In our newest edition of Meet & Greet, we spoke with Ross Shotland, the head of Enjoy The Ride Records, a label which has made quite the name for itself because of both a series of highly anticipated vinyl reissues and the release of work from the buzzworthy band, HRVRD. Past vinyl reissues include Something Corporate’s “Leaving Through The Window,” Dustin Kensrue’s “Please Come Home,” along with EPs from both The Starting Line and The Early November. Make sure to check out the interview below, along with the label’s social network sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.
Tell us about the beginnings of Enjoy the Ride Records.
Ever since high school, I have wanted to either work for or run my own record label. I discovered Drive Thru Records back in 2001 and it changed my life. From then on, my goal was to somehow get involved with the indie music scene. Around the same time, many of my friends also got into the same music, picked up instruments, and formed their own bands. This helped me get my foot in the door of my local scene — I would go to my friends’ practices and help with merch at shows and, a few years later, I started managing and booking shows for them. In college, I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life and went on to create my own major at the University at Buffalo, which soon became officially known as the “Music Business” major. The classes were primarily a mix of marketing classes and various internships at record labels and radio stations.
The summer after I graduated, a single cataclysmic event would prove to be the final piece leading up to starting my own label. The band I was managing at the time was recording their debut EP and one night, I was headed back from the studio, when I got into a horrible car accident. A drunk driver was going way too fast as he merged onto the highway right by our houses and hit the car that the bassist and I were in, right before we hit our exit ramp. The car flipped and I ended up with broken bones and major ligament damage in my left hand. The driver was held legally responsible for the damages resulting from the accident and I was able to gain a small sum of money. These funds allowed me to officially start the label. The name “Enjoy The Ride” is a bit of an ironic jab at how the label got its start-up capital. It was also something my group of friends in high school and college used as a motto and a way of life as a whole. Most people thought opening a record label in 2007 during the height of illegal downloading was a suicide mission, but you only live once and this was my chance to do something I always dreamed of, so the name definitely fits.
What were you doing before you started the record label?
After the car accident happened, I spent some time searching for bands to sign while holding down a range of odd jobs, including working for a ticket broker and a trade show organizer. I continued to work for the trade show company up until a couple years ago when the vinyl aspect of the label really started to take off and Harvard was touring. Between Harvard’s growing fan base and the increasing interest in the vinyl releases Enjoy the Ride was putting out, I decided it was time to switch my focus over to running the label full-time.
When you began Enjoy the Ride, were there any other independent labels that you looked towards for inspiration and/or guidance in running the operation?
Before Drive Thru went on hiatus, I very much respected the whole family mentality that they had. All the bands toured together and every new addition to the label was as good or better than the last (at least from 2001-2006). The bands that were a part of the Drive Thru family — such as New Found Glory, Midtown and Finch—both popularized and shaped the scene for years to come.
The first release from ETR was Harvard’s “The Inevitable and I,” on CD. Why did you decide not to intially release the album on vinyl?
From day one, we knew it needed to be on vinyl, but the initial issue was that, due to the album’s length, it would have to be a double LP and that basically meant double the cost as well. When we first signed the band, they had barely ever toured outside of the Southeast and with such a localized fan base, we were concerned about recouping the high costs of pressing the album to vinyl. Instead, we went all out on making the initial release of the album a really high quality CD with deluxe packaging and hoped that, one day, the band’s reach would grow to a point where we would be able to give it the proper vinyl release that it deserved.
Ultimately, the wait was worth it. The first vinyl pressing of The Inevitable and I is beautiful and is, without a doubt, one of my favorite releases to date. We upgraded most aspects of the packaging (gatefold jacket, reverse board printing, spot gloss, full color labels) and pressed two deluxe color variants for the vinyl itself. On top of that, we included a bonus DVD that was basically a tour diary of the band, shot while promoting the album. Including the DVD was our way of thanking all the fans for continually asking us to press the album on vinyl, and patiently waiting two years for us to do so.
What are your additional memories concerning the album?
The Inevitable and I means more to me than any other album, in a way that I can’t fully express in writing. I first came across the singer of HRVRD (formerly Harvard), Jesse Clasen, back in 2004, while I was still in college. His old band, Defending Brooklyn, was featured on a Glassjaw fan site as a new band to check out and, as soon as I heard his voice, I knew he was something special and kept in touch with him for 5 years until I eventually opened the label.
Once I started the label, my initial plan was to sign a band from the tri-state area so it would be easier and more realistic to utilize my limited connections. After Harvard’s The Animals EP was on a loop on my car stereo for 6 months straight, I decided that I had to see this band live, so I emailed Jesse to try and set up a time where I could go to North Carolina and check out a show. I flew down there in the summer of 2008 and heard a mix of songs from Animals and then some newer songs, which eventually became “Ghost,” “What We Had,” and “French Girls.” I was blown away by both the energy on stage as well as the new material. Jesse let me stay at his apartment and we stayed up all night talking about music and listening to various stuff he had recorded. That was the night I realized that Jesse was a musical genius. I had known for years about how special his voice was, but that night I found out that he also played every instrument and recorded his own music, on top of his other obvious talents. He told me that he taught himself how to play the trumpet a few weeks earlier simply because a friend had given him an old trumpet and, within a few days, “French Girls” was written. That blew my mind since I had heard the song earlier that night for the first time. The final version of “French Girls” that ended up being recorded for The Inevitable and I is almost the exact same version of the song I heard live that night.
It took a while to get all the details worked out and get a producer locked down, but Brian McTernan was my personal dream producer for the album and it was incredibly amazing that he was interested in working on the project. I really owe Brian McTernan a lot for taking on a totally unknown band, signed to an unknown label, and really helping mold their sound. During the recording of the album, which was in the summer of 2009, I went down to Baltimore and watched some of the drums, vocals, and almost all of the bass tracks get recorded for that album. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget — both because Brian was a hero of mine in high school and college and because the studio itself is a work of art. Brian built the entire studio from scratch and every aspect is amazing. Before the band signed to Equal Vision and the vinyl aspect of the label took off, I toured with the band a couple times for a week or so and let them crash at my place while they were in the Northeast. I probably saw them play most of those songs live a couple dozen times between 2009 and 2011 and every time was just as good, if not better, than the last.
Your second release was The Juliana Theory’s ‘Music from Another Room,’ a vinyl reissue. How were able to get the rights to the album to repress it?
At the time (2009), vinyl reissues of classic albums started popping up and Brett Detar from The Juliana Theory randomly sent out a tweet saying “I think it’s time for some TJT vinyl, any labels interested?” Being a fan of both the band and of vinyl, I figured it would be worth a shot to respond. He got me in touch with Tooth and Nail, who were willing to work out a deal for me to press Music from Another Room. After the licensing part was taken care of, a very long email conversation with Brett ensued, which eventually led to a brainstorming lunch meeting in NYC in the winter of 2010. I brought a bunch of records from my personal collection to show him, including examples of different colors, swirls, splatters — pretty much everything I owned that was unique at the time. In that mix was a copy of The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium, which is pressed on this really cool metallic silver vinyl. He fell in love with it and went on to say how he had always dreamed that The Juliana Theory would get a gold or platinum record, so he really liked the idea of making a few different variants that resembled different precious metals, so they could finally have their own “Gold Record.” Overall, the album looks beautiful and sounds good, and also included an otherwise unreleased track. It was a huge honor for me, personally, to be involved with and it also started us on the path of focusing primarily on vinyl reissues.
What issues or troubles did you face as a young label?
Without a doubt, the biggest struggle is having anyone of importance in the industry take you seriously. There are so many managers, bands and labels fighting for the same booking agents, website space, and tour spots. It’s very hard to get noticed when you are both an unknown company and unknown band. In regards to breaking a new band, I feel that so much of being successful in this industry is simply being in the right place at the right time, combined with being surrounded by the right team of people.
Furthermore, what have you learned from the process and growth attached to ETR?
If you aren’t willing to bust your ass more than the next guy and put in the extra effort, then you’re not going to last very long. I have seen so many staff changes in the past 5 years from working with various labels, websites, and magazines. Another graduating class of music lovers are always right around the corner and if you aren’t willing to bust your ass then someone else will. In my experience, the people who really care about their jobs and put in the extra effort for their clients and customers are really the ones who end up sticking around. I have also learned that you are likely to see the same people on the way up as on the way down, so, if you are lucky enough to make a career out of being in the music industry, it’s important to treat everyone with respect and not burn bridges because you never know the next time you are going to run into that person again.
Presently, the label has released 29 albums. Are there any releases that stick out in your mind as being important to either yourself or the label?
As I mentioned above, The Inevitable and I is very important to me because of how involved I was with the entire process. Every single album we have reissued means something to me personally, which is the primary reason we started reissuing albums on vinyl and why we continue to do so. Some others that stick out in my mind are RX Bandits’ Progress, Fairweather’s Lusitania, Hot Rod Circuit’s The Underground Is a Dying Breed, and Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window. I never thought I would see any of those albums on vinyl and still think that, if I hadn’t taken the risk and pressed them myself, then they might never have been pressed otherwise. Being able to release all of the Drive Thru reissues that we did in 2011 (RX Bandits, The Starting Line EPs, The Early November EPs, I Am the Avalanche) was truly a dream come true for me. I would absolutely love to help them release the rest of their catalog, but, unfortunately, from what they’ve told me, they are not interested in licensing any more releases at the moment.
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?
Often the packaging and vinyl color concept is a collaborative process between many people, including myself, the licensing label, our incredibly talented Art Director, Patrick, and my girlfriend, Lauren, who is, thankfully, very supportive and amazing for continually helping to brainstorm ideas as well as dealing with my constant babbling about vinyl.
We try to work with the bands whenever possible. For some releases where the band is still active and interested in taking their own color variant for tour or their webstore, I usually work directly with one of the members. This was the case with releases like The Juliana Theory, Something Corporate, and Hot Rod Circuit, among others, but more often than not, the bands whose music I’m reissuing are long broken up and not interested in rekindling the past.
Was there any vinyl package that you were particularly proud of because of its artistic qualities?
As mentioned earlier in the interview, I still think the first pressing of The Inevitable and I came out incredible, both because of the upgraded spot gloss gatefold jacket, and the color variants of the actual LPs came out better than expected. The Fall Of Troy’s Manipulator also stands out in my mind as something that’s both unique and special. We gave those a double foldout gatefold sleeve that is over 4 feet wide and has this really detailed and colorful artwork drawn by members of the band. The original release had it as a five-page foldout in the CD booklet and, as soon as I saw how detailed and awesome that artwork was, I knew we had to figure out a way to incorporate it. I think the fans agreed since I hear those go for a pretty penny on eBay now.
Was vinyl always something you wanted to have as a main component when you began the label?
When I began the label, vinyl was always something that I was personally interested in, but I didn’t initially see it being sustainable as the main component of a business. Thankfully, a lot of people out there are as passionate about the music and the vinyl format as I am, so as long as people continue to support Enjoy The Ride, then we will do everything in our power to keep reissuing great albums that deserve a proper vinyl release.
What is it about that format that you love, that sticks out to you as being unique and important?
I love the larger packaging and the artwork; with so many of the albums that came out from the 90s up until a few years ago, it’s so hard to see what is going on in the original CD cover art. CD artwork is just too small and digital artwork is even worse most of the time, since many people illegally download their digital music and almost never even see the artwork in the first place. I always enjoyed being able to look at the artwork and read through the lyrics and when I discovered colored vinyl, I was absolutely hooked. And, of course, depending on your audio system, the analog sound quality is usually above and beyond what you could ever get from a digitally-based format. We started working with an in-house sound engineer who remasters specifically for vinyl and really brings out the high and low ends of the music beautifully. He will remaster most of our upcoming vinyl releases.
With vinyl being the main median in which you release albums, do you collect records yourself? Do you still maintain that collection?
I have been collecting vinyl since 2002 when I bought the first pressing of both Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends and Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon, primarily because they both had unreleased bonus tracks and also had alternate artwork, which I always found very intriguing. I have always had a collector’s mentality though — back when I was a little kid, I would collect trading cards and wrestling figures, while then going to school to trade with my friends. At this point — between my older, more common stuff (pre-90s) and more limited pressings from the past 20 years — my collection probably stands at around 750 records (pictured below).
What does Enjoy the Ride have in-store for 2013?
We have a bunch of really exciting releases lined up for 2013 — both stuff we have mentioned in the past on Vinyl Collective as well as a few tricks up our sleeve that will be a total surprise to everyone. As of now (April), we have already had 5 releases come out this year, including HRVRD’s new LP From the Bird’s Cage and we have another dozen or so planned to come out between now and the end of the year.
Again, make sure to check out the label’s social networking sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, in order to get the updates on all their upcoming releases. And be sure to pick something up from their webstore.