far as I know, based in southern Germany. I press LPs at Green Hell, which I think pieces them out to other plants, but they are super pro and always concerned about the final product and small details. They have super great prices in my opinion, and are easy to work with.
Any real headaches releasing records?
My least favorite thing is the expectations of some people. It’s not like I have some publicity wing in my house that is gonna get their record into every store in the country. A band has to tour in order to get an audience. That or build hype some way or another. It is not a DIY label’s job to popularize your band, that is your job. If some kid in Boise, Idaho, can’t get your record at his local store and has told you that information via Facebook, don’t bother me about it. Tell the kid to ask his local record store why they aren’t ordering from Ebullition. It’s like asking what time a show starts…it’s always 8:30 or 9pm…look at the fucking List you jackass, don’t text me about it. [Sweet "List" reference, Will! —ed.] DIY still applies to everyone involved, not just the schmuck who decides it’s a good idea to waste all their spare time releasing records that get almost no press outside of rags like MRR.
Who do you recommend to master for vinyl releases?
I highly recommend Daniel Sayer at North London Bomb Factory! He’s my good friend and takes real passion in getting exactly what the band and label want from every release he handles. Dan Randal at Mammoth Sound, Brad Boatright at Audiosiege , and Jack Control at Enormous Door. I’m also very partial to George Horn at Fantasy Studios, if you have the money to afford that grumpy old man mastering your release.
Any suggestions to punks thinking of releasing a record or starting a label?
Put everything that you have into each record and be totally compulsive about attention to detail. Every record you release will have a life of its own. It will come back to haunt you if something is imperfect or not up to snuff. Release what you love and don’t give a shit about what is the new current genre trend. Bands will always want more than your label can give, don’t get too attached. If you release a great band’s first record it will most likely be their best, and personally I can live with that.
Any last words?
Thanks for the interview; it really made me think about why I started the label and why I need to continue it. Thanks to all the bands I have had the honor of working with and all the labels that have helped out. Most of all a big thanks to the record nerds everywhere!
No Options Records
NO-01 Born/Dead ’24 Hostages’ EP
NO-02 Phalanx ‘s/t’ LP
NO-03 Endrophobia ‘s/t’ EP
NO-04 Desolation ‘Demos pt.1′ EP
NO-05 The Total End ‘Chasing Nightmares’ LP
NO-06 Stockholm Syndrome ‘One Way Out’ EP
NO-07 Stormcrow ‘Enslaved In Darkness’ LP/CD
NO-08 Peligro Social ‘No Religion’ LP
NO-09 Stormcrow/Sanctum ‘split’ LP/CD
NO-10 Born/Dead ‘Best Of’ CD *deleted
NO-11 Tarrakian ‘The Swarm’ LP
NO-12 Bombenalarm ‘No Mistakes’ LP/CD
NO-13 Limb From Limb ‘Death.Famine.Plague’ LP/CD
NO-15 Los Monjo ‘Cobardes’ EP
NO-16 Fix My Head ‘Empty Slogans’ EP
NO-17 Morne ‘s/t’ LP
NO-18 Morne/Warprayer ‘split’ LP
NO-19 Heratys ‘s/t’ LP limited edition United States
NO-20 Ratface ‘Ratfaced’ EP limited edition European
New Dark Age
NDA-01 Spectres ‘Last Days’ LP
NDA-02 The Estranged ‘The Subliminal Man’ LP
NDA-03 Red Dons ‘A Forced Turning Point’ EP
NDA-04 Doom Town ‘Walking Through Walls’ EP
NDA-05 No More Art ‘Peripeteia b/w Evil Eyes’ EP
NDA-06 The War Goes On ‘This Shitty Life’ EP