In-Effect Records (Interview with Former Label Manager, Howie Abrams)

Although the label only existed for a short period of time (1989-1991), In-Effect Records still played an important part in the evolution of heavy music. During its short run, the imprint released seminal hardcore albums such as Sick of it All's Blood, Sweat and No Tears and Killing Time's Brightside, and also helped to introduce the world to not so easily categorizable groups like 24-7 Spyz, Scatterbrain, and Prong.

In 1994, I was 19 and interning at Roadrunner Records for a publicist there named Sophie Diamantis. Being the liner note junkie that I was (and am), I went through the company's inter-office directory to see what names I recognized. That's when I realized that Howie Abrams, one of the guys who used to run In-Effect Records, was working at the label in the A&R department. I remember bugging him one time with questions about his former label, but I probably realized that I was annoying him and never dared approaching him again.

In the years since, Abrams has gone on to work in the worlds of music publishing, management and most recently, released an excellent book called The Book of Metal Lists. Since I never truly got the lowdown on the label all those years ago, I recently reached out to Abrams to get his take on In-Effect Records, and its legacy.

First off, did you work at Combat Records before the creation of In-Effect Records?

I never actually worked for Combat. The umbrella company was Important Record Distributors, which was the largest independent record distributor in the country. Within IRD, there was Combat Records, and also Relativity Records. Combat was like the super-indie for metal, and Relativity's big artist at the time was Joe Satriani. While I was a roadie for Nuclear Assault, John Connelly and Danny Lilker tried to get Combat to hire me to do marketing, but when the head honchos at the label realized I was still in high school, that was a wrap. However, I was told to give them a call when I was done with school, which I did. They gave me a gig as a salesman for the distributor. It wasn't really what I wanted, but I took the job to get myself in the door, and learn whatever I could.

With the exception of VP Records, I can't think of another record label of note to come out of Queens.

Neither can I. What's funny is VP was a pretty regular stop for me, either at lunch, or after work. They had their store/headquarters only a few blocks from where the Important warehouse was in Hollis. I used to pop in there to buy their compilation cassettes of all the new reggae singles from Jamaica. Important was located in Queens mainly for its close proximity to JFK. The original warehouse was over on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, right near the airport. Getting inventory to the warehouse was cheaper that way. Eventually, they took over a bigger warehouse on Henderson Ave in Hollis, which is where I worked. I lived maybe 10 minutes away in Queens Village, so it was about as convenient as one could hope for.

How did In-Effect come to be?

I was doing my bid as a salesman, which was okay, but I certainly didn't love it. I learned a ton though, and I'm glad I had that experience. There's nothing like a mom & pop store telling you to "go fuck yourself," when you're trying to sell them something they have no interest in. That happened fairly often. There were bands, whose albums people genuinely wanted, and there were the ones the labels asked you to push regardless. I built up a strong relationship with the head of purchasing for Important, Alan Becker. His job was to buy titles from the labels for IRD to distribute. I used to bitch to him all the time; asking why we had to sell so much crap, when there was other stuff the indie stores seemed to want more. We distributed a number of metal labels, including Combat, and we were also beginning to work more closely with labels like Revelation.

I remember when CD's were first becoming a factor as a format, Revelation wanted to release Youth of Today's first album, as well as the first Bold album on CD, but couldn't figure how to make the math work so that it wouldn't be too costly. I suggested to Alan that they release the albums together on one CD because the fan base for both bands was identical. If it was either that, or no CD release, why not try it? They wound up doing well with it and (new) hardcore was coming out on CD. BAM! Anyway—as a result of things like that, Alan started to trust me a bit more with regard to, especially, hardcore. One of my main beefs over there was how hardcore bands like Agnostic Front, who had a big audience, were being ignored by the people over at Combat. It made no sense to me. A lot of the metal bands on the label, who didn't sell half of what AF sold, were having money put into them for marketing, and were also being given ample tour support. I thought they (AF) deserved better, and I continually voiced that to Alan. Eventually, he sat me down, and we began to talk about an idea for a new imprint to focus mainly on hardcore. That was what turned into In-Effect Records.

Fun fact: for a while, the label was going to be called CRUSH, as in, we're going to crush you, but we decided against it.

Did you have complete A&R freedom during the imprint's run? Who else worked there at the time?

Honestly, I didn't have any idea what A&R was at that time. I just focused on the tasks, which was to find bands we liked, and try to get them to put out records with us... which I suppose was A&R. Shortly after we decided to launch the label, we asked then Agnostic Front guitarist Steve Martin to come on-board. He was a big, pain-in-the-ass complainer just as I was, and together, we were on a mission, backed by Alan Becker. Early on, we all liked the same bands, and agreed on pretty much everything. We knew the AF Live at CBGB album would be the centerpiece of the label launch, and started to look for other albums to release as part of the first (release) day of In-Effect. Alongside Live at CBGB, we had Prong's Force Fed, and we licensed the Bad Brains' ROIR cassette to release on CD for the first time ever. We were pretty psyched about that first day. After that, again, it was pretty much unanimous as far as Sick of it All, Nuclear Assault, Raw Deal/Killing Time, Madball, 24-7 Spyz, Ludichrist/Scatterbrain... It wasn't until I signed Limbomaniacs that I felt as if we weren't on the same page.

Were there any bands that you wanted to sign that didn't end up working out for some reason or another?

The two that stand out the most are Primus and Leeway. A major label bidding war kicked-in on Primus pretty quickly, and there was no way we were going to be able to get them. Looking back, we probably should have gone a little harder at Primus, but I think they would have wound up on a major anyway. Leeway was already signed to Profile Records, but their Born to Expire album, which I had already heard and was floored by, was inexplicably sitting on a shelf. The band was pissed-off, and we began talks with them to buy the album from Profile. The biggest problem was that on top of what we would have had to give Profile for the album, the band wanted some money too, which we didn't have. It fell apart, but damn—it would have been great to put that one out. I also wanted to sign Urban Blight, but no one had my back on that one.

If you had to pick one album that you released on In-Effect that you felt most proud of being a part of, what would it be?

If I have to pick only one, I'd say Sick of it All's Blood, Sweat and No Tears. Aside from being proud of the album, and how it was received, I was proud to be associated with them as people. No band worked harder, or wanted it more. To this day, they've never compromised their integrity for even one second. SOIA was the first band I brought to In-Effect that had never released an album before working with us, and I always felt like a bit of a little league dad when it came to those guys. Still do, and still love the band.

What In Effect albums/bands do you think deserved more attention and respect when they were released?

I believe things worked out pretty much the way they were supposed to for all of the bands on the label. Everyone did great stuff, and everyone made mistakes too, myself included. We all learned as we went. It's fun to play the "what if" game sometimes, but it serves no purpose, except to get you frustrated. Everyone involved was very fortunate as far as I'm concerned. It was a GREAT time, and we all gained a ton of professional, as well as life experience by being involved with each other.

Are there any plans to reissue all of those In-Effect releases?

I wish, but sadly, I don't own or control any of it. That's one of the "what if's" I wish I was smart enough to have considered years ago, but I had no idea. By the time the label was dissolved, I was 23-years-old. I didn't know a whole lot about business on a large scale. I was a hardcore kid, who was able to do some cool shit, and help out some great bands. That's what it meant to me, and was all I really cared about. Everyone should be so lucky.

Follow Howie Abrams on Twitter