Label: Frontier Records
I originally contacted Lisa Fancher in April of 2007, and asked if I could do a short 20 question interview with her, she quickly agreed, so we shot emails back and forth for a while, and then six months past and nothing, then this past week I get a big shock, all twenty questions filled out and sent back to me. Turns out Ms. Fancher had completed this for me some time ago, but my email had somehow been filed in her draft folder instead of being sent. It’s a good interview, so it was worth the wait.
I was trying to come up with an all-encompassing introduction for the owner, and founder of one of the greatest punk record labels of all time, but as I was clicking around on the web I found the official bio that was written, and posted on the Frontier Records site. It’s pretty much everything I would’ve written myself, read on:
“Frontier Records was founded in 1980 by Lisa Fancher. It was one of the first independent labels to document the nascent hard-core punk rock scene of Los Angeles before branching out into other scenes and sounds such as the so-called “Paisley Underground” and (always) guitar-based bands such as Thin White Rope, The Young Fresh Fellows and Heatmiser.
After learning the indie label ropes from her mentors Greg and Suzy Shaw at Bomp! Records, Fancher first hit the jackpot with the release of Group Sex by the Circle Jerks (it should be noted that very first Frontier release was the self-titled EP by the Flyboys). The success of Group Sex set the label up for iconic punk releases by the Adolescents, T.S.O.L., China White and Suicidal Tendencies (whose defining anthem “Institutionalized” made its appearance here). Also of note from this era was the discovery of the ultimate Goth band, Christian Death, and the release of its masterpiece, Only Theatre of Pain. The importance of these albums cannot be overstated. It’s hard to imagine the future worldwide success of the Offspring, Green Day or Blink 182 without them!”
On with the interview:
1. When did you start Frontier and what gave you the idea to start a punk label?
Though I took the Flyboys in the studio in 1979, I set the official start date of Frontier as March 1980 as that’s when the record came out. I was very “into” the LA punk scene from the beginning but didn’t have any funds to even consider releasing Screamers or Weirdos 45s. I was working at Bomp at the time so I knew all the steps to releasing a record so I just decided to try it out for myself. I wish I could say it was kind of a business plan but it was just something I decided to do for yucks. I never intended it to be a punk label exclusively; it just worked out that way since those were the best bands at the time. There was nothing else going on here except shit like Van Halen, believe me!
2. Where’d you get the money to start Frontier, did you just save it from working at Bomp?
You got that right! I had zero money and even lived with my parents but I was working at Bomp and would get like six paychecks at once. And then nothing for another two months. Suddenly I’d have big chunks of change so I would pay off the recording of the Flyboys little by little. Not that it cost much because we basically snuck into Leon Russell’s studio in the middle of the night. I made no money off of that record as the Flyboys broke up before it was released but I managed to scrape together enough dough to buy the Circle Jerks masters from them in 1980 as well. Then things were dramatically different but I still didn’t give up my two day jobs (the other was Vinyl Fetish) for about two more years.
3. How old were you at the time?
I was 20!
4. Did you live on your own or with your parents at the time?
At first with my parents, paying rent was not an option with the sporadic paychecks but as soon as I got paid back from the cash outlay of the Circle Jerks in late ’80— I was outta there!
5. As someone who bought almost everything that Frontier put out in the early 1980′s, I always felt that you must have had some type of art background. There was always a very polished feel to everything that came from Frontier, as opposed to the generic confetti covers that Posh Boy used for a lot of his releases. Any art classes?
Wow, thanks! I always thought that the LP jacket should be as good as the music inside. Of course a lot of my contemporaries thought that lousy artwork made the record “punk” and it totally worked for Smoke 7 et al. (Even Posh Boy had a couple good covers like Beach Blvd and Rodney on the ROQ.) I can safely say I have no academic background due to my hatred of formal schooling so all my art knowledge was picked up from being a music fan and a pop art fan.
I think any really good band from any era always has a sense of style: how they look as a band, the gear they play and the way their packaging should be presented. I always gave the bands artistic control but I would never make the artwork purposefully bad. The first dozen or so Frontier albums were designed by Diane Zincavage after the bands and I put the concept together. Diane and I got along really well and she always “got” what I was trying to put across, or at least I hoped so! She was the art director at Bomp and I paid her to do my jackets, posters and print ads when she wasn’t doing anything else.
6. What was the Epitaph deal? And why is the Dance With Me album not listed on the Frontier site?
It’s a long, ugly story that I will tell all about someday. The short version is that I was seriously on the ropes after two disastrous distribution deals first with BMG, then with Rykodisc’s in-house distributor, REP. Brett basically tried to take the top sellers away from me, then I shamed into coming around and licensing them. Understandably the bands were upset as I was behind on royalties but I always paid them eventually. Anyhow, it was three years of me not getting any money. Suddenly my top sellers sold nothing! I had to close up my office, fire everyone and get a day job.
Then when the deal with up, I couldn’t get my packaging back. It was actually a pressing and distribution deal, not licensing but it’s too hard to explain. I had to battle to get my films and stampers back for two years, then I had to save up enough money from my DAY JOB to start pressing the top sellers again. It was such a disaster that everyone thought Frontier was done for. They tried to kill me off but it was impossible, like the lowly cockroach, I’m mighty hard to kill.
What me– bitter?
As for TSOL, I sold it to Brett because he—I should say his lawyer– made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I basically never saw the record in print for a few years, then Dexter/Bryan Holland bought it off Epitaph and now I’m seeing it again. No reason to list it on my site as it’s not for sale…
7. Do you own the publishing rights for the early Frontier recordings?
Some yes, some no.
8. What is Frontier Records biggest seller?
Suicidal Tendencies by a landslide. Thank you, MTV!
9. Are you amazed that 20 plus years later, people are still buying these records?
Hell yeah. I only put out the Flyboys as a way to entertain myself, I had no idea there would be a demand for the subsequent records that I put out. Feels pretty good though, this is the kind of surprised that you want to be!
10. Where did you get the name Frontier from anyway?
I was going to call it Frontierland after my favorite section of Disneyland, plus it was a comment on the Orange County punk scene. I ran it by a few people and one of them was a lawyer who said, “Are you out of your mind?” I cut the “land” off and Frontier seemed like one of those super-generic south western kind of names. There’s a Frontier everything out here– I only wish the airline and the bank were mine!
LAST ONE TO DIE is out. For the complete Lisa Fancher interview order at: https://www.createspace.com/3669330