Don Brazel Has Built a DIY Empire Within St. Louis' Underground Music Scene

click to enlarge Don Brazel mans the counter at his south city shop, the Record Space. - AUSTIN ROBERTS
Don Brazel mans the counter at his south city shop, the Record Space.

Don Brazel has been a very busy man.

For the past few years, the St. Louis native has been a living embodiment of the DIY ethos, launching himself headfirst into several different projects within the city's underground punk scene. There's the Record Space (8716 Gravois Road, 314-437-2727), Brazel's punk-centric record store (with a sizable section focused on horror movies as well); there's Bastard Squad, his longtime hardcore punk band that's found new life in the past couple of years; and there's the Record Label, something of a marriage of the two ventures that has been steadily churning out records from some of the city's best and brightest.

This week marks a few milestones for Brazel's growing empire. On Wednesday, the Record Space will celebrate its third anniversary with an in-store event featuring performances by Direct Measure, Pinkville and Jared White of Modern Angst. The party will also include the shop's first-ever vinyl dig, for which thousands of records will be priced at just a dollar apiece, with other items in the store seeing deep discounts as well. Then, on Saturday, Bastard Squad will perform at Red Flag alongside Better Days, the Disappeared and A Living Hell for a show dubbed "A Very Bastard Christmas," which will be a send-off for Bastard Squad's current drummer Dan Scanlon. Meanwhile, special limited-edition lathe cuts of an alternate version of the group's upcoming record, Hideaway, are currently available as part of a $20 ticket package for purchase at the Record Space.

It may seem like a lot to juggle, but Brazel is so consistently head-down focused on the task at hand, he doesn't often take the time to recognize what a hyper-productive DIY powerhouse he's become.

"I don't usually look at it in those terms," Brazel tells the RFT. "But when I look back at what I'm doing or what I've done or what I got coming up, it's a little overwhelming."

Brazel's roots in St. Louis' punk scene are deep, stretching back to the early '90s, when as a fifteen-year-old, he and Bastard Squad's co-founder Jon Coriell used to regularly make a mighty racket as a duo in Brazel's garage. Once as they were doing so, Josh Bialon, the singer of Very Metal, one of the most prominent St. Louis punk bands of its day, happened to be driving by at the time. It would prove to be a consequential meeting of the minds.

"Josh from Very Metal rolled by the garage that Jon and I were practicing in with some sort of Bastard Squad thing and wanted us to come over and hang out at Very Metal band practice" Brazel explains. "And we just jumped in the truck and went over to the house. And next thing I know they're like, 'Hey, you play bass, right? You want to try playing bass?' And then I joined the band. That was off and on for about two years. We recorded a couple of seven inches and did some touring and stuff."

After spending some time playing with Very Metal, Brazel returned to Coriell and the two decided to make a more proper band out of their two-piece setup. Within a month, drummer Dan Scanlon — the same drummer who will be playing his last show with the group this week — signed on. According to Brazel, this early incarnation of Bastard Squad played a slew of local shows and recorded a demo over the six months that would follow but soon ran into the kind of internal turmoil that frequently puts an end to so many young bands.

"It was young angst and fucked up shit," Brazel says of the band's demise. "We had a crazy night one night that a bunch of shit got fucked up and then the band kind of just fell apart. Everybody got mad at each other."

Brazel would try his hand at another punk act, dubbed the Dirty Bastards (keeping with that "bastard" theme) and featuring some of the members of what would become Without M.F. Order; that group soon fizzled as well, and some of its songs wound up on WMFO's debut. By this time, 1997, Brazel had a kid and decided that maybe it was time to put playing in bands behind him. For the next couple of decades, he lived the quiet life of a family man with kids in Poplar Bluff — albeit one with a massive collection of records and collectibles that he sold online and at pop-ups and flea markets around town.

Then, in 2018, Brazel launched St. Louis' Punk Rock Flea Market, a swap meet of sorts for punks, metalheads, rockers and the like. He'd seen similar concepts enjoy success in other cities around the country, and he figured that such an event would be a good way for like-minded denizens of the underground scenes of St. Louis to network and get to know one another. For good measure, he decided to have Bastard Squad play a reunion show at the event.

What was meant to be a one-off quickly snowballed into a full-fledged reunion, complete with an updated and expanded lineup, and a slate of new recordings.

click to enlarge Bastard Squad's next record, Hideaway, will be released through the Record Label in the spring. - JEN RUFF
Bastard Squad's next record, Hideaway, will be released through the Record Label in the spring.

"Once we got off the stage, a friend asked if we wanted to play another show at Sinkhole — like right after we got off stage," Brazel explains. "So I asked the guys, and we just did it, and then it was like, while we're practicing for this next show, we also wrote a song. And then next thing you know, we've got an album written and we're going into the studio."

It was at this time that Brazel launched his record store as well. On December 15, 2018, Brazel opened his Gravois shop, and quickly made the Record Space a must-visit spot for fans of underground music, horror movies and other collectibles. As his band picked up steam, Brazel knew it would need a label to release its stuff; thus, the Record Label was born in the middle of 2019, with Bastard Squad as its first release.

As seems to be the case with Brazel's endeavors, that project is humming along now, with seven releases at present, including music from Horror Section, Worn Down, Placeholder, Fight Back Mountain and the Disappeared. The Record Label also already has five additional releases slated for 2022, with music on the way from Spermbirds, Modern Angst and Kristeen Young, as well as Bastard Squad's new record, Hideaway. Brazel envisions the Record Space / Record Label relationship as akin to Memphis' storied Goner Records, a hybrid record store and label that's found great success in the garage-rock genre.

In all, it's a remarkable little empire that Brazel has managed to put together in just a few short years. It may seem like it's all come together easily, but there's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way. During his two decades away from the music scene, Brazel spent a lot of time plotting, planning and dreaming of what could be. When asked what one piece of advice he might have for someone trying to follow their own dreams, Brazel's advice is simple: Do it, already.

"Everybody's waiting for you," he says. "You know, there's plenty of resources online for you to learn how to do everything that you want to. You just have to put all of your attention towards that thing. And it will consume you, and it will drive you crazy, and it will become overwhelming. And you will deal with things that you don't want to deal with. But it's all part of the process. And, you know, at the end of the day, people care, and that's it. You just put out what you naturally want to do and people will get it."

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About The Author

Daniel Hill

Daniel Hill is editor at large for the Riverfront Times and he demands to be taken seriously, despite all evidence to the contrary. Follow him on Twitter at @rftmusic.
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