Workshop Records Interview
This was a great little record label based in Campbellville, Ontario in the mid 90’s to early 2000’s. They were known principally for giving Grade their debut release, as a split with Believe (later repressed as the split with Incision). But the label also worked on multiple releases with The Jazz June, released the only 7″ by Union Young America and put out great records by Jersey, Franklin and Mid Carson July. Mike Wessel is a great dude and here’s what he had to say about his days operating the label and his implications in the hardcore scene.
Here is the complete discography of the record label:
- WR-001 Grade/Believe split CD (1994, first press), (1995 second press)
- WR-002 Union Young America – Kill the Man in Everything 7″ (1995)
- WR-003 Franklin – GoKidGo 12″ (August 1995)
- WR-004 Franklin – GoKidGo CD (1996)
- WR-005 Jersey – No Turning Back 12″ (1997)
- WR-006 The Jazz June – They Love Those Who Make Music 12″ (1997) with Choke Records
- WR-007 The Jazz June – The Boom, the Motion and the Music CD/12″ (1998)
- WR-008 Mid Carson July – Ten Years On Autopilot 12″ (March 1999)
- WR-009 Grade/Incision split 12″ (1999)
- WR-010 The Jazz June – The Medicine 2×12″ (2000) last release, canceled. only 10 test press exist
- WR-011 The Jazz June – They Love Those Who Make Music 12″ (2002) white label for box set
- Workshop Box Set
-How did you first get into hardcore?
About 25 years ago, I made the transformation from Heavy Metal to Thrash music. The first couple of bands I listened to were Metallica, Slayer, Nuclear Assault, S.O.D, M.O.D, Anthrax and stuff like that. My friends’ brother at the time was a skinhead and he introduced us to Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Minor Threat and that started us out.
-Can you remember the first hardcore record you bought?
My first hardcore/punk record was maybe 7 Seconds – “Walk Together, Rock Together”, SNFU – “If You Swear…”, Septic Death, Agnostic Front – “Victim in Pain”, Minor Threat – “Out of Step”, D.R.I – “Dealing with it”. Something like that. I bought a hand full my first time around.
-How bout your first concert ever?
My first concert was Gwan at Ontario Place when I was a kid but the first show I really went to was KISS at the Maple Leaf Gardens when I was 10 or 11, I can not remember.
-What were your first implications with the local hardcore scene?
When I started hanging out with Kyle, Sean, and Greg from Incision, I was friends with these guys from high school. They played shows at House for Zak [400 Upper Sherman Avenue] in Hamilton and from there Kyle started doing shows at the Yellow Sub. After awhile I started to help out with getting them to and from shows in my VW Golf.
-You used to put up a lot of shows at your house. Did you do this before starting the label or just after? Can you state a few memorable shows? How did your parents feel about all these events taking place?
I was already running the label at the time. I was doing shows in my garage. My mum was okay with it, not crazy about it, but still let me do it. I think my brother wanted to kill me for doing it, mostly because the bands would stay with us for a night or two. One show with Franklin, Fracture and Still Life we had 18 people sleeping on our basement floor and all those mouths to feed as well. It was fun but my mum and brother did not think so. I only did about 5 or so shows at my place before my mum said no more. We did shows for Rye Coalition, Chisel, Grade/Sparkmarker, Franklin/Fracture/Still Life, a Jersey Halloween show and some other local stuff.
-Did you play in any bands yourself?
I tried to sing in a couple of bands, like Tomb of the Worm, but nothing ever worked out. It just was not my thing.
-How did you settle on calling it Workshop Records and were you based in Campbellville when you started it?
Kyle from Grade came up with Workshop Records but I first called the label Big Rig Records. I changed it when I found out that the name was taken by one of the guys from Mighty Mighty Boosetones. It was really in Burlington but my mailing address was Campbellville.
-Your initial plan for Workshop was a compilation. Can you recall who was going to be on it and why it didn’t come together?
Yes my first release was going to be a compilation with Chokehold, Bloodlet, Grade, Believe and Sun Still Burns. I cannot remember if I had other bands confirmed or not. The reason I canned this project was due to three reason. First, I sent Bloodlet the money for recording and they kept it and never recorded a song for me. Nice guys hey? The second reason was that I received word from a good friend of Chokehold’s that they were going to use the recording, which I was going to pay for, for two other comps. Which was not cool, obviously. Thirdly, it would have taken a long time to put this comp. together so I decided to do the Grade/Believe split CD instead. Which worked out for the best. There is most likely more to this but in all honesty I forgot all about that comp.
-The first album that got released by the record label was the split with Grade and Believe. How did you come to know each of those bands, and how did this record end up coming together?
The guys in Grade and Believe just recorded some demo tracks for free at Sheridan College. The guys had no money to put the demo tapes together so I put up the money and we ended up putting together the lost Incision recording on a demo tape (which later we put onto vinyl for the Grade/Incision split LP) and the Grade and Believe demos. I think we started out with 50 demos of each. Next thing you know Grade and Believe were in the studio recording the split CD for me to put out and that is how we started.
-The first batch of these CDs had different colored sleeves and artwork. Who did the artwork for them? Why were there so many different versions and how many copies were made and how fast did these sell out?
The first bunch of CD’s, I think 50 to 100. We screen printed the covers (the art work was taken from some book which I can not remember the name of). That was a lot of work but we had to get more together quickly for some shows so we went to Michael’s and picked out some ink stamps. It was just faster and we could put them together on the fly at the show or on the drive. We did that to keep the cost down. We really wanted to sell the CD for the price of a 7″ at the time, which was going for $2 to $3 which did not happen. We ended up selling the CD for $5. We did this for the first and second pressing and then we had enough of putting this together by hand so we put it to print with a jewel case.
I think we ended up selling 6000 copies and then I sold the rights to Victory, that was when we put the label to rest. I just repressed this CD when I had the extra money and I was not in the middle of putting anything else out. The final cover which was printed was a picture of Johnny from Jersey/Believe fighting another goalie during his Jr. hockey year in Musk.
-In 1995 you released Union Young America’s 7″ “Kill the Man in Everything”. Was this as well received as the Grade split? How many copies were made of this record?
It did get great reviews and I sold out of the first 1000 in a years time frame. Instead of repressing the record we were going to put the money towards a new recording, but the band broke up just before they were going to go into the studio. So I just put the money towards the Franklin record and never ended up repressing the Union 7″. So we just made 1000 of that record.
-How did you first hear about Franklin?
I drove out to Cleveland, OH. to visit a friend and also to go see Still Life. One of the bands playing before Still Life was Franklin and they were great live. Kyle from Grade was with me and he picked up the band info. It was not until one year after that show that I got in contact with the band and started to talk to them about doing a record with them. During that time the band had almost called it quits due to no bites from the labels which they were sending demos too. They were thinking about putting out a record on their own label [Network Energy] but they really wanted someone else to do it and I happened to call at the right time. My wife and I drove out to Philly to meet everyone in the band and to work out the details.
-Having released their first full-length album, how do you feel the release hit the scene? This time being a band from Pennsylvania, did you seek external hlep for the distribution of the records? Was the show at your house for the record release?
There was some really good feed back and reviews for the record and most of the distros were moving them. Most of my distros were in the US already so we just tried to build from there. The show we did in my garage was after the “Go Kid Go” record was out. It came out just before they left on tour.
-When you decided to press the CD version, you treated this a completely different release. Was the LP sold out already by then?
I believe I had a few of the third pressing left but not many. Distros had stock on hand still.
-How did you manage to get all those extra songs from the first few 7″s, compilation tracks and even some rare material on there? And who did the selection for those tracks?
The band put all the tracks together. All of that material, the band paid for the recordings themselves, which meant that the band owned the rights to the recordings. They were kinda concerned about the guy who put out the 7″s coming after them but I told them to direct his calls my way and I would deal with him. Nothing ever did happen and we put this CD together and I was very happy with it. To this day I still love to listen to that CD.
-In 1997 you released Jersey’s first album, “No Turning Back”. The band was fronted by Greg Taylor, and from reading about the band, its often mentioned that it had immediate success due to its Grade association. How do you remember the album doing when it came out? Was it all it’s hyped up to be now? Did you repress it multiple times?
So Jersey was in the studio recording the “No Turning Back” record for me which at the time I was running a bit short on money so Greg was going to help out paying for the pressing part of the record and I would pay him back. While the recording sessions were going on, in comes Chris from Raw Energy (a want to be Epitaph label). Anyways these guys asked Jersey to sign with them and they would put out the CD and I would do the vinyl. So the guys really wanted to work with these guys because they could offer things I could not do. Raw Energy really tried to play the Grade card but Jersey was nothing like Grade so ya I put in a bio that Greg was in Grade and Believe. Jersey started out as a three piece with Kevin (drummer) and Johnny (bassist) both played in Grade at one point but really Jersey was made up of Believe so I kinda tried to play it like that.
You also have to remember at this time vinyl was not selling to well. I always tried to to do vinyl with every release because I thought it was important and still some people only bought vinyl. So anyways the Jersey record did not fly out the door as you might think. I believe it was a one time pressing of 1,000 and I did not sell all of them. I did not like the way everything went down with this release and working with Raw Energy was a nightmare. Talk about a bunch clowns. That is a hole other story in itself.
-I’ve actually never come across the CD version of “No Turning Back”. Did that ever actually come out? If you care to elaborate on the story of the “clowns at Raw Energy”…
Raw Energy was a shit box label that tried to be bigger than they really were. So here is how the label worked or at least with Jersey and myself. I paid for the recording, mastering, and the layout of the record because I was already doing it before these clowns walk through the door. They had a distribution deal with a company which I cannot remember the name of. Anyways the distribution would pay for the printing and pressing of the CD’s and distribute it across Canada for them. Great for the bands but at this point Raw Energy has not paid a dime for anything and the record was done.
So they call me up to ask for some of the LP’s which was cool and then they ask for all my disrto. Info. Which was okay but I was like I will pass it on to you when a get the vinyl in (at this point I did not need Greg’s help with money because I was only doing the vinyl). CD was out at this point as well. So they started to lean into me about I thought you were about the bands and we need this for Jersey. It is like no you need this for you and the rest of your label because you do not have any American or European distro’s. So not only do they not pay for anything or have any of their own distro’s they start give me the gears, it for Jersey. I felt like I was starting their label up and doing all the work for them and riding on the coat tails of Grade. After all this and a few fights on the phone I gave them what they needed and said never call me again.
After some time went by the label was screwing Jersey around and the guys had a offer from Vinnie (less then jake) at FBR which they really wanted to do. I do not blame them. A really label. So after talking with Greg I called up his old manager for Grade to see if he could look over the contract, to see if Jersey could walk away from it. We discovered that the contract was a joke and would never hold up in court. Grade’s manage called up Raw Energy and laid into Chris and told him that Jersey will never work with them again and if there was any problems that they could deal with his lawyer. It was over. Jersey’s next recording was on FBR. Raw Energy did not last to much longer after that.
-You were later supposed to do a split with Jersey and Mid Carson July. Did you also have any implications in the Jersey/Outspan split that came out in 1998?
The Jersey/Outspan split was put out by the bands and I believe any money raised went to a suicide help foundation. So I had nothing to do with it.
The Jersey/MCJ split was one of the last recorded material for Workshop before we called it quits. Looking back on it I wish I put it together but it meant continuing the label that much longer and I was not about to put something out and half ass it until the record died down then call it quits.
-1997 also saw the release of the first full length album by The Jazz June, one of PA’s best emo bands. Prior to that, they only had a 7″ out on Keystone/Ember Records, which was those label’s first release. They turned out to be the band you most worked with as far as releases. How do you remember the time you started working with them?
I met and first heard these guys in Pittsburgh at a small fest. I also met the MCJ boys that weekend as well. The Keystone 7″ was the first record they did and I think they recorded a song for a split 7″ they did with MCJ but not sure of the time frame on the release if it came out before my release or not. I really enjoy the two records they did for me and to this day I still listen to it from time to time. The guys were cool and I became pretty good friends with Nathan who seemed at the time to take care of most of the bands dealings. It was a quick decision to do the record and the guys had most of the songs together and was ready to record and it was good timing for me so we got it done. They knew where they wanted to record and have it mastered so I just went with and I think the record turned out good, the “They Love Those Who Make Music” CD was my best seller.
-The LP was also co-pressed with Choke Records. I think this was the first and only time you co-released something with another label? What was the idea in doing a cooperation, and what did each label bring to the release? Who did the colored vinyls?
I did not have the money at the time of the release to do the vinyl, plus vinyl was not selling to well for me. So we left it out for the time being. The band was approached by Choke to do it and the band wanted it put together and I liked the people over at Choke so they put it together, it was really as easy as that. Choke had a great distribution at the time as well. Choke did the color pressing on a mixed black/orange. Look really nice. Not too sure on the number of color vinyl pressed. If I was to guess I would say about 150.
-How would you compare the work you did with their first record, “They Love Those Who Make Music” with their second full-length that you also released a year later, “The Boom, the Motion and the Music”?
“They Love Those” was doing well and the band on some time off had a couple of songs kicking around which ended up turning into six songs. We talked that it would be great to follow the record up with another release to keep the momentum going. Looking back on it this should have been a 12”ep but we spent more money on this recording then the first so I considered it a full length. I was happy with this record. I really think both records turn out good and helped me move the label to a new level of doing things. Not so much cut and paste which cool too, just a lot of work.
-This time around, you released both CD and 12″ at the same time? The band was also featured on Deep Elm’s “The Emo Diaries” that year, do you think it helped the band get more immediate national exposure?
Deep Elm help the band out for sure. Those comps made it to a lot hands. Nathan was a work horse for that band and made a lot of connections. This was a great compilation for them to be on and fit in well with the other bands on it.
-Both of these records were actually re-issued by Initial Records in 2001 (along with almost all of the bands other material). You had a quick association with that label in 2000, also due to The Jazz June, for their third album “The Medicine”. Did you sell the rights to Initial, or how did that go down?
The guys had an offer from Andy and it was the next step for the band. I was really happy for them. Andy from Initial asked me to put the vinyl. I was happy to do so. It was kind of like a thank you from the band if you will. Most bands move on and do not look back unless they have too (there is a story here but I cannot tell it and it has to do with another band I worked with). So Initial gave me the right to put “The Medicine” out on vinyl only. Initial vinyl sells had been going down as well to shop out the rights to do so. Although Initial did the Jazz June 7”. Who knows.
When we decided to stop doing the label I tried to sell all the releases so they would not go out of print. Especially for the bands that were still active. Initial picked up the two Jazz June records.
-Mid Carson July had done a split with The Jazz June back in late 1997. Tell us about your first encounter with the band.
I first heard these guys live at the Pittsburgh fest. Picked up the 7” and demo tape. I do not think the split was out yet. I started to talk to them to see if they wanted to play shows in Ontario. I got to know them more as they toured with The Jazz June often. Sometime after we met, MCJ played in Toronto and they asked me to come out. They ended up staying with me and that’s when we started to talk about doing a record. These guys were good dudes. My favorite band to work with by far.
I was just talking to Bryon the other day while I was in Chicago. He was on tour with the O Pioneers. Bryon would be if we lived closer a good friend of mine along said Ralph from Franklin. Great people that I would have never met if it was not for Workshop.
-By the time you released their album “Ten Years on Autopilot” in March 1999, had they moved to Florida, or were they still based in PA? If so, how did that affect the album?
They were still in PA. which was cool because we would drive out to their home town to hang out and they would come out and play shows and stay to hang out with us at well as hit the casino. “Ten Years” was recorded in Toronto. They did not have a studio that they wanted to work with so I suggested Signal to Noise Studio. I liked working with Rob.
-Was Mid Carson July’s last full-length, “Wessel”, named after you?
Yes. The guys surprised me with that. If there was a band that I connected with on all levels it was MCJ. We really enjoyed being around these guys. They were like family to us. It is to bad we do not talk as much as I would like to but life some times gets the best of us.
-In 1999 you released the final version of the Grade/Believe split altered with the second Incision recording session replacing Believe. What was the reason for this switch of bands?
Believe was broken up and I had a few people asking about the Grade stuff to be put out on vinyl so I asked the members from Believe if they mind that I switch this release up and put Incision on the flip side. At the same time we thought it would be cool for any Grade fan to hear some of this. Grade was made up of four guys from Incision.
-Was there a reason for doing this on vinyl, as all the previous pressings were on CDs?
Just liked the idea of keeping it on vinyl due to the fact that I did not change the Grade/Believe splits CD’s. It was more for the collecting idea I guess.
-You also mentioned earlier that after this you sold the rights to Victory Records. Why did you choose to do that, and why did they want the rights to the early recordings, this being only around the time the release of their first album with the band?
Victory tried to pick all of Grade’s recordings but Dan from Second Nature did not want to sell. I needed the money to do all those records I had planned to put out. Grade was selling but not enough to keep on pressing it and have all that extra stock on hand and wait awhile for it to sell. So that was the logic. Shortly after this transaction we decide to not do the label any more and put this money towards our house down payment.
-What about The Jazz June’s “The Medicine” LP, that only made it to the test press stage (this was in 2000 I believe), and later ended up being released by Initial Records?
Initial did the CD version and asked me if I would be interested in do the vinyl. Andy was slowly getting away from pressing vinyl at that time due to vinyl sells going down. So I asked if I could hear the record before I made my decision which he was cool with. I liked what I heard, told Andy that we will do it and then got in touch with the band to work out the details. I had 10 test presses made (not like today when labels will press as many test presses as the actual pressing to make some extra money for themselves, or so it seems like that) and all the cover art work proofs were good and this baby was ready to get finished up.
-Was this planned as the final release for the record label, or did it just get caught up with the other unreleased records in a closing down situation?
At the time we were putting all these records together we were still talking about other recordings like MCJ putting together a full length record later that year. We were not thinking about closing the doors on the label but rather looking at how we could get finances together to introduce screen print into it so we could do stickers, posters, shirts and record cover for the bands and labels.
-How did the label end up going down?
The label was starting to get a little more complicated. One thing that really pissed me off was one of the bands was completely screwing me around and I was not happy about that. Another band was riding my ass about some things which was not to cool in my mind. I know I am being a little vague here but I still have friends in some of these bands and do not want to bring up names and steer up trouble with something that happened a long time ago. Plus I was having bands send me demos with demands of having contracts and things like that. I was thinking that I was helping bands out by putting out there music and in hopes that they could move on to bigger and better things not being tied into contracts. The final nail in the coffin was Victory screwing me around for the Grade tracks and taking forever to pay me, which I had to get a lawyer involved to help get my money, which did me no good and ended up costing me money for nothing. So I did not like what I was seeing the future or where the scene was going.
-What were the factors and what was your personal life like at this time?
At this point of the label it needed to have more attention then what we were giving it, so my wife and I sat down and broke it all down. So it meant that I would have to quit my job and make the label a full time thing if it was going to go any further. Which means that if we wanted to start a family it might have to wait a while due to the label probably not making any money for some time and introducing the screen printing element to as well.
So with all the headaches we were having as well as what the scene was becoming and where we saw us going with everything. We decided to stop doing the label. We started a family and saved up for a house and put everything we received back for the label and towards our home. This was the best decision we made. Now we have two boys a nice home and a lot of great memories.
-Were you growing out of hardcore and the connecting scenes?
No. I still went to shows and bought music after that and I would still jump in with the bands like I always did for weekend trips and fun stuff like that.
-Can you tell us about some of the releases that never happened?
We had a split record that was recorded but as we were putting it together both bands broke up. It was the first release for both bands so we did not see the reason in putting more money in something that will not move. It was with a band from Pittsburgh, PA called Flood and SlingShotDavid from California.
Also a Mid Carson July/Jersey split was recorded and art work was finished but that was as we closed the doors on the label and the record was shelved. I believe the bands rerecorded these tracks.
We also had a song from Pele out of Milwaukee which we were going to do a split 8″ with but did not nail down the other band, although AMFM came close to being the other band. This was recorded at the same time as the Mid Carson July/Jersey split so it was canceled at the decision of closing the doors on the label. Pele ended up using a rerecording of the song for a Polyvinyl compilation.
-Some time after this you put together a Workshop Box Set that included various of the past releases, and a great deal of the unreleased material (mentioned above). What was the idea in making this box set, and how was it put together? What was it packaged in, and how many copies were made? I read that not all the sets comprised the same material? Can you also explain why some of the catalog numbers changed on the vinyls, such as The Jazz June’s “They Love Those Who Make Music”?
Basically it was a goodbye package. We had left over stock and a fun small run of my favorite songs from the Franklin CD which we put on vinyl. Jodie started to screen the boxes for these and we had two colours down and she got pregnant, so we could not finish the boxes. The following year when we came back to it, we went to start screening the boxes again and the ink we already put down caused the boxes to shrink. So that put an end to finishing the box set. It was put into storage until The Jazz June did the reunion fundraiser show in January 2007. We just put it together with everything we had and donated to the band and the fundraiser. I repressed “They Love Those” on my own, not with Choke Records to complete the box set. Choke was no longer active at this time and the record had been out of print.
The packaging was a mailer box screened on with our new logo. We kept it closed with velcro. I think we put together 50. Not sure if The Jazz June sold them all or not. Some sets were the same and some had extra stuff in it. We put what ever was left in these sets. It usually included:
- Grade/Incision split LP + stickers
- Franklin – 16 favorite songs LP in black sleeve
- Jersey – No Turning Back LP
- The Jazz June – They Love Those Who Make Music LP in black sleeve
- The Jazz June – The Boom, the Motion and the Music LP
- Mid Carson July – Ten Years on Autopilot LP + stickers
- SlingShotDavid – A Human Sorrow for Freedom CD-R
- Union Young America – Kill the Man in Everything CD-R packaged in 7″ sleeve
- CD-R of the Mid Carson July/Jersey split and the Pele track for the split with AMFM
- Workshop Records stickers, a poster and a colour copy of Workshop’s new logo which was never used.
-How bout some tour stories of all the dudes you worked with over the years? A lot sound like they had fun on the road.
I have a ton of stories when bands hit the road they see and come into a lot of situations. A lot of good times and a lot of bad times. I went one weekend to Montreal with Jersey and had a great night out at a little hole in the wall punk bar. Listen to old school punk rock and circle pit into the early hours of the morning. I know as a story it does not sound like much but I was with my friends having some drinks and dancing around with everyone in the bar having a great time. There is no bar around here like it.
Jersey’s van breaking down in Arizona, I think it was, and the band with no money left had to find a job, which they did making tie-dye shirts and I am not sure but maybe someone help by wiring money to them as well.
Selling a hundred CD’s one night in Boston for a Jersey show with these three girls as my cheer leading section.
MCJ always had the best stories like the Bryon and Eric who are brothers getting into a fist fight in the middle of the street and the cops picking them up and putting them behind bars for the night. They also got locked up for firing of bottle rockets in FL. one night. With last bit of money they had on tour they went to the casino to double it which did not work out to plan. I love these guys.
Chris from Union Young America taking bricks from parliament hill. Late night café runs. Guelph was still a great city at that time.
At the end of the day I really appreciated everything this bands did by hitting the road, making and recording music, spending time with us to become a family and just doing something we all love doing be a part of the small scene and keeping it diy. The true working class hero’s. Kids coming together and helping each other out weather you made the music, put on the show, put a band up for the night, or the kid who bought the merch. and support us all.
-Since the ending of Workshop Records, have you had any implications in the music industry? What do you do nowdays and how do you look back at all the amazing -releases you’ve put out?
We have no regrets with the label. We met a lot of nice people and some we still talk to, like Ralph from Franklin we are going to visit with the whole family. He has not met our kids yet so it should be fun. I have not done anything else in the music scene. I still buy records and go to shows just not as much as I used too.
Nowdays I like to collect art and vinyl toys by some of the artists. Some of the artists I collect are Pushead (I have collected his stuff for 20 years now), Nathan Jurevicius, Jeff Soto, Luke Feldman, Usugrow, Mike Sutfin, Gary Taxali, Caia Koopman to name a few. Music as of late I just bought the Roger Miret, Smoke or Fire, Social Distortion and enjoy listening to Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, Drag the River/Jon Snodgrass, Austin Lucas, Elliott Smith, Strike Anywhere, New Bruises, The Jai Alia Savant and things like that.
I do not really look back on the label until someone like your self comes a long and ask me about. I listen to the records from time to time. I am sure I will when the kids get a little older.