INTERVIEW: Standby Records’ owner discusses label’s reinvention, new roster

standby records

Established metalcore label Standby Records has done the music biz unthinkable: They’ve stepped away from a sure thing and completely reinvented themselves.

You know you’ve got a good thing going when your label brought Black Veil Brides to the public eye. But six years after that band’s debut, that’s just not enough for Standby Records owner Neil Sheehan and the rest of his crew; he wants to release music that is growing and changing as his label does very much the same. With this in mind, Standby Records made a conscious effort to break free from the metalcore they’re known for, sign a handful of bands from different genres, and relaunch the label. The new signees include rockers Jesse Smith And The Holy Ghost (ex-Zao, nodding to the label’s Christian metalcore roots), indie band Demon In Me, college rockers Pseudo Future, electronic indie group I Fight Fail, and indie/alt act Secret Company. With this eclectic new roster, Standby Records’ ambitious relaunch is in full force.

They’ve still got their old lineup and will continue to promote those acts as well, but the label is evolving, and the overall sound is evolving, too. Sheehan’s understandably nervous about the process but admits that he feels good about what the future holds.

Give us a quick rundown of the history of the label.
NEIL SHEEHAN: I didn’t start it; I took over Standby in 2008. The guy that started it was Nick Moore; he was the lead singer of Before Their Eyes, a Christian metal band signed to Rise. We were both from Ohio; he was from Toledo, I was from Cleveland. We had kind of helped Nick with Before Their Eyes because I was a manager. Before Their Eyes got bigger and he was touring a lot, and he emailed me one day and asked, “Hey, do you know anybody that would kind of want to take over my label? I just don’t have time for it anymore as the band’s getting bigger.” He came up to our Cleveland office [where we were at the time], and he and I started discussing it. I talked to the staff of our management firm at the time and was like, “We manage all these bands; we get a bunch of bands signed to labels. Should we take over this label?” So I bought Standby from Nick in 2008. I would say the bulk of his roster was Christian metalcore; that was what his forte was—and when I took over in 2008, I did a deal with Victory to do distribution. When I took it over—not to say that I was not a Christian—but we wanted to expand the brand and do more than just Christian music. So I signed a couple pop-punk bands, and we signed some metal bands. We stayed in that vein for a few years, and I signed Black Veil Brides in 2009. When we released [their debut] in 2010, things kind of, obviously, took off.

What was that like for you when things took off? Were you ready for that?
Honestly, no. That was the whole reason we allowed Black Veil Brides to go. We had a deal with Black Veil for multiple albums. We released [2010’s We Stitch These Wounds] and it was No. 1 on independent Billboard, and I think it was No. 36 on Billboard, and then all the majors were calling. So, no, I wasn’t prepared for it. They got lawyers and managers involved, and we talked to a bunch of majors. Our initial impression was, “Look, we can’t do what a major can do for this band.” So we kind of stepped out of the way—but at the same time, we didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle—we wanted something to do with the major label, so that’s why we did the deal with Universal/Lava. It was definitely lightning in a bottle. We couldn’t have held that tiger by the tail and rode it; somebody else would have had to do that. It was definitely a big boost for us, obviously financially, and brand-wise.

Pseudo Future
Pseudo Future

Where is the label based now?
I moved to Charlotte two years ago. We have two guys in Los Angeles, me in Charlotte, and a guy in Atlanta. Our PR guy, Mike, is outsourced, and he’s from LA as well. The power of the internet. [Laughs.]

The label has been tied to metalcore and hardcore historically, and now you’re relaunching things and reinventing yourself. Where did this come from and why are you deciding to do this now?
When I took over Standby in 2008, we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to go. Nick had Christian bands and we didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Christian label, so we signed multiple bands that we just liked, from different genres. Just like life, everything evolves. We saw the fan base that liked Black Veil Brides and all those bands we signed were growing up; they were beginning college, they were young adults, and we at the label were also getting older. So it was more of a brainchild of, “Hey, we listen to more than just this music.” We kick around bands to each other all the time, and we would sometimes say, “Maybe we shouldn’t put them on the roster because they don’t really fit the brand and the demographic of the fans that we’re trying to go after.” And about a year ago we all just kinda said, “No, we’ve got to stop doing this and we’ve got to start putting out music we all like, and we have to follow what the fans are evolving to as well.” So we took a real hard-headed approach to it and said that we may ostracize some of the really hardcore fans that like Standby because of this rebellious, Hot Topic nature, but that’s not everything we listen to, and we want to put out other music. We like indie music and alternative music and thought, “Let’s start signing some other bands.”

Have you been nervous at all about this relaunch?
Oh, my god, yes. [Laughs.] This is probably—I hate to say it—but bigger than the Black Veil Brides thing in terms of what could happen. With Black Veil Brides, we knew it was going to be successful; we just didn’t know whether we could handle it. Obviously, pushing them off Universal was a good thing; here, it’s really all on our plate. These bands either have to succeed or the label rebrand falls on its face. So, I’m definitely nervous but I think we’ve picked some good bands. I’m not sitting here hoping for a 10,000-unit first week; this is not what Standby is going to be about. The old Standby—we would compete against Fearless, Rise, Sumerian, and Victory for those first-week sales and that Warped Tour demographic. Now I kinda feel relieved in that we’re not up against that; we don’t have to prove to anybody the first week, and we can sit here and develop an artist over two or three albums. So there’s a peace to it as well.

Standby Records’ 2016 Draft Picks

pseudo-future-album-artPseudo Future
Time Slips Away (Out Now)
RIYL: Jimmy Eat World, Low vs. Diamond, Eye Alaska

Dallas, Texas trio Pseudo Future come out swinging with Time Slips Away, a seven-track rock effort that boasts big, wall-of-sound anthems that combine with tight grooves, moving melodies, and infectious hooks that will surely appeal to fans of the above recommended section as well as acts like As Tall As Lions and Anberlin. It’s enjoyably familiar with plenty of fresh flourishes that will resonate with you long after the album has ended. Whether it’s the soulful delivery on “Fear No Man” or the huge sing-along effect of “Here To Blame,” you’ll find yourself yearning for more Pseudo Future after each and every listen. @_pseudofuture_

jesse-smith-album-artJesse Smith & The Holy Ghost
Jesse Smith & The Holy Ghost (Out Now)
RIYL: He Is Legend, The Jesus Lizard, Mondo Generator

Hailing from Parkersburg, West Virginia, Jesse Smith’s a veteran in the heavy music scene, roots firmly planted with bands like ZAO and Demon Hunter. Now, his newest endeavor tones down the heaviness in favor of some good, old-fashioned rock and roll—with a personality all his own, of course. The heavy elements are present still as is Smith’s wont, but gone are the breakdowns and brutal vocals as moody melodies, occasional acoustic moments, and Southern-fried riffs reign supreme. As Smith states, “These songs are straight-up what I was looking to do. When I began, I wasn’t sure who I was, but now I know.” @Jesse_SmithHoly

secret-company-album-artSecret Company
Midnight Rush (Out Now)
RIYL: The Temper Trap, Local Natives, Givers

English four-piece Secret Company’s newest single is a heavily percussive slow-burner with super-moody vibes that are both intriguing and hypnotic. It has a bit of a darker tone than we’ve come to expect from the band considering their slightly more upbeat 2015 EP, Saviour, and singles like the breathtakingly beautiful, one-off effort, “Wanderlust.” It will be interesting to see where these styles meet on Secret Company’s works moving forward, but rest assured, any future material from the band will be captivating. @secretcompany

demon-in-me-album-artDemon In Me
Here’s Your Way Out (Out Now)
RIYL: Hands Like Houses, Brand New, Moving Mountains

Based out of San Jose, California, Demon In Me is a five-piece rock band that will strike excitement in those with a sentimental attachment to the mid to late 2000s emo and post-hardcore elite. Bringing together occasional heaviness and radio-friendly hooks with always-emotional lyrics and a similarly heartfelt delivery to match, Demon In Me’s newest full-length is an often-soaring effort that lends itself to the popular proverb “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In regards to their signing with Standby, the band promises that “this is only the beginning.” @DemonInMeCA

i-fight-failI Fight Fail
Voyages & Vantage Points (October 7)
RIYL: PVRIS, Angels And Airwaves, Armor For Sleep

Formed in 2013, Canton, OH quartet I Fight Fail bring together ambient electronics and mid-aughts emo/screamo influences to create an emotional pop concoction best evident on their newest single, “Are You Okay?,” taken from their new EP to be released through Standby Records this Friday, October 7. With a lightly pulsating synth line serving as the foundation for the track, the chorus soars then dips into a delicate concern as vocalist Andy Potter asks, “Are you okay?” Having matured tremendously going into this newest effort, I Fight Fail are ready to further prove their worth in an ever-fickle scene. @IFightFail

A version of this feature can be found in Substream print issue #53, on sale now!