Ten years and running
This weekend, Milwaukee's Latest Flame Records celebrates its ten year anniversary at the Cactus Club. TCD talks with owner Dan Hanke about the past, present and future of the label.
For the last ten years, Milwaukee’s Latest Flame Records has been the home to countless artists, both Midwestern and otherwise. Milwaukee favorites like Testa Rosa, Brief Candles and IfIHadaHifi as well as national acts like Saturday Looks Good to Me, Troubled Hubble and more recently Police Teeth have all worked with the label at one point. This weekend, the label will be hosting a pair of back-to-back shows at the Cactus Club, commemorating the label’s ten year anniversary. Sahan Jayasuriya caught up with owner Dan Hanke where they talked about the label’s beginnings, upcoming releases, and this weekend’s anniversary shows.
Dan Hanke: I think it was 2002 or 2003. I was playing in a band called Crime and Judy at the time, and I was having a discussion with a friend of mine where we both just came to the conclusion that instead of looking for a label to release our music that we should just put it out ourselves. After we started playing some shows, we started to meet a lot of bands that we really liked who weren’t on any label either, and so we just kind of figured “Well, why don’t we release their music as well”?
SJ: So was the first Latest Flame release the Crime and Judy record?
DH: Actually it was Troubled Hubble’s first LP. I was like the third wheel at that point because I thought Tony was a little crazy for trying to actually put out other people’s records. There were so many things to think about in terms of what bands actually need. For the first few years, I was pretty much helping book the Crime and Judy tours as well as tours for The Response and Troubled Hubble. Fortunately, we had friends like Troubled Hubble who were talented whos music we loved, who wanted to team up with us and see what transpired from it.
SJ: So by the end of the year, what had the label released?
DH: If I remember right, we had a showcase of sorts at the Globe in October 2002, and by that point we had the Troubled Hubble record, the Response record and Speak To Sway’s record too.
SJ: So it took off pretty fast then. It seems like when labels first start, a lot of people spend more time trying to figure out the bigger picture, whereas it seems like you guys just sort of went for it and started putting out records pretty much immediately. Did you even have a distributor at that point?
DH: We were working with Southern, Choke and Carrot Top for distribution. Plus, it helped having Troubled Hubble in Illinois. Between them and the Response, they toured so much for about the first two and a half years that we started getting calls and emails from other bands interested in having us release their records. We basically built the label on the backs of those two bands, really. Troubled Hubble were playing 150 shows a year, the Response were playing 70 or 80. Thinking back, we can’t thank them enough for doing that. Our logo came from a friend of Troubled Hubble’s.
The following year we released Wrecker’s self titled release, and the Crime and Judy record, and all of a sudden three of our four releases were by acts out of Milwaukee. We kind of built an audience here for a while. And then how things expanded from there were pretty much based off of the bands who’s records we’d released. Troubled Hubble turned me on to their friend The Gunshy, who I thought was great and immediately wanted to work with. Just a great show, great songs, a great guy.
SJ: What about the name? Did Troubled Hubble come up with that too?
DH: Tony named it after the Elvis Presley song “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”. I’ve always joked about wanting to name the label after a Bad Brains song, like “Right Brigade Records” or something, mainly just because Tony hates Bad Brains (laughs).
SJ: I know that you started the label out of necessity, but was running a label something that you thought about before that? Were there labels that you had in mind when you started Latest Flame?
DH: I think for myself personally, it took me until about the third or fourth year to really dig in and say “Alright, I really wanna do this.” Tony really lead the way for the first few years there, so when he started getting too busy to do it anymore, he handed the label off to me. It was then that I started to think back to all the labels that I loved dearly growing up, you know, SST, Sub Pop, Dischord, Touch And Go–especially Touch and Go. They were so much a part of my life. I remember buying an Arcwelder record sight unseen simply because it was on Touch and Go. Having their logo on it was like a seal of approval as far as I was concerned, you know? You see the DeSoto Records logo on something and you know “Alright, this will be good.”
Once that sort of trust was established, we were right there with em when those labels started to branch out a bit. Like when Touch and Go put out stuff by Seam and Blonde Redhead, we thought all that stuff was great too. I dont know if there will ever be another label like them or Dischord, but they were inspiring. So when I was handed the keys, so to speak, both of those were kind of in the back of my head. Just kind of coming up with a consistent sound for the most part. Coincidentally, that was happening at a time when some of the bands were breaking up or leaving, so that also made it possible.
SJ: At some point, you started releasing a lot of stuff from Milwaukee bands. Was this a conscious decision that you made?
DH: It was never really a conscious thing, really. Its kind of strange how it worked out. Matt from the Gunshy is from PA, but he’s been in Chicago for a few years now. He was the person who actually showed me Brief Candles as they were moving to Milwaukee. I think almost every other band since the fourth release has come from a suggestion by some other Latest Flame band, with the exception of Saturday Looks Good to Me.
SJ: So, in a sense, the bands almost acted like A&R for the label.
DH: Yeah, actually. The last four years, most of the bands I’ve gotten involved with were through suggestions from D.J., Chris and Josh from IfIhadaHifi. That’s how I’ve heard Trophy Wives, Police Teeth and Waxeater. Nervous Curtains were introduced to us by a band who’s record we released called Hitch, who we were referred to by The Gunshy (laughs). So, like I said, it really goes back to those first four releases.
SJ: I think the fact that you’re a music fan first and foremost definitely comes across with the bands that you choose to release.
DH: It would be embarrassing if I listen to my own’s music, but the bands on the label I’m genuinely a fanboy of. I listen to a lot of them for pleasure or when I’m driving or because I love the lyrics or whatever. I guess that’s the whole motivation, really. It’s really inspiring to see these bands do what they do, and make a record, and then take it someplace else. It’s inspiring beyond belief.
SJ: Did you consciously want the label to move more towards the noisy Touch & Go influenced stuff or did it just sort of end up happening that way?
DH: That was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t act on it consciously. I like all kinds of music, it just so happens that I wake up most mornings wanting to listen to that sort of thing, I guess. But still, take a band like Brief Candles, for example, who are amazing and don’t necessarily fit that mold. The Dials, too. I heard them through the Slats and I thought they were great even though they weren’t too similar from other things that the label had released before. It wasn’t really until around 2008 or so that we decided to just kinda narrow it down to two different sort of “rock” sounds, the harder edged angular guitar rock stuff and other bands that were…almost arena rock sounding bands. I mean, I love Led Zeppelin, too (laughs).
SJ: Lately, I’ve noticed a lot more press happening for Nervous Curtains and Police Teeth as of late, which is great. Any reason for this in particular?
DH: The bands are touring more again, developing a name for themselves. Plus, it helps that their previous bands toured a lot, so some of the writers are already familiar with some them because of that. Touring is a huge help for sure, though, because why would you want to write about a band if they’re not going to play your city?
SJ: Definitely. So what does the future hold for the label? Do you plan on doing this pretty much until you can no longer?
DH: Yeah. There’s still a pocket of people who love physical product, so really, as long as bands want to keep doing this, the label will exist. We’ve got plans for 2013 for sure. New stuff from Waxeater, Trophy Wives, System & Station, Karl Paloucek.
SJ: So what can we expect this weekend from the two shows at the Cactus Club?
DH: A couple of the Latest Flame bands had plans to tour the Midwest this fall, and so we figured that we might as well take advantage of that and put together a bit of a celebration. On the first night we’ve got Victory and Associates from Oakland, System and Station from Portland, but then Heavy Hand and IfIHadaHifi from here. The following night we’ve got Waxeater from Bloomington, Animal Lover from Minneapolis, the Gunshy from Chicago…it’s just going to be a lot of fun.
Most of the bands have new songs to play, we’ve got a free compilation that we’re going to hand out. It’s gonna be a great time and I’m really looking forward to it. There’s so much variety between the two nights that there’s kinda something there for everyone. It’s really just a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll and friends, and the label just happens to be this way that we all met.