Charm City Confidential: Hidden Volume Records

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Photo credit: Eric Planck

Baltimore’s Hidden Volume Records has been responsible for some of my favorite rock-n-roll releases over the last decade from a wildly impressive lineup of bands, including the Insomniacs, Subsonics, Satan’s Pilgrims, the Above, the Ar-Kaics, and many more. Label honcho Scott Sugiuchi is a freelance graphic designer whose distinctly cool artwork has graced Hidden Volume’s output and promotional material. Sugiuchi, who has performed as a member of the Stents, Hate Bombs, Hall Monitors and Candy Smokes (in action with above), is also is co-author, with Chris Coyle, of the upcoming book, Estrus: Shovelin’ the Shit Since ’87 (Korero Press, UK).

I talked to Sugiuchi recently about starting Hidden Volume, his love of 45s, the Estrus book and more.

What or who convinced you that starting a record label was a good idea? I’m still trying to decide whether it was a good idea! haha. Actually, the idea had been gestating for years. I had some experience with self-releasing records in the ‘90s with The Hate Bombs (Speed-o-Meter Records, along with our drummer Ken Chiodini) and I think the bug never left me. By the early 2010s, I had some spare cash so I decided to make it happen.

Photo credit: Eric Planck

Were there other labels or individuals you looked to for inspiration or advice when you started Hidden Volume? Why did you decide to focus on 45s? Obviously, I was super into Estrus Records and their perfect marriage of music, design and fun—that was the main inspiration. I’m also a big fan of labels that have a collective vision—where the focus on the look is equal to the music. I’d say that ranges from UK experimental label Ghost Box to Third Man Records.

The focus on 45s started with the fact that it’s an easy ask to get a band to release two songs with an unknown/small label. Over the years and after releasing a few LPs I find the 45 is much more fun format to work in. The bands aren’t as picky about things and the packaging allows for a lot more experimentation. Also nothing beats the explosion of putting on a 45—it’s like having a band’s collective creative energy compressed into the end of a needle. Two songs/ five minutes to get your point across. Magic!

What has been your top-selling or quickest selling release? Who were you most surprised to work with? Who else would you love to release something by? Hmmm, that would probably be our recent Satan’s Pilgrims “Happy Holidays” single. That sold out in maybe three days. It was a beast! Most surprising—there’s a few. I think I was shocked when The Ar-Kaics said “yes” because they were total strangers when I approached them about a single. My other early singles had bands that at the very least had one person I was friends with. I also just started the label so it was a miracle they even responded. I was elated.

Oh geez, there’s tons of artists I’d love to release if I had the time/money. If we’re talking total fantasy, I think Redd Kross would be the ultimate. If not, then maybe they would consider a Tater Totz record!

What release is most unlike the other Hidden Volume releases? I guess the pithy answer is that they’re all Hi-Vo releases because they’re just an extension of what my taste is. But that’s kind of too clever isn’t it? I would say Sick Thoughts is the closest. It’s more “punk” than the others. Drew was still in high school when we did that record! I love it—it’s his attempt at “garage rock” although it’s pretty poppy for him. Now that I think of it, it’s pretty much in keeping with the other records. Catchy rock and roll.

You are an excellent graphic artist as well. How helpful have those skills been in making the label a success or promoting releases and events? Awww, thanks! Part of the reason for starting the label was also an excuse to flex my design skills in a format I love so it’s been super helpful. As I was saying earlier, I love labels where the art and music work in harmony so to be able to have that level of control (woo-ha-haaaa) is essential. People have responded well to it over the years. I definitely have heard that people buy the records partly because of the packaging. The bands (mostly) love it too. hahaha...

Do you have any upcoming releases or plans you would like to share? How’s your book on the history of Estrus Records coming? Interestingly, those are complementary questions. I’m focusing on the existing releases right now from DC’s Teen Cobra as well as The Resonars then taking off the rest of the year to get that Estrus book out. I might do some digital releases with my band Candy Smokes on Hi-Vo (since we’re not playing any time soon) but not doing anything with new bands. I say that now…

As far as the Estrus book itself goes, we’re currently in the throes of that project. It’s MASSIVE. Not only did Dave C have a lot of releases, each release has fantastic artwork and a story behind it so corralling that has been a Herculean effort that writer Chris Coyle and I have been engulfed with for a while. It’s definitely a labor of love. I’m still in disbelief that I get to work with Dave Crider and Art Chantry on this (they’re “executive producers”) —basically my fave label and fave designer. It’s a dream but incredibly daunting. I also have to say everyone we’ve talked to has been amazing. It’s nice to see how bands/fans are still excited about Estrus and how it was kind of life changing for many people. After all these years! That’s the true mark of a successful label. What more could you ask for?

For more Hidden Volume fun, please check out my three-hour tribute to the label from May 22 on Zero Hour.

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