Hive Five: Indie Bands Returning to Indie Labels

The Rapture. Photo: Ruvan Wijesooriya

This week the Rapture returns with The Grace of Your Love, an album that’s more than just a return to form for the New York-based dance-punks. The band’s third full-length also heralds the return of frontman Luke Jenner (who quit the band in 2008), as well as the now-trio’s return to their old indie label, DFA, after a one-album stint on Motown/Universal. Though popular wisdom suggests that every struggling young band is hungry to sign a major-label deal, the Rapture is just one of a growing number of groups rediscovering their independent roots. Such has been a trend over the last several years, and Hive’s uncovered five other artists who, for whatever reason (more freedom, less compromises, no choice), found an upgrade in downgrading from the major leagues.

1. Mudhoney

Never did the major vs. minor debate rage as seriously as it did in the height of the “alternative” era in Seattle. Mudhoney, like their Sub Pop labelmates Nirvana, had early success with era-defining albums like 1989’s Superfuzz Bigmuff and 1991’s a Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, but eventually headed off to a bigger label, Reprise, in 1992. But their deliciously distorted, bluesy punk was too dirty for the mainstream, and by 2002 they were back home on Sub Pop, which has since released three more studio albums by the band. Frontman Mark Arm must be happy with that move; he’s not just a Sub Pop recording artist, he also works as the manager of its warehouse.

2. Nicole Atkins

After recording and self-releasing a demo album called Party’s Over, Brooklyn-based, New Jersey-bred singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins wound up on a pretty major major label: Columbia, home of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The recording behemoth released her debut, Neptune City, in 2007, but, unlike fellow Jerseyite Springsteen, Atkins wasn’t a good fit for the label. So the former Sidewalk Café open-mike veteran fell back on her independent instincts, and Mondo Amore, her 2011 sophomore effort, was release by indie Razor & Tie. This smaller label seems like a better match for the songstress; we bet she was looking for a record company as intimate as her lush, twangy songs.

3. Against Me!

It must’ve been surprising to the legions of Against Me! fans when the Florida punks signed to Warner Music Group’s Sire imprint in 2005. The band, who once sang “Baby, I’m an Anarchist,” then put out their two biggest albums (2007’s New Wave and 2010’s White Crosses) for the music industry’s equivalent of “The Man.” But those that called “sell-out” on Tom Gabel’s group must be pleased that Against Me! left Sire in 2010 and have since released albums on their old label, Fat Wreck Chords, and their own newly formed label, Totally Treble Music.

4. Sonic Youth

Though Sonic Youth, the grandparents of noisy, experimental art-rock, initially recorded for such independent stalwarts as Glenn Branca’s Neutral Records and DIY punk pioneer SST, the Youth were actually under major-label contract to Geffen (or, later, it’s parent company Interscope) for a vast majority of their long career — from 1990 to 2006. (That’s Goo to Rather Ripped!) But in 2009 they signed a deal with Matador that returned them to the world of independent labels for the first time in 20 years. Which is weird; they’ve always had an “indie” persona throughout their career without really prescribing to Indie 101: Thou shalt be weary of majors.

5. Interpol

Maybe bands don’t know how good they’ve got it on their first label until they’ve gone elsewhere. Interpol, New York’s ambassadors for monotone vocals and glammy, nocturnal riffs, put out two albums with influential hometown indie Matador before jumping ship to Capitol in 2006. But like the Rapture, they only lasted their for one album before coming back to the label that discovered them in 2010. They returned a little older, a little wiser and definitely a little lighter — bassist Carlos D departed the band just as they were re-signing to Matador.

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