Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave is BILL KOPP’s new book on just that: How the San Francisco indie record label was at the forefront of the late ’70s/ early ’80s new wave and punk movement. This lengthy (but just the right amount!) book is an exciting, truthful, rarely over-enthusiastic telling of the label that spawned bands such as Romeo Void, Translator, Red Rockers and many more. My days as a college radio DJ at Seattle’s KCMU and writer for that town’s The Rocket were more than touched by 415.
It started out almost by accident. Chris Knab, who owned a local San Francisco record store, was doing a radio show at San Fran’s KSAN, invited friend/customer Howie Klein to join him on the show, playing recordings (vinyl and cassettes) by local, undiscovered musicians. The two were eventually asked to put out a record by The Nuns (they “were basically talked into it”), despite having no previous experience with such an undertaking, and 415 Records was born. From there, Knab, Klein & Co. put out records by The Offs (not to be confused with Off!), Pearl Harbor & The Explosions (the first single version of “Drivin’”), SVT and even Roky Erickson (The Evil One LP), as well as personal favorites by The Pop-O-Pies (reviewed here), Red Rockers, New Math and Romeo Void. Eventually 415 Records was bought by Columbia/ CBS, who kept Knab & Klein on (ostensibly for A&R), and the label released bigger records by Romeo Void, Red Rockers, Translator and Wire Train. The major label folks really had no idea of how to work with the kinds of bands 415 cultivated nor how to work within the culture of indie music and college radio; Knab left in 1985, dismayed over the mistreatment of 415’s bands. Eventually the train lost its steam and stalled out, Klein leaving the label to go to a new position at Warner Bros., CBS then selling the label to someone who effectively let it die a quiet death. In summary, kind of a typical story, but in its details a highly interesting and arresting one.
Bill Kopp does an excellent job of telling the story – or stories, really – behind 415 Records without ending up in superfan territory, over-enthusing about minor anecdotes or under-reporting big stories just because they don’t appeal to him as a fan or fit a preconceived narrative. That being said, it is clear that he must actually be a fan, if only because he did – after all – write this book. But Disturbing the Peace, published by Hozac Books, doesn’t seem to miss anything of even medium consequence, touching on everything from bands zealously reaching for the brass ring (Red Rockers’ obvious 180° turn from punk to commercial new wave, for instance) to the shady business practices of CBS/Columbia and other major labels of the time. My only complaint is that, being broken up primarily into chapters that discuss a particular band and its releases (or in the case of bigger bands, each of their releases), the author will refer to someone already referred to in a previous chapter as if we are just now being introduced to them. Rock critic Joel Selvin, for instance (who wrote the foreword), gets intro’d as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle numerous times. Even 415 co-founders Klein and Knab are seemingly reintroduced here and there. But – great googly moogly! – Kopp has written a book that treats its subject as important but not overly important, exciting without having to work real hard to prove it, etc. I wish every book written about independent record labels, bands, scenes or movements was written with this much of an even-tempered hand.
And, man!, I have read a lot of these kinds of books. (For example, here are just the ones I’ve written about on this site.) Kudos to Bill Kopp for Disturbing the Peace! It would be criminal if he didn’t have the time, energy and will to work up further books on such subjects. – Marsh Gooch
5/5 (Hozac Books HZB-014, 2022) (Order the book directly here.)