When Bill Armstrong and Joe Sib started SideOneDummy Records two decades ago, they were a two-man show operating out of a closet-sized office on Melrose Avenue. The pair of musicians-turned-label owners were surviving on bagels and coffee, aspiring to build a company where the bands came first and the fridge was always stocked with beer.
Twenty years later, they’ve built a label that spawned releases from MxPx, Anti-Flag and Gogol Bordello, and graduated to a two-story office in Hollywood that also serves as crash pad for SideOneDummy bands. But even today, Sib and Armstrong admit that said sleepovers can lead to 2 a.m. phone calls from local law enforcement about suspicious characters entering the building.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the indie label and all of the madness that went along with it, SideOneDummy is releasing a series of vinyl reissues, starting with The Gaslight Anthem’s Live at Park Ave.
Considering the two founders have spent the last 20 years tackling the roles of roadies, booking agents and A&R hounds, it’s not surprising that they pass stories back and forth like a bottle of Jack Daniels. Sib, who served as frontman for punk outfit Wax and punk supergroup 22 Jacks, is insanely animated and will stop mid-sentence to hand off a story. Armstrong, calm and collected, immediately picks up where Sib left off. Their chemistry is obvious and their energy is contagious as they unleash 20 of their favorite stories from 20 years at SideOneDummy.
Meeting Through Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters
“I thought Chris wanted me to move in with him,” Sib says. “So here I am, moving into a room that’s actually a dining room, with my mat and sleeping bag, expecting Chris to be my roommate. All of the sudden this guy I’ve never met walks in and we stand there just looking at each other. It was Bill [Armstrong] and the only thing he really wanted to know was if I could cover the $200 for rent.”
Starting the Label
“At that time we were roommates and my band had broken up, and I was in an in-between stage,” Armstrong says.
Sib follows, “He was doing Dummy Records, I was doing USA Side One Recordings. Instead of competing we decided to go for it together.”
Giving Away Salad Bowls of Cigarettes
“In the early days [of Side One] we started a club night called The Flu just so we could get free drinks and get to know people,” Sib says. “It got to the point where it was really, really popular, so I just started giving away free cigarettes in this huge salad bowl, filled to the rim.”
Armstrong adds, “Who wouldn’t love free cigarettes?”
Releasing the First Ever Warped Tour Compilation
“There were so many other labels that were established, who knew what they were doing,” says Sib. “Here we were, two dudes sitting on a fucking road case, pitching ideas [to Warped Tour producer, Kevin Lyman]. He said yes and we completely ran with it.”
Trying to Sign Pearl Jam in Detroit
“So there we were, in Detroit,” Sib says. “We were left off the list, got backstage anyway, and still couldn’t get the meeting with Eddie. We were walking back to the car and I say to Bill, ‘Fuck this! He’s just a fucking dude, we have mutual fucking friends, and I’m not a fucking kook!’
“I go around the back and Eddie’s sitting there completely alone in crowd of people — obviously for a reason. Bill’s all fired up and gives me a shot and tells me to get rad… I walked right up to Eddie, sat down and said, ‘Dude, I gotta ask you a question right now.’ He’s mid-bite, gives me this look like, are you going to fucking ask me to play 'Jeremy' right now? I stared straight back at him and said, ‘When you were on a surf trip with Kelly Slater in Australia, how fucking gnarly was that?’ Eddie goes, ‘Dude. It was fucking gnarly…' Then he ended up inviting us to Mexico.”
Dave King Drenches Music Execs With Beer — and They Like It
“We booked Flogging Molly’s first residency in New York at the Continental Club, and Andy Allen from ADA and Chris Christianson from Billboard were there in the front row. [Lead singer] Dave King comes out and douses them in Guinness… They told us we had something on our hands here,” Sib says.
Realizing It Was Time to Give Up the Touring Life
“I woke up on the road in LaSalle, Illinois, sweaty, tired, and sharing a bed with our bass player at the time,” Sib recalls of his days on the road with 22 Jacks. “I came home and Bill said to me, ‘It’s not like it used to be. It’s cool when you’re out, but these bands are betting on us.’ I was always the band guy, but I felt like it was time give the label my all.”
Breaking the Floor
“Our first office was a tiny little second-story space on Melrose,” Armstrong says. “UPS would drop huge palettes of CDs in the back and our guys would break them all down into mail bins and carry them all upstairs… There were these giant piles of CDs everywhere. We did that for so long that we actually broke our floor, which was the ceiling for a jeans store below us. Needless to say we got a visit from the owner of the building and were told it was time to find a bigger space.”
Merry Christmas From Slash
Armstrong: “We saw Slash go into the Snake Pit one day [across from the Melrose office], so we grabbed a bunch of CDs to give him and asked if he would go outside for a picture with everybody. He was like, what? We had the entire office out there and he said, ‘Shit, this is everybody?’ We got the picture and ended up sending it out as our season’s greetings card. We even signed his name on the back.”
The Punks Meet the Godfather
“We were on our way back from our accountant’s, and were celebrating breaking even by eating at Islands and stopping for Swedish Fish,” Armstrong says.
Sib chimes in, “We were like, dude we’re ruling! Then this guy in a Bentley convertible comes up with the top down, he’s tan, got a chick next to him. I was like, what’s up! This was all at a stoplight… He asked us what we do, and we said, ‘We have record company, man!’ He said, ‘Yeah, I had one of those. It was called Casablanca.’”
Meeting Kill Your Idols During a Mild Winter in New York
“We showed up in parkas and they immediately knew we were from the label,” Sib says.
Teaming Up With Wheels For Humanity
“I was in the right place at the right time. I was able to get bands like Flogging Molly, Alkaline Trio and Tim from Rise Against to play a benefit and raise money to get people wheelchairs in third world countries,” Sib says. “I think we raised around $200k over four or five years doing it.”
The Warehouse Guy Discovers Restorations
“In the early years, we were the A&R department,” Armstrong says.
Sibb adds, “Over the past five or six years it changed. I remember when Alex, who runs the warehouse, said we had to check out this band Restorations. He built a relationship with them and they were looking to make a record. He was talking to them, and boom! He was the point guy. It was such a good feeling to pass the torch.”
Dee Dee Ramone Drops In… for a Dime Bag?
“The day Dee Dee Ramone came in, we had a meeting to talk about recording a record with him,” Sib says. “We got bagels, and then at the end he was really like, ‘Hey, uh, you guys know where I can I get some weed?' So we hooked him up.”
The Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon Fronts the E Street Band
“We’re at Hyde Park [in London] and not only does Bruce come out and jam on one of Gaslight’s songs — which is huge — he calls Brian out during his set to trade off vocals for ‘No Surrender’ in front of like 40,000 people,” says Armstrong, a diehard Springsteen fan. “Then Springsteen steps back, and there’s Brian singing and fucking fronting the E Street Band.”
Signing Off on Brian Fallon Fronting the E Street Band
“Springsteen loved it so much he put it on a DVD, and Bill had to sign off [in] the liner notes,” says Sib in between sips of Coors Light. “I grew up reading those liner notes on the record. Joe Strummer appears courtesy of Epic and so on. Here’s Bill signing off on our guy singing with Springsteen — we had become the courtesy of.”
“We love doing our event Storytellers. We put up curtains and set chairs out, and we invite bands and comedians to come into SideOne and tell stories to a room full of people… If you would have told us we could’ve gone to Sub Pop or SST and had people walk around and put on a show, I wouldn’t have believed it. For Bill and I, we love letting people come in for the night.”
Organizing The Ramones' 30th Anniversary Show
“The Chili Peppers played the first six songs off Road to Ruin, and everyone laughed because Flea was playing with a pick,” Sib says. “Johnny [Ramone] was on the phone that night to hear everybody. He died three days later. Moments like that, having it all run through this building, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
Talking Music With Cameron Crowe
“He wanted to pick our brain about the record company,” says Sib. “We had a mutual friend and scheduled a lunch with him. We’re sitting there with Cameron Crowe, and then the lunch ends and he sits with us for two hours, just talking about music.”
Bill adds, “He was everything you wanted him to be.”
Building a Career on a Handshake Deal
“There was no backup plan,” says Armstrong of the pair’s endeavor. “That was one of the reasons we stayed together. On a handshake deal we decided to start a label, and we’d always tell each other failure is not an option.”