The world didn’t blink an eye when Sony announced it’s purchase of Century Media earlier this month, probably because we’re getting used to there being a huge divide between independent and multinational labels today. This isn’t new or unheard of by any means but it got me asking the question, “what’s in a label?”. A pretty open question yes, but one that can (and hopefully will) open up a dialogue about the relationship between music fans, artists and the labels that release their music. We all know the names but what actually goes on behind the scenes and why do we come to associate certain styles of rock and metal to specific labels? In this first edition, I’m going to be digging into what makes one of my favourite record labels tick. The label in question? A389 Recordings.
I recently spoke with Domenic Romeo, the one man show behind this insanely active indie label. Domenic is the runner, administrator, financier and mail room for the entire label, run out of Baltimore for more than ten years now. First thing I had to get out of the way when I spoke with him was obvious. We all know what Metal Blade are about just looking at their logo, but what the fuck does A389 mean?
“…when I first moved to Baltimore I used to work for this really wild property preservation/eviction company. It’s actually how I was introduced to the Baltimore hardcore scene at the time as they all worked there at some point. Anyways, whenever you change the lock on a property you have to use a specific type of lock with a generic key so other people can have access to it. The code for padlocks was A389. I liked the way it sounded so I just kinda ran with it. That’s also why there’s always been a key in the logo.”
Now, you don’t keep a label running on the back of a great name and logo, there’s got to be talent. Something that A389 has never lacked in it’s release history. You only have to browse the first few rows of the A389 Bandcamp page to see for yourself. Grind, noise, death metal and hardcore classics, everywhere you look. Full Of Hell, Xibalba, Homewrecker for the new kids. Integrity, Chokehold and Gehenna for the slightly older kids. Spoiled rotten, we are. Even one of the world’s biggest metal bands right now have released music through A389. The Black Dahlia Murder and Grind ‘Em All popping up outta left field to surprise fans worldwide. Full Of Hell are my personal favourite from the A389 collection though. Their insane brand of noise, grind and hardcore ticks boxes that I only recently discovered I had.
A389 is now a permanent fixture in the East Coast extreme metal landscape. But it doesn’t just belong there. Romeo has worked himself to the bone keeping this label afloat. We all think we have it bad when we’re given one task to do repeatedly to make a living. We have no freakin’ idea. If you really want to know what it’s like running a label on yer lonesome, check out his breakdown of a day in the life of A389;
“5:00 AM – Wake up, eat breakfast and do computer work
7:00 AM – Get ready to leave for day job, listen to album masters, new bands etc in car
12:00 PM – Eat lunch, catch up on email and phone calls on lunch break
5:00 PM – Drive home, listen to more album masters, new bands etc in car
5:30 PM – Eat dinner and hang out with family
8:00 PM – Go to warehouse and work on mail order, distribution stuff, computer stuff
1:00 AM – Come home and wind down
Somewhere in there I have to do the book-keeping and other stuff. I don’t know how it all happens it just does.”
Doesn’t sound as glamorous as the life of the fat cats behind the big black desks over at Sony and Warner does it? When it boils down to it, A389 is run by someone who still finds inspiration to put in 20 hour days, even with a full time job and family to look after, just so that fans like myself and you get to enjoy ripping music from the freshest acts out there. Like many of us, Romeo still has to look for that influence or motivation to keep on truckin’, if you will.
“Whenever I start to lose steam or vision I find a younger band like Full Of Hell or a Noisem that puts the wind back in my sails and kinda puts me back in check. That is also balanced out by the older bands I grew up admiring like Integrity and Haymaker still putting out awesome and relevant music. It’s always been about that balance.”
A389 Recordings will continue to release the most feral music out there but expect things to roll back a bit. Romeo is looking forward to scaling things back in the near future, but fear not, because a beast like this will always be around. One of the most revered underground labels in the East Coast, nay, the world, A389 will always hold a place in my heart for putting out the music that I needed to hear at this point in my life. If there are less records released each year, that’s okay, ‘cuz I know for a fact that the time, sweat, blood and manual labour put into getting those records out, comes from a man who is one of us. A dedicated music fan looking to help his friends and peers make their mark on the world. There are no promises made by Romeo over at the A389 website, but if you want to send him some work then here you go. One last bit of advice from the man himself regarding what makes a demo pop;
“Good energy. Good songs. Cool aesthetic. Minimal corny-ness”
While I have you, go check out the newest A389 release from Genocide Pact. It’s crushing death metal with all of the snarl of the angriest looking hardcore frontman in your town. Excellent mosh material as always.