I’m happy to post a selection from the ongoing email interview I’m having with one Darren Walters, co-founder of Jade Tree Records.
As a majority of my America Is Just A Word interviewees happen to be musicians, it’s great having Darren on board to give some perspective of the other goings on that helped transform emo through the decades. (Of course, an exception to all this is Ian MacKaye, who’s role as a musician and Dischord Records co-founder gives him a completely different perspective than most folks involved in the book.) When it comes to emo in the 90s, Jade Tree was one of the few places where things were really popping. The record label quickly rose to fame with The Promise Ring and continued to soldier on from there, releasing music from numerous indie emo “big names” (whatever that oxymoronic phrase means) such as Hot Water Music, Texas Is The Reason (a split with TPR), Lifetime, Jets To Brazil, Joan of Arc, Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz (the label introduced many people to the band with their double-disc discography) and many a popular non-emo act such as Fucked Up and My Morning Jacket.
But, I’ll let Darren explain it all himself. Enjoy:
How’d you get into music and, more specifically, punk music?
Darren Walters: “A few things happened around the same time that finally got my fully intoÂ punk once and for all.
I had been into new wave, alternative and the like and eventually met a fewÂ people who were also into the same type of music, including punk. Â In andÂ around the same time, my best friend ended up being sent to military schoolÂ where he became immersed in punk. Â His friends at military school helped himÂ stock up on great records which he brought home during his breaks and leftÂ with me. Â Him and I quickly became 100% into punk rock in about 1985 or soÂ and began going to shows and seeking out as much info as we could on punkÂ rock and watching movies like Suburbia and Decline of the WesternÂ Civilization over and over again.
What was it like growing up in Wilmington?
DW: “Wilmington is at the northern tip of Delaware and the biggest city in theÂ state. Â Essentially, it is a suburb of Philadelphia as it is only about 25Â minutes outside of the city.
It was-and is, for the most part, devoid of any culture during my childhoodÂ and continues to be so to this day. Â It’s basically your typical AmericanÂ suburb and it’s the place that I still call home and have form most of myÂ life.
Having spent most of my life here I’ve come to like it, which is interestingÂ considering I spent those formative punk years trying to think of a way toÂ get out. Â Growing older and being able to leave, I got used to the idea ofÂ being in Delaware. Â It also became advantageous for Jade Tree to remain inÂ Delaware as it was inexpensive compared to cities like NY or SF where TimÂ and I had often discussed moving the label to (in fact, Tim lived in NYC forÂ many years).”
On the Jade Tree site, it says that you and Tim were pretty involved in the DC punk community. Considering Delaware isn’t exactly a walk away from DC, how did you balance a life at home with going to shows and building on a community in DC?
DW: “I was involved in the DC scene in the sense that I was going to shows anÂ awful lot in the MD/DC/VA area and Jade Tree worked with plenty of bandsÂ from there over the years. Â DC was one of our support systems and one of ourÂ scenes and we of course looked up to many of the people involved in it bothÂ past and present.
It was easy enough to go back and forth from DE to DC. Â Tim had grown up inÂ DC and still had family there, I had a girlfriend there at one time, JadeÂ Tree had bands there, tons of friends and so on. Â It was just something thatÂ we did without thinking. Â And it’s less than 2 hours away. Â I used to beÂ able to get to the Damnation house in an hour and 10 minutes on a good day.Â Granted, I was doing 90+ mph, but the point is that this was a drive thatÂ Tim and I made almost weekly, or at least monthly, for years.”
How did you and Tim meet?
DW: “My best friend growing up attended college in MD and met Tim at a show inÂ DC. Â They started a label called Axtion Packed together and that’s how I metÂ Tim, through him.
Once my label, Hi-Impact, was beginning to fall apart, coincidentally so wasÂ AP, so Tim and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we combined forcesÂ to work on new label.”
What was it like being in high school and then college, trying to balance the life of a student and the work needed to run a label (be it Hi-Impact or Jade Tree) and a band as well?
DW: “It was crazy of course! Â At times it would be fairly simple because thereÂ wouldn’t be much to do in the very beginning. Â However, when there would beÂ a new release in production or a record would need to be mailed out to radioÂ or to all of the awaiting orders, it would take hours, if not days, to doÂ so. Â That could be intense. Â Especially because for the first few Jade TreeÂ releases, many of the records were put together by hand. Â You can imagineÂ how long it takes to hand assemble 4000+ 7″s & CDS for instance. Â We wouldÂ enlist every one we knew to come on over and enjoy free pizza, get theÂ latest release and help us out. Â It was a community thing and it helped JadeÂ Tree get off its feet tremendously.”
Oh man, Jade Tree was like THE label for me for a long time. Awesome interview.