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A discussion with Joe Nelson of Trust Records

Trust Records started up in October 2020 with the concept to create a company that was committed to releasing some of the most classic punk and hardcore albums. Goldmine had the chance to talk with Joe Nelson from Trust Records.

By Alan Brostoff

Trust Records started up in October 2020 with the concept to create a company that was committed to releasing some of the most classic punk and hardcore albums. 

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Since their startup, Trust has reissued Circle Jerks’ Group Sex and 7Seconds’ The Crew on vinyl, and has officially announced a partnership with punk and hardcore label BYO Records (Better Youth Organization), founded in 1981 and spearheaded by Youth Brigade members Shawn and Mark Stern. 

Goldmine had the chance to talk with Joe Nelson from Trust Records.

GOLDMINE: You are the co-founder and general manager of Trust Records. What made you decide to establish Trust? 

JOE NELSON: So, this is my story. I'm 50 years old, I got into punk rock and hardcore in the '80s with bands like Circle Jerks and TSOL and hardcore stuff like the BYO stuff like 7Seconds. I went on to have a career in music merchandising. I did music merchandising for about 30 years, with artists like Beyonce and Jay-Z and some huge bands. On the flipside, met a guy named Matt Pincus, who is the bass player of the band Judge, from New York. We're about the same age, he started a music publishing company. Through that company, they were doing a nonprofit called “Know Your Rights”, which seemed to help punk and hardcore musicians of the '80s, if they didn't have their publishing rights they would help them get it. Matt sold that company about three or four years ago for a good chunk of change and when he sold it, he was like, “I don’t know how much you like merchandising because I’d like to start a record label and I’ll fund it. I was burned out on merchandising. The idea was to go get some of the old catalogs and their masters and rerelease them. The concept is to preserve the music because we both realized that we got into music because of bands like the Circle Jerks and 7Seconds. That created a spark in us that lead us to go out and have music careers. We wanted to bring it full circle and give back to these bands. But at the same time we also wanted to focus on the physical part of the music so that it could live on forever. We both have a fear about the trend to stream and there is not a lot of money in streaming for a punk rock band, especially from the '80s. That is how this sort of came along. 

Luck would have it that I had met with Keith (Morris) because I was going to do some work with them on rebranding the Circle Jerks as they were looking to do a relaunch. That lead us into being able to do a deal with them and then we met with BYO records and a couple others and now we're doing Trust Records.

Joe Nelson, co-founder and general manager of Trust Records

Joe Nelson, co-founder and general manager of Trust Records

GM: The Circle Jerks were the first re-release from Trust and you knocked it out of the park. 

JN: Thanks for saying so, man. As a connoisseur of music when you reposition a record like Group Sex, you know it was already a great record. It has had some reprints. How do you take a record like this, that has historical context to it, and sell it to a kids who at 18 never heard of the Circle Jerks? (If they) pick up the record and look at it, they would understand why this is so cool. Most kids like that might be look at it and go “What the hell and why is it so fast?” That it kind of like our mission. To put a historical perspective on these records and make sure people understand why this is super special. This was all done pre-internet, pre cell-phone and it was a really interesting time. We are trying to treat this label like Folkways treated folk music and how some companies have treated the old blues records. We want to make sure that American punk rock and hardcore are seen as a really important genre in music.

GM: Last year I did an interview with Harley Flanagan and I was congratulating him on the re-release of The Age of Quarrel for Record Store Day. He really shared with me his frustration with it being put out there without his knowledge or input and that the band is receiving nothing from this. It makes me think how a label like yours is even more important. 

JN: You have had people who have been great stewards of their labels and some who have not. Matt and I are not here to pass judgement on what anyone has done. We just want to move forward. With something like the Cro-Mags, it’s hard to say where the truth is. I feel for Harley and I feel for the band. I can only imagine what it’s like for those guys to read that your album is going to come out without your knowledge. These are unfortunate situations. What we are trying to do is come into these places and make deals where there is a label involved we can work with the label and more importantly make sure the artist is getting paid fairly for the record. We want to create whole transparency. We just recently launched the 7Seconds The Crew Record, which is a BYO record and Kevin (Seconds) and I worked hand in hand. I showed him every receipt and every invoice. At this point in the game it should be like that. We are trying to run this label the way Ian (MacKaye) has set up Dischord (Records) with their ethics. No pun with the name, but with Trust you know you will be treated right and you are going to be part of the process. That was what made punk and hardcore special when we were kids. It was a different community. We want to recreate that feel with these older musicians. We want them to feel that their music has a home and they can feel good about it after we are all long gone. Future generations will find this Circle Jerks record.

GM: The first version of the Circle Jerks record you did sold out in under 24 hours and now there is a second pressing of 1,500 copies, correct? 

JN: I think for the most part they are all gone. It’s weird because we had no idea that sales would go like this. We set up the label and we talked with distributors, and we talked to people in the independent record business for years. The consensus seemed to be around making 4,000 records, that should last us for a long while. Not thinking anything about it, gone in 24 hours. Part of that was that there was only 1,000 in the color variant. Those were the ones that were gone in 24 hours;  the other ones, in black, went to distributors and stores and they were gone in a few weeks. Way before the street date. A month before the street date we were all sold out so with this one we did a couple of different pressings and as a collector you know that people like the different issues. We are not in it for the different color variants to make them collectable, we do understand it but we still want to make black records because in my mind I wonder how collectable is something when there are so many color variants? This is a learning experience for us when it comes to the different pressings but it’s a good problem to have. I think everyone was shocked how fast they all sold. It’s just one of those things. It was our first release and even though we had been in the music biz a long time, it was a learning time for us. So, for the second pressing of the Circle Jerks, I think we did 8,000. We want people to be able to get this but I think if we do a third press it will be one solid color.

GM: What can you tell me about the 7Seconds release? 

JN: When we started this, one of the first people we talked with was Shawn Stern from BYO records and Punk Rock Bowling. We were fans of BYO. We felt that Shawn has that label on autopilot. They were doing a great job but items were not available on release that used to be and we worked out this deal with him. It took a while because this is someone’s lifelong labor of love, it’s their work and it’s hard to part with it, but I feel we got to a good place. I’m a huge 7Seconds fan and so is Matt (Pincus). We are so excited to get this Crew record out. We started working with Kevin on this last October. The vinyl has been remastered from the original analog tapes and it sounds great. It’s a gatefold album with a 20-page booklet inside that gives an oral history of the band's first 5 years with all kinds of pictures and flyers. If you order it through us there is a bonus 7-inch that came from an album they were working on before The Crew, but the quality was not so great, so the project was aborted. We took about six songs from that and made the 7-inch. These songs have been in the marketplace before but not packaged like this. It’s exciting to see how excited Kevin Seconds is. This is a big record. We plan on releasing all of the 7Seconds albums that were on BYO, one every year. It will be a trilogy that will give this history of the band.

GM: What is next for Trust Records? 

JN: Sure, after this is Circle Jerks Wild in the Street. That should be going live sometime in the summer. That’s exciting. We want to make sure that all of these records are collectable in the manner that we can make them affordable, we want to make them $30 or less and make it so that if you have the original of Wild in the Streets, you still want to buy this version because it will have some bonus tracks and would also have a booklet, that would have all the great photos. Besides the records, you’re going to start seeing some fanzine archiving where we are planning on making these available to the fans for free. Our goal is that after two years you will have 100 classic records from that era and a couple of them may be surprises. They can’t all be 7Seconds and Circle Jerks records so there may be a few things that are little more underground. Our goal is to be come the one-stop-sop for American punk rock and hardcore from the '70s and '80s. We want to curate this to the consumer in a way that respects the art and not make it cheesy.