Epitaph Records was founded in 1981 by Brett Gurewitz, guitarist of Bad Religion. Based out of Hollywood California the label started out as just a P.O. box and the logo seen above. Gurewitz used this “label” to release his band Bad Religion’s records.
The label finally became fully functional in 1987 with the release of L7’s self titled album. At this point Gurewitz was running the label out of his home studio in Hollywood. The label mainly specialized in the punk rock genre but later expanded it’s catalog to include blues, soul, R&B, hip-hop and country. Gurewitz also believed in an “Artist-first” approach which simply means that he thinks he should work for the artist.
In 1994 Epitaph Records finally made it on the map. Although Gurewitz had left Bad Religion to run the label full time he found great success with other artist on the label. In this legendary year the Offspring released “Smash” which has now gone on to sell over 16 million copies making it the largest selling album on an independent label. In that same year Rancid also released “And Out Come The Wolves” which shot them into punk stardom and got them heavy airplay on MTV and the radio.
Gurewitz commented on the release of “Smash” by saying
“It opened doors. I could get a meeting with whoever. Up until that time, we had to scratch and claw our way into whatever nooks and crannies we could. It wasn’t easy for an indie to get a record into a chain store. Indies were second-class citizens back then, but from that day forward we could sell any of our titles in any chain in the country. Everything changed” – Washington Post
In 1996 Rancid’s leader, Tim Armstrong, started Hellcat Records in partnership with Epitaph Records. He went on to discover such bands as the American celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys and the punk rock band the Distillers. This established Epitaph as a label built for the long haul.
In 2003 Gurewitz signed hip-hop artist, Atmosphere, and grindcore band, The Locust, which expanded the label’s catalog. He then went on to sing pop-punk bands Matchbook Romance and Motion City Soundtrack to keep up with the current younger labels. These signings caused a great deal of controversy and uproar in the punk scene. Many questioned wether or not Epitaph was staying with its true punk roots. Gurewitz responded to the controversy with,
“I anticipated criticism, and I got it, even with emo. Punk rockers hate emo. A lot of the artists on my label have given me a lot of guff about the new signings. They’ll say, ‘Screw these screaming bands’…”
Later on in mid 2005 Epitaph Records was officially added to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) list. The reasoning for this move is up in the air, but some say that there was an agreement for peer to peer distribution while others say they wanted to get certified sales awards such as the “Gold” and “Platinum” titles. This also led to many people questioning wether or not Epitaph is still an independent label.
Epitaph Records continues to grow and continues to build an impressive roster of artists. Expect them to prosper in the coming years and continue to lead the industry of independent record labels.
Current Major Artists:
New Found Glory
The Color Of Violence
Bring Me The Horizon
You Me At Six
Every Time I Die
I Set My Friends On Fire
Escape The Fate
The Sound Of Animals Fighting
Motion City Soundtrack
Sing It Loud
Story Of The Year
Our Last Night
I Am Ghost
Set Your Goals
1. Epitaph Records
2. Martens, Tood. “Epitaph Turns 25” Billboard Jan 27, 2007
3. The Washington Post
5. “Epitaph Records, Bad Religion Goes Good” Punkmusic.about.com
6. “Epitaph Records -1994- The Year When Punk Broke Out” Youtube.com