Interview: Chris Stowe of A-F Records

words by Chris Aitkens
| Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Chris Stowe

Recently, Anti-Flag‘s independent record label, A-F Records, released This Concerns Everyone, a compilation of protest songs. Label manager Chris Stowe was one of the original contributors to the compilation and helped develop it into something bigger. On top of being A-F’s manager, Stowe has several musical projects, playing bass in White Wives, being a permanent substitute in World’s Scariest Police Chases, and writing his own songs for his solo act. Before becoming label manager, Stowe was Anti-Flag’s tour manager and got to work closely with the band. Since being handed the position, he has signed many promising punk bands to the label and has promoted the hell out of the new compilation.

What is your function at A-F Records? When did you join?
My job here is called “label manager” and means any number of things. I came on at A-F a little over two years ago to help relaunch the label, as it had been dormant for a few years.

What inspired A-F to come up with This Concerns Everyone? What was the process like getting contributing artists?
It was initially conceived as a four-way split seven-inch that would be between myself, the Homeless Gospel Choir, Chris#2, and Justin Sane. Once we were in the process of getting the songs together, #2 had the idea that it could be bigger, and after we asked a couple of our friends, the submissions just started rolling in. Once we had the first couple submissions, the process of getting the rest of the contributing artists on board was pretty painless.

Why did you choose to donate to the Right to Heal campaign?
It’s a great cause and something that we all feel really strongly about, and also something that deserves attention.

I found it interesting that you’re encouraging fans to send in their own protest songs. What is A-F hoping to accomplish with this?
This Concerns EveryoneThe whole concept behind the compilation and using lo-fi one track recordings is to demonstrate that you don’t need a nice studio or a band to make a powerful piece of art — all you need is the song. We wanted to take submissions from fans and put them up to further demonstrate the power of just a song and the original spirit of protest music.

What makes a song a protest song? Are there more ingredients than just a voice and guitar? How have protest songs evolved since the folk movement in the 1960s?
I feel like a protest song can be about anything that you’re passionate about. For the sake of the continuity of our record, we limited our contributing artists to just one instrument and one voice, but by no means does that mean that all protest music should be limited to those elements. I feel like the spirit of protest music is alive in any song written from a passionate point of view.

Tell me about your contribution track, “Other People’s Guns.” How did you record it?
I recorded that thing in my kitchen on a 10-inch vox combo amp.  I used my voice memo function on my cell phone, which is what I use to record demos for songs that I’m working on. I wrote this song after watching a documentary called Oxyana. My song centers around the military’s recruitment policy and also the tendency for Americans to feel all warm and fuzzy and patriotic when it comes to supporting the troops, as long as they aren’t the ones pulling the actual triggers.

How has A-F Records recovered since the flood in 2004? Has the social network aided its recovery?
We’re good, real good. My plan is just to take it slow and put out good records.  Record labels and the music “business” or whatever is a tricky thing. Lots of people are always telling you what a good idea is and what’s the new “business model” is, etc…But I feel like as long as you just don’t act greedily, treat bands well, and put out quality music, then that’s all you really need to succeed.

How do you feel about the demise of World’s Scariest Police Chases? Is your life less busy with one less band? Is A-F looking to fill that void?
World’s Scariest Police Chases…they’re full of shit. Bottom line. They constantly try and remind people that they’re full of shit but no one seems to be able to remember that. They’re playing a reunion show tonight at Roboto in Pittsburgh, so, as far as I know, no void to fill yet. (laughter)

In your song “Sometimes They Give Us Beer for Free,” you talk about the difficulties about going on tour. What advice can you give as a musician and tour manager to bands planning their first tour?
Yeah, tour is hard.  Even if you’re a moderately successful band, it’s fucking so hard.  I have an infinite amount of advice to give, but here are just a few thoughts:

You’ve got to define your own meaning for success. You and everyone in your band all need to be on the same page with this. You’ve got to be prepared to fail, and fail, and fail again, and still feel good about your decision to be in a van for five weeks with the same three to six people. If it’s your first tour, it’s going to suck, but that’s okay, it’s supposed to. And don’t worry, you’re next three tours are going to suck too. And you’ll question why the fuck you’re still doing this, and you’re friends and family will beg you to go back to college, and you’ll have your heart broken or you’ll break several hearts. But the good news is that, if you made it this far, your band is probably pretty good because you’ve played hundreds of shows, and you’ve probably suffered enough to write a pretty cool record full of meaningful shit.

My personal definition of success when I was touring alone as an acoustic dude for five or so years was that I wanted to affect one person a night. And if I got through to one person each night, then nothing else mattered.

What does the future hold for A-F Records? Can we expect new material from White Wives or your solo project?
A-F Records is going to continue trucking along and building, and we’ve got some cool signings coming up in the next few months. As for my solo stuff, I’m hanging that up for the time being. I feel like those songs were a big part of my life but I’ve moved on to a different chapter and it’s time to let that shit go. White Wives…I don’t know, I know we’ve got a ton of songs in us and that we’re an awesome fucking band when we’re together…we’ll see what happens next year.

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