Addicted To Noise's Laura Lee and staff writer Chris Nelson report:
When Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong and Epitaph Records president (and ex-Bad Religion guitarist) Brett Gurewitz decided to launch Hellcat -- their new label focusing on ska and traditional punk -- they wanted a seasoned aficionado in charge.
They didn't think twice about tapping Cris "the Wix" Qualiana to oversee
the imprint. The New York ska scene veteran came to Epitaph from the Moon
record label, and has worked in the past with such ska greats as the Slackers and Let's Go Bowling. Qualiana hooked up with Armstrong during Rancid's 1996 stint at Lollapalooza.
"Tim started telling me about how all the people at Epitaph really loved music or were even musicians themselves and how it was very supportive and real," Qualiana said. "He asked if I'd like to be involved with his new label and I couldn't refuse. I know of so many bands that just don't get the treatment they deserve."
Moon Records, located on the East Coast, has been the primary source for many of the ska releases in the U.S. Qualiana said she hopes that Hellcat will be able to expand the genre's popularity to the West as well. Hellcat's aim is to "get great music out there to the people."
And while the people at Hellcat are anxious to stay away from labels and not limit themselves, Qualiana said that most of the music associated with Hellcat at this time is by bands that have in some way inspired the label's creators. "So far," Qualiana said, "there's '77 punk, a little Oi, and ska, the rootsy stuff."
As the new head of Hellcat sees it, the surge in ska's popularity in the
United States has been brewing for a while. "For myself, when I first heard ska, it was something that hadn't been around in such a long time. I mean I've been to so many punk shows it's crazy, and there's a lot of anger and then there was grunge and depression. Ska brought a lot of the fun back into music, I know it sounds cheesy," she said, laughing. "Ska has just been building underground and by word of mouth and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Hellcat hits the streets running on July 29 when it releases a 20-song
label sampler called Give 'Em The Boot. The album, which retails
at an enticingly affordable $4.99, takes its title from a line in Rancid's "Roots Radicals," a song covered in Spanish on the sampler by the East L.A. hardcore outfit Union 13.
While Give 'Em the Boot aims to draw attention to Hellcat's new
signings, a few proven heavy hitters to attract
listeners' notice are also on the album. Rancid themselves put in an appearance with an
unreleased tune called "The Brothels." The Skatalites, virtual inventors
of the ska genre 30 years ago, also turn up, with the live "Latin Goes Ska."
Among the new bands gracing the compilation are Virginia's up and coming
favorite ska sons, the Pietasters, who are currently in the studio with
Gurewitz, recording their full-length Hellcat debut.
Other Hellcat acts on Give 'Em the Boot include the strictly
1977-esqe U.S. Bombs; a Kansas City, Mo.-based trio of brothers known as
the Gadjits; hardcore traditionalists F-Minus; and Dropkick Murphy's, a
barroom bunch recording their first Hellcat disc with Rancid's Lars
Qualiana said that while media attention is being directed toward the label because of Armstrong and Gurewitz's involvement, the real focus should be the music. "We don't want to say, 'go out and buy this' and we're really trying to avoid hype and keep it low key. But that type of thing is minimal compared to the music. Really the music speaks for itself. It's just so good it can sell itself."