Allan Carter remembers exactly when and where he decided to start a record label.
“I decided I was a little too old to be dragging a drum kit out of a bar at four in the morning,” he says, “I didn’t want to be one of those cranky old guys at the end of the bar going, ‘Grrr, I used to be in a band.’” But he wanted music to remain part of his life — and to pass on some of the wisdom he’d acquired in 20-plus years as a professional musician — so SquidHat Records was “born on a barstool” at the Double Down.
So it’s appropriate that SquidHat returned to the Double Down for its third annual showcase. This past weekend, 10 bands packed the bar and kept the mosh pit going past 2 a.m. The New Waves brought their surf renditions of ’80s classics (“Take on Me” lends itself especially well) and the Franks & Deans did their thrash take on Rat Pack classics. Guilty by Association brought the hardcore, while Eliza Battle roared through country punk and rising stars Sounds of Threat pounded out energetic punk rock. Even Carter got into the act, performing with his band Attack Ships on Fire for his once-a-year gig that always amazes the younger bands. “It’s like learning that your dad can juggle,” he laughs.
“For me, it’s a way to remember why we do this,” says Carter, whose role as president and founder isn’t about cheering crowds and complimentary cocktails, but about contracts, paperwork and number-crunching. “You spend a lot the year in front of computer doing busy work and making deadlines, and it weighs on you.”
SquidHat now has 13 acts on its roster and just issued its 16th release, a much larger output than Carter anticipated when he began in 2011. He saw local band the Dirty Panties and he “wanted to buy something and they had nothing to sell,” no CDs, no T-shirts, not even a button. “It wasn’t something they’d thought about or could afford,” he recalls. So he created SquidHat.
“My goal was to do three a year—find three bands I like, help them put out a record and move on,” he says. But distribution deals with Nail and Planet Works required more product and Carter saw an opportunity to spread the sounds of Sin City all over the world. “There’s never been a shortage of new bands in Las Vegas,” he says. “If I say, ‘I’d buy that,’ I’ll take a risk on it and put my money where my mouth is.”
“[Running a record label] has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Carter says. “People trust us with their art and that’s powerful.” He’s excited that the label has made it to year three, but is looking forward to another anniversary. “I can’t wait to have a fifth anniversary. Ninety percent of small businesses don’t make it to year five.”
In the end, for Carter, it’s about making the best music possible and making it available to as many people as possible. “A good song is a good song,” he says. “The best way to ensure my grandkids’ rock ’n’ roll is secure is to put out albums.”