June 11, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

Time for a You’re Old Moment: Jade Tree has been around since 1990. For nearly a quarter of a century, the venerable Wilmington, Del. based label has been churning out some of the most influential records in your and your favorite band’s collections. Jade Tree’s fingerprints are pressed all over the never-drying cement of the larger punk scene. The hyper-exuberant, if-stage-dives-were-currency-we’d-all-be-millionaires hardcore scene, especially around New Jersey and Philadelphia but which is now global, would be little more than a blip on a radar in a stolen cop car if not for Kid Dynamite’s Shorter Faster Louder or Paint It Black’s CVA. The current #emorevival, while owing equal parts of its influence to other labels such as Polyvinyl and Deep Elm, wouldn’t be dominating the online music conversation without The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good or Cap’n Jazz’s Analphabetapolothology blazing the trail. Go to The Fest and ask 10 different people what their favorite Alkaline Trio record is—at least a few of them will say their split with Hot Water Music. It could even be argued that “critic-friendly” punk, bands like Ceremony, Iceage and White Lung, wouldn’t be where they are had Jade Tree not released Fucked Up’s debut LP Hidden World back in 2006. Jade Tree is one of the few indie labels left with carte blanche, born in a world when labels still mattered and had a cache of credibility that spoke to listeners sampling new bands.

Jade Tree’s output has slowed considerably since its heyday in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, like many labels, collateral damage from the digital music/downloading/pirating boom. Co-founder Darren Walters outlined much of it in a very informative, if slightly inside baseball, article for Billboard Biz. The label has released exactly one 7-inch per year since 2010, including the upcoming Just Another Night With The Boys from Dark Blue (out July 15). Given the breadth and popularity of their back catalogue, it’s presumed that much of the other, label-related time spent by Walters and co-founder Tim Owen in recent years was mostly maintenance-based: handling publishing issues, repressing records on vinyl, writing quarterly royalty checks, that sort of thing. One thing’s for sure, though: their cache seems to have lasted in perpetuity. Every time Jade Tree announces a new 7-inch, a certain section of the punk scene swoons and makes sure to check it out because they know whatever it might be, the label has done a lot of different things, and done them all well.

One tactic many indie labels have used to curtail illegal downloads is to sell their digital albums at a much lower price point. The free market has spoken, and to this generation, music just isn’t worth as much as it was for prior, older people. Demand is lower, so the price decreases, you know, high school economics. Run For Cover Records, for example, sells most of its digital albums for $5 on Bandcamp, the music platform of choice for those with a keen eye for design and a mind for ease of use. It’s a rock-bottom price for older music consumers and a reasonable price for younger ones who care *just* enough to throw their favorite bands a few bucks, but not enough to say, spend $12 on a CD or $20 on an LP. Like Jade Tree before it, RFC has a wide array of sounds in its discography, from the bubbly pop-punk of Man Overboard’s Real Talk, to the downtuned grunginess of Citizen’s Youth and Basement’s I Wish I Could Stay Here, to the dour indie rock of Tigers Jaw’s Charmer, to the Fest-friendly melodic punk of Captain We’re Sinking’s The Future Is Cancelled, and a little of everything else in between (the label’s latest signing, Crying, are a chiptune-infused pop-rock band from upstate New York). And, much like Jade Tree, they’ve developed a reputation as a label with a knack for varied, but informed curation. A certain section of kids, regardless of how many band t-shirts they own or tumblr URLs they’re camping on, will always check out a Run For Cover band no matter how much of a calculated risk the label decides to take.

Now, in a moment of the teacher becoming the student, Jade Tree has followed suit, uploading their discography to Bandcamp with each full-length (including anthology collections like Analphabetapolothology and Turning Point’s Discography) at that same $5 price point. Looking at this discography is akin to going back in time, while listening to it in such a way is more like peering into the present and future of what independent music will be. It also puts the sheer volume, nuance and influence of Jade Tree on the modern punk scene into proper perspective. The by-product of this newfound convenience is a lot of lost money and resources for a lot of hard-working people, and that’s too often swept under the rug; but, there’s something to be said for a label that chooses to adapt rather than die, as the title of the aforementioned Billboard article notes. It would appear that Jade Tree has chosen the former, and our scene is all the better for still having them around.