Jake Round of Pure Noise Records
By Andy Kaufmann
Jake Round was a high school teacher before befriending someone who knew the label manager at Fat Wreck Chords. Since the legendary punk indie was his “hero” label, he flipped when they offered him an internship. He subsequently expanded his resume by working at Rise Records and helping out on multiple Warped Tours, in addition to accepting a job with AMP Magazine, all of which he did while playing in his own bands.
When Round decided to break out on his own, the natural choice was to become a booking agent for himself and his friends. That incarnation of Pure Noise never took off, but when his friends in No Bragging Rights started complaining about their label, a new possibility emerged. “I was sort of helping them, because I’d made some contacts working at the magazine,” explains Round. “I said, well, what if I put the record out?” Borrowing money from his mother to fund their recording, the label’s inaugural release came out in March 2009. Their second album, a split 7-in. featuring Transit and Man Overboard, reached listeners that December.
The recordings sold well and the roster expanded to include noisy hit makers like Handguns, Reggie & the Full Effect and My Iron Lung. The label’s robust profits necessitated the recent hiring of their first employee. To save money, Round shares an office with the graphic design buddies he has on retainer for album artwork, even though their business remains technically separate from the label.
While open to signing new bands, Round isn’t necessarily looking. Having grown up in the scene he’s now part of professionally, he’s naturally aware of any acts worth investigating. “Looking to sign bands is sort of like looking to find a girlfriend,” he theorizes. “It’s not really the way to do it.” What he’s looking for, more than anything, is good songs and a willingness to work hard. Once those things are in place, he’s willing to overlook a lot of shortcomings. “In the early development stages, you have to be willing to tour five or six months a year,” instructs the label’s President. “And then once it starts to crank, you’ve got to be willing to do it nine or 10 months a year. Not everybody’s willing to be on the road that much. It’s a conversation I have with every young band I sign.” Artists who wish to submit material should do so via their website.
Round signs artists to what he calls, “Standard non-rip-off deals.” For the time being, he doesn’t take any publishing and typically utilizes two-album contracts. “Two records is a reasonable commitment for everyone involved. If at the end of that point any party’s not happy, we don’t have to do business together.” Round is proud of the fact that, until now, not a single artist has left. “I don’t expect that to last forever,” he reasons.
Pure Noise has thrived, he believes, because the label is able to provide boutique service, accommodating his particular specialty of mid-sized punk artists. “If you’re a band that fits that niche, I can serve your needs really well,” he proffers. “We’re a small company and we’re flexible, so if a band is really particular about one thing or another I’m happy to accommodate that, within reason.” At the same time, with the group Story So Far he’s proven his ability to handle a catalog that has sold nearly 100,000 records.
When asked whether he would ever sell the label, Round responds it is unlikely. The label is, after all, a family affair. “The Story So Far kids I met playing in bands. I’ve known them for six or seven years, before the label even started. They live 15 minutes from me. The guys who do art for me play in one of my bands. And my mother’s my accountant. It would take a pretty ideal situation for me to consider giving up control.” He’s also seen what happens when indies are sold to majors, citing Alkaline Trio as an example of a group that got shortchanged.
In the meantime, the label is now between two and three times larger than it was just a year ago. “If I could have the kind of year I had last year every year, even if it didn’t get any bigger, that would be a damn nice life. I’m very grateful to all the people who’ve supported the label over the last five years,” he humbly concedes. “That’s sort of what doing this stuff is about.”