“I realized that it would be a really cool way to continue that spirit of collaboration and mutual support during a time where we can’t tour and play shows.”
One of the few bonuses of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it’s given people more time to launch new projects. That could range from a hobby to a side hustle to a full-on business that both fuels one’s passions and helps make ends meet.
The latter is what Justine Covault is doing with her new label, Red on Red Records, which surfaced in November. Boston scenesters might know her from the garage rock act Justine & The Unclean, but Covault is as business savvy as she is a stellar songwriter.
From the start, Covault has kept the ball rolling while getting multiple local acts involved, including one of the city’s most legendary punk bands.
We recently spoke about how a fellow label owner inspired her to start Red on Red, getting emails from bands every week, doing virtual showcases, and potential upcoming gigs.
How did the idea to start a record label come to be? Were you looking for something to start up while being inside due to COVID-19?
Actually, the idea came from Lou Mansdorf, who runs Rum Bar Records. About a year ago, I was doing the Whistlestop Rock Festival which featured female-powered bands from around New England, and we started playing some regional shows before the lockdown hit. Over the summer we put out a song called “Queen Of The Drive-In,” and I took it over to Lou to see if he’d be down to have it as part of his label’s summer compilation and he said,”Yeah, the song’s great, but it’s a one-shot single and I’m doing that compilation with bands that have full-length albums with me but you know, you should start your own label.”
Then I thought about it a little bit and I realized that it would be a really cool way to continue that spirit of collaboration and mutual support during a time where we can’t tour and play shows. We can still put out music, so there’s a lot to be done, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of supporting my fellow musicians.
It’s a really fun thing to do, it creates a positive atmosphere, and it helps everybody get a wider audience. That’s what it’s all about.
Did you gain a lot of knowledge from being part of Rum Bar Records with Lou? Did you take a lot of that experience with you when you started Red on Red Records?
Oh for sure. Lou has been wonderful to work with just from the enthusiasm he has for all of the bands on his roster. He works hard to promote Rum Bar’s bands to make sure they’re getting good airplay, getting blog reviews, and getting press. He’s always looking out for his bands and I learned a ton from him, he’s been incredibly supportive. Ever since I started the label he’s given me lots of great advice.
So far you’ve gotten the likes of Kid Gulliver, The Jacklights, Linnea’s Garden, and even The Neighborhoods among others to work with you as part of the label. How have you gone about forming a roster? Are you just reaching out to people you’re already networked with and seeing what goes from there?
I started with people that I knew, bands that I knew were good who had great songs and musicians that put out a high quality product in terms of the recording process and music videos they could make. I also wanted to have it be a thing where we work to support their band from an emotional perspective and support each other’s bands, that’s kind of the basic criteria. The label really focuses on powerpop and melodic punk. Once Red on Red was officially announced and we started to get some press, I started to get bombarded by requests. On average, I have around four or five bands a week reaching out about the label.
It’s been pretty intense because I’m filled at capacity with the roster that I have. It’s also really important to me to be able to support everyone that’s on the roster in the best way possible. I can’t do that if I have too many bands, so I often have to say, “We’re at capacity, thanks for your interest and if things open up in the summer we’ll take a look.”
In the meantime, I’ve done some promotional support for some bands I can’t sign. I’ll put them on Red on Red’s virtual showcases and other things like that so I still find a way to try and help bands if I can, I just don’t have any room on the label’s roster as of right now.
When you get all of these emails on a weekly basis, would you say that’s the most stressful part about running Red on Red Records? Also, what do you enjoy the most about running the label?
The most stressful part is that it’s also a business. It’s like starting a small business at the same time as putting out releases, making sure the music is getting into the right hands, and getting it the kind of attention that it deserves. I’m also setting up an infrastructure for the business, so it’s a lot and very demanding. It’s hard when a band approaches me, especially if they’re a good band and a lot of the ones that have approached me are, and I have to turn them down, which is kind of why I offer promotional support for everybody. What I like best about it is when there’s a connection between a song I think deserves to be heard and some opportunity that I can create for that song to get a broader audience.
For example, when we first started out, one of the first things I did was re-release the song “Forget About Him” by Kid Gulliver. It had originally been released a year or two ago, but from hearing that band and hearing that song I knew it was a hit. It’s such a great, catchy powerpop tune with real lyrics. After the re-release it charted on indie radio and on local stations and a few months later it’s still getting airplay. That to me is what I love the most about it, putting out a song that I think millions of people should hear.
What do you aim to accomplish with the label in 2021? What are some primary goals?
The basic plan in the winter and spring is going to be mainly a couple digital singles and a couple digital EPs along with some virtual showcases. I do these streaming shows that are usually made up of recorded videos and they’re all edited together. We’re doing one on February 12 with some exclusive videos that no one has ever seen before that’ll be broadcasted on YouTube. Then we’ll probably be doing another one in April, so there’s a lot going on over the next few months. When we approach the summer and fall, I’m going to start looking for opportunities to do live shows, whether it’s outside socially distanced shows or more normal ones when things become safe again.
I’m gonna be looking for venues to showcase my bands and have fun again. I also want to start doing full-length releases and vinyl to eventually start getting the physical product into the mix going into the fall.
The other thing that I want to do is that the way that I work with the bands is that I help support some of the cost of producing their high-quality content and they help me when I need something. I want making great music to be something that you can at least break even doing and that’s a real challenge.
A lot of bands do it as a labor of love or even a tax writeoff, but if the music is great then people should listen to it and people should buy it. With the music videos and all of the added content, you should be able to break even.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.