Innovation is often paved on unconventional ideas. Unconventional ideas are usually shunned upon and told will not and cannot work. Touch and Go Records takes concepts that would only work in a perfect world and profit from them, making them one of the most pivotal independent labels to emrge in alternative music.
Touch and Go was started in 1979 by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson and was originally a magazine focused on hardcore punk. In 1980 the band Necros was funded by Vee and Stimson to release a 7” split record with The Fix. When the album was released in 1981, Touch and Go cemented itself as a record label. Corey Rusk, the bassist for Necros, soon ran operations for Touch and Go.
During the 80’s and the 90’s, Touch and Go signed notable artists such as Big Black, Scratch Acid, and The Butthole Surfers. These bands were primarily noise rock. Desiring to diversify his palette, Rusk subsequently created Quarterstick Records in 1990. This was to be Touch and Go’s sister label.
Touch and Go operates unconventionally as compared to other record labels. They rely heavily on handshake agreements and not with contracts. In Touch and Go Records 25th Anniversary Documentary, Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac) states that “if there are no contracts between a band and label then both parties are obliged to behave honorably”. He goes on to explain that either side can fire the other or quit the partnership, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to treat the other with respect.
Despite the lack of formalities, Rusk doesn’t take his job lightly. He feels a personal responsibility to provide for his 25 employees, as well as making sure the artists he represents are properly compensated. Rusk considers that bands he works with are involved in a personal relationship with him, rather than strictly in business dealing. There are three measures for artists who make it to Touch and Go: Rusk has to like their recordings, Rusk has to like and respect the musicians as people, and the musicians have to perform better live then on the album.
Until 2009 Touch and Go also provided distribution for other independent labels. Touch and Go would duplicate the entire cd package while selling them to distributors. They also handle all the paperwork that is associated with the cd’s and provide advising for bands on how to handle each release. Unfortunately, due to the recession in 2009, Touch and Go had to eliminate that portion of the label, and “. . . focus ‘solely on being an independent record label’”.
Currently Touch and Go and Quarterstick have become synonymous with each other, releasing a diverse collection of work from The Jesus Lizard to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Though they have downsized it does not mean that they are going to be bought out or close their doors in the near future. Touch and Go Records are going to maintain their level of service just as well as when they started out. Like the saying goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
L5 Merge Records Slides