Formed in 1991 by former Youth of Today and Shelter vocalist Ray Cappo, Equal Vision was initially conceived as a home for Cappo’s Shelter albums as well as a variety of other Krishna Conscious influenced artists within the hardcore scene. Due to the interest focused on Krishna Consciousness in hardcore at the time, the self-funded label soon found it difficult to keep up with reprints, orders for tulasi beads and fan correspondence. Also, as Shelter toured and recorded, Cappo found himself busier with a bevy of projects, so it wasn’t long before he decided that Equal Vision would best be served under the reigns of someone who had the ability to devote 100 percent of his or her time to the label. In turn, Cappo immediately thought of one person who would be a perfect fit to manage the day-to-day aspects of operations in an efficient manner—namely, his longtime friend, former Youth of Today roadie and Krishna Conscious devotee, Steve Reddy.
“After the last Youth of Today tour, Ray moved to India for a while and I lived in a Krishna temple,” Reddy recalls. “I wanted to get married, and I was going to have to find a way to make a living for myself. In the meantime, Ray started Shelter and while they were making their second record, they came up with the idea of having me run the label so they could focus on the band, and that’s pretty much how I got involved.”
After successfully helping Equal Vision get off the ground, Reddy bought the label from Cappo in 1993 and ran it out of his apartment in New York City. Staying motivated with a passion for music as their impetus, Reddy and his wife – former 108 guitarist, Kate Reddy – stuffed envelopes and put out some of the most intriguing hardcore and post-hardcore/rock records of the early nineties–everything from Shelter’s Attaining the Supreme and 108’s Songs of Separation to Shift’s Spacesuit. In the process the label started to expand from its Krishna-core leanings into a place that fostered passionate music regardless of genre.
“My original idea was that we would roll like Dischord in terms of sticking to our guns,” Reddy says. “We’re Krishna’s—so what? We’re going to roll into shows and start chanting and passing out food and that’s that. But then I lost my Fugazi when Shelter signed to Roadrunner, so we had to take a different approach as there weren’t all that many Krishna bands in existence. If we wanted to survive we had to try something different. I ended up meeting Josh Louka from Shift and really liked his band and convinced him to allow us to put out his record. They joined up with us and that record got the ball rolling in terms of putting out non-Krishna bands.”
“The Krishna-core movement was great and I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it didn’t happen,” Equal Vision label manager Dan Sandshaw says. “Eventually the movement ended, though, and the label had to expand into new genres of music in order to survive. The expansion in the early nineties was the foundation of what the label has become today.”
As the mid-nineties approached, Equal Vision dealt with the transition fairly well as it helped foster a new era of hardcore in the wake of putting out records by Converge, One King Down and Bane, among others.
Arguably, however, one of the major turning points for Equal Vision came with the release of Saves the Day’s Can’t Slow Down in 1998, which although not an immediate success turned out to be the beginning of a new era for the label in which diversity became its mantra and soon led to its monolithic growth and success.
“When I first started working for EVR in 1998, the first Saves the Day album had been released a couple months earlier to mixed reviews,” Sandshaw reminisces. “Since then the label has expanded out of the hardcore scene and across every musical genre. The diversity of the label is the key to its growth. Any label that works within one specific genre is setting itself up to be pigeon holed.”
“Equal Vision was a comfortable fit for Saves the Day because they supported us through our early musical growth,” Saves the Day front man Chris Conley states. “To his credit, Steve was able to see the merit in the music, and he never stepped in to advise against our progression. I can’t stress how important this was for us as a band, and how rare it is within the industry to find a label executive who encourages risk taking. Fortunately, because Steve encouraged our growth, we were able to establish a trend of transformation which would serve us well through the grind of the years.”
Soon enough, word spread that Equal Vision was developing one of the most supportive environments in which an underground artist could work, as some of the most popular hardcore, rock and pop artists of recent years have taken note. As the 21st Century appeared on the horizon, Reddy partnered with RED Distribution, put out increasingly unique bands ranging from progressive punk rock stalwarts such as Black Cross and Bear vs. Shark, pop/rock troupes like Armor for Sleep and The Rocking Horse Winner and avant-garde fire-starters like The Sound of Animals Fighting and The Snake the Cross the Crown.
The real coup for Equal Vision, though, came by the way of its belief in the prog-rock meets emo stylings of Coheed and Cambria, a band that has since taken the entire country by storm, going on to sell over 500,000 copies of its sophomore release, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, as well as becoming one of the hottest touring acts in all of rock music.
So, what’s the secret to Equal Vision’s success? There are a multitude of theories, but the one factor that most familiar with the label continue to refer to is the tight-knit atmosphere that offers as much artistic trust as it does financial support.
“I want the bands to have a good experience with Equal Vision,” Reddy enthuses. “Whatever money there is to be made isn’t enough to cover up the impression if someone was wronged. Having a good experience from both sides is the goal.”
“Equal Vision’s success may have more to do with the spiritual life within Steve and Kate, which breeds an environment of trust, respect and reverence,” Conley affirms. “I was just a little boy when Steve and Kate took our band into their family. We felt protected and appreciated. More importantly, Steve related to us more as human beings than tools of the marketing trade. Within this industry, so much emphasis is placed on the bottom line, the dollar sign. Steve and Kate are there for you as fellow human beings first. This helped us to believe in ourselves and carry on in the face of much early criticism.”
“Equal Vision has grown in size, but I still think they do business with a hardcore/punk attitude,” Pete Chilton of Bane and Avocado Booking offers. “Quite simply the label is run by people who love what they do and care about their bands.”
Now that Equal Vision is over 15 years old and has met with widespread acclaim, one would think that the label would simply rest on its laurels and become one of the many that have bought into the corporate atmosphere that has pervaded underground music the past several years. But as successful as Reddy and Co. have been, the label continues to thrive on the very passion that ignited it in the first place.
“I never had a plan to have the label go this long and get this big,” Reddy admits. “I owe it to the people who care about the label as much as I do—the employees here and the bands that put their lives on hold and take a chance to pursue their craft.”
“We’ve never chased chart positions or awards,” Sandshaw concludes. “Overall, our goal is to serve the bands and impact people—it’s as simple as that.”
And it’s safe to say Equal Vision has done just that by sticking to the ethical principles it has maintained since the beginning—all the more reason to consider the label one of the most important, cutting edge and relevant entities amidst the musical landscape.
In 2012, Equal Vision partnered with Max Bemis of Say Anything to launch Rory Records, an imprint label with bands curated by Bemis.