Interview by Sarah Williams.
Lockjaw Records is an independent punk and hardcore label, known for being at the forefront of UK skate-punk and melodic hardcore. Whether it’s releasing records from bands like Belvedere, Drones and Fair Do’s, providing distribution for myriad other underground bands, or booking shows that introduce UK audiences to some incredible international acts, Lockjaw Records is one of the most hard-working labels the UK punk scene has to offer.
Lockjaw Records have recently announced some major changes to their team: moving from a two-person operation to a more community-based approach, now involving Sarah and Joëlle from the Shout Louder Team alongside Cedric Degruyter of The Affect Heuristic. This international expansion is accompanied by a new logo, a fresh website and renewed hunger for sharing the music we love with the world.
To understand more about how the label reached this milestone on it’s 20+ year journey, we spoke to Rob Piper, who’s run the label since 2011. Also known for playing guitar in Darko, he’s a linchpin in the UK punk scene, who kindly took the time to share the label’s backstory with us.
N.B. This isn’t an exhaustive list of Lockjaw releases and there are plenty of other amazing bands that have been part of the label’s history.
Lockjaw’s been established as a label for a long time, although it’s undergone a lot of changes. It started in 1997, right?
It was Jim, Ben and Sam Turner, three brothers who all played in the band Tribute to Nothing from Worcester. I assume it was an outlet to release their records, as most small labels are – somebody who’s been in a band and wants to do it themselves. Tribute to Nothing were well known early 2000s as a hardworking, touring post-hardcore band.
Do you know what sort of bands they had at the time?
Lockjaw had the first ever Muse track Balloonatic included on a compilation they released right at the beginning of the label. At the time, Muse hadn’t really gotten stated yet. They asked Lockjaw if they would like to put out their first record, but the label turned it down. And, as you know, Muse got a lot bigger!
Where did you first hear about Lockjaw Records, then?
In around 2009/2010 I started Darko in Guildford with a Dan and Chris and we’d started getting shows out of town and gigging around. John from Disconnect Disconnect put us on in Croydon with Company L and Laughing In The Face Of. We got on really well with with LITFO and they later took us on a UK tour, introducing us to bands like Fair Do’s and Almeida.
LITFO were just signing with Lockjaw Records at the time, to release Lubrication of Social Anxiety. That was probably my first introduction to Lockjaw – I think I’d looked at Lockjaw Records for Darko’s first EP but I wasn’t really following that scene at the time. That was the starting point.
How did you end up taking over the label, then?
After Jack and Ben started the Firebrand label, going into merchandising, they had Syd Emery take over the label for a couple of years. He worked with them at Lockjaw doing art – he did the super-sweet artwork on Proof That Ghosts Exist, Lubrication for Social Anxiety and Living Daylights, I believe? Really cool artist.
Syd ran the label for a couple of years, then decided he wanted to move on. LITFO and all the other bands at the time got an email to see if anyone wanted to take it over. At the time I was just finishing my degree in Guildford, and Kris Bradbury (then guitarist in LITFO) called me to ask advice on whether I thought it was a cool idea.
We talked about it for a long time and decided it would be something quite cool that I could put my time into as well. We decided to take it on together.
What was the first thing you did after taking over the label?
We went down and picked up all the previous stock, which was absolutely shit loads. I’m not sure what I expected, but was more than the 300 CDs we had got for Darko just before!
I had an eye on a local band who were just starting out: a three piece called Drones who Darko had played with a couple of times. They seemed to be going from strength to strength, pulling kids to their shows. They had a really good vibe and I wanted to help them out. We decided that was going to be our first release. We put out Mutiny in 2012, which was really successful.
What other releases did you work on in 2012, when you were just starting?
At the time The Fear had just released an EP and Chris and I were both in love with it. I remember, they were ready to release another EP and I suggested it would be a lot stronger for them to make an album if they could… Here Goes Nothing was made and what an absolute cracker it was!
Later in the year, I was driving Drones for their first week-long tour. TNS Records put a show on in Manchester, and they had this absolutely sporadic Dillinger Escape Plan-type band. Their EP was way more skate-punky, but seeing them live I was like, “What is this?!” Jumping around like lunatics, completely erratic. That band was Egos At The Door.
I started chatting to Ed Hall at the end of the show and said, “That was fucking amazing. I’ve been looking into a lot of fast punk recently and that was refreshing.” I love my tech-metal and this erratic music, so we did their full length we did in 2013: Blankets of Denial, then followed it up with an EP later. Unfortunately they parted ways, but we had the pleasure of seeing them at Manchester Punk Festival this year. So, the first and last times we saw them were in Manchester; it’s clearly a good place to see great music.
What else did you put out at the time?
Only Fumes & Corpses, an Irish hardcore band, they’re fantastic. We did a digital album with them – double digital, 2 EPs really, one was a 20 minute song and one was loads of short songs.
You also put out From Trust To Conformity around the same time. Was that the first Darko release you did through the label?
Yes, it was our second EP. The first one was just CDs that we got burned, took to shows and threw at people for a couple of pounds. From Trust To Conformity we did on 10’’ vinyl and it was my first combined project with Lockjaw and Darko. We did pretty well from it, started getting a buzz going. I was going across to Europe and touring, thanks to Andy Dazzler recommending that we needed to get over there, because we’d go down well on the mainland.
In turn, I started meeting bands from Europe. Egos were out. The Fear were out, and taking Lockjaw t-shirts with them. More and more Euro bands were aware that the label was out there and had a skate-punk vibe.
You started the label with Kris, but you then ran it by yourself for a while. How did that develop?
At some point, possibly end of 2013, Kris was feeling a bit disillusioned by the whole thing and wanted to spend more time on his day job, which was web design, which he’s very good at. He went off being involved in the punk scene a bit and wanted to get on with the other half of his life.
I had help from the people in the bands; Dave Boothroyd (The Fear, Larrakia) was putting shows on under Lockjaw Live, as was Pete from No Contest. Mitchell was helping me out with artwork and social. Everyone was pitching together in a little community. I was doing other things at the time, I had my teaching and a day job, but Lockjaw was always there.
We did a couple of Antillectual releases – those were mega 5-10 label jobs where everyone pitches in and helps the band by helping out with a few copies each. Syd had previously done Start From Scratch and then I released Future History 7’’ and Perspectives and Objectives with them, that was awesome, both fantastic albums and great guys. I was also living with the guys in Trails at the time, so we did Signs by Trails at the same time in 2013.
Lesley-Anne O’Brien’s been involved with Lockjaw for quite a while now, so you can’t have been on your own for too long. How did she first get involved?
In 2014 Darko released Sea of Trees, which is a pivotal point, because that’s the first release Lesley and I worked together on. Lesley was a friend and went to the same music college that I and a couple of the other Darko guys attended, although she wasn’t there at the same time. She moved up to London and found Darko on MySpace. This was probably 2009? She asked us if we wanted to do a gig swap with Monsters In The Attic, who she was managing at the time. I think she’d just been managing Proceed as well.
Lesley started helping us out and coming to our shows. Dan (from Darko vocal fame) is a screenprinter, and she went into merchandising, so they did a little project together where they went to festivals and did printing. Around the same time, Lesley started working in more an office-based job outside of music. She got in contact with me, as she knew I was still very active, and she asked if there was anything she could help with.
At the time, Darko were getting bigger… well, not really, we are all like 4ft tall… We were writing new songs; From Trust To Conformity had been out a year and it was going strong.
You were starting to see a bit more reaction now that you were touring Europe?
Yeah, we were getting more of a reaction and being in a band seemed a bit more believable. I guess we’d found the scene, whereas beforehand we didn’t really know what we were doing and there was no scene for it in Guildford. After that first few big tours, we thought it was going to get better.
Lesley helped out with Sea of Trees and started to make suggestions, which was cool, and definitely got things moving and got us thinking. I realised that she would do really well at putting her ideas forward to other bands as well. We worked well together so I brought her into Lockjaw over the year after.
Then we did The Wonder Beers album. That and the Crohn’s and Colitis compilation (No Guts No Glory) were the first things Lesley and I worked on.
Was that the first compilation you did with Lockjaw?
No, we did one earlier than that on Bandcamp only, but that was the first physical one we’d done.
No Guts No Glory went really well. Lesley had good relationships with people from Pure Noise, she got some stuff from Bomber Music as well. I got in touch with Trevor from A Wilhelm Scream – we’d played some shows with them before and Partycrasher had been out for a while, so we got Gut Sick Companion on there. We got a Gnarwolves track on there, Lockjaw bands and other cool underground music.
I was doing bits and bobs for Jamie Lenman at the time, playing saxophone for him occasionally, so he just said if I wanted a track then he wanted to come and record it. I know my way round a studio, but I wouldn’t ever call myself a producer or an engineer, but he came down and recorded with me and Sam, and said, “Look, if you want a track then you’ve got to record it.” Okay! So it’s a very raw Jamie Lenman track, but I think the talent still shows through there. Nothing he makes can be bad, really, he’s a phenomenal songwriter.
Having his name on it, Wilhelm and Gnarwolves and a few other big names really helped to push it out there. It opened with Fair Do’s Hostile Company, so that must have been 2016.
So you did the compilation and you did The Wonder Beers’ album…
The Wonder Beers album was something fun for us. It’s not the usual Lockjaw sound.
You’re right, it’s not the normal sound. Why did you decide to go for something so different?
Because I’d just seen it live and I love it, I can’t knock it all. It is what it is, they’re not trying to do any more than that, and it’s fantastically fun to watch live. The best thing was taking them to the Bonsai Mammoth launch in Germany. It was Straightline, Darko, maybe Money Left To Burn… The Wonder Beers opened. At first, you could see people like, “What the fuck is this?” Within a song or two you’ve got all the Germans going, “Geezers, geezers, geezers!” The thing that confirmed it was that they then got invited to go and play KNRD Fest that year.
Do you feel that it leveled-up and got a bit more active when Lesley joined, release-wise?
Lesley injected a new lease of energy which was lacking from me on my own. We did Anchord and I did Fights & Fires’ Proof That Ghosts Exist on amazing transparent vinyl with a gatefold thing. That’s a great vinyl, that all sold out.
Around that time the Lockjaw releases were getting a bit quieter and I was saving up some money again. I was getting more into distro and helping out bands by picking up 10 units and then putting them on the website. There was loads coming through Lockjaw – we were acting more like distribution or like a UK store, bringing names into it for whoever was following the Lockjaw store to stumble across and get into.
Later we did Fights & Fires’ Live Like a Tourist and The Burnt Tapes Alterations. We also did Social Media Circus by Almeida. We were lucky enough to do the UK release for Belvedere, which came through Dave Boothroyd. Despite Everything was another one, who released an EP called Trails. We also released the Trails album, which was confusing, in terms of naming. We did a joint thing with the Adrenalized vinyl and a multi-label Mighty Midgets. We helped out a bit with The Human Project and Fair Do’s with distribution without them ever being officially on the label, so it’s cool to now be doing a full Fair Do’s jobby.
In 2017 you also became part of the new PNK RCKR collective, that’s received a lot of attention. How did that come about?
After a few years of the festival, Lesley said we needed to do Punk Rock Holiday because it’s literally the perfect fan base for Lockjaw Records. I was speaking to Davorin from Giljotina Records from Slovenia and he wanted to do something, but he didn’t want to do it himself because he’s just a small label. I said we should hook up and do it, spoke to Lesley about it, then spoke to Joëlle from Less Talk More Records, then Bearded Punk through Joëlle as another Belgian label. Then the KNRD Fest team who we’d become close with. We needed a group to be able to successfully have an area, a stall and a vibe at Punk Rock Holiday and the PNKRCKR collective was born.
How has the community approach of the PNK RCKR collective influenced what you’re now doing with Lockjaw Records?
PNKRCKR was a great idea, however I felt like a lot of people were asking me… “What’s happening with PNKRCKR? Where do you want to take it? What does it mean?”
Essentially Davorin and I first talked because we wanted to share a stall, and then it became this awesome entity of friendship and community, helping each other out and cross-promotion.
The work I could see coming up to push PNKRCKR further made me look back at Lockjaw and go, “Hold on a minute. I’ve got this little guy here who needs a bit more work, before I can start doing a bigger thing.” There’s loads of bits of Lockjaw that I need to tighten up.
It made me realise that Lesley and I were doing good stuff for Lockjaw, but with a bigger community more would be possible.
We needed to talk to people who were on our level, who understood what the craic is, and were fully invested in the scene like we were. People who do it for the love of it.
Can you tell us what we’ve got in store for Lockjaw Records now?
Instead of being one person, it grew to two and now it’s a community team working together. I’d toured with Cedric when he was in A Hero Build and I’d see you at punk shows. Joelle said she was really happy doing the marketing side of things, you’re clearly very active already on the press side. It’s got a community feel now.
The benefits are that you get more ideas and instant feedback, so expect more exciting things to happen. We’ll be sharing more with you. The useability is going to be improved on the website. It’s going to be easier to get hold of the music you like.
I think the music is going to stay similar. We’ve got some great releases coming up. We’ve been talking to a lot of bands about future things and there will be some great records from great bands coming out.
We will be more active in introducing people to who’s running it and how’s it working, encouraging people to come and say hello and be part of the gigs. We’re always there at the shows, but we want to meet the people who are buying our records.
You’re relaunching the website and you’ve got a brand new logo. What spurred that choice?
The new website is something we’ve needed for ages. The old website was nice, but I kind of made it myself and had to learn web design so it had holes in it. The logo and rebranding is to give it a fresh new look for a fresh new team.
Do you feel that you’ve got capacity to do more, now that you’ve got five people involved, rather than one or two?
Even if we do the same amount, Lockjaw will be a happier, more approachable place for people. Obviously it would be great, and I think we should be able to grow, but I want it to grow in an organic way that’s a comfortable and happy place for people to be. Taste makers who love what they’re doing. It’s not like you’re going into this as a career, it’s for the love of punk. Everyone’s needs to be happy with what they’re doing.
There’s no doubt that it will be more visible for people, because we will be sharing more, we will be getting more out there. There will be five people actively spreading the word. There’s plenty of support already, but it’s going to be much more active.
The most important thing is having people to share that experience with. A lot of the time, when we’re having these early meetings there is a lot of serious stuff, but it’s also catching up on the stuff that we all like. Essentially we’re all talking about what we love doing – a group of friends sharing music.
You’ve said the label has more of a community spirit now. What can people do to support the label?
Buy records! Give us feedback. Tell us what we aren’t doing well – we’re still all learning.
The main thing is going to shows and seeing the bands. Go to see live music, go to watch all the bands and, when you’re at the show, buy the record. As bands we want people at the shows. As people at the shows, we want people at the shows. It’s all well and good when you start going to shows, but when you’re there on your own you wish there were more people, because the bands thrive off more of a crowd. You don’t want it to be sold out, because it’s sweaty and people get in your way, but you want this balance of people. A bit of space, but enough that everyone’s having a good vibe.
What’s been your proudest moment working with Lockjaw?
Seeing Drones progress has been cool, because that was the first project I was involved with. They played Download with the original line up and seeing wicked things like that happen was pretty cool.
The Fear album launch, having 400 people at York Fibbers. 400 people at a skate-punk album launch. For us it was like, “Wow, we’re releasing this record and there’s 400 people here to watch it.” That was special.
Finally, going to Japan with Darko, touring with Belvedere, who’s record we’d released. At the venues, there were Japanese people walking with with Lockjaw t-shirts on. Watching people wearing Darko t-shirts in Japan was cool, but when I saw people wearing the few Lockjaw t-shirts… that’s a good feeling.
Thanks to Rob for giving us that detailed run-down of Lockjaw Records history. If you enjoyed that, check out the podcast we recorded with Rob and Dan from Darko earlier this year. We also interviewed Rob about all things Darko back in January 2018.
Interview by Sarah Williams.