As a president of a long-standing and successful independent record label, that credential alone would be enough to have us buzzing. However, Louis Posen is much more than that. He is the ‘Paul Newman of Punk Rock’, which is an indication of Louis’ philanthropy, be it through Hopeless Records and its charity subsidiary Sub City – which has raised more than two million dollars for over 50 different causes – or even as the founding member of the non-for-profit org Mediators Beyond Borders. Furthermore, Hopeless Records is the home of beloved bands such as The Used, Taking Back Sunday, and Enter Shikari. What Louis has achieved is an awe-inspiring accomplishment for just about any person, but amazingly he has done it all despite gradually losing his vision when he was just 19. JUICE managed to speak to the positive Louis about Hopeless, the state of punk rock, and many more.
The start of Hopeless Records came as a dare from Guttermouth, because we read that you had no intention of even starting a label, why did you decide to take up the band’s dare?
That’s a tough question to answer more than 20 years later. I think I was just young and interested in trying new things as well as playing a bigger role with the band beyond the music videos.
Even though the record label was named after Guttermouth’s song of the same name, your personal story and the label’s philosophy have a very ‘hopeful’ outlook. Did you take notice of that?
When naming the label for the Guttermouth 7-inch, I didn’t approach it with foresight or deep business analytics. I knew enough to know I needed a record label name and it just seemed appropriate to name it after the first song. Since then, yes I have been asked about the name and its ironic nature from our company philosophy. My two typical explanations are; I) we wanted to create very low expectations so it isn’t too difficult to exceed those expectations, and ii) no one would be interested in buying albums on parent-approved records.
You and your record label have gotten attached with business buzzwords such as ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘creative philanthropy’, was this always the goal to have a business that gives back as well?
Initially we just wanted to be a company that did things the right way like keeping promises and being clear and honest. Several years into running the label, we realised we could take this philosophy and do more by connecting our bands to causes they were passionate about. This was the birth of Sub City, our non-profit arm.
Even as a teen, you’ve always seemed industrious, you somehow managed to juggle your university studies, a job, and managing a fledgling record label, even signing artistes like Avenged Sevenfold. Was that attitude instilled or did you cultivate that positive attitude?
Thanks mom! I think I’m more industrious than some and less than others. It’s something I am conscious of and continually try to be more effective at work and in life.
We’ve read that you have become interested in conflict resolution and you’re even the founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders. Does the issue of resolving violence have any correlation with the straight edge culture that you identify with?
I enjoy helping people and making a difference, which led me to learn about conflict resolution. It’s amazing how progressed we are as human beings yet we still hurt each other physically, emotionally, and otherwise to try to get what we want. Hopefully as people learn conflict resolution skills, we can become a more productive, sustaining, and growing society. I’m not sure of the connection between conflict resolution and straight edge, but I think they both have philosophies and ideals rooted in bettering ourselves and our society.
Would you prefer the bands under Hopeless to subscribe with the straight edge culture?
No, we value individualism as much as we value our own philosophies – as long as people/bands don’t hurt others. Diversity in thoughts, feelings, and ideas helps us learn and grow.
What do you look for in a band that would be suited to be included in the artiste rosters of Hopeless or Sub City?
We look for artistes who are unique and connect that uniqueness with fans. We look for artistes who can make people think or feel differently or more deeply.
We’ve also read that back in the day, the label had some difficulty to get bands to associate their music with something as positive as the philanthropic Take Action Tour? Why do you think there was reluctance from the bands?
There are a lot of factors why artistes, managers, booking agents, and others make decisions. Any time one has to make sacrifices that affect their economics and amount of attention they receive it makes it more challenging.
Do you think that the ‘do good’ ethos of Hopeless and Sub City was, in a way, a safe and squeaky-clean image that those bands did not want to be associated with?
I don’t think so since there has always been an edge with what we do even though it has a positive approach. I think the challenges mainly had to do with economics and attention but in the early years, I am sure educating people on what we were doing played a part in not knowing how legitimate the concept was.
What do you think of the punk music way back when you were a teen as compared to the punk music that’s influenced by pop, alternative rock, and other genres?
There are similarities and differences musically, aesthetically, and otherwise. I’d say the biggest difference is bands are now getting started with the expectation to have a big career and when I first got into the scene most bands were just playing because they loved playing.
You once described Hopeless as not just a record business but the label also works with other brands to sell a lifestyle. Did that notion come out of necessity or do you think punk music is a piece of a culture that kids would like to have a piece of, just like a pair of Vans or Converse?
Absolutely! Punk and other indie genres are a culture and lifestyle. We’ve always viewed it that way and have never focused solely on singles or albums like traditional music companies.
Hopeless Records has been around for 20 years and the music business has seen many changes in the age of the internet where there is streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube. How do you adapt to the changes and overcome the obstacles that entails?
Adapting is part of any business and about life generally. We’ve seen lots of changes in music, which for the most part have benefited mid/small companies like ours. While free music and lower margin access to music has its challenges, the decrease or removal of barriers at retail, distribution, and marketing [levels] have outweighed those obstacles.
Also with social media, do you think that the underground scene has lost its mystique and appeal of being ‘underground’?
I don’t think so. Since all communication mainstream and underground is available on social media, underground communication still feels and acts differently.
As most of the bands that are signed under Hopeless would mostly be considered as ‘pop-punk’, being a punk enthusiast and a person who’s in the music biz for quite some time, what do you personally think of that categorisation?
I like it even though many bands would argue they are not pop punk. Having categories helps fans and potential fans find scenes and bands. Once people are exposed, they can then decide on the nuance of category descriptions.
What do you think of the punk purists who may be opposed to the genre?
I welcome all ideas and opinions as long as they are not hurting anyone.
Where do you think the global punk movement is headed and will we ever see a renaissance in popularity a la Green Day in the ‘90s?
Music seems to be cyclical. Sounds go and come back. Our scene grows and then enters the mainstream and then goes back underground. In my eyes, that has stayed consistent over time.
One of Hopeless Records’ new artistes, Neck Deep, will be releasing their record Life’s Not Out To Get You on Friday 14 August ’15.