While growing up in Avon Lake, Michael Phillips developed an affinity for vinyl albums at an early age. He'd go to the library and often check out albums simply because he liked what was on the cover. Ironic, then, that Phillips now heads up Escapist Records, a locally based vinyl-only record label that has recently started to gain notoriety in the punk and indie rock worlds. The label hosts its first-ever showcase concert on Saturday at the Foundry.
"My mom had records and I would dig through her collection," he says one afternoon from the dining room of his Lakewood home where he runs the label. "I remember listening to the Cure and bands like Weird Al Yankovic. That kind of stuff. They had a lot of stuff at the library. New Wave was big and bands like that were cool. It was before grunge hit so I remember checking out bands like Duran Duran, which was one of my favorite bands from that time."
Eventually, Phillips gravitated toward the local punk and hardcore scene and would regularly attend shows at the Blind Lemon (now the Foundry), the now-closed Speak in Tongues, the Grog Shop, Peabody's and the Phantasy. He helped the local metal band Mushroomhead sell merch for a little while. In the early 2000s, he moved to Pittsburgh and began booking shows at DIY spaces. In 2005, he decided to put out his first album. A compilation of tunes featuring indie and hardcore bands playing covers of songs by Cleveland hardcore heroes Integrity, the album, which came out in 2006, wasn't as easy to assemble as he anticipated. But it was a successful release, and the initial pressing of 1,000 copies sold out.
"I thought it would be easier to get my toes wet with that kind of thing," he says. "Once the idea got out and as big as that band was globally, bands from all over submitted songs. I had to be rather selective. I had over 50 submissions. Some bands fell off and then other ones came along. It was a CD, and it was very challenging. Dealing with just one band and having one or two main contacts is much easier. I can see how people get frustrated."
The release paved the way for the label to move forward and the punk band This Time Next Year had a big release in 2007.
"They were a pop-punk band from the Bay Area of California, and I knew them from their previous bands," he says. "I didn't jump at the idea of putting out their album. We put it out a seven-song EP and the guys moved up quickly to other labels. That was the first I had that went on to something bigger. It was cool to have a part in setting them up and watching them blossom."
In 2008, he took a break from the label and didn't release anything until 2011.
"I just needed to take some time off," he says. "In that short period of time, CD sales really fell off. I had always wanted to do vinyl going back to my exposure when I was young. I was friends with these guys in a band called Light Years. They wanted to do a record and I was thinking about bringing the label back. I realized that putting out vinyl was more expensive. Being more financially stable, I knew I could afford to do vinyl. And I decided to do only vinyl."
He released a Light Years 7-inch and an LP by the Arizona hardcore band Territory. This year, he's already released an LP by local hardcore heroes Harvey Pekar and a 7-inch for the Massachusetts-based band Foxfires. The Harvey Pekar album has received generally favorable reviews.
"They're nostalgic for an earlier era in the late '90s and early 2000s," he says when asked what he likes about the band. "Back then, I was going to a show every day of the week. They were all amazing shows and they were packed with kids. I became friends with those kids and those kids are still my friends. Harvey Pekar's sound is rooted in mid-tempo hardcore but alludes to the punk and rock 'n' roll that was popularized in the early 2000s. They were going to those same shows that I was going to. Knowing those guys and their passions for art and comics and that kind of stuff and looking at their lyrics, it all makes sense."
Before the year's end, he'll release new albums from a band called Sweet Weapons and Winnipeg's Burn Your World. For the first-ever label showcase, he's lined up both local (Harvey Pekar, Two Hand Fools and My Mouth is the Speaker) and national acts (Foxfires, Go Deep, Gator King and Burn Your World).
"The bands play all different genres so it's fun to have a mixed bill because you don't see that kind of thing very often. I've never done a label showcase. I did some showcases when I worked at college radio. We would have punk and metal bands all on one bill and it was great. This is the first label showcase, and I'm really looking forward to it."