Record Label Spotlight: Black Claw Records

Black Claw Records is a hardcore label out of Ventura, California run by the husband and wife team of Shawn and Tina Connell.

They started up in 2020 with the inaugural release of the Pillsbury Hardcore's Ghosts of Straight Edge Past discography LP. My label, Brainscan Records, teamed up with the Connells to release The Compassionate Revolution In Forty-Six Songs, by C.R., aka Compassion Revolution, a band I have a long history with.

Black Claw Records have consistently put out high-quality releases and they are known for always the staggering amount of extra materials included with each record. This leads me to ask the question “How do they do it?”

Read on and find out in my interview with label co-founder Tina Connell.

How did the idea for the label start?

Tina Connell: Some history first. Shawn and I were married in 2018. We came from previous marriages which were void of interest in music, art, and creativity. This void was present in both of us and it was not a comfortable situation. 

This was especially hard because in our early lives in the '80s and '90s we were both very involved in music, either as avid fans of punk and alternative music but also with Shawn, he was involved in bands such as Pillsbury Hardcore, Pissed Happy Children, and Charred Remains, aka Man Is The Bastard, to name few.  

When we met and started to get to know each other it was not long before we were having conversations about wanting to get back to attending shows, buying vinyl, and possibly diving back into music directly by helping to start or joining local bands. I was also very interested in helping Shawn repress vinyl which had been long out of print, some of which demanded a lot of money to acquire. This was mostly due to the scarcity of copies made.  

The Pillsbury Hardcore EP, In a Straight Edge Limbo, from 1985, for example, was commanding something like $200-300 for a copy in good condition, which we both felt was obnoxious and effectively presented a barricade to most people seeking this music. 

Shawn and Tina Connell

So, what came next?

After we married, Shawn got right to work writing music and meanwhile I kept discussing the possibility of getting some of his old music repressed. While Shawn continued to write, he and I also searched for "how to" do it.  Shawn's close friend Fred Hammer of Its Alive Fanzine who has been putting out records for years explained to us his "recipe" for how to make vinyl records.  

After a couple of Q&A sessions, we finally understood what needed to be done. Naturally, the first project we wanted to tackle was the first Pillsbury Harcore EP, but after giving it some thought we finally decided that the entire 1985 recording session would be best to capture all at once in one project to ensure that it was also accessible. We folded in the three tracks from the Pillsbury Hardcore EP included in the Budget Ranch Boxset released by Bill Sassenburg of Toxic Shock Records, and three songs from the 1986 compilation, Empty Skulls, on Fart Blossom Enterprises to ensure it was complete. 

I established Black Claw Records in 2019, and quickly took steps to find personal money to secure this first project. Meanwhile, Shawn set out to remaster the music and locate artifacts from that history to ensure that persons buying a copy would get far more than just music but would also get an opportunity to get to know the band and understand some of the shows they did.  

After some initial setbacks and frustrations, the Pillsbury Hardcore's Ghosts of Straight Edge Past was completed in 2020 (BCR-001). To our surprise, this offering sold out 500 copies in 36 hours of sale exclusively from our Instagram page advertisement. We were in pleasant shock. 

To be clear, the reason we did it was to ensure that music legacies continue properly and that music fans or curious persons can get a copy at a very reasonable price (we would agree that streaming music or digital music CDs was something we would not support), ownership of a tangible product was our goal.  

Tell us about your experience putting the Pillsbury Hardcore Ghosts of Straight Edge Past record together. What lessons did you learn with that first release?

Ghosts of Straight Edge Past was sold for $15.90 and included two 12" inserts, three stickers, one poster and three reproduction flyers. I'm exceedly proud of this first effort and overall, including Shawn, his former bandmates and fans all agree, it was a job well done. We were off to a great start!

Some lessons learned include;

  • project management (get everything timed as well as possible to mitigate delays)
  • finding great vendors where quality is first
  • finding local vendors so we can pick up projects (no shipping, no damage) and have personal relationships with the people that support us
  • picking fun vinyl colors (yes, black vinyl can be a hard sell)
  • making custom packaging for residual test presses
  • selling them which provides crucial revenue to complete the final pressing. 

The quality you put into your releases is top notch. Why do you go the extra mile and what motivates such high quality?

In short, for the buyer. As someone who has bought vinyl since the '80s, we all know what it is like to be impressed and depressed about a product. Often we don't know the quality that goes into a record until we get it home. Rip off the shrink wrap and peeking inside, one wobbly black vinyl disk and maybe a 8.5" x 11" one sided lyric sheet....kind of a letdown, yeah?

Since BCR is designed as "not-for-profit," 100% of revenue is returned to the next project in the pipeline, and we use it as effectively as we can. Offers to use overseas pressing plants with full package deals have come and not knocking that method, I believe quality is best managed by selecting the vendors who are the best at what they uniquely do.  

For example, BCR has specific vendors who do only one thing; press vinyl, stickers, jackets, inserts...patches, etc. As you may have guessed this is very labor intensive as the management and payment of all the orders, getting the pieces, storing them, then assembly and packing in a polybag can be challenging.  This is not the easy route and we know it isn't for everyone.  

Again, thanks to Fred for pointing BCR in the right direction. It's more work this way, but I believe quality and creation of highly unique products are more likely using this strategy. The hope is that every customer will want to keep the records they get from us, ...forever. I think that is best achieved when the customer is positively overwhelmed with what they receive. 

Talk about your goals for the label.

For the most part BRC wants to keep making music available whether it be long out of print, new music or music which isn't getting supported or acknowledged. Providing shirts and other merch is also something we want to keep doing too, which also can be really time consuming since we make pretty much everything by hand.

Yes, we silkscreen shirts on the kitchen table. An ultimate goal would be to be able to finance studio time for bands, put on shows and even support touring. BCR has a long way to go, however I think in time these things will start to happen.

Since Ghosts of Straight Edge Past was complete, BCR was proud to complete Man Is the Bastard Nazi Drunks Fuck Off and Man Is the Bastard Noise Native American Live (BCR-002), the Bastard Collective / Mike Meanstreetz split LP (BCR-003), Downer s/t LP from 2001 (BCR-004), Charred Remains, aka Man Is the Bastard split EP with Pink Turds In Space (BCR-005), the Compassion Revolution discography (BCR-006) and soon the Pissed Happy Children complete discography as a gatefold double LP including a live set at Gilman Street Berkeley as BCR-006.   

BCR is also very active in supporting Its Alive Fanzine with distribution and supporting up and coming bands like A Sleeping Hydra. This year, A Sleeping Hydra completed their first physical release with BCR, as BCR-010, with full production handled by the band.  

What’s your general outlook on the vinyl industry, especially for punk and hardcore?

It's been amazing to see how much is going on. Through the pandemic, sorry to bring it up, we saw vinyl interest soar, good...bad? It's evident that much is going on. Vinyl start ups, shut downs, large pressing plants gobbling up.... metal rockstars buying pressing plants, never saw that coming. What's the sum, overall good.  

It's believed that more options for DIY, like BCR will exist, faster turn-around-time, and ability to secure smaller press orders, like 100 copies. We all saw how when the pandemic was kicking in and vinyl interests were out of control moderate sized pressing plants like the one we have used, RTI (Record Technology Inc.) stopped taking orders less than 2000 and pushed off timelines to north of 12 months.  

Effectively BCR was out of that game, so we kept looking and found others who were willing to press 500 which is our standard press number since it matches the minimum jackets made at our preferred plant, Stoughton - City of Industry, near Los Angeles. 

Punk and hardcore punk bands have everything to look forward to and aim for. The punk and hardcore punk community from day one has relied on analog formats like vinyl and tapes to expand listenership, fanbase and prolong the message and the movement. Nothing is in the way, anyone who has moderate funds can self promote and press or find ways to get vinyl done. There really isn't a lot in the way especially since label partnerships are possible.

For BCR, a very successful partnership was forged on the Compassion Revolution project (BCR-006) with your label, Brainscan Records.

What’s on the horizon for Black Claw Records?

BCR is still vulnerable. As noted, our model is based on redirecting revenue to the pipeline. Assuming we keep finding success through interested vinyl  and music enthusiasts, and keep doing what we have thus far, the future is bright and self-funding will move us forward.

Our lineup for 2024 feels exceptionally optimistic. To name a few projects, we are aiming for new releases by Pissed Happy Children, Compassion Revolution, Apartment 213, End to End, and maybe a couple surprises. Additionally, we are gearing up to find quality distros to help us move inventory needing forever homes. This is something we have not relied upon thus far but now understand its value in our model and mission. 

Finally, what is a dream release for Black Claw?

No question about it, Damage NYC's Sins of Our Fathers would be spectacular, we have had no success finding anyone on their side to speak with. If we can't, someone please do it. We do have another long shot.

We are working at the moment to line up the Mixed Nuts Don't Crack punk and hardcore compilation from 1982. One of the more obscure records from the DC scene which is rare and obnoxiously expensive to acquire a VG/VG+ copy - we can do better for it and those bands' music continues to live out of sight and out of mind (for now).

Thanks to Andrew and Carlos of No Echo for giving Black Claw Records a chance to tell our story.

Thanks to Fred Hammer of Its Alive Fanzine for your guidance and partnership "Nardcore Forever."

Thanks to all the bands willing to take a chance on us with your projects, and lastly but most certainly the most, thank you to everyone who has purchased BCR vinyl, shirts and everything else we have offered, without you this incredible dream of ours would end.

Please connect with us on our Instagram profile; we can also be reached at [email protected] and the Black Claw Records online store to review our current offerings. 


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