Graham Nixon on 20 years of Resist Records

“There was never any five, ten or 20 year plan; you just keep on keeping on. If we’re here for another 20 years, so be it. And if not, well, I’ll be out of work then”. 

One of the most interesting things about Sydney’s Resist Records in my mind is the difference in the size between their releases and artists. The Marrickville-based label has had great records coming out from bands like Oslow, Vices, Jacob and Homesick, yet those records definitely aren’t hitting the charts like Parkway Drive’sReverence’ or Polaris’sThe Mortal Coil’ did. Resist, as a record label, goes from these smaller local acts to national and international dominators within the span of just a couple of releases. A circumstance that sets them apart from most other Australian labels.

“We just put out what we like, basically”, owner Graham Nixon tells me. “Right after a Parkway record once (Horizon’s vinyl re issue), we actually dropped a Shackles album [‘Lifeless Paradise’] and I thought some people would think I’m schizophrenic in how I do releases. We also did that Tempest 7″, and Tempest is a band that’s made up of Sea Shepard crew and they’ve never played a show, but I did it because it sounded sick. They hadn’t yet played a show and more then half of the members don’t even live in Australia. I didn’t do it cause I thought it would sell, I did it because it was good. But look, if there was a hip-hop artist that I really liked, I’d have no problem putting it out.”

He continues. “With Parkway, at the time we did the first I Killed The Prom Queen EP and album, then Parkway and then Carpathian, and soon enough, Parkway just kept going and going – it never stopped. With Polaris, they were looking for a label and I’d gotten a copy of their EP [‘The Guilt & The Grief’], and liked it. But when you’re listening to things for the first time, and you’re at your computer just being sent new music, the tenth listen will be better than the first time. So, that Polaris EP I liked, but I didn’t really know the guys at the time. If I had known what they’d go onto do, I might have jumped on them right then and there. But with the album, as they were looking for a label, Stu Harvey, who I’ve worked with for the last 15 years, asked me if I was interested in doing their album [‘The Mortal Coil’]. Then all of a sudden, here we are now – getting nominated for an ARIA!”

Local success or chart domination and heading to the ARIA’s, Resist’s bands see their own successes in their own respective worlds. And a lot of them come from different backgrounds too; emo and punk, hardcore and metalcore, to anything else in-between. Despite the sonic differences, the label’s roster all wish to work hard, yet Graham is also happy for his bands to do their own thing, never forcing them into doing things they aren’t comfortable with.

“One thing we’ve never done is try to piggy-back our bands on others”, he says. “When we set up a band’s schedule, I want them to be playing with their friends more so than just bands that’ll draw people. With Polaris and their upcoming stuff, I’d love to have them play with bands that they’re mates with. There’s definitely bands that have been involved with each over the years in the scene, namely with our 20th anniversary show this month [which happened last weekend]. Resist is more a family than a business, but there’s no pressure on the bands to suddenly be obliged to take out another one of our bands. We were just lucky that Parkway took Polaris out in the U.S. and Australia, but I’m never hassling them about it. Of course, it’s always important that the bands on a label do back each other in some way.”

With KYS, I myself do get worn out on covering the same type of bands quite often. For Graham, whilst he resides in a different part of the music industry, there’s a similar feeling present there. As he and the label also don’t want to put out the same hardcore or metal albums all the time. He admits there can be some annoyance there, with releasing too much of the same genre, but also hints at different things to come for the label down the road.

“So, we just did that Recovery Room LP. For us, everything comes back to the music, and while I won’t just take on every single Sydney band that sends me a demo, I’ve known those guys [Recovery Room] from other local bands before. We never have a set agenda, we just put out what we like. We actually have a few things coming up that you wouldn’t expect from the typical Resist release – far removed from punk and hardcore – and it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

“And a lot of it – while not always circumstantial – will just happen that way: we went from Recovery Room to Jacob, which are both similar records. I’d have preferred to break them up with a hardcore record, but that’s not how it happened. With all of our schedules coming up – a new Rage record and some other bits and pieces – if I could, I’d break it up so one sound doesn’t follow the same one. But that’s almost impossible. While I would hope what we say goes, it comes down to the band, when their albums comes out and what tour or tours they’ll be doing. If a band came to me and said “here’s the master of our new album, we want it out next month”, I’d say no. As that’s way too soon, as we press vinyl and that takes a few months, and then there’s all the marketing. It’s all close to a year process and some bands just won’t have that patience”, states Graham.

On that note, many records you would’ve seen be released in 2018 were most likely tracked and finished way back in 2017. While patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to when and how your art is set free into the world, so too is having realistic expectations and ensuring proper scheduling happens. This is something Graham keeps at the forefront of his mind when running Resist and diving into their new release.

“If a band comes to me, and they have a plan of when they’re touring and recording new music, I can’t sometimes work with things logistically; from getting it all out there digitally to working with our distributor and their schedule. Unless it’s a real leading band coming to us, I can’t often do it. It’s not often about the music or what you or I do, Alex, but if I can avoid these matters, I will. If I can work a band from the time they record up to the release, that’s so much easier for us in those other factors. It’s all part and parcel for this type of industry.”

In terms of the nitty-gritty about Graham’s work, there’s both the Resist Records shop and the label itself. Meaning there’s a dual entity he balances out between himself and other staff. Even so, as you can probably guess, it can still be quite intense in the roles for Resist’s main man.

“”Oh, it can be [intense], but I do have help. With the label side of things, we have Cooking Vinyl – who are through Sony, who I don’t personally deal with it – and it all channels through them. Dealing with retail, like JB HI-FI, that’s all through Stu [Harvey] and Cooking Vinyl. When we have a Parkway or Polaris release coming up, Stu and I are on the phone almost every day. From there, we’re just going through the “due date” of everything. There’s a lot of assistance from Stu and his staff, which is great! With me, there’s Courtney and Marcus, who when we receive orders and boxes, Courtney looks after the shelving and pricing, and Marcus all our mail orders. I’m not at the shop counter every day selling to customers and answering the phone, as I did have to remove myself from that some time ago. I just physically can’t do everything anymore. I still buy our stock and make all our orders, and am still heavily involved in day-to-day operation. Just the processing of items and getting everything done in-store is not something I have the time for now. But the shop has still been busy, our mail order is also quite busy as well. And our touring side of things is good too. This is just all how we’ve always done it though – we do it this way because it started out of necessity and that’s how its stuck.”

And it’s done Graham and Resist well so far. They might be stuck in their ways, but it’s seen them through two decades of operation now. Another factor to this is a classic yet central business ethos: work with people who want to work with you too.

“While I wouldn’t say I’ve ever chased a band, we just love to work with bands who want to work with us”, sums up Graham. “It’s the same for all of our touring and label things too. If a band came to me and said they’d had other offers from other bands and labels, I want them to come to me not because we’ll cut them the best deal, but because they really do want to work with Resist and myself. I want them to be happy with us, as you’re working with these people nearly every day so you want that harmony and that enthusiasm. And if that’s not the case, well… then I don’t want to work with them”, he laughs

“It’s about what’s best for the band, not if we can give them the best advance”, Graham adds. “The money is just the start of it all”.

Also on the money side of things, Graham is strong about what he believes is the best way to approach the finances when it comes to his artists and potential new clients. Again, it’s a matter of realistic expectation.

“I never go into taking on a band just for the sake of knowing it would sell. I’ve never really tried to find bands who will sell. I’ve got a really good gauge of how things will go too. I know what Parkway and Polaris will do, but that will be a lot further ahead of what our others bands like Reactions or Rage will do too. I don’t print thousands of vinyl for Shackles when I know that a Shackles record will only sell about 500 copies. Because that’s as big as they get, yet they move that number quite comfortably.”

“I think some people feel that everything we do sells really well, which just isn’t the case. From Parkway and Polaris to now, to the Carpathian’s and the Prom Queen’s before them. Sure, I wish everything sold that well, but the reality is that it doesn’t.”

Money aside, we get to topic of the business’s distribution. Namely how sometimes people – in bands or otherwise – don’t really consider the distro side of things in a digital age. Also because not everyone knows that Resist flow through Cooking Vinyl for their distro in Australia.

“We did 22 or 23 releases that we did ourselves but it’s a different landscape now compared to what it was ten or 15 years ago, as there was so much more retail activity. Whereas now most bands have a mindset of just putting it online and letting it do it’s thing. Yet I’m still very physical-copy minded; I want it in retail and I am mindful of that area. In Sydney, we’ve got Red Eye, Utopia and Beatdisc, and as well as other retailers where we can sell another vinyl variant instead of us hogging all the sales. I try to spread that out as much as possible, even with our online store as well. So the people who don’t have those stores in their area can still pre-order or snag something up. The chain of connections in a music store is really quite detailed too. I also want to say that many younger labels and younger bands are oblivious to that process. Though, honestly, it’s only really relevant to more popular artists. As just because you have a distributor, that doesn’t mean you’ll sell thousands more copies. If it’s not selling, then it’s not selling”.

Ah yes, the age old lesson: if your product is shit, no one will buy it. Which is also a sentiment of Graham’s next few words of wisdom.

“You’ve still gotta be a good live band too, you’ve gotta play to the room that best suits your band’s size. For instance, when we did the Homesick album launch at Hideaway Bar in Sydney, which is only 80 capacity, we packed it out. And that made for a great show, because everyone is there – you’re playing to a full room. But if it’s a bigger room, trying to go for a bigger profile look, and you only get 85 payers, and the room is only a quarter full, that’s a non-event as far as the vibe goes. It’s about getting the right venue for the show, getting a good bill, and making sure promo is done rather than just one Instagram or Facebook post. That sort of stuff that goes on can be things that some people don’t think of much. Maybe I’m just an old-school guy as far as shows and posters and promo goes, but some people expect just because you put on a show, people will show up. And I wish it was only that easy!”

Stu Harvey’s name has come up a couple times so far, and Graham makes no qualms about their professional and personal relationship. For working with someone who knows what they’re doing and how to make bands album campaigns pop is paramount. It’s a skill of foresight that isn’t talked about often. As the Resist Records head-honcho puts it, he’ll go wherever Stu goes when it comes to the label and distributing.

“To be honest with you, I’ll go wherever he goes. I’ve worked with him for so long, that it definitely makes things a lot easier. If he closed up Cooking Vinyl and went somewhere else, I’d go to him at the next place. I don’t make that a secret: I only want to deal with him and his team as they really get it! Because while I won’t shit talk others here, you can see it: you see things and you think why certain bands are doing certain tours and often these wrong-calls come down to impatience or to misguided opportunity.”

“It’s also about trust. It’s also important for someone like him to really know the difference between a Polaris and a Rage; between a band coming through that could do really well if its pointed in the right direction, as opposed to a general hardcore band who may not have as much avenues to go beyond what they’re doing. For metalcore bands like Polaris who can knock on the doors of Triple M and Triple J, you need someone who can also build off that and grow it. It’s all about knowing where that calling is”.

In some words, Stu is almost like extended family for Graham. But then there’s also his actual family, which grew in size last year with the birth of his first son. While some label folks like Metal Blade’s Brian Sagel will travel hours at a time to check out new bands and attend smaller shows to find new acts, sometimes there’s just not the will nor energy when home comes calling.

“I am very lucky that my wife is supporting in what I do” shares Graham. “I’ve never been a big going-out person, as while I always like going to shows, I definitely don’t go out as much now. My son is 15 months now, but I still don’t wanna be heading out somewhere and come home late only to wake him up. That’s not a road any parent wants to go down!” laughs Graham.

“So now I’ll be going to the more important show – the shows I HAVE to be at. I don’t need to go out as much. Some people love their Saturday night pub vibes, but that’s not for me. He’s a funny little kid too, and I do love coming back home to him. With the store, I used to get in about 7-8am, but nowadays, it’s closer to 10am in the morning as I spend the morning with him. Then I come in, do what I need to do, come home when the shop shuts, and then I do more work when he goes to sleep. That’s the process it’ll be for a little while. I’m just lucky that I can juggle this time schedule. But he’s our top priority right now – he’ll win out over a band any day!”

Having a child will (usually) change so much of one’s own life perspective. Which was also the case for Graham in some ways, despite his “roll with the punches” attitude.

“I’ve never been a deep thinker, as I just roll with the punches more than anything. But when you get an email from someone asking if you can do something for their band or for a certain tour, sometimes you end up thinking: “Well, life goes on if they don’t get this tour or if we don’t put X album out“. Any band can actually put out their own record, some just don’t want to. Admittedly, labels do do a lot of work that the band’s don’t think needs to happen in order to be successful. But whenever I go home to my family, I don’t want to think about any work stuff. If someone rang me, I wouldn’t answer it. Of course, when you have a tour on, you have to answer – there could be a bigger problem at play that might cost you more money. Lately I’ve been lucky with it all – so far, so good.”

Graham Nixon.

Prior to this interview, one thing that I wasn’t personally aware of about the label’s history was that Scotty Mac from Toe To Toe originally opened the Resist Records store back in 1996. Well, the more you know. Turns out, Graham still has that connection with the Toe To Toe vocalist.

“The last time I saw him was, sadly, at a friends funeral but we did a catch up a month or so ago. He and I still stay in touch – he lives in Queensland now so I don’t see him all that often. I actually saw him with the band back in their prime. Without Toe To Toe, I definitely wouldn’t be here. That was why I got into this kind of music, through being a fan and getting to know them. When they were at their peak, there was nothing else like them here in Australia for hardcore.”

This brings up another factor about punters and the scenes here in Australia: the older artists are sometimes forgotten when the new blood is becoming successful atop roads already paved. I’ve definitely met people who only focus on the right here and now artists, which is totally fine. But many were never aware of bands like Carpathian, After The Fall, Toe To Toe, Day Of Contempt, pre-‘Music For The Recently Deceased‘ era I Killed The Prom Queen. It’s simply a generational gap between this decade and the last two or so. Yet Graham clearly remembers when bands like Toe To Toe were doing things unheard of Aussie heavy music back in the day.

“Toe To Toe were one of the first ever hardcore punk bands who got the chance to go into international. All of their seven inches were released on international labels too. They, in some way, brought Australia to the world as far as hardcore music goes. After that, there were bands like Bodyjar who were able to licence records outside of Australia, back in that mid-to-late 90’s and early 2000’s era.

“Other than some fan zines, Bombshell and Blunt a little later on, there wasn’t as much music media specialising in this music either. You wouldn’t see a mainstream magazine back then covering Mindsnare or Toe To Toe. They were too busy worrying what Silverchair were doing. When Parkway Drive first kicked off here in Australia and started selling out rooms, it was still a battle to even get editorial and set up interviews. They’d cover bands that could barely get 20 people to a show yet ignore the largish heavy bands. Now, Parkway are one of the biggest bands in the world! Right now, with certain bands, we’ll always try to get our artists featured on your site or anyone else’s too. And I’m sure you know the feeling of getting hit up by a publicist asking to cover one of their bands that you’re not at all keen on. After all, you can just say no. It can be all be a funny world, media.”

Yes, yes it can be. People like myself know that all too well.

Resist Records’ recent 20th anniversary show, featuring Mindsnare, Last Nerve, Irrelevant, The Dead Walk!, Found My Direction, Homesick, Bare Bones, Rage, Jacob. 

It’s also never just been Aussie artists that Resist deals with, either. Anyone who has followed Resist for any period of time knows that they also help distribute international releases Down Under as well. While that’s something Graham and his team don’t actively seek out, it’s something they’re always happy to do in a sort of ‘high tides raises all ships’ approach.

“We’ve done a Sect record, a Madball record, a Terror EP, and some others, but all of that was licensed stuff. It comes from the fact that some artists don’t have a label or distro out here, so we can do it for them and isn’t hard for me. It makes it available, and if those bands are touring down here, it can only help the tour. I never really pursue these things, it just comes through a friend of a band asking if they can get something out here. Licensing has become more difficult these days, though. Just as nowadays everything is available through digital and distro – that has all picked up. It’s all so much better than what it was ten or so years ago. You have to be on a really tiny label to have zero distro in terms of Australia. All big labels have their own distributors.”

When talking about Resist, discussion about their biggest drawcard – Parkway Drive – is going to come up. In my mind, there’s a big “what if?” question that comes up with Resist and that’s: what would’ve happened to them if Parkway didn’t exist? Graham ponders an alternative reality.

“Well, there’s never really been anything that’s come through like Parkway. Since then, Amity, Northlane and In Hearts Wake and other UNFD acts have their own thing going on. While I wouldn’t say that we weren’t successful before Parkway came along, they’ve definitely made things easier for us as a label in terms of financial stability and given us a lot of recognition too. But we had done a lot of records before them, though we’d most likely be less productive now without them. Just as we wouldn’t have the funds to do as much, and would maybe be EVEN more selective with the bands that we work with. Without Parkway – and while I don’t feel I’m ever throwing money away and praying that I sell every single unit – if I don’t sell every single record, it’s okay. Running a label based off every release having to do it’s maximum potential in order to go onto the next one, you couldn’t afford to have a dud. Luckily enough, Resist can afford that if it happens.”

“Parkway Drive is just such a crazy band. That recent headline tour was their biggest tour in Australia yet, and they just keep getting more popular. The band themselves have wondered when their popularity might stop, and I tell them: “Why would it stop now?” They’re one of the best bands in the world entertainment-wise, and one of the tightest bands too. When that stops happening, that’s when it’ll go pear-shaped. They put so much time and effort into their band, and if that quality-control ends, that’s when people will check out.”

In terms of that quality control, Graham doesn’t rule the Resist roster with an iron-fist; his word isn’t the rule of the land for their artists, as he wants them to be themselves and make their own art. However, if he feels that something is indeed lacking, he will speak up. For example, the album artwork that he and the label put out.

“Well, we let the band’s have 100% artistic control of that stuff. But if there’s something I feel that’s not good or maybe doesn’t suit the release – that it was just slapped together – then I won’t have a problem saying something. Sometimes people and bands just don’t have access to a good designer or think that what they have looks cool, but it won’t look as good to everyone else. I like to think I’ve got a pretty good eye for that. As we all want to put the best product out as possible, as opposed to putting something out and just hoping it sells. You don’t wanna put out a record just for the sake of it. It’s the same with our merch as well.”

At the cusp of our time together, the idea of making something last twenty years comes up, as well as the future of what is, perhaps inarguably, one of the most important Australian record labels around. So, is there going to be another two decades of Resist?

“I am a big planner, but I feel that people over-think what they do but then don’t follow through, so there’s no point. If you won’t get your hands dirty, then you won’t get the work done. For us, we’ve just been hanging around, doing our own thing. We can only continue if people support it, just like anything. Twenty years ago, if I’d been asked if there’d be twenty more, I’d have said no way! There was never any five, ten or 20 year plan; you just keep on keeping on. If we’re here for another 20 years, so be it. And if not, well, I’ll be out of work then”, chuckles Graham.

Check out the Resist Records collection here

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