Jade Tree Blooms Out Of The Underground
By Andrew Katchen
March 01, 2003
Wilmington, Del.’s Jade Tree operates largely outside of the
mainstream fray. Promotional hype held to a minimum, records are sold
inexpensively, and profit motives are secondary to furthering the vibrant
spirit of independent music. The label works within a tenacious
do-it-yourself framework, and it succeeds in releasing some of today’s most
anticipated and treasured underground records.
Jade Tree’s inception came in 1990 when hardcore punk aficionado and
then-Rochester Institute of Technology photography student Tim Owen enlisted
the help of friend Darren Walters, a University of Delaware English major,
to embark on a new independent record label.
The two scrapped the tiny, 45s-only labels both were running individually
and pooled their energy into one larger, less-genre specific outlet. Loosely
modeling their fledgling label after Chicago’s successful and respected
Touch & Go and Washington, D.C.’s revered Dischord Records, Owen and Walters
hoped Jade Tree would also become an operation recognized for quality music,
anti-corporate sentiment, and distinctive record packaging.
“At the time we started Jade Tree, I was done with music altogether,”
Walters says. “I had decided to give up doing the label I had and
concentrate on becoming an English teacher. But Tim wanted to start
something new. For whatever reason, he saw music changing on the horizon and
thought that he should change with it. I thought he had a great idea, and I
told him I’d love to help him out.”
Jade Tree’s first release came in August 1991 in the form of the early-’90s
hardcore template “Culture Shock” recorded by the now-defunct Richmond, Va.,
outfit Four Walls Falling. The set boldly announced the label’s arrival on
the scene and offered Owen the chance to feature his photography.
Despite the inaugural album being a politically gripping, no-holds-barred
wallop of a record, Owen and Walters committed themselves to having a
diverse roster of bands and refraining from documenting one style of music
or geographic location. Their only unwritten stipulation was the music had
to come from the underground.
“When we started formulating our ideas, basically we both thought, ‘Hey, it
doesn’t matter what it is; if we like it, we’re going to put it out,’ ”
Walters says. “That was our major tenet, and it still is.”
Naturally, it would take time for Jade Tree to truly flourish, and for
several years the label would not be the full-time, seven-days-a-week
operation it is today. Soon after starting Jade Tree, Owen relocated to New
York to embark on a career as a band photographer and Walters was in the
process of completing his degree. The label had no home headquarters and was
still without a face or personality.
“I don’t think we had an identity for the first 20 releases or so. I think
we kind of look back at the first five years as an identity-free label. We
managed our goal well, which was to put out whatever the hell we wanted.
Still, people didn’t know what we were, and it was still very genre-specific
at that time. ”
By releasing records posthumously as well as records by bands with trace
amounts of underground appeal, Jade Tree floundered until September 1995.
With the release of three disparate albums “Hello Bastards” by New Jersey
pop-hardcore outfit Lifetime; “No More Dreams of Happy Endings” by the
Washington, D.C., metal band Damnation; and “Familiar, Forgotten” by Delaware
mope-rock outfit Walleye,Jade Tree’s popularity increased exponentially. The
label finally had a tiny roster of current bands that had made names for
themselves in the underground scene with their explosive live performances.
The Promise Ring’s Impact
One year later, in September 1996, Jade Tree released a recording titled “30
Degrees Everywhere” from the fresh-faced Milwaukee outfit the Promise Ring
that would enter the indie community with a bullet and would go on to help
define the standard for the ’90s sweater-tugging emo sound that many bands
and labels lionized. As Jade Tree continued to release records by the band,
both the label and the Promise Ring’s popularity at the time were
inextricably linked to one another.
“That was a period when we felt like we really couldn’t miss,” Walters says.
“We liked these bands and it was even easier than ever [to release records].
Anyone we wanted would do a record with us, and we seemed to like all these
bands. I mean we weren’t the biggest, but it was just starting to take off
and it was sort of the beginning of our dream.”
The ardor and care Owen and Walters put into making a dependable and
relevant label has worked in their favor and in the favor of the bands with
whom they work. With more than 80 releases in its varied catalog, ranging
from lo-fi acoustic records to emo to traditional punk rock,and with nearly
a dozen bands currently touring the U.S., Jade Tree continues to assert
itself as one of the more respected and defining current underground U.S.