Bill Kopp — Disturbing the Peace – 415 Records & the Rise of New Wave
In the 70s I wasn’t a heavy punk/New Wave listener, but several artists did catch my ear & some were from the San Francisco label 415. A lucky number would later find their work on major labels & that iconic 415 logo would be there.
Particularly enjoyable was a 1979 band Translator who found themselves on Columbia & after a hiatus, the band continues to perform today. Among their best & a favorite of mine was “Everywhere That I’m Not,” — a wonderful slice of ingenuity & melody that wasn’t really punk or New Wave just good clever college alternative rock.
Disturbing the Peace – 415 Records & the Rise of New Wave by Bill Kopp (Drops Feb 14–HoZac Books) documents those years (1978) of launch, struggle, gambles, success & failures. It was a DIY operation that had a solid roster. The 2 key participants were Howie Klein (who later became President of Reprise Records & Executive VP of Warner Bros Records) & Chris Knab.
Their efforts were reminiscent of the determined people who took an old ship, parked it in international waters & started the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, in 1967 that broadcasted contrary to the BBC. The music they wanted to hear was important, but the BBC avoided it. This was often new music, on 45s, EPs, albums & many independents. Likewise, though not illegal, the groundbreaking 415 created & supported musicians in a similar fashion. Some work had its controversy (as in the performances of The Nuns & The Mutants) & it’s all detailed in the Bill Kopp 362 page book.
Not everything I bought was marked 415 but I snapped up lots of eccentric stuff back in those days. It ran the gamut of independent punk (The Wild Stares’ “Part of the Picture”) to New Wave (New Muzik, The Continentals, The Clash – on Epic), punkish-garage-rock like Michigan’s Ragnar Kvaran (“It’s All Different Now”) on Stigmata & Declaration of Independents LP to the 415 releases.
The 415 bands could be maniacal. The book, while not written with the prose you’d expect from Greil Marcus, or Robert Christgau does generously explain the disparate styles of these artists innovation & their motivations. Probably written more colorfully are books that had documented Stiff Records’ contribution to the genre. But, with close consideration 415 was just the equivalent, just as important & necessary. What some artists lacked in artistic merit they delivered with clever lyrical diplomacy perpetuated with a more intense showcase or just an invigorating performance. Some, like Translator, Wire Train & Romeo Void did indeed write some engaging songs.
To better reach a national audience 415 partnered with Columbia Records & accessed their distribution arm. Eventually, for the good of their artists, they had to shake hands with the devil. We wouldn’t know these artists today if it weren’t for such a deal.
I bought them. I went to NY’s Kim’s Underground for either the major label release or the original independent one. A great hunt. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The Units, the great Romeo Void with Debra Iyall (& later had a fine solo LP), the wonderful Wire Train (have them all), the under-appreciated Pearl Harbour & the Explosions (released by Warner Bros) & Until December — talent abounded. And there were some efforts as well by The Readymades, Times 5 & Jo Allen & the Shapes. It was never stuck in one gear.
Eventually, the label was purchased by the late producer Sandy Pearlman. He got the 415 label distributed by MCA & he renamed it Popular Metaphysics. What?
The book’s written in short decisive chapters that go by quick with many cool reproductions of rare tear-sheets, posters, one-sheets, advertisements, photos & actual contracts. For nostalgia purposes, the rudimentary artwork has some color. Not all who peruse these pages will be able to read all the small copy. But the pages are entertaining & absolute fun.
The info’s divided into 53 chapters, some longer than others. Written in a well-researched style but not intense prose by any means. Nothing’s held back. There are approximately 100 interviews with various people, band members’ recollections & this is where the book’s real meat sizzles. If you’re an aficionado of this genre this will delight you.
The ringleaders of 415 had admitted they didn’t know shit at the time about the business. They operated by the seat of their pants. They were Columbus going out into the ocean not knowing where they were going or what to expect. You have to respect that. It’s interesting with surprises. Like what classic rock musicians lent a hand to get the 415 punk/New Wave moving? Jack Casady & Paul Kanter of the Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna. It’s not a shoddy book — it makes for a good read & discussion.
Printed on good paper & available @ Amazon & https://hozacrecords.com/product/disturbing-the-peace/
Courtesies: Image of Bill Kopp from the book jacket, Romeo Void band image: Chester Simpson Photography & the Columbia Record image: Discogs/Fourth Rock Records. All for historical purposes.