I Wanna Be Literated #250

I Wanna Be Literated #250

Tuesday, 01 March 2022

Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007)
by Dan Ozzi

Punk rock has come full circle. It started with a feeding frenzy from the major labels wanting to cash in on the movement/music in the 70s (remember, the Clash were on CBS Records and the Ramones on Sire, which is technically Warner Brothers), then became reviled by the mainstream, and now it’s back on the yacht (comfortably solidifying its place as hackneyed when the Met Gala adopted it as a “look”). What Dan Ozzi wants to focus on is that period when major labels did a double-take. When punks were drawing a line in the sand. When all the shit-talking was happening.

Dan Ozzi knows how to write a book and keep it exciting. This topic is just my jam, you know? Throughout Sellout, Ozzi picks (mostly) the most significant bands to have participated in this feeding frenzy. Not all of them add anything new or elevate our understanding of what was going on, but all these stories are pretty damn interesting. The bands discussed here are Green Day, Jawbreaker, At the Drive-In, Jimmy Eat World, The Donnas, Rise Against, Blink-182, The Distillers, Thursday, My Chemical Romance, and Against Me!. And I was surprised that I was intimately familiar with so many of these bands and aware, to some degree, of their major label move. Other bands I couldn’t care less about (like Thursday and My Chemical Romance), but I was surprised at what a rich story Ozzi managed to write regardless. Other entries straight-up baffle me, like Rise Against. That band was only interesting for a brief moment and have since moving onto musical white noise in their mediocrity. I have no idea what Rise Against brings to the table anymore. Wouldn’t Anti-Flag have been a more interesting story?

What becomes clear in reading Sellout is that it takes a village to get a band to “progress” to a major label. Everyone from former label owners, to engineers, to producers, to promoters and managers, all get involved in this transition, some with more noble inclinations than others. Also, it’s interesting to see which bands have a clear idea of where they want their band to go and simply don’t look back, while others are super green and are doing things with one foot out the door. The big message here is that for some bands, “selling out” to a major label works out wonderfully, while for others it’s the beginning of the end.

Ozzi tells a rich and super interesting story that any fan of the scene will love. It’s full of gossip, humor, mud-slinging, illuminating but also very sincere moments that will deepen your understanding of what it was like being courted by a major label. All the while, Billy Joe Armstrong and Blake Schwarzenbach are watching from the shadows…

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