Tag Archives: Big Crux

Jensen Ward on Iron Lung: Band, Label, and Worldview

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Illustration from the cover of Iron Lung Mixtape I.

Iron Lung is a band, a label—and, for better or worse—a worldview. The label was founded in 2007 by Jensen Ward and Jon Kortland, the two men who also make up the band, one of the few internationally known non-revivalist and non-reunited powerviolence bands in the world.

“We started [Iron Lung Records] with band money,” Ward recalls. “We toured. We had a couple of bucks left after a trip, and we’d decided to put out a record with it. We figured we’d either be making a huge mistake, or starting something really cool. Or both. I think it landed on both.” This statement is a good reflection of their worldview: sardonic, fatalistic, with enough brash idealism to start a vinyl-centric label well before the vinyl revival. They’d issue records by harsh, confounding bands of varying stripes, based solely on their personal taste. The label doesn’t pay Ward and Kortland’s bills, but it is self-supporting. Clearly, both in stated intent and action, making money was never a concern.

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Not Normal Tapes Illuminates, and Complicates, Hardcore

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Those who have their fingers on the rapid pulse of hardcore already know about Not Normal Tapes. Those who don’t—but who find particular refuge in urgent noise—should. For nearly 10 years, Not Normal, an operation helmed by Ralph Rivera (The Bug, Raw Nerve, Cold Shoulder), has been releasing music by some of the best bands the international hardcore punk scene has to offer.

Now headquartered out of the spare room of Rivera’s Chicago apartment, Not Normal began in Northwest Indiana (NWI). In keeping with the time-honored tradition of many DIY watermark labels like Dischord, SST, and Touch & Go, the imprint started with two releases from Rivera’s bands, and then set out to document the active, but underappreciated punk scene in NWI. “We tracked some [tape duplicators] down on eBay and bought them off a church that used them to tape their sermons,” Rivera remembers. Why tapes? “It’s easy and cheap and fast. I know that on a widespread level, maybe tape decks aren’t as ubiquitous as CD players or computers, but at that time there wasn’t a Bandcamp–or really any good way–to disseminate things cheaply and easily on a digital level.”

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From that point, Not Normal expanded beyond tapes, releasing and distributing LPs, 7”s, zines and other merch staples. The scope of the label expanded beyond just the Midwest, too, as Not Normal began to release music by bands from all over the world. Despite the expansion, Rivera still thinks of Not Normal as primarily a tape label. “I still try to approach the way I do records and do zines and the way I approach future plans in the same way I did those tapes,” he explains, “Like, ‘How can I make this the highest quality, and how can I make this cheap and easy and accessible for everybody, and how can I do that for bands that maybe don’t have that?’ So I feel like, even though it’s not only tapes, I still apply the principles I had when I started to everything I do.”

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