Confessions of the signed
Red Tape’s major-label break got bound up in, well, red tape
“We were ready to go beyond Sacramento, and Roadrunner Records was going to help take us there,” said Jeff Jaworski, lead singer and guitarist for Sacramento band Red Tape.
After years in the underground hardcore punk scene, Red Tape made the jump to the major label Roadrunner Records in November 2002. Having had recent success with Slipknot and Nickelback, Roadrunner seemed like the perfect label to help Red Tape break into the hard-rock mainstream. With promises of advertising, tour support and publicity from the label, the group recorded an album and made plans to tour for at least a year in support of it.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned. On tour last May, just two months after the band’s debut CD Radioactivist came out, Red Tape struck a deer on a dark Colorado highway. The band’s Ford Econoline tour van was totaled, but the band escaped without injury. “Band morale dropped when we hit that deer,” bass player Twig Von Wussow recalled. “And not because we felt sorry for the deer.”
At a time when it should have been touring in support of Radioactivist, the band was stuck at home, shaken and van-less. The accident, along with family obligations, led to drummer Jason “J.D.” Divincenzo’s decision to leave the band.
That same month, labelmates Slipknot released a new record, and Roadrunner diverted its attention and resources to the platinum-selling band. In addition to the firing of Red Tape’s publicist, the band’s marketing budget disappeared, and the tour-support advertising the band was promised never materialized. “The label’s marketing guy straight up told us, ‘We don’t know what to do with you guys. You should be on another label,’” Jaworksi recalled.
Rather than sit idly by, the band used its own money to buy advertising for Radioactivist. “Roadrunner booked exactly one ad for us,” said Jaworski. “All the others we paid for out of our pockets.”
Even then, Red Tape encountered roadblocks. Some publications charged higher ad rates because the band was on a major label; other publications, like indie stalwart Punk Planet, refused to run the band’s ad altogether. In August 2004, the insurance check arrived to replace the van, and drummer Eric Halseth stepped in to replace Divincenzo, but Roadrunner apparently had moved on. “They promised us a year on the road, and we got six months,” said Von Wussow.
Despite these difficulties, Red Tape looks back on 2004 with optimism. “We didn’t lose anything in this deal. We got a van, a trailer, a laptop and a booking agent,” pointed out guitarist Mark Meraji. On tour, Red Tape played most of the major venues in America with some of the best bands in the hardcore and punk genres.
In addition, touring the country has given the band a new outlook on Sacramento—what it is and what it could be. “We have some great bands in Sacramento,” noted Von Wussow, “but we have no place to show them. We need an all-ages venue that supports the local music scene.”
“We’ve seen venues all over the country,” Jaworski added. “It’s sad that Sacramento can’t have a decent spot for local and touring punk bands.”
“[The venues] need to let the kids dance,” Jaworski continued. “We played 1,600-person, sold-out shows on tour, and they allowed stage diving. Pretty much, the more relaxed the security was, the fewer problems we had.”
Looking forward to 2005, Red Tape plans to record a new CD and release it on an independent label. The band members’ experiences have given them a new perspective on the music business: “You need to work twice as hard once you get signed as you did to get signed,” said Von Wussow. “You learn the business aspect, and you learn quick.”
“Take the money and run,” Jaworski said with a grin. “You can’t expect anyone to do anything for you.”