Get Better Records is on a mission. Established in 2009, the Philadelphia--Los Angeles indie label is run by musician Alex Licktenhour, of Philly post-punk trio Control Top, and partner and bassist Ally Einbinder, of punk outfit Potty Mouth. Licktenhour (who identifies as non-binary) and Einbinder (who identifies as queer) use their label to reverse the “constant underrepresentation” of the queer artistic community across the industry, with a specific focus on punk, hardcore and alternative rock genres. The queer, trans, femme owned and operated company's mantra? "No bullshit."
Via their heavily DIY roster, and many compilations, GBR has released music for Anti-Flag, Laura Jane Grace, Shirley Manson (Garbage), Sheer Mag, Bren Lukens (Modern Baseball), Screaming Females, Mannequin Pussy and more, as well as for its third co-founder Jenna Pup (The HIRS Collective) and Einbinder’s own Potty Mouth outfit, who have supported Against Me!, The Go-Gos, CHVRCHES and Skating Polly on recent tours and released their latest LP SNAFU on the imprint in March.
Via the queer outfit, Licktenhour and Einbinder are able to sit on both sides of the aisle in the music industry -- leveraging their own experiences as part of the indie music scene and LGBTQ+ identifying minority to relate to its eclectic roster. Activism has been a major focus as well, by producing benefit shows around tragedies like June 2016’s Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, to whom the company donated proceeds from a compilation LP featuring artists on the roster.
GBR also uses its platform to advocate on behalf of all underserved communities industrywide. In a June Twitter post, the label called out reported practices at booking agency APA. Titled "when the gatekeepers fuck up, everyone stays silent," the post aimed to hold the firm "accountable" for reports of questionable, discriminatory behavor from its agents. "APA is one of the biggest agencies with lots of power over who gets on tours (and who doesn't)," they wrote. "They foster a 'sexually abusive environment' according to an ex-employee, so we advise you to be careful. Their agents have been quoted as saying 'when is this whole 'women in rock' thing going to be over?' These are not the people we want to associate ourselves with. You don't need them, they need you. Don't let them control the market any longer."
To fete Billboard’s Summer of Pride, Ally & Alex curated a Pride-themed playlist comprised of acts on their label and within their queer community at large, featuring cuts by Choked Up, Dyke Drama, Guppy, and more.
“Half of the playlist features a lot of bands on our label Get Better Records,” says Einbinder. “And the other half is just friends -- bands we like and are friends with and also bands who have members who are queer or non-binary or trans.”
Below, Billboard caught up with Ally & Alex to discuss their individual journeys toward self-acceptance, the origins of the GBR label and its continued DIY mission.
What was the initial impetus for founding Get Better Records?
Licktenhour: Over the past five years or so, the label has mostly been women and either trans, queer or non binary artists. That’s how we identify and we’ve all noticed and have felt the brunt of the lack of that representation at other labels and maybe not so much in the DIY scene because it’s more prominent there, but in the more mainstream scene, labels don’t want to develop you if you’re queer, non-binary or trans. We wanted to be the label that did that for people. There’s a lot of people that we’re friends with or that we know - most of our label is just our really close friends because that’s who we are, so it kind of morphed into that very naturally.
After building this community, how do you see the idea of Pride as it exists currently?
L: Pride is very interesting because it’s very marketable, and that is one of the problems. I was in Target the other day and Listerine has their own rainbow bottle of mouthwash and Trident has their own toothpaste, so it’s very easy to be a “rainbow capitalist.” Overall it’s slowly changing and people are more accepting and hold more space for people that aren’t just straight cis white dudes. It’s slowly happening and I think we’re a part of that change — our goal is to hopefully give our acts a platform to speak on, because what’s the point of any of this? To promote growth and to be role models for other people to be doing the same types of things that we are. I don’t think most of us really had those role models growing up.
Einbinder: I think the pride conversation is really interesting because like Alex said it has become really commercial and sort of this convenient thing to fit within capitalism where now we have a Pride month and corporations can put a rainbow flag on anything and it will sell those products. Pride started with the Stonewall Riots in the '60s and that was radical. There’s a lot of debate about Pride being not so radical anymore and what do we need to do? I was just listening to this report by The New York Times on whether or not cops should be included in the Pride parade, and that conversation about do we work within the system that exists or do we still try to fight against the system?
How does fighting against the system fit into GBR’s mission?
E: Get Better Records is a label for artists. Right now it’s really hard to be an artist within the current music industry climate. There’s just less money and fewer ways to be independent. Alex and I are both artists ourselves - we both play in bands that are on the playlist. I’m in Potty Mouth and Alex is in Control Top. So often when you’re an artist trying to survive, you’re just up against the music industry constantly. It’s the idea of changing things from the outside but also from within. It’s a conversation that Alex and I have been having as the label grows and as it gets more attention. This label started as a DIY project that Alex did out of a college dorm 10 years ago, so we’re still trying to figure out how to maintain our ideals and continue to be a label that actually enacts some sort of change within the music industry and how much of that would be working within the current system and how much of that is working outside of the current system.
Have you ever experienced any incidents of discrimination in the live sector and touring space?
L: I just did a tour where a lot of the crowd was trans and the most interesting part of that was there was a lot of older trans women probably in their 50s or so, and that was such a new thing for me. I was talking to someone about that the other day - we don’t know very many older trans people. The more that queer bands and trans bands get out there, the more that people are going to the shows and especially when line-ups are diversified that also makes a huge difference.
E: Unfortunately it’s something that I experience every night of tour - it’s just how it is. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the venues we play the people who end up doing sound for us are mostly men - it’s great when it’s not men - but the other night we played a show and I noticed something was wrong with the way that the amp was configured and I pointed it out to the sound guy and said I think this is just a bad cable. He wasn’t that patronizing, he said ‘wow thank you for figuring that out and noticing that.' But as a woman I’ve had to work twice as hard in a lot of cases just to prove my competency, because the assumption often times going into a situation like that is that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Festivals get a lot of criticism for the lack of representation on most line-line-ups that lean mostly towards white cis straight male acts. How do you feel about that?
L: It’s just how it’s always been. And in making things more inclusive — within that — there’s also the conversation of at what point does that become tokenizing? I think it’s intention - are you booking a band or releasing a band’s record or going to see them just because they identify in a certain way? Sometimes that’s maybe ok, but the problem that a lot of labels are having now is that they’re just tokenizing their bands - whether it be queer people or trans people, or artists of color being tokenized.
E: The conversation has to be about intersectionality and about different forms of marginalized identify. What we strive for is a future for the music industry that’s inclusive but not tokenizing. And I think that like Alex said there’s a fine line between that, but we don’t need any more white cis straight man rock bands (laughs). We just don’t need more of them, it’s oversaturated. To be a label that intentionally is working with artist that is outside that hegemony, that’s what we try to do and we’re not perfect by any means. We’re constantly learning and reflecting and I think that’s what any one working in the music business needs to be doing all of the time — reflecting on the choices that they make and who they’re representing and how that affects the culture at large. Personally growing up I didn’t see many women playing rock music, and that impacted my belief in myself because it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I considered myself capable. We just want to have representation of all marginalized identities so that we can create the kind of future of the music industry that we want to see.
Tell me about your individual experiences of "coming out” and your own journeys towards self-acceptance.
E: I’ve never “come out” but I never identified with the straight world. I’ve always been interested in gender and the fluidity of gender and the way that gender is ultimately a performance. It’s something that I learned in college being a gender studies major and taking my Women’s Studies 101 class. Learning that Judith Butler’s theory of gender as a performance in a social construction which was just mind blowing to me at the time. I began to reflect on my life differently after learning these concepts around gender and thinking back to being young and going to Girl Scout camp. Looking back now I realized how many of my counselors there were trans or non binary or just queer in some way, and not having those concepts back then but understanding that I was having feelings back then without really having a conceptual framework for them. It made me reflect on my whole life differently. I don’t identify as a lesbian or gay, I identify as queer. I think gender is complicated and I guess I’ll just leave it at that.
L: I always thought I was different growing up, but there was never any terminology or vocabulary for it like a lot of kids have now. The internet didn’t really exist in the way that it does now. So I came out as non binary maybe three or four years ago to my friends when I first moved to Philly. The first thing that my partner said to me at the time — she was almost mad about it — was like ‘how are you going to tell your parents? What are your parents going to think about this?’ It wasn’t like 'oh my god, thank you for sharing let’s talk about this.’ That was my experience. It was weird. Obviously I’ve become way more comfortable with it now in talking about it, but still almost four years later I’ve never talked to my parents about it directly. My friends have all been supportive but I don’t really have a coming out story with my family, but I hope to have that soon. I’m fairly certain that they probably have researched Get Better Records and have somehow put together something but it’s never really been asked or talked about. Every time I go to visit them I think about doing it but I just never do. I was just there yesterday and I was like maybe I should do it now, but it was my brother’s birthday so I couldn’t have done it.
What made you want to get involved in the business side of the industry?
L: In coming out, I was able to really hone in on what I wanted to focus on as the label. Because when the label first started, it was just shitty folk bands from where I was living in New Hampshire. There was really no gender identity politics behind it - we thought about stuff but it wasn’t like these are the voices we want to represent, but since I came out it has become a very conscious effort of who we want to work with and who we don’t. I know when Laura Jane Grace came out [as trans], she did an interview with Rolling Stone and was like ‘this is my coming out’ like I have a deadline to tell my family.
How would you compare the arts and LGBTQ+ communities in Philly and L.A.?
E: I feel like there’s a big difference between the two places. Philly is a place where this spirit of DIY punk is very much alive and well and there are so many bands that have come out of the Philly punk scene and have grown from that. Not to say that DIY punk doesn’t exist in LA - it certainly does - but you cant argue that LA is like the hub of the music industry. Alex is eventually going to moving to L.A. and we’re going to be living there together. When Alex visits LA, we’ve had meetings with labels out there and other people who are in more conventional side of the music industry and I think that is going to be a really good opportunity to have us exist outside of the DIY punk scene and bring the politics of Get Better Records to try to partner with and have conversations with the big players in the industry that honestly need to be held accountable in some way.
Do you support any LGBTQ+ organizations that you'd like to cite?
L: I think when I first started the label, I was like if I’m going to be doing this thing, I might as well make it benefit not just me but other people as well, and make it political and all the things. Since day one, the way we funded Get Better Records was we held a partial benefit for the label and also the only arts space in the city that I was living in at the time. We split the money down the middle. Ever since then, anytime theres a big thing that happens in the world like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, we did a benefit concert for them, the shooting in Charlottesville, we did a benefit. Every Get Better Records event has been a benefit for something, often queer related and sometimes not. We just did a set for Anti Flag and it was a partial benefit for a safe house space in Philly that’s for trans sex workers. It’s important that we continue to do that.
What’s next for Get Better Records?
L: We’re in the beginning stages of booking this tour for next year that is going to be forty U.S. dates and a few Canadian dates. It’s going to be a few notable bands that you’ve heard of with a few local bands in each market. And it’s going to be July and August of 2020 and there’s so many festivals now especially like Warp Tour and this new thing called Sad Summer or whatever - it’s all straight cis white dudes! We want to book our own festival that travels around and does the same thing but have it be acts that are on Get Better, those type of queer, trans, POC, women - we’re doing our vision of how we think it should be, and we’re int he very beginning stages of planning that but that’s something that I’m very excited about right now.