Record Label Profile: Going Back to the ‘90s with Figure Four Founder Rick MacDonald

Hatchetface (Photo: Freak the Geek)

Figure Four was a hardcore record label that existed from 1994-1998. During that short window of time, the Massachusetts-based label issued titles by such bands as Dive, Entropy, Opposition, and Hatchetface.

In my and No Echo's endless quest to help celebrate the scenes, bands, and labels that helped pave the way for today's hardcore community, I spoke with Figure Four founder Rick MacDonald to get some insight on his time running the project.

How did you come to discover hardcore, and what were some of the bands that you first fell in love with?

I’ve been riding BMX bikes since ‘87, and back then there were always skaters around with boomboxes at the local parking lot or loading dock we hung around at, so I remember hearing Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, all the NYHC stuff that was gaining popularity around here. 

I was only 13-14 so it took a while before I attended any real shows.

Describe the local scene in the Fitchburg and Leominster area when you were growing up. Did you have to go to Boston a lot for shows, or was there a closer set of venues to you?

I moved to Central Massachusetts to attend Fitchburg State College, and luckily there was already a really amazing diy scene going on just between the “twin cities” of Fitchburg/Leominster... they’d have hundreds of kids at local shows with no real headliners, just an amazing cluster of high school age talent somehow!

Most shows were at Club 490, a great downtown nightclub owned by a local pharmacist...the place is still there but vacant, and the famous neon sign is still hanging in the window 25 years later!

At the time, there were several mini-scenes in and around Massachusetts. We’d all go to Boston for the bigger shows, but there was a Twin City scene, a Worcester scene, a Merrimack Valley scene, even a Cape Cod scene, each with their own distinct sound/attitude.

Did you play in any bands growing up? 

No, just the high school marching band on trombone. I messed around with bass guitar but never too seriously.

OK, so how did you go from a fan to starting Figure Four? Did you have the idea to get the label going before you even decided to do the Ipecac/Opposition split, or did they approach you?

My buddy Warrren always wanted to make a record, and I convinced him to combine resources and have a go at it... at first, that record was going to be a really random compilation with whoever would talk to us.

It boiled down to Virginia’s Ipecac (who we got in touch with strictly through their demo tape) and locals Opposition were a good match so that’s how it came together. 

I was in the graphics program at the college so I gave myself a crash course in Pagemaker and we used the presses there for some record sleeves. A guy in my Robotics class Xeroxed 1000 inserts for us but a song title changed, so we had to dump them. He was pissed!

Plus, I bounced check #001 to the recording studio so it was a sign of good things to come [laughs].

You released the second self-titled 7 inch by Dive, a band I feel was underrated at the time. 

I wouldn’t say underrated, they got lots of local attention and managed to play all over New England and a little beyond. But that band was amazing and they were rightfully admired strictly because of their talent and the cool songwriting, as there are so many classic “Dive moments” in their songs.

I couldn’t believe they were teenagers that had such serious chops! They are all still great musicians. And that EP was actually recorded about 6 months after they broke up. The studio guy held the tapes until I could pay in full, and since I could only withdraw $100 from my ATM card each day. It took a little while!

Dive (Photo: Geoff White)

Most of the artwork was assembled by their vocalist who is a big Star Blazers fan. The A side label was an image of the space battleship Yamato’s reflex cannon, and just this year I realized the blue ink we used for the packaging was called Reflex Blue!

A layout error by yours truly caused the covers to be cut into 2 squares instead of a foldover sleeve. I still work in the printing business and I haven’t made that mistake since! It’s so funny to still have a laugh about this stuff decades later.

Figure Four also worked with Entropy on a few different releases.

Oh my gosh those guys were nuts. They made some extremely raw demos that sounded like 100 guitars in a feedback-laden trash can, and I loved it. They were always willing to play anywhere they could and when they went to record their World of Disgust tape at Salad Days, Brian [McTernan] thought they were kidding when they wanted to do 21 songs!

The tape got bootlegged by a Polish distro and they actually did a great job. Jamey Jasta wanted to repress it as a 12 inch. And as they went on for a few years, each recording was drastically different, you never knew what to expect from those guys, and I loved that about them.

Entropy (Photo: Aimee Godin)

We were so psyched to work with Max [Ward] 625 on their 7 inch. It's so crazy-sounding and it might be my favorite release since I had no idea what it was going to sound like. I remember playing the test pressing at my Nonnie’s house for the first time, the look on her face was unforgettable.

Perhaps the label’s most known release would be the Hatchetface LP. I remember Andrew from Black Army Jacket being the first person to play me that record and falling in love with it. How did you guys initially connect, and what do you remember about the process of putting that project together?

They started under the name Bound and had a really great 7 inch out. I was happy to help release a 7 inch of some lost Bound songs in 2018 after an insane 24-year search, see Warthog Speak Records on Bandcamp!

A lineup change and some song style shifts brought about the new name. The recording was done at Salad Days with Brian McTernan when it was still in the basement of a house. I think Tre McCarthy (Deathwish Inc) and a bunch of other scenesters lived upstairs.

There is an “awwwghgh” sound in the middle of the intro’s Mad Max soundbite and nobody knows what it is or how it got there.

I love weird stuff like that!

I remember their vocalist Paul peeing in a Snapple bottle and leaving it on the doorstep. At the time, I was working at a t-shirt shop run by a really cool ex-punk who let us have shows on the loading dock! And we adapted his automatic t-shirt press to print the LP covers. That was a real challenge but they came out well, for the most part.

Credit is also due to Rama [Mayo] of Big Wheel Recreation, who booked Hatchetface for a college show with Powerman 5000. It was poorly attended but there were dressing rooms with snacks, and the band got paid several hundred bucks, which was really unheard of, so the money went towards the record. Thanks, Rama!

We reissued the album in 1998 on blue vinyl, with covers I screen printed in my garage with Ryan of AGOC. We blew my nephew’s wooden train whistle and the cows across the street came running at us full speed, I had never seen a cow sprint before. They must have had the same whistle for chow-time!

Hatchetface performing in Rick's living room in the '90s. (Photo: Melissa Neufell)

Was Hatchetface popular in your area? I never got to see them live.

They were really active for most of '95-'96 but never got a chance to travel much... just maybe New York, Connecticut, but all over Massachusetts, for sure. The response to the record was great from all over, they just had that fast paced classic style and everybody ate it up. 

When Matt Average offered out of the blue for an interview in Maximum Rocknroll, that was a huge deal to all of us! And we get still get positive feedback on that record 25 years later, how crazy is that?

The Fit for Abuse/Paindriver/A.G.O.C./Gonkulator was one of your final releases, and that FFA stuff smokes! 

I was always planning one compilation or another and this one never actually came together. There was a brief pipe dream in 1996 of opening up a record store. We actually found a storefront with an attached apartment for $300/month but for some crazy reason didn’t pull the trigger! 

Anyway, the plan was to press a ton of those little 1-sided comps and trade them with other labels to help stock the store, but by the time it came together a few of the bands had broken up and didn’t want to release any old material and it was all sort of fizzling out. 

Fit for Abuse (Photo: Ian Joseph During Logan)

I did have Gonkulator’s DAT tape in the glove box of my car for 10 years thinking, “oh yeah, I keep forgetting to mail that back!" [Laughs] We finally compiled the songs and art for the Bandcamp page recently, and maybe I’ll do a small run of 7 inches someday!

Why did you decide to fold the label, and what are you up to these days?

My wife and I moved away from the Fitchburg area in late ‘96 and at that point I had done records with all my friends’ bands, and although I was still distro-ing records. Thanks to all the great labels I traded with. That may have been my favorite part of all this, supplying the locals with excellent records they would never find otherwise!

After we moved, I ended up printing tons of shirts for bands, namely Dropkick Murphys, which paid for a lot of our wedding. So we are forever indebted to those guys!

But there were a few people that ripped me off and it bummed me out, so when Ben Barnett of Dropdead opened his first store, I donated a lot of my distro stuff to him. That felt good!

Currently, I’m still in touch with many of the people from those days, which Is amazing 25 years later, still tossing around the same old private jokes as if no time has passed. I have 2 daughters who are the same age I was at that time which is a real trip. I can only hope they have friends/experiences like I did.

Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I want to stress these are just my random anecdotes from a glimpse of a very short but special time, and as significant as the “Twin City” scene was to us, it was really only a tiny part of what was happening in New England in the '90s.

There have been tons of bands/labels from this area that have greatly surpassed what we accomplished back then! But it does remain a special part of Massachusetts hardcore history, in my humble opinion.

I’m also happy to have done it all as a pre-internet, extremely DIY group effort, for sure! I hope the same scenario is playing out with young people somewhere out there today.

Check out the Figure Four Bandcamp page for free downloads of all the records and other cool stuff. If you choose to donate a few bucks, the proceeds will go to No Echo!

Some future things that might come to life are digital discographies for A.G.O.C., Unanswered, and Lesion/Guernica...maybe!

Rick MacDonald in front of Club 490, Fitchburg, MA


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Tagged: dive, hatchetface, record label profile