In the heart of south-county suburbia, moms and dads feed on and off of Tesson Ferry Road, picking up the kids from school, taking them to practice and helping with homework. Tucked away in one of these nondescript neighborhoods is a cozy, '50s-style ranch that looks quite similar to the rest of the houses on the block.
What lies inside, though, is most definitely unique — assuming that Mike Jones' neighbors aren't running a DIY punk-rock record label/distribution outlet. An enormous snake aquarium is just inside Jones' front door. Next to it are boxes of blank T-shirts in an array of colors, ready to have a band's name printed on them. Walk out of the nearby kitchen to the attached garage, and there's a legitimate shirt screen-printing operation — printing presses, heavy-duty dryers and all. Go downstairs, and that's when you fully realize what's going on: Rows and rows of records — as in LPs — sit near drafting tables, more silk-screening equipment, ink and a heat press.
At 34 years old, Jones — owner of this operation, which is called I Hate Punk Rock Records — seems like your typical aging punker. He has a beard, tattoos, a thirst for cheap beer and opinions to spare. After spending a little time with him, though, it becomes obvious that he's more excited about whatever he's working on than any Mohawked whippersnapper is.
Still, running the label has come with its share of headaches. At this particular moment, Jones is ripping his hair out over artwork that one of his bands is three weeks behind at submitting. "The records have been sitting at the plant for weeks. I'm ready to come up with the damn artwork myself," he half-threatens. And one thing he's learned from working with musicians: "They can be real flakes — more so than your average person." His biggest letdown came in 2006 when now-defunct Celebrity Autopsy broke up just months after Jones put out their elaborately packaged record. "That whole thing was a huge financial blow," he says. "It really held me back for quite a few months. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with all of [the Celebrity Autopsy records]. I've been throwing them in for free with orders and whatnot."
Jones first got into the record-label business back in 1997 when, after a few beers at a bar, he and his college roommate decided to start NCTM records. The short-lived label put out a compilation featuring notable local (MU330, the Rabies) and national (the Impossibles, Dynamite Boy) punk and ska acts, followed by a couple more releases. While the label fizzled once college ended, Jones' eagerness to be involved in the punk-rock community still carried on.
In 2005, bored with staring at spreadsheets in a cubicle at his stable IT gig, Jones decided it was time to get active again. Enter I Hate Punk Rock Records. His initial plan was to operate IHPR as a vinyl-only webstore focusing on punk-rock and hardcore releases. But after a year or so, Jones found himself in a situation where he had sold enough titles to finally release a record on his own. True to the spirit of the label, Jones reached out to his friends, local melodic punkers the Disappeared, and released the band's first seven-inch, A Realization of Hope.
Since then, IHPR has notched fourteen releases under its belt, and it's planning ten more just for 2011. Besides the Disappeared, the label has put out releases by locals Black for a Second and the Haddonfields, and national acts such as Chicago's the Honor System; Paducah, Kentucky's Teenage Rehab; and Sheboygan, Wisconsin's the Jetty Boys.
To understand how this operation has managed to survive the last six years, you have to look no further than IHPR's roster itself. Subscribing to the DIY ethics that have always kept underground music afloat, Jones relies on the bands he works with just as much as they rely on him. On any given weeknight or weekend, you'll find a member of the Haddonfields or the Disappeared helping Jones screen-print the artwork for the band's next seven-inch, concert poster or T-shirt.
"This couldn't work without the help of the bands," Jones says. "We all have something at stake here."
And don't think the bands take Jones' openness to try anything for granted. As the Haddonfields' Daren Gratton is quick to point out: "As long as it's not the worst idea ever, [Mike] will do what it takes to make it happen. Whether we want to release a bubblegum-pink-colored seven-inch, a Spuds MacKenzie beer koozie or an album cover with mustached aliens playing hockey on a brain, Mike is supportive."
Brad Jokerst, singer of the Disappeared, concurs: "The best part about working with Mike is that he backs whatever we decide to do, 100 percent. All of our releases are purely 'ours.' From the artwork to the printing to the recording, everything. He gives us the freedom to do things the way we want to do them. And still, to this day, he is one of our biggest supporters. Even if we weren't on his label, he is a true friend and supporter of our band. We know that will never change."
And although this approach requires the majority of Jones' time and energy, it hardly seems to faze him. "Work isn't work if you like what you're doing," he says. "I get to work with some of my best friends every day, on all kinds of projects.
"I'm still running around blind sometimes," he quips. "But that will never change."
In the grand scheme of things, however, Jones tends to let the negatives roll off of him. "One success easily outweighs 99 failures," he says. "The satisfaction of finishing a record, poster or T-shirt — and seeing the look of excitement and appreciation on someone's face — is just so much better than sitting in my cubicle at work."
And although juggling the label and his full-time job keeps Jones plenty busy, his biggest endeavor is still in the works. In April or May of this year, Jones will unveil Encapsulated Studios, a 5,400-square-foot warehouse located in the heart of Maplewood that will provide a one-stop shop for budding local and regional bands. The space will feature seven practice rooms available for rent, a state-of-the-art recording studio and a screen-printing operation to handle shirt, poster and album artwork needs. True to form, the development of the warehouse is being handled by the hard work of Jones' friends and members of IHPR bands. From hanging dry wall to hauling lumber and roughing in door frames, 90 percent of the labor is being handled by the IHPR community.
Finally, the IHPR collective will be able to abandon its cramped south-county corridors and spread its wings a little bit.
"I think it's the greatest possible thing [Mike] could do for himself, the label and St. Louis music," says Nicole Madden, IHPR's director of publicity. "After all the work, time and finances he has put into IHPR, he deserves to have a place to call home. And St. Louis deserves it, too."