July 19th, 2012, 10:05 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Coffee isn’t just an occasional morning treat for local record label founder Chris Hansen. He’s obsessed with it. As owner of Huntington Beach-based No Sleep Records, he says there’s not a day that goes by that he hasn’t had at least “three … four … five … or more” coffee drinks. He even has several brew-related tattoos scattered among his fully sleeved arms and one on his leg.
Which is why it’s completely fitting that his No Sleep label logo is a giant mug.
“I drink too much coffee, but coffee makes everything better,” Hansen says, a Starbucks cup within reach during a recent interview at No Sleep headquarters. “I had insomnia before, now I just sleep way too much. Coffee kind of stopped working a long time ago, but I still love it.”
Hansen grew up in Fountain Valley and graduated from Marina High School in 2002. The 27-year-old has worked numerous music industry jobs, everything from shipping orders out of warehouses to design and promotions. He fell in love with the biz at an early age and realized in high school that he wanted to eventually start his own label, since he really didn’t have the talent to become a musician himself.
“I couldn’t play instruments at all,” he admits. “My wrists are horrible and I don’t have any of the rhythm for it.”
He went on to his first internship, at Fearless Records, the Huntington Beach label owned by Bob Becker, and eventually shifted to a position as a buyer at SmartPunk.com. A few years later Hansen took a warehouse job at Revelation Records, and in 2006 he moved out to New Jersey (after freelancing in Kansas City) to work at the now-defunct Trustkill Records, an indie haven once home to multiple O.C. hardcore acts, including Bleeding Through, Eighteen Visions and Throwdown.
But just before he left K.C. he officially started No Sleep Records. His first release: an EP for his friend’s band, Our American Cousin, titled How’s This for a Diploma?
Hansen continued to slowly build his label on the side while maintaining full-time employment as an art director at Trustkill until 2008, when he moved back home to California. With money tight, he moved into his mom’s place and ran the day-to-day business out of a 5-foot-by-10-foot space. Eventually he saved enough money to set up shop at his current location in 2010, tucked amid a strip of other businesses on Gothard Street.
On an average day, Hansen has a crew of two or three employees in the office while he most often can be found glued to his desk, replying to email, informing fans about new releases and tour dates via social networking sites, and making sure his web store is well maintained.
No Sleep is currently home to acts like La Dispute, Balance and Composure, Touche Amore, No Trigger and the Wonder Years, and Hansen strives to diversify, signing hardcore, indie, punk rock, pop punk, post-hardcore and metal bands alike. Most of his roster is straight edge (groups that refrain from alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs), yet Hansen insists he keeps an open mind and welcomes all kinds to his label.
“Just because I’m straight edge and vegan doesn’t mean the entire label has to be,” he says. “I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years and vegan for a good portion of that, and I’ve been straight edge my whole life, so it’s cool to be around others that think like that, too. But I certainly don’t preach it or feel like everyone has to do it. I’d just like people to educate themselves about it, then make their own decisions.”
At the core of it all, Hansen wanted a music home that was more of a community, to take a step back to a time when fans trusted indie labels to release quality albums.
“That kind of got lost with a lot of ‘cash cow’ opportunities for labels. I wanted to do something with the music I liked, to bring it back to where a kid could trust a label (they) like and know that even if the other bands on the label aren’t their cup of tea, per se, they’ll still know it’s quality at least 99 percent of the time.”
Keeping up with technology is key to making sure this ship stays afloat, he says. Many labels have come and gone over the years, including a few Hansen once worked for, so he’s constantly hustling to keep the lights on. The latest advancement is a No Sleep iPhone application that will debut in September. There will be a free version, from which fans can get updates on releases and tour dates, sample songs and more. The paid version of the app will offer users the entire No Sleep catalog in streaming audio.
But he has hardly given up on traditional business models. On Record Store Day (April 21), Hansen opened a small flagship store in the front of his offices, enabling him to sell new and rare vinyl and CD releases from both his extensive catalog and numerous other labels. The store, stocked with T-shirts, buttons, stickers and more, is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I would like for it to keep growing,” he says of his No Sleep enterprises. “This is what I want to do, and I don’t know what else I would do. I’ve got all of the job-stopper tattoos especially, so it’s like, without this, I don’t know what I’d be doing anymore. I went to Golden West College for a week then interned at Fearless, then worked at SmartPunk, and ever since I’ve been at different labels and distribution companies and record stores.
“Since high school, everything has been music business stuff – so what else is there?”
No Sleep Records is located at 16651 Gothard St., Unit E, in Huntington Beach. Its store is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photo and video by Drew A. Kelley, for OrangeCounty.com.
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