Sudden Death

Date of Birth: 1978
Releases to Date: 65
Biggest Seller: D.O.A. Something Better Change
Upcoming Releases: D.O.A. Bloodied But Unbowed

Joey "Shithead” Keithley of seminal punk band D.O.A. never expected to one day be running his own record label. But when D.O.A. were in their early days and had no record deal in sight, they decided to put out their first single on their own. The Disco Sucks seven-inch featured a body lying on a stretcher, covered in a white sheet. In keeping with the morbid themes, they called their label Sudden Death.

As D.O.A.’s career became more established, the label kept going on a part-time basis until 1998. Today, it is busy reissuing some of the best of Canada’s earliest punk bands, like the Pointed Sticks and the Young Canadians. The label also works with local and international acts like the Damned, Vice Squad, and Sham 69, and offers up provocative punk rock offshoots, like its own brand of acoustic rock that Keithley likes to call "anarcoustic.”

Ever at the vanguard of do-it-yourself culture, Keithley’s own experiences in the music industry have played a major role in how Sudden Death is run. Having been on about ten labels throughout his career, Keithley chalked it all up to being one big "crappy roller coaster ride.” When he got serious about taking Sudden Death to a higher level, Keithley made Sudden Death a way to pass on the knowledge gained through his experiences to the rest of the music community.

Looking for Buried Treasure
"We get a lot of demos, which I really appreciate. People put their heart and soul into their music. Unfortunately, the majority of them are not particularly original or innovative. In any genre of music there’s probably ten percent good bands, 30 percent fuckin’ horrible bands, and another 60 percent mediocre bands. That’s just the way it is. Every band can’t have good songwriters or a good performance, and usually you have to combine the two. I just keep my ears open. For the last year or two we have put out older releases, so now I’m actually looking for newer bands. I’m looking for innovative stuff and something that’s fresh, and we accept demos. A lot of labels won’t. It’s a good thing, why not? You get a CD — you might as well listen to it. It may be the best thing in the world.”

Fight For Everything You Get
"We just have a small staff so it’s not like we can be putting out ten brand new acts a year. We can take two or three or four and really concentrate on that and try and do a good job. With a new band you’ve got to help them get into places, figure out what to do, how not to get ripped off. Just being in the music biz for 30 years and being a travelling musician I’ve got a wealth of experience and I’ve been ripped off many, many times and I’ve been dicked around by labels and stuff like that. So I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on so hopefully I can lend that expertise to the bands so they don’t make all the same mistakes that I did.”

Don’t Die Trying
"One of the things that people don’t realise when they start a label that you have a really hard time getting paid unless you have another title coming out. All of a sudden the distributor will go ‘Oh, I think we’re a little short this month,’ that kind of thing. And this is not to say that all distributors are dishonest. If you start a label you think ‘Ok, I’ve got a record, I’ve got a label, I’m gonna advertise in Maximum Rock’n’Roll,’ or whatever. But you have to follow-up to collect. The other thing is, if people are gonna get into this kind of thing, you really have to talk to a lot of people and see who is above board and who pays. If you have a chance, find out if they’re in trouble or if they’re going down a slippery slope. You’ve got to do some research or you’ll get burned.”

Paint It Black
"When you run a record label you want to keep it in the black. Then you still have the money to put out more records and more choices and more things for people to think about. So if you can come up with a band and help a band promote the idea of changing the world or trying to help change the world into a better place, that’s a goal of mine. That’s usually at the top of my list.”