“Okay, I’m gonna lay down right here and take a nap,” jokes No Devotion’s beefy bassist Stuart Richardson as frontman Geoff Rickly politely agrees to start the interview with the controversy that hit his Collect Records label a few days before.
Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager and current CEO of a pharmaceutical company, recently raised the price of a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection for people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS and cancer patients, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. The alt-rock scene was shocked to learn that Shkreli, 32, was a huge fan of emo and post-hardcore, a friend of Rickly and a major investor in his label. The outrage was immediate: The bands signed to Collect showed their indignation and Rickly announced a few days later that the label had decided to sever ties with Shkreli who had invested $600,000 in it.
Of course, Richardson knows the feeling: his former band Lostprophets had been under more violent fire after their former singer Ian Watkins was sentenced to 35 years for child sex offenses. After being given a hand to get back on his feet by Rickly who decided to help him and his bandmates move on by creating new music and forming No Devotion, it’s Richardson’s turn to support his new singer.
Heartbroken but not defeatist, both men sat down before No Devotion’s show in Paris, to talk about this exhausting week that has also seen the release of their debut full-length Permanence and Rickly being poisoned and robbed in Germany. For them, it’s all a matter of bad luck.
First and foremost, how are you doing?
GEOFF RICKLY: I’m hanging in there, trying to get my head around everything. I had a few days of being shocked and not knowing what to do. Now it’s time for me to stop worrying about it and think about how to help my bands and my employees, because there are a lot of people that have lost their livelihoods now and that’s what I signed up to be my responsibility. So I can’t hide and be sad, I have to work. This is almost the most important time for me right now.
And probably a very confusing one, too. What is the state of things with the label right now?
RICKLY: We have one more record that’s in the pipeline. It’s been manufactured already, it has a street date, it has everything going already so no matter what, you can’t stay “stop”. It’s Wax Idols’ American Tragic, it’s coming out on October 16. [Frontwoman Hether Fortune] has been put in the crosshairs because she’s the next record out and if anybody wants a target, she’s right there. For me, that’s the only priority record-wise. This record is in the line of fire; how do I protect her? I was, like, her hero. She was 15 when [Thursday’s] Full Collapse came out, and she was up front at every show, crying and writing essays about the lyrics. That’s how I met her first. Ten years later, she sends me her last record and I just went “Whoa.” And now I have to figure this out.
So you’re putting this out and then it’s kind of a blur?
RICKLY: From there, I get to stop, reset and decide: Do I have a future doing this label? Or do I need to get a job? You know, that was my job. So first of all, I need to find a new job. Also I have to place my employees somewhere because they quit other jobs to work with me. Norman [Brannon, of Texas Is The Reason] quit being a professor to work with me; Shaun Durkan had a much better offer to work at another label and he came with me because that’s what we are, friends. So that’s what I have to do: Figure all out, put it in perspective and then when it’s all done and the Wax Idols record is out, I can think, “Is it savable? Do people respect me enough to keep loving this if I do it?”
You’ve said that you thought, “At the very worst, if Martin Shkreli was a bad guy, I’m taking his terrible money and giving it to artists who never get any.” Does that still hold true?
RICKLY:I mean, would you rather have him invest in bombs or funding for the arts? He also funded schools, but the schools aren’t in trouble because they’re schools.
But is this going too far to take the money then?
RICKLY: People who know me just said “that’s not what you’re about.” So this doesn’t make sense anymore and if it doesn’t make sense, then how do we support it? Even if there is a part of me that thinks, “I’d rather take this money and give it to bands.” Because I give all the other bands advances; [No Devotion] don’t take advances cause it’s my label and we do it for love. But I take care of all my bands and give them money to buy a van. I do everything I can for them. There’s a part of me that says “Fuck everybody, I’m gonna take the money and give it to my bands.”
But you’re not because of the pressure.
RICKLY: If the bands didn’t start getting so upset… I don’t know what I would have done. I may have kept it there. To me, funding for the arts is something that we ignore in America. We have one of the lowest rates of funding for the arts in the world, per capita, 47 cents a person. It’s so shameful, because art is the foundation of thought. For me, why we have society is because artists and thinkers come up with a better way to live. But part of a better way to live is to say, “I won’t stand for this kind of behavior from the people that I associate with.” That’s why people are so upset.
It’s an eternal issue: Should independent artists accept corporate funding? And how far do you have to look through what they’re doing?
STUART RICHARDSON: It’s not black and white. Artists have been taking money from investors since forever.
RICKLY: Florence, the Medici clan… [Italian dynasty that served as patrons to many artists including Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo during the XIVth century.]
RICHARDSON: It’s just a really messed-up situation. It’s just unfortunate what happened to Geoff.
RICKLY: It’s just not recoverable. There’s no way to make it seem okay. All of my hard work and everything that I’ve done would feel different for a lot of people and I think, ultimately, that’s why I decided, if my bands don’t feel safe… [Pauses.]
I talked to Martin. It was like: “Hey man, you kinda threw this all under the bus.” He said, “Well, you need to throw me under the bus. You need to break ties with me because you have to think of your bands and your bands hate me.” I was like, “Okay, you’re right. I need to think of my bands, number one.” My bands, my employees, health care, all that stuff… I’ve made a lot of promises to the bands and I always keep my promises. If I said, “I’ll protect you,” I’ll find a way to protect you.
Are you going to give back the money?
RICKLY: We can’t do that. It’s already gone.
RICHARDSON: The bands don’t make enough money to pay back the money.
RICKLY: If I asked those bands, “Give me back your van,” what would that accomplish to give that back to him?
RICHARDSON: They can’t afford to give it back. If you asked [Collect Records act] Sick Feeling to give back, say, $10,000, there’s no way they can do that.
RICKLY: They would be working for years to do that. It would be the worst thing I could do. [Pauses.] When we started Collect, because we had funding, it was like, “Let’s be adventurous, let’s challenge people, let’s give them something that they don’t just eat up.” You know, I’ve signed massive bands; I could probably be an A&R at a major label. I produced and helped shape My Chemical Romance, Murder By Death, Touché Amoré; I have a track record signing huge bands. But with Collect, I had a chance to do the Sick Feeling record, Wax Idols, things that people are challenged by. And to me, that is what it was all about. It was “we’re gonna use the funding for the arts, and we’re gonna make exciting art.” That’s all. “We’re not gonna think about the bottom line, we’re not gonna think about record sales, we’re gonna think about challenging people to accept higher standards in art,” and that was it.
RICHARDSON: You know, when Geoff took the money, this guy just sounded like a philanthropist. He was a guy who was working for a pharmaceutical company which, for what I know, was actually doing more good than anything else. He seemed legit and he was doing good things and he wanted to give money to his idols.
RICKLY: And he was hard on me. He was like, “Sign bigger, better bands, sign cooler bands, sign bands that are doing crazier stuff, get them health care.” He wanted me to give everybody on the label health care and I was trying to figure that out. He had goals that were very philanthropic, so you just don’t see this kind of thing coming when you have these conversations with somebody talking to you about schools, revamping basketball courts so poor people in New York City have a place to go. That doesn’t sound like somebody who’s gonna wake up being the most hated man in the world.
Now a lot of fans are wondering what they can do to help you and the label.
RICKLY: That has been amazing. It’s simple. Any band that you love, they need it. You know, I’ve had hundreds of people reach out to me saying, like, “My label does the same thing, it’s just a different person and he hasn’t been called out yet.” Everybody is super-scared right now, like, “Oh, my God, we’re gonna have the same thing happen.” At the same time, they’re bending around us, saying, “If it can happen to you, it can happen to any of us.”
But people are not aware of that. They don’t know that a guy who has nothing to do with music may be funding their favorite label.
RICKLY: But it’s everywhere. And they don’t even think about where they’re reading this news. Is it Pitchfork, is it Noisey? All these places are backed by huge corporations. How can you be self-righteous about me on something that has the same kind of funding? It’s just been such a whirlwind for me. In America, we don’t like to know where our dirty money comes from. We like to imagine that everything’s all good, everything’s pure and nothing is challenging. But it’s a challenge to think about the money. If you’re invested in your principles, then looking where your money comes from is gonna be a very hard challenge.
A lot of people want to give you money right now. Even if it’s not enough, does a crowdfunding campaign seem like a good idea to you?
RICKLY: I’m really touched by it. More than anything, it’s been so moving to hear “we care about you.” As far as crowdfunding, we have enough records that if you really wanna help us, buy some records and check out some art—that was the whole purpose. I don’t want anybody’s charity. I’m good at a lot of things, I’ll be fine. I’m not worried about me. I’ll be okay. It’s our bands that need the help.
What did you mean when you tweeted, “We need to rage against things sometimes and now is one”?
RICKLY: What I was saying was that I understand why people are so upset about this whole thing. I’m not saying I only love the people who support me. The people who are furious, that’s not for no reason. Those people have the right to be mad about things. I have a lot of love for that kind of outrage and I would hope that people act on it more than shed it out on an independent label, because I don’t think that cured a goddamn thing. I don’t think that hurting us hurt Martin. Not at all.
RICHARDSON: For people to be outraged, it’s amazing. But it has to be an educated outrage. People need to read more than headlines. You know how when you buy a gun, you have to wait three days to be allowed to use it? Well, maybe people shouldn’t be allowed to go on Twitter for two minutes. [Laughter.]
RICKLY: I mean, there have been plenty of people who’ve told me my record label had killed millions of children.
RICKLY: Yeah. And I’m like “Hmm, no. You’re totally backwards. And you’re on fucking Twitter. Fuck off.” That’s the kind of thing that drives me crazy.
No Devotion’s official bio reads “The former Lostprophets members had their own notions of trust and betrayal tested beyond measure.” There’s obviously no way their history could be compared to what happened this week, but it sounds like it’s happening again.
RICKLY: For me, I feel responsible for these guys in a lot of ways. When this happened, it was like a double tragedy for me because once again the brilliance of their music and their hard work has been compromised by a scandal that is none of their doing. For me, that’s pretty hard. These guys are pretty cool about it. They’re like, “We’ve been through worse.”
RICHARDSON: Dude, I’ve been to hell and back. Trust me, I’ve seen worse, I’ve had worse said of me. I have a family and kids and I’ve been called everything. I don’t feel betrayed by Geoff at all. It’s just bad luck. Really bad luck. I don’t think Geoff didn’t dig hard enough on this guy, I don’t think he’s to blame at all. [Shkreli] seemed like he just wanted to put his money out there.
RICKLY: People are like, “Look at his face, what a douche. Look at his attitude!” I get what you’re saying, but the way that I know him, he just had friends who were goofy with pictures and he was like that, too. It’s easy to say, “Look, look at him!”
You’ve said he helped you and that he changed your life.
RICKLY: He did. And he helped me so much. I was in a really bad place when I met him. It’s really hard for me to hear all this about him and have it click that it’s the same person. And I know that it is. And I know that good people do bad things and bad people do good things. If he’s a bad person, Collect was a good thing. If he’s a good person, the toxoplasmosis drug price increase was a bad thing. I never paint people as one-dimensional. There aren’t monsters, there are just men and women and some make bad decisions or repeatedly make bad decisions.
Do you still consider him as a friend?
RICKLY: I know that would really horrify some people, but at some point, I’ll talk to him. I just wanna know what he was thinking. There are a lot of questions that I have and I hope someday he answers them. Because to me, we were in this great thing together to change the world one day at a time. I know it’s corny, but we were on a mission and I considered him a friend on that mission. I should probably just be like “fuck him” or whatever, but I always wanna know why. I just see it at best as a terrible, terrible misjudgment.
RICHARDSON: I don’t see what good he was trying to do but I hate when people judge people immediately. I know what it’s like to be demonized by people and I was terrified that maybe my children were gonna be hurt.
And that shows there still needs to be some optimism: Two years ago, you were saying that you didn’t know if people would look you in the face again. Not only are they looking you in the face today, they’re also buying your new band’s record and paying to see you play.
RICHARDSON: It’s amazing. I couldn’t go out. I shut myself off. Geoff had faith in what I was doing, but it was really hard for me to believe anybody. I don’t wanna go on too much cause I’ll probably start losing it, crying. I can’t find the words to say how good it feels. It’s all I’ve ever done and cared in my life. Music is all I’ve ever wanted in my life. I’m not trying to sound overly dramatic but to have it taken away from me, if I didn’t have a family, I don’t know what would’ve happened.
Would it have been possible to have it all come back without Geoff?
RICHARDSON: No. [Pauses.] He started to build my confidence back up when I showed him what I had written and then we started working together. It just happened very slowly. I’m trying not to be emotional—I’m Welsh so I don’t like to show my emotions—but it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. And it’s the best music I’ve ever written. I feel very proud of everything I’ve done. My heart and soul are in this. My wife has taken on two jobs so I could finish the record. Finally we’re here and we can enjoy the moment. This thing with Martin happened when the record came out and I said, “I don’t care.” I can see the bigger picture.
RICKLY: My label manager, Norman [Brannon], he said to me: “It’s not about the crisis, it’s about what you do when it happens.” Our bands are great. It’s not like they’ll never find another home—people love our bands. Ultimately, everybody’s going to be okay. Nobody’s gonna get left out in the cold without a job or an audience. And if that hasn’t been lost, then nothing’s been lost.
So this may be the end of Collect Records as a structure, but not as an idea.
RICKLY: Exactly. You know, people are talking about the amount of money that Martin spent on the label and I just think, they can’t imagine how much of myself I spent. People don’t realize how much money Martin has, but it was a very small amount of money for him. For me, [Collect] took over my life in ways that Norman told me maybe this is a good thing. Because he’s gonna stop worrying about me not sleeping three nights a week and not taking care of myself because I’m thinking too much about every band. I know the amount of capital I put into this: it was everything I had. And I’ll keep doing that until everybody has a home.
RICHARDSON: And it’s not like you took his money and ran away with it. Geoff was very responsible with it, he budgeted everything.
RICKLY: People don’t realize that by the end of next year, we would have had 17 acts on the label: $600,000 with 17 acts and three employees, an office and health care… People don’t realize how much it costs to press records. Then there’s tour support and everything. You can’t make a record for less than $50,000.
Knowing all that, were you surprised by the really quick and strong response from the bands?
RICKLY: [Deep breath.] I wish that a few of them just stopped and talked to me to vibe it out, but I was on a plane to Germany and they couldn’t get me. When the house is burning down and Dad is nowhere in sight, you jump out the window. That’s kind of what started happening. I don’t blame any of them at all, ‘cause they didn’t sign up for any of this and they got put in the headlines.
I saw that Sargent House reached out to you.
RICKLY: Yeah, a few people have. We’ll figure something out.
What a week.
RICKLY: It’s been shocking how much support we’ve got, considering what a crazy week we’ve had and what a bombshell was dropped on our company. The amount of love I’ve received is truly shocking. I’ve really been blown away by it. alt