Back in the '90s, when I was a young adult, I desperately wanted to start a small record label. It was the age of awesome and inspirational labels like Kill Rock Stars, the heyday of indie stalwarts like Dischord and Lookout, and a time when you could watch a small label like the Delaware-based Jade Tree pick up a great band like The Promise Ring and become a nationally known boutique label.
I never managed to follow through with my dream of being a vinyl and CD impresario, but I'm always impressed with people who put the money and sweat into putting out other bands' music, often with no hope of a profit. That's why, when I got a package with a couple of CDs in it recently from local label Formula 13 Records, I was stoked not only by the bands' music, but also by the fact that Abe Ruthless and Nasty D (guitarist and bassist, respectively), of local ne'er-do-wells the Fuck You Ups, were actually putting their energy into releasing other bands' music.
Formula 13 was founded back in 2000, specifically to release the Fuck You Ups' first two seven-inch singles, "Fuck City Baby" and "Chicken Chow Fuck," as well as the first full-length Fuck You Ups record, 2002's Hope You Appreciate It Fucker. "Basically, it's a vanity label," Ruthless says with a laugh while we're taking a break from Monday Night Football to discuss Formula 13. "Not a vanity label that's a stupid term. But that's how you've got to do it it's got nothing to do with vanity; it has to do with [the idea that] we suck and nobody would put out our records, and we want to put them out."
When the Fuck You Ups' LP Black and Black and Black was due to be released in 2004, I got a frantic call from Ruthless that UPS wasn't delivering the finished CDs to him the packages had been quarantined because the shipping company was misreading the band's name. They assumed that what they were reading on the box was "Fuck You UPS." After eventually figuring out that the boxes contained CDs and not pipe bombs, UPS let the Fuck You Ups have their product.
Formula 13 perpetuated itself by releasing Ruthless' solo debut, No Nothin' Blues, then Black and Black and Black. Formula 13 had scored pretty decent distro, getting in mom-and-pop record stores nationwide via Road to Ruin Distribution, but still hadn't spread its wings to encompass bands besides Ruthless' projects.
Prior to Black and Black and Black, Ruthless, who's always had a penchant for glam bands and Poison shirts, had decided to go Hollywood, and he's moved back and forth between the Valley and Hollywood several times since. While out there, he pursued an acting career, and the day before our interview, he showed me his just-acquired Screen Actors Guild card and screened some of his work the funniest being a student's Budweiser commercial called "Sacred," where Ruthless is one of two layabouts who see a documentary about how Native Americans used every part of the bison that they slaughtered. Ruthless and his crony proceed to dress in Budweiser packaging and forge fishing nets from the plastic can holders.
Luckily, Ruthless left the scuzzy part of Sunset Boulevard where he was living and came back to the 'Nix, where he and Nasty D decided to accelerate Formula 13's development. "We decided, 'Let's really do a label,'" Ruthless says. "Let's not just put out our fuckin' records. We'd been doing it all the time with whatever's left of our paychecks at the end of the month. That's how we still do it that's why it's grown so fuckin' slow."
Ruthless and Nasty D decided on two bands that were recording with Nasty D at his home-based Fuck City Studios: Parkway Wretch and Streetside Prophet. Parkway Wretch's album Homesick came out in May of this year, and Streetside Prophet's Talking to Walls EP was just released on the 12th of this month.
"We couldn't put out a bunch of stuff; we're a low-budget operation," Ruthless tells me. Nonetheless, he and Nasty D came up with two great fucking bands to produce Formula 13's first non-Fuck You Ups-related releases.
"It's the way they look at the scene," Nasty D says of the bands they chose. "They're not trying to be rock stars, they don't want to get super huge, they don't want to be on MTV and that kind of stuff. There's a good sense of family and community."
Parkway Wretch's record is 11 blasts of shredding, sneering punk rock that manages to inject enough melodic sensibility to lift their songs above being rote, by-the-numbers three-chord punk clichés. It's a great record by one of Phoenix's best punk rock outfits, and a total score for Formula 13 to have on its roster.
Punk trio Streetside Prophet's record is even more promising, primarily because the band members are still seniors in high school. Maybe it's just my nostalgia harking back to the '90s again, but considering these guys were toddlers back when I was a teen, they've got the '90s pop-punk aesthetic down to a science. The songs on this EP remind me of Jawbreaker and J Church's powerful early work.
Formula 13 has more releases in the works a new Fuck You Ups seven-inch is due around Halloween, and Streetside Prophet is about to record 20 more songs with Nasty D for the band's first full-length. And honestly, when I imagine the sort of paternal pride that Ruthless and Nasty D must experience when they look at and listen to the releases they've put out this year, I'm pretty fucking jealous.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.