In our newest edition of Meet & Greet, we spoke with Will Miller and Chuck Daley, the guys behind both Tiny Engines Records and Beartrap PR. Tiny Engines is a hardworking Carolina-based record label, which was launched in 2008. Their current roster includes Dikembe, Run Forever, Restorations and State Lines. Beartrap PR is a DIY promotion and publicity company, who has worked with bands like Balance and Composure, I Call Fives, Into It. Over It., The Saddest Landscape and several others.
Can you tell us about the beginnings of both Tiny Engines and Beartrap PR. What were you two doing before?
Will: I’ll let Chuck talk about Beartrap since he started that before I was involved. In regards to the beginnings of Tiny Engines, I guess a backstory is relevant. I took a job at Deep Elm in 2002 handling mail order and various other miscellaneous stuff at the label. Chuck was already working there doing press for the bands/label. So, that’s where we met. Fast forward to 2005 and I had enough of living the label life (long hours, very little money) and moved back home to work with my brother. Chuck stayed on for a few more years, I believe. I ended up starting a music blog called Sound As Language that ran pretty steadily from 2005-2010. Chuck started Beartrap PR in 2006. We kept in touch and talked about music a ton as we had pretty similar tastes and viewpoints on things. He then asked me to come on board with Beartrap in 2007, which I did. And then I guess we started discussing the label idea more and more with Jeff, who we knew from his band, Jena Berlin (members went on to be in Restorations, see how the circle of life works?). We all finally decided to do that in 2008 and our first release was Look Mexico’s Gasp Asp 7”, which came out at the end of that year. So, yeah, I guess you could say we’ve all been involved in music a ton over the last decade, which has definitely helped us with Beartrap & Tiny Engines.
Chuck: Yup, that pretty much covers it. I started at Deep Elm in March of 2000 and eventually left in 2007 (I think) to start my own PR business, Beartrap. A couple years later, we created Tiny Engines and the rest is ongoing history. Other than a few odd jobs after college (substitute teacher, waiter, lifeguard) I’ve worked exclusively in the music industry for nearly 13 years. That was never my intent after graduation, but I’ve really enjoyed myself and I’m glad it panned out the way it did. Don’t get me wrong — I’m super poor and vacations are a luxury I don’t often indulge in — but at least I’ve always been proud of the work I’ve done and it’s truly been a blast.
What inspired you to begin a record label and music management firm?
Will: I guess the label was birthed more from my insistence. Ever since my immersion in indie/punk music in the early 90’s, starting a label has always been something I wanted to do. It was something I felt I had an ear for. So, I guess I bugged Chuck enough about it until he finally relented.
Chuck: Luckily for Tiny Engines, Will never learned his lesson from the weekly beatings we took from the music industry during our time at Deep Elm, and apparently I’m a glutton for punishment, as well. Seriously, running a label — while undoubtedly more stressful and obstacle-filled — is a little more fun than doing PR. Don’t get me wrong, Beartrap is great, but it doesn’t afford as much of a creative opportunity as Tiny Engines does. There’s just something about the process of making records that excites me. I was reluctant to get back in the game after Deep Elm, but I’m glad I did.
How did you choose the names Tiny Engines and Beartrap?
Will: I think Chuck came up with Tiny Engines’ name, I can never remember honestly.
Chuck: That sounds right, but keep in mind this was after what seemed like months of rejecting potential label names. It wasn’t like I had this brilliant idea of “Tiny Engines” stuck in my head or anything like that. There were many, many monikers that we shot down. But when I did finally throw it out there, it was the one name that we all got on board with pretty quickly. We felt like it had a deeper meaning as well … that it embodied the do-it-together, punk rock spirit and family-like atmosphere that we hoped to create with Tiny Engines. No matter how small, we all play a vital role in making the “machine” work as it should.
As for Beartrap, there’s no real significance behind it, other than I thought it sounded cool. I had the idea of the name in my head at least a year or two before I ever started the company, but I’m pretty sure that originally it was “Bear Trainer.” Eventually, I decided that wasn’t as sweet-sounding as Beartrap.
When you two began Tiny Engines and Beartrap PR, were there any other independent labels or PR firms that you looked towards for inspiration and/or guidance? How have things changed?
Will: Chuck will have to talk about Beartrap PR. In regard to Tiny Engines, I didn’t really look towards any particular label for personal guidance. There have definitely been inspirations for me though. Labels like Touch & Go, Matador, Merge, Sub Pop, No Idea, Jade Tree and Dischord have all had a profound impact on my tastes and aesthetics I’m sure. I will say, a label like Temporary Residence right now really inspires me to try and be more diverse in what we do. I think that’s something that I’ve really thought about a lot in terms of the label going forward, in being curators of music and not just limiting ourselves in terms of genre or certain niches. That’s not something I ever want Tiny Engines to be. I think you probably could have pigeonholed us after our first six releases. That’s not a slight to those first six, though, they helped put us on the map and I will forever love all of those records. But beyond those, I think we’ve become a more diverse label while still having a high standard in terms of the quality we feel we release.
Chuck: There are a lot of labels that I’ve always admired — Dischord, No Idea, Level Plane (RIP) and Jade Tree, to name a few — but I don’t think we ever adhered to any set of rules other than our own. That’s not to say that we haven’t learned a lot from our time at Deep Elm or the examples set by the aforementioned labels, but in a big way we’re still trying to forge our own path in the world.
As for Beartrap, I specifically created that as the anti-PR, PR company. In other words, I felt like there was a lot of waste and backwards thinking in the world of publicity, and even worse was the fact that small, independent bands never got a fair shake. My goal has always been to expose awesome music from underground bands and labels to a bigger audience, but to do it in a way that makes sense from a money/resources standpoint. I’m really proud that Beartrap has always been able to offer clients a really big bang for their buck, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find another PR company that offers a better, more professional PR service for the price.
You mentioned that “Gasp Asp” by Look Mexico was the label’s first release. What are you memories of that experience?
Chuck: For the most part, I think that making the Look Mexico 7-inch was a fairly easy process, as was the decision to work with the band. Those guys were one of the first bands on the Beartrap roster, they worked hard, toured their asses off, we loved their music and we considered them good friends. I think to this day, Look Mexico holds the record of staying at my house the most times while on tour.
The tough part was the months leading up to the day I placed the order for that fateful 7-inch and having to do tons of research on pressing plants, manufacturers, distros, etc etc. We never pressed vinyl at Deep Elm, so despite being quite well versed in the music “biz” and releasing CDs, I had no clue what I was doing when it came to a 7-inch. I’m a very thorough person when it comes to that stuff, though, so I definitely did my homework. Of course, there were plenty of things that if I could do differently, I probably would. Nothing major, but every time we release a record I learn something new or I figure out a way to do things better than the time before.
At the end of the day, the process of making vinyl records is really fun, but it’s also fraught with opportunities for missteps and other potential problems. I once joked that if you release a record on vinyl and nothing goes awry, you’re doing it wrong. It’s such a tricky format with a lot of limitations. It’s almost impossible to avoid a slip up along the way.
How do you guys balance both endeavors?
Will: It’s difficult no doubt. And it’s balancing them along with a day job (in my case), or keeping two kids (in Chuck’s case). There are a lot of days I wake up and pack mailorder/answer email, go to work, then come home and pack more mailorder/answer more email. It’s draining for sure. You have to be disciplined and honestly it’s still something I have to work on to get better. It’s a constant struggle, but on the flip side, if I just had a day job to occupy my time, I’d be probably bored out of my mind. So, I guess it’s self-inflicted mayhem in my case.
Chuck: Yeah, there’s no real good answer other than simply doing the best you can and knowing that you’re probably sacrificing a lot of other things in your life by getting involved in the punk rock/independent music scene. Not only do I co-run two independent companies, but I’m also a stay-at-home dad with two little boys that pretty much keep me constantly occupied during the day, so now it’s even tougher than before. But, whether it’s hanging with my kids or focusing on the label or PR, I’m busy from 8 A.M. to the wee hours of the night … and I work on weekends too. This stuff is not for the faint of heart … or apathetic, lazy sacks.
Do you feel that your main focus is on one or the other? Do you find yourself drawn to one more than the other?
Will: I think what you have to do is set aside time for each so they don’t interfere with one another. I’m definitely drawn to the label more cause it’s more a direct reflection of me. When you have that type of ownership over something you truly love to do, it’s hard not to want to spend every second on that. But, it’s important to be able to put it aside when you need to. I think what’s important is that the bands we work with on Beartrap are bands we truly do like. And they are paying us for a service. So, we want to do right by them. I think the one thing that’s really rewarding is just being able to create that relationship with bands whether we’re putting out their record or working press for their record. That’s special to us regardless.
Has there ever been an instance where running both has taken away some of the quality or, at least, caused you to experience an “ah-ha” moment where you realize you’ve spread yourself too thin?
Will: I probably have one of those “a-ha” moments every week cause sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day. You really have to be diligent in trying to maintain a proper balance so quality on both sides can stay high.
Chuck: Honestly, I don’t really feel like Beartrap and Tiny Engines take away from one another that much … but family time certainly does. As I mentioned before, playing Daddy Daycare and attempting to do work at the same time is virtually impossible. There are moments when I think to myself, “if I only had more time to myself, I could be doing so-and-so and this-and-that and making things even better.”
When my boys are in school full-time, things will be a little different, but right now it is what it is. Having said that, I still truly believe that we put more time and effort into both Beartrap and Tiny Engines than most people would, and I think that’s reflected in the work we do for all of our all bands, whether it’s the label or PR roster.
How has running both benefited you?
Will: I think what Beartrap has done for Tiny Engines has definitely been helpful. I think it gives us a leg up on other labels that usually have to outsource press work. And working with bands on press can be a cool, intimate kind of thing and that definitely has helped us establish relationships with some of the bands who would go on to become a part of the TE roster at some point. In fact, the first five releases on TE were by bands that either Chuck or myself had worked press for on previous releases.
Chuck: Having the ability to do great PR campaigns for all Tiny Engines’ releases is pretty huge and not many small labels have that luxury. I think there’s also another side to it, as well, where running a label actually helps Beartrap. In other words, we understand what our PR clients are faced with; we fully empathize with the everyday trials and tribulations they go through in running small independent labels and working with struggling DIY bands. As such, we can tailor our services to better fit their needs.
Presently, Tiny Engines has released 16 albums. Are there any releases that stick out in your mind as being important to either yourself or the label?
Will: I talked about this recently when it was announced that Restorations was signing to Side One Dummy. And I kind of alluded to it earlier when I said I felt our first six releases could be somewhat pigeonholed. I think the Restorations LP came along at the perfect time for us. It was a record that really expanded our horizons I think. Perhaps it gave us the confidence that there was an audience in our scene for something a bit different. That not being able to be pigeonholed was a very cool thing.
Chuck: I’ll agree with that one. And on a personal level, that Restorations LP might be my favorite record in the catalog. Everything — from the songwriting, to the recording, to the mixing, to the mastering, and right down to the packaging — turned out amazing. Still, it’s hard to say that one release is more important than any other. While our first couple of years might have found us treading in emo territories, bands like Tigers Jaw, Look Mexico, Everyone Everywhere and CSTVT really helped to put us on the map. Last year was pretty amazing, as well, and saw the label really branching out with Signals Midwest, State Faults, State Lines, Best Practices, Red Collar, Jowls and Run, Forever. Of course I can’t forget Dikembe, which is a terrific album unto itself and marked our most successful pre-order ever. In all honestly, I can point to special things about all the records we’ve released that make them each important in their own unique way. It’s one of the reasons why I love doing this.
The majority of your releases, save one, have been pressed on vinyl. Was vinyl always something you wanted to have as a main component when you began the label?
Will: Yeah, I mean, vinyl was why we started Tiny Engines. In the beginning we just talked about being a part time label and releasing 7 inches for bands we loved. But, that changed pretty quickly. To me, starting a label in 2008 and not doing vinyl wasn’t an option.
Chuck: To me, the artwork and packaging is almost as important as the music itself, so in that respect Tiny Engines was always going to produce physical records. And there’s just something about vinyl that makes it special … warm and inviting. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia or the fact that the format has the ability to capture a sound unto itself, but there was never any indecision in our minds; it was vinyl all the way.
What is it about vinyl that you love and that sticks out to you as being unique and important?
Will: Chuck is much more the audiophile than I am. To me, it’s more about the packaging and holding something tangible in your hands. Having a big physical vinyl record is just so much more to me than a CD or mp3s obviously.
Chuck: I’m not one of those people who proclaim that vinyl sounds better than CD or digital. In fact, I think that given the proper gear, all three formats are capable of greatness. I just happen to prefer vinyl and I’ve managed to go waaaaay overboard in my exploration of extracting the very best sound from said format. In other words, I spend just as much time collecting and experimenting with my audio gear (turntables, amps, speakers, etc etc) as I do with simply enjoying the music. It has become a full-time hobby for me and I could probably bore the pants off all your readers with stories about building DIY preamps and scoring a vintage low output moving coil cartridges and so on and so forth. I just think there’s something very cool about vinyl and it can sound absolutely amazing if you understand all its intricacies and how to properly pull all the information contained within a record’s grooves.
With vinyl being the main medium in which you release records, were records something that you collected? Do you still maintain that collection?
Will: I do have a collection. I’m much more proud of my 7″ collection, but oddly enough, I’ve kind of waned in my record collecting as Tiny Engines has grown. It probably has to do with the fact that I spend all my money on putting out records now instead of buying them.
Chuck: I wouldn’t really call it a “collection” per se. It’s my library of music and it’s all stuff I enjoy listening to on a daily basis. I really don’t care that much about what things are worth or making lists of all my color variants; my records are special to me and I don’t give a rip what anyone else thinks about them. Truthfully, I probably have somewhere between 300-400 LPs, 10-inches and 7-inches, which isn’t really that impressive compared to some of these collectors. But as I mentioned, it’s all albums that I love listening to and I’ll probably never part with them. Hell, my CD collection is probably bigger than my vinyl right now, but that’s probably because a big chunk of them were never even released on wax.
Are there any records that you’re particularly proud to own?
Will: I don’t know if there are any particular records I feel a certain affinity for, I’d probably have to go back through my collection for those to kind of jog my memory.
Chuck: All of them. And Spy Versus Spy “Little Lights.” That’s one of my favorite records of all time and is definitely not easy to track down on vinyl. Also, if someone out there wants to trade their copies of Chavez’s “Ride The Fader,” The Swirlies’ “Blonder Tongue Audio Baton” or The Van Pelt’s “Sultans of Sentiment,” let me know! I would be super-proud to own those.
When you’re crafting vinyl releases, what type of thoughts go into the packaging and coloring? Is it a collaborative process between you and the artists?
Chuck: I’m really adamant about doing something extra — that certain “something” — for each release. So while our bands are responsible for the majority of the artwork/design/ layout, I always try to push it to the next level. Of course, a lot of that is dependent on money and budget restraints, but my goal is to get the biggest bang for our buck and really go the extra mile with packaging. I think we’ve done something cool for nearly every release in the catalog: foil stamping, embossing, die-cut windows, spot U/V gloss, printed polybags, hand-screened inserts and the awesome double jackets we did for the first pressing of Tigers Jaws’ “Spirit Desire.”
Was there any vinyl package that you were particularly proud of because of its artistic qualities?
Will: I absolutely love the packaging/artwork for the Monument record. That’s still probably my favorite out of everything we’ve done. I also love how Dikembe’s “Broad Shoulders” turned out. State Faults is really beautiful, as well. We’ve been really lucky that our bands do such a good job when it comes to creating artwork for their records.
Chuck: I think that the artwork for the State Faults record is really stunning (done by Jared, the band’s drummer), and the embossed text we did on the front was the perfect touch. I have to agree that the Monument art is awesome, as well. The artwork and packaging on all our releases has been top notch and I hope people appreciate it as much as they do the music contained within.
What does Tiny Engines have in-store for the remainder of 2012?
Will: We’re finishing up 2012 with the new Run, Forever 12″ and the Jowls 10″, both of which are available for pre-order now and will be shipping in November. Everything else we’re planning will be on our 2013 schedule. We just announced our first 2013 release, the new State Lines 12″ that should be out in January. We’ll have more new LPs coming from current label bands as well. We’ll announce those as the bands get closer to their respective recording dates. And there is one new band confirmed, which we will be announcing pretty soon too, really stoked about that. And of course we’re talking to a handful of other bands about working together in 2013. There’s always something happening in that realm. Last but not least, there is one big announcement that we hope to be able to announce soon provided it all comes to fruition. I promise it will be very cool for the vinyl aficionados out there!
Thanks to Will and Chuck for taking the time out of their busy schedules to talk with us! If you’re a record label owner who’d like to be featured, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.