N7E Records: Aiming for scene smashing success

by Bennett Hanson

Named for the highway sign that reads, “Bellingham: Next 7 Exits,” N7E Records is a start-up label by Robby Cleary (of the band Agonizer) and Jinx Hadley (of Dead Hookers). Being musicians themselves, their goal is to support and help document local punk bands. I sat down with Cleary to chat about the label and its first release, a compilation titled This is Bellingham, not Seattle Volume: 1. 

Cleary, a grizzled punk veteran donning a denim vest with a massive N7E Records logo on the back, is excited about the outcome. “The way we have the tracks laid out tells a story,” Cleary said. The 15-track compilation basically has something for everybody, from rock n’ roll to psychobilly to hardcore, he added.

“But it’s pretty much all punk rock to me – as long as it has that attitude and that drive that makes me want to get out there on the dance floor – and every single band on this compilation does that to me.”

After a limited release on Record Store Day (April 18), Cleary and Hadley are planning a release party at The Shakedown on May 22.

As for the record label’s history, it seems to be a story of events falling slowly into place. Cleary said he gets guidance from people with record labels in and out of town. “To this day I don’t know what I’m doing, I just play it by ear,” he laughed.

Cleary and Hadley co-founded N7E Records around 2010 with the idea of recording a few bands and releasing vinyl – but that didn’t pan out as they thought. The idea came about after Cleary helped the owner of Funk Schwey Studios, Mike Cloud, gather insulation foam for his studios. Cloud offered Cleary free studio time, but because his band at the time (Human Infest) didn’t have enough material for an album, the idea to record a compilation arose. “Right away we had four bands jump on,” he said.

Currently, N7E Records’ Facebook page lists 15 bands they have worked with, though not necessarily on the label, Cleary said. If a band wants to be on the label and has the funds to record, Cleary said he is more than willing to help them out.

While Hadley covers the financial part of the label, Cleary focuses on contacting bands and booking shows locally and down the West Coast. “A lot of people ask me how I get bands like Reagan Youth to play in town – I just ask them,” Cleary laughed. “We try to get a lot of big bands to come here so the local bands can play with their heroes.”

N7E Records has sponsored and helped book shows at The Cabin Tavern, The Swillery, The Shakedown, The Alternative Library and Make.Shift Art Space. Bellingham has limited openings for punk bands to play – something N7E Records is seeking to fix. “We want to eliminate the competition between bands,” Hadley said.

The label is working on attaining non-profit status in order to be more active in the community with less out-of-pocket expenses, Hadley said. N7E Records wants to make things easier for the bands, too.

“We know firsthand how difficult it can be to scrounge up the money with your band mates to pay for the recording process. We strive to be a label by the bands, for the bands and with the bands,” she said.

Cleary added, “We don’t want it to be like a normal record label.”

Taking inspiration from Dischord Records in Washington D.C., Cleary seeks to adopt their business model for Bellingham’s benefit. Dischord Records is known for being the label founded by Fugazi members, but it has many other things going for it, such as a community focus, anti-corporate business practices, and a desire to not just earn profits but be able to pay and provide benefits for the people working at the label – something Cleary hopes to do in the future.

Both N7E Records and Dischord Records have a similar overarching drive – to document the punk bands in their community. “N7E Records is a community effort to bring in touring bands – which helps bolster the scene – and to promote and support local hardcore bands,” Cleary said. Such a proactive, and hopefully prolific record label could work wonders for the Bellingham music scene.

“As far as punk rock goes, Bellingham has been getting a really good reputation lately,” he said.

A few months back, N7E Records hosted an event titled N7E All-American Punk Rock Weekend, which drew 300-plus people over the course of three days, Cleary said. He is planning on hosting a similar event during the end of July, though it will be called “N7E Mostly American Punk Rock Weekend,” as a few of the bands are from Canada, Cleary said.

While the label’s first release is just on its way, Cleary and Hadley have more releases up their sleeves. Hadley is hoping the sales from the compilation will help to put out a second compilation.

“The music is already recorded, mixed, and mastered and we know what we’re doing this time – mostly,” Hadley said.

N7E Records has plans to release an EP for Proud Failures, and another for Agonizer, along with a 7-inch vinyl featuring Agonizer, The Vaticxnts and The Basque Rats on one side. The flip side of the vinyl will be a mix of bands from other labels, including a song featuring vocals from the late Dave Brockie of GWAR, recorded by a man named Boner from Oak Harbor, Cleary said.

Labels run and owned by musicians seem to make much more sense for everybody involved than corporate labels, especially if they are non-profit.

“I grew up on punk rock and metal. My mom always thought I’d grow out of it, but here I am at 43 and I’m not going anywhere,” Cleary laughed.

Stupendous, let the release commence.

Published in the May 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine