With the corporate music world still foundering in its colossal ineptitude as to how to deal with that whole Internet thing, underground music and, especially, independent labels are reaping the benefits. It’s practically business as usual for the underground, where money and chart positions have little to no bearing on how success is measured. Columbia, SC’s Thank God, with its steeped pedigree of punk rock veterans (ex-Guyana Punch Line, ex-Antischism), certainly knows how to sustain itself in a culture designed to use and forget as quickly as online profiles can be updated with new tastes and trends.
Thank God has cleverly married de facto Internet marketing with old school directives. Its only web presence is on the ubiquitous Myspace, which is just about all any band needs these days. Myspace may be an evil corporate machine owned by Rupert Murdoch, but it’s such a given for upstart bands that its inherent evil is often overlooked in light of the DIY culture it indirectly facilitates.
Additionally, Thank God runs its own record label, Tick Tock records. It books its own tours. Everything is controlled from within. There’s literally no one to answer to in terms of directing its music or agenda. Such freedom is contagious in a scene that supports itself on such basic terms, like punk rock has for decades. And Thank God is under no delusions about how far its music can spread; this band knows its audience and how to market itself, playing a frantic strain of hardcore punk with volatile, schizophrenic vocals, pounding hardcore precision, and segments of melody all interwoven seamlessly.
The band began its most recent recording session locally at the Jam Room under the impression that it had a record deal with GSL, an indie label in San Diego owned by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta. By the time Thank God had finished, drummer Troy Thames learned that GSL had inked a deal with Red Eye distribution, which is owned by Sony. The distributor had been forced only to accept pressings of records at a minimum of ten thousand per release, which is an obscene amount by indie standards, especially when bands typically press and barely sell a tenth of that amount on their own. It was only a matter of time before this practice bankrupted the label, which is sitting on thousands of returned records, so Thank God had to come up with a new plan.
Thames decided to transpose a philosophy countless bands have relied on for years for touring. Instead of the show swap, where a band from Columbia would book a show for a band from, say, New York, and then have the favor returned, Thames is bringing back the split record as a means of exposure and promotion. The twelve songs Thank God recorded for GSL are now going to appear on four different split releases over the next two months. For example, the band’s current split with Deepslaughter, a spastic Japanese hardcore band, will be promoted locally by Thames and in Japan by Deepslaughter’s label, Soviet Records. Multiply that times split releases – all on different labels – in Richmond, Portland, and Miami, and Thank God has covered multiple markets all at once without having to hire press agents or managers or any middlemen whatsoever. It’s 100% self-sufficient and grassroots punk rock at its finest.
Thames knows that his band can elude the system and still sell all of its pressings to make enough money to move onto the next record or even the next tour. Where major label bands are hurting from lack of CD sales and jaded indifference, punk rock is thriving. Thames has networked his band into an envious position. When these four splits have all been released and toured and digested, Thank God will be able to put out a full-length record on its own label and stand a good chance of having an audience waiting in anticipation. This is exactly how it’s supposed to be done. Remove the power from the labels and put it back in the hands of the bands.