Label Interview: Thumbs Up Records

Posted: by The Editor

Over the past few years, Thumbs Up Records has been pushing some of the most hyped bands in the DIY emo sphere; their most recent undertaking, for example, is an Aren’t We Amphibians vinyl set. They’ve also released music from Ben Quad, MooseCreek Park, and Guitar Fight from Fooly Cooly, among others. Even if you don’t know the name, chances are if you’re a reader of The Alternative you’ve listened to at least a couple Thumbs Up releases. We spoke with co-owner and riff mafioso Brady Laflen about the label’s humble beginning, about emo at large, and about the future of the Riff Mafia.

How did Thumbs Up start?

Thumbs Up Records started during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. I had moved back in with my folks during the pandemic and was spending a lot of time with my friends in the band Nosebleeds. Since everybody was stuck inside for the foreseeable future; the guys in Nosebleeds decided to spend their time inside writing a record, which would end up becoming the first release on Thumbs Up, Field Experience

Near the end of their demo-ing process they shared a majority of the songs with me and I suggested that we should do a whole album roll out/physical release for the LP. They were jazzed on the idea and so I got to work doing research on where to press records and get tapes made. The rest is history. 

You specialize in emo—what is it about that genre that draws you in?

Yes! Emo! I’ve been listening to this type of music since high school. Emo made me feel less alone dealing with growing up and all the other shit life throws at us. Labels like Counter Intuitive, Count Your Lucky Stars, and Triple Crown made up my whole high school discography. Through those bands I made friends and I think that’s what’s beautiful and draws me in about emo music: community. 

When bands pitch to you, what is it that you convinces you that, yes, this is Thumbs Up material?

There’s a few things that really tickle my itch to sign a band. First and foremost (and this is kind of a no-brainer) I have to enjoy the music. At the end of the day this is a label I’ve curated and it’s full of bands I really enjoy listening to. Second, I love to pride Thumbs Up Records as “Home of the Riff Mafia” and, although that started as a joke, it’s become something I really do look for in the music. In all honesty, a good or bad riff can make or break your song, and I look to make sure the best riffs are on Thumbs Up Records. Lastly, I look at lyrics. Having lyrics in a song that I can relate to or pull at my heart strings is usually a good indicator that a lot of other people will relate to a song as strongly as I do. 

What are some of the most seminal releases in Thumbs Up’s history so far?

For me, it would have to be:

  • I’m Scared That’s All There Is by Ben Quad 
  • About That Beer I Owed Ya by Excuse Me, Who are You? 
  • Make Up Your Place by Tiny Voices
  • Emergency, Exit by Aren’t We Amphibians.

The thing each of these releases all have in common is how much each band has grown with the release of these records. It’s very fulfilling and rewarding to work with bands and help them put out their music that I so strongly believe in. To see these records thrive and succeed physically at shows and on the road is really special and I’m real grateful to be apart of these bands journeys. 

What do you have lined up for ’24 so far? (That you can share of course!)

I have a very busy 2024! I think it’s going to be the labels best year yet! I have a handful of full length records and some EPs I’m sitting on currently that I can’t wait to share with everyone. I also have a few festival pop-ups and new band signings in the works as well. Plenty of cool shows, tours, and a possibly Thumbs Up Fest 2 are in the works as well. 

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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