Interview with Ryan O (Outbreak, Think Fast! Records)

Ryan O Interview. Got to shoot some Q&A's back and forth with old friend Ryan O'Connor. Best known for being vocalist of the hardcore band Outbreak, Ryan also runs his own record label Think Fast! Records that has been making a lot of moves lately. Enjoy it.

APPROACHING OBLIVION/JAKE: When did you first got involved with hardcore? What made you want to get involved?

I was listening to hardcore and punk in the mid 90’s, when I was really young, but it wasn’t until the late 90’s that I actually became involved. My older brother, who’s actually spent time in and out of Outbreak over the years, was bringing home tapes, CDs, and vinyl for all of the early Victory Records bands - Earth Crisis, Strife, Integrity, Warzone. They were a good segway into other underground bands that I later discovered, like Minor Threat and Descendents. Before all of this I was always into heavy music, even as a really young kid. My brother and I usually shared a bedroom when we were kids – we didn’t have a lot of money so we usually lived in trailers growing up.
Our bedroom walls were covered in posters from Hit Parader, Metal Edge, and Metal Maniacs. Everything from Motley Crue to Guns N' Roses. I remember one time my Grandmother was coming over so I had to hide my copy of Appetite for Destruction! But I think what drew me to hardcore and punk was the sense of community and the fact that everything about it was so foreign to the outside world.
To me, it was almost like some strange cult – the shows were small and intimate, most of the bands had no mainstream appeal and were easily approachable – there was no rockstar attitudes, although there was always an eerie feeling in the air, like a violent riot could break out at any second - it was exciting. The whole scene made little to no sense to your average person who only listened to what was being played on the radio, and as an impressionable young teenager, I think it’s easy for that to have a strong impact. It was like you belonged to something special and unique that was cooler than joining a high school sports team. Surely some, most probably, “outgrow” it, and it becomes a simple teenage phase, but for others it’s something that takes over their life, and I guess I’m one of those people.
I was fascinated with the whole thing so becoming involved – booking shows and that sort of thing, became natural. Of course I’m no longer the same 15 year old kid that goes out to a show every single weekend– far from it, but for better or worse, the scene has remained a part of my life through the years. 

AO: So once you got involved, did you imagine yourself to be where you are at today?

RYAN: It’s funny, even at a really young age I knew I wasn’t suited for your average 9-5 job. My Dad still jokes about it – how my 8 year old self would talk about living my life on my own terms and being my own boss. If you told me I would go on to play in a band that would go to Australia, Japan, Europe, and South America, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t know that I would be responsible for putting Underdog onto a tour with Suicidal Tendencies, ya know? So I don’t think I imagined any types of specifics in my future, but I’ve always had a knack for doing something creative and on my own terms, so I guess in a way that things came full circle. 

AO: Can you give a little history behind Think Fast! and inform us of any upcoming releases or news?

The label was created by a couple friends of mine back in 2001 – Larry Scott, and Charles Chaussinand. It was created as a very DIY operation, a hobby, but over the years has morphed into a fairly successful brand, at least in the punk and hardcore world. We’ve put a heavy emphasis on vinyl over the years, and the label has proudly put out records for classic bands like Sick of it All, Ignite, Earth Crisis, and Turning Point. I got my start with the label around 2005, and became co-owner a couple years later.
Over the years, it’s managed to grow, albeit a pretty unconventional operation. I mean that in the sense that we have no real “headquarters”. Larry and myself literally live on opposite ends of the east coast. Our mailorder is handled through a company in Albany so most of our inventory is housed in New York. Our distributor is on the west coast, in Huntington Beach, and they handle 100% of our sales, excluding mailorder. So we have this unconventional operation, that we manage to make work, mostly thanks to technology. We aren’t one of those labels that takes on 25 active bands at once.
Right now the label is home to Mountain Man, Hour Of The Wolf, and my own band, Outbreak, but we’re always doing one-offs for other bands – for example, earlier this year we did license deals through Century Media to put out vinyl for Sick of it All and Earth Crisis. It was our second time working with Sick of it All, and probably not our last, but are they technically part of our roster? No. They’re a Century Media band.
In 2012 we’ll be releasing a new vinyl/digital release for Bullet Treatment, which is part two of a series the band is doing – it’s this weird concept with each song in the series being the exact same instrumentally, but with different singers putting their own lyrics and vocals to it. Part one came out last year on Fat Wreck Chords and had Tim from Rise Against, Russ from Good Riddance, and a bunch of others. Our version will have Andrew and Scott from Comeback Kid, Nuno from A Wilhelm Scream, Matt from The Bronx, and more. It hasn’t been formally announced yet, so I guess I shouldn’t give it all away. We’re also doing another release for Hour of the Wolf, who are an extremely underrated band from Arizona. There’s more releases that are in the works too, a couple that are still in the early stages and can’t be announced just yet.

AO: You toured earlier this year. Where'd you go? Did you have a favorite show?

We toured the midwest with Sick of it All and Mother of Mercy. That’s the last tour we did. It was a lot of fun, although a bit out of our element for us and Mother of Mercy in the sense that people who come out to our shows usually don’t like paying $15 or more for tickets. It was cool though, Sick of it All’s older crowd seemed to warm up to us most nights – even if the crowd response seemed to be tame, we would usually sell a bunch of merch at the end of the night, which is always a good feeling. It’s easy to hold a bad attitude about a show because people are crossing their arms and not going crazy when you play – but then you find out you sold five hundred bucks worth of merch and realize that you probably just made a bunch of new fans. I’ve never been on a tour where so many people came up to me and said it was their first time seeing us - little do they know we’ve been touring fairly consistently for almost 10 years! Plus I got to sing Rat Pack in San Antonio so it was worth it just for that! I don’t know about a favorite show, but the tour as a whole was really important to me. I’ve always wanted to go out with Sick of it All, I feel like I’ve been bugging Stormy, their agent, about it for years. I would be hard pressed to find a better live band than Sick of it All. 

AO: Can you tell a random tour story worth telling?
A couple years ago on our way through Texas, we were stopped at a random check point by U.S. Customs. Since we weren’t crossing the Mexico/U.S. border, the stop came as a surprise. Some of our guys had some things with them that they shouldn’t have had with them, and we were all handcuffed and put into holding cells. Thankfully, not everyone was charged. In the grand scheme of things, it was all really minor stuff, but they were totally taking advantage of ruining our day – they kept us detained for 5 or 6 hours and were acting as if we were the Taliban. Funny enough, the “contraband” they found was carefully placed back into our bus before we left – so they’re either complete idiots, or they were hoping we’d unknowingly get caught with it again a couple days later – which we almost did. This story probably sucks compared to bands who are doing coke off strippers every night, but there you have it. Don’t mess with Texas.

AO: What's going on with you guys now?

RYAN: As a band, not a whole lot! Maybe that will change, and maybe it won’t. I know that personally I really enjoy life off the road– I live in a small lake town in central Maine. Life is good at the moment. There are loose talks about getting to south east Asia early in 2012, but I’d say it’s a coin toss on whether or not that will actually pan out. We seem to get a lot of love from that part of the world, so it would be amazing to make it over there.
I love going into territories where the band has never been because it’s always so unpredictable – and even if the tour sucks, you can treat it like a vacation. There probably won’t be too many other points in my life when I get an opportunity to go to south east Asia with some of my best friends, ya know? Other than that, there isn’t really anything on the horizon for the band - almost all of our members have other bands and endeavors on their plates at the moment. It’s funny, I swore I wouldn’t do another band after Outbreak but as soon as things started to slow down this year, I’ve been talking with Zach from Rise Against about starting a side project together that never tours – who knows if it’ll actually develop, but if it does, we’ve decided that it will sound a lot like Minor Threat.

AO: What happened with all the line up changes? What is the official line up as of today?

RYAN: We’ve had the same lineup for almost three years now – I sing, Erik on drums, Brian and Billy on guitars, Thom on bass. I’ve been the only original member since 2006, when our original guitarist, Chuck Bruce, quit. Chris Linkovich was basically an original member too, he played on every recording except for our first demo, up until 2008 when he quit. We’ve always been a band that’s struggled with keeping all of its members – I remember in the early days we went through like 5 drummers before sticking with Nate! But the last “major change” was in 2008 when most of the band left to pursue their then-side project – after that I went through a pretty rough year of trying to keep a full band together. At the same time we were getting all of these crazy tour offers, stuff you just can’t turn down – west coast with Cro-Mags, Europe with Comeback Kid, that kind of thing. So it was good in a sense that we could road-test our then-lineup, but maybe not the smartest move in the sense that people start seeing different members come and go between tours, and start to wonder “who’s actually in the band?” I tip my hat to any band that can keep all of it’s original members for more than 5 years. It’s kind of strange to think I’m the only one in Outbreak who’s actually living in Maine, but I think we’ll always be known as a Maine band, which is fine by me. I like the Maine connection – the bands history is rooted in Maine.

AO: With all the fashion and images that are correlated with hardcore nowadays- it seems to be the common belief that you need to fit a certain mold to be accepted at this 'scene'....has it always been this way? Is hardcore becoming cliquey? Isn't that what punk always stood against in the first place?

RYAN: As long as I’ve been involved in punk and hardcore, there has always been trends – fashion-wise and musically. I have a feeling they’ve always been here, although I can’t speak on the early days from first hand experience. Some of them are more lame than others. Thank god the shoe collecting days are over, remember that one? I think the latest may be the new, looking like a dirt bag with flannel-look, or possibly the hipster, v-neck t-shirt look. It’s hilarious to see what people will buy into. I try not to pay attention to that sort of thing, but I think most subcultures have similar trends and cliques and what not – it’s like high school in a way, which is sad considering it’s a movement that’s supposed to be the exact opposite. At least that’s the cheesy way I’ve always envisioned it in my head.
I remember seeing Ceremony and their singer was a maniac, running around with the entire microphone in his mouth, and their guitarist, I forget his name, was basically dressed like a girl and had this totally crazy, weird stage presence – you could tell that the members did not give two shits about what anyone thought of them, and I always thought that was awesome. Too often people are afraid to be individuals. I’m not saying that I’m going to start dressing like a girl, but I’ve always admired people who can act like themselves, regardless of ridicule they may face, and regardless of what’s popular at the moment. We’ve done a couple of things with Outbreak that I think dropped our “cred”, and I don’t regret them at all – being on the Saw VI soundtrack last year is definitely something that we were given a lot of shit for from the hardcore and punk community. It’s as if we have some sort of blueprint were expected to follow, and anything you do outside of the dotted lines and you’re considered a sellout! I always assume the people who care about this sort of thing are very young and impressionable, almost like the mentality of hating on a band when they sign with a big record label.

AO: Are there any bands you are really into at the moment that are not on TF!?

There’s a band from New Jersey that everyone should check out called Night Birds – been listening to their new full length a lot – really great stuff, reminds me of old Descendents meets Dead Kennedys.

AO: After touring the world - can you tell me what was the most interesting place to see and why?

RYAN: South America was interesting, because it’s such a different culture than most other places that we’ve toured. It’s a real eye opener when you’re in Brazil or Colombia and see some of the slums and things that make the projects in the U.S. look like a playground. We’ve been to Japan a couple of times as well, and that stands out for complete opposite reasoning. They’re always technologically advanced past the U.S. over there – I remember the first time I was there in 2006 and being amazed that people could go into 7-11 and scan their cell phone to pay for whatever it was that they were buying. 

AO: What is your advice to someone who is in the beginning stages of creating a label? things to avoid? etc.

RYAN: Save up a lot of money and be prepared to lose it. Running a label is a lot like gambling, you’ll hit every once in a while, but you’ll usually lose a lot in the process. It also helps to start out small, and build yourself up – don’t burn yourself out by expecting to be the next David Geffen – it doesn’t work like that. Ask a lot of questions to signed bands, and independent record labels, intern at a label if it’s possible. Also, only work with people you know personally – if you’re interested in a band and don’t know them - meet them! Seriously, you are less likely to be screwed over if you actually have a personal relationship with your bands - no one’s afraid to screw over someone they don’t know.

AO: Any last things you want to plug, etc??

RYAN: Nah, but thanks for the interview. I haven’t done one in a couple of months so it feels good to rant.



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