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From Michael Chabon to Death-Doom: Mind Cure Records and the Preservation of Pittsburgh Punk

The Mind Cure singles series, highlighting the best in Pittsburgh hardcore, comes to an end in a box set out now.
July 24, 2014, 8:33pm

What do Heinz Ketchup, Andy Warhol, French fries and coleslaw on sandwiches, Aus Rotten, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood all have in common? Pittsburgh. While Pittsburgh may not be much more than a blue-collar ex-steel town with a few good sports teams for many, it is where an eclectic group of people and things call home. Pittsburgh will never be New York, LA, Portland or Austin, but that is probably a good thing. What Pittsburgh lacks in name recognition, size, and scope, it makes up for in its community. As far as punk scenes are concerned, Pittsburgh has one of the most thriving and progressive in America. At the heart of it—helping to unify, document, and build the scene—is Mind Cure Records.

Mind Cure Records, located in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh, may have only opened its doors in June of 2010, but the owner, Mike Seamans, is a lifelong member of the Pittsburgh scene. Borrowing the name from the once-defunct Mind Cure Records (the label that put out the first Pittsburgh hardcore demo tape, Real Enemy, in 1983), Seamans’ version of Mind Cure Records label and shop is not only both a link to Pittsburgh’s punk history, but a tool to fuel its future. However, as mentioned in the included history of Battled Citizens, the Mind Cure moniker originally existed as a way to unify Pittsburgh, “No one really owned [the Mind Cure moniker], but we thought it was important to show some sort of continuity in our scene, especially to the outside world,” wrote the original co-founder of Mind Cure Records, Mike LaVella. In this light, Seamans is showing the world just what Pittsburgh has to offer.

Other than being motivated by labels like the original Mind Cure, Seamans cites the now defunct punk and metal Pittsburgh record store, Brave New World, as an inspiration for him. “The guys that ran [Brave New World] did a lot to support local bands,” said Seamans. “They helped to do some compilations, one of the guys helped record people’s bands. They were so involved with what was going on. Even if it was just, you put out a demo tape, they were like ‘we will sell it in the store, we will hype people up on it.’ It never fully developed into being a full on label, but the passion they brought to the support of local music really wore off on me.”

Prior to opening Mind Cure, Seamans interest in promoting punk was satisfied with Dear Skull Records, a small outfit he ran that focused on Pittsburgh punk and metal bands. In its two-year existence, DSR managed to issue an impressive amount of records including releases from bands like Kim Phuc, Icon Gallery and Oh Shit They’re Going to Kill Us.

After putting in time both in front of and behind the counter at record stores, running a label on his own, and two failed moves to both NYC and DC, Seamans was ready to open his own store in Pittsburgh. While still living in DC, Seamans was pleasantly surprised to learn that his friends had successfully acquired a building in his Polish Hill neighborhood to open up Lili Coffee Shop, and were looking to rent out the upstairs space. Offering him the space his vision became a reality and Seamans set off on working out the details of opening a store.

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Early on Seamans faced the challenge of building inventory, “it’s tough. I mean, it is a hard thing to get into without already having a store.” Purging his own collection, hitting up flea markets and estate sales, and buying up his friends’ collections, Seamans inventory was still largely derived from a sole source. With his friend’s and family spreading the word that he was in the market to buy up collections, it would be an old family friend that would put him in touch with his biggest score. The friend of the family connected Seaman’s with the widow of a record collector he knew, who was eager to unload her husband’s collection. “I thought, ok, its going to be like a 1,000 records—because, you know when you are into records your idea of what a lot of records are versus someone else’s idea of what a lot of records are is really different—but we go to his house and I meet the woman and she is really nice. She says, ‘well the records are in the basement. I’ll turn the light on for you and you can go down.’ So I was walking down these basement steps, and she kicks the light on as I am about halfway down the stairs and this guy had this enormous collection, I mean in the rough calculation this guy had like 40,000 records.” Seamans described the collection as containing everything from ountry, to 20th Century avant-garde, to “solid rock,” a serious collection that had been professionally stored and preserved. “That was really where I got my start, buying that one collection.”

The only problem was moving the collection. Ignorant to the sheer weight of the collection, Seamans loaded the entire collection into a single truck, which nearly collapsed under the weight. Too humiliated to allow the widow to know that he didn’t quite know what he was doing, Seamans drove the squealing, dragging truck out of sight of the home and then called in a second truck to alleviate some of the weight. “I would like to think that now I could of orchestrated that transaction smoother [laughs]…I felt like such an ass.”

Having taken a sideline to the store, Seamans returned to the idea of a record label in 2012. With the store fully operational he felt that, rather than keep Dear Skull active, he would revamp the label under the Mind Cure name. Not only did he aim to revive the name, but also the scope of the label. Where DSR focused strictly on new releases, Seamans began the Mind Cure label as a way to not only support the current scene, but also document, to represent the history of Pittsburgh’s hardcore/punk history. Fitting to the homage, his first release was the Real Enemy- “Life With The Enemy” demo tape. Reissued as a remastered 12” LP from the original master tapes, “Life With The Enemy” is unique cross between 80s UK punk and American hardcore. Upon listening you can’t help but hear the entire history of Pittsburgh punk in its sound. There are trace elements of everything that will come to define “Pittsburgh” in this LP. Packaging the LP with an exhaustive zine-style history of the band, Mind Cure’s intent on instructing people on Pittsburgh’s place in hardcore is less than ambiguous.

Following suit with the debut release, the following two Mind Cure releases are similar. The second release, a reissue of the 1985 Savage Amused S/T tape, explores the Pittsburgh hardcore scene two years into its existence. Referring to 1985 as Pittsburgh hardcore’s “terrible two’s,” the included history of Savage Amused discusses how they stylistically existed in opposition to the Pittsburgh scene, not feeling like they sounded like anyone else. Nearly twenty years removed, Savage Amused can be remembered as an odd sort of hybrid between east and west coast hardcore. Elements of Poison Idea and Battalion of Saints creep in, but, ultimately, Savage Amused is a band that stands on their own merits. Breaking up after only 8 months, this 22 track LP features everything the band ever recorded. Despite their bassist, Alan Peters, joining Agnostic Front, Savaged Amused remained an obscure piece of Pittsburgh history until Mind Cure reclaimed them.

By the third reissue, Mind Cure’s discography begins to read like a roadmap to not only Pittsburgh hardcore, but American hardcore. In seeing the stylistic changes in the bands from ’83 to ’88, you are able to hear the times change. The 1988 demo Police Brutality by Battered Citizens has a style that cannot be separated from late 80s hardcore. The 12-song demo is a great piece of crossover history that sways much heavier on the side of hardcore than it does metal. Purveyors of more current hardcore will recognize an 18 year-old Oyo Ellis (Killer of Sheep) and 17 year-old Greg Mairs (Caustic Christ, Killer of Sheep, etc).

Aside from Seamans’ attempt to chronicle the nearly unreleased history of Pittsburgh hardcore, Mind Cure is probably most known from their year-long singles series, which ended in June of this year. Seamans recalls the idea’s precipice, “I originally came up with the idea within the first year of owning the store…but I didn’t have the relationships with the pressing plants at the time.” Remarking on a failed attempt to release a Ratface record in the stores first year, Seamans would return to the experiment in June of 2013 with Zeitgeist. “A bunch of people who older than me—and I was kind of surprised by this because they were the people of the generation whose bands I was reissuing—they were like ‘you gotta’ keep doing new stuff, you can’t just focus on old stuff.’ They really wanted me to keep supporting what was going on in Pittsburgh now.” While the idea started with a simple one local record a month schema, it evolved into a stripped down, methodological approach in which each addition in the series featured the same artwork, label art, and format. Realizing that it would be difficult to have bands sacrifice an entire EPs’ worth of original, exclusive material, Seamans envisioned the series at 12 releases, featuring one original and one cover, and accompanied by an online video documenting the process (which can be viewed here). The result of a years worth of work features exclusive, original songs from Zeitgeist, Carousel, The Gotobeds, Killer of Sheep, Mud City Manglers, Eel, Nic Lawless and the Young Criminales, Old Head, No Time, Möwer, Derketa, and Night Vapor; and, retrospectively, covers of Blitz, Thin Lizzy, The Victims (Australia), Half Life, Pagans, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Kinks, Agnostic Front, Motörhead, Sepultura, and David Lee Roth.

Limited to 300 copies each upon release, Seamans set aside copies, which were combined for a complete boxset and was released July 5, 2014. Contained within a sealed wooden box, the collection is every collectors dream and nightmare: dream because it offers a simple way to complete the collection, nightmare because to open it you have to break the seal.

Mind Cure Records

Now wrapped up, Seamans will continue to operate Mind Cure as a label and shop. One of Seamans most anticipated upcoming releases is the LP reissue of Pulitzer Prize winning Author Michael Chabon’s Pittsburgh punk band, The Bats. Slated for release this year, The Bats LP is an energetic and unique punk record, like nothing Mind Cure has released thus far. Be sure to keep your eyes open for a glimpse into the adolescent mind of the author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

While Mind Cure has been a major force in preserving and promoting Pittsburgh of the past and present, Seamans still highlights the importance of just the physical space a record store provides for a community, “I think it is really important just having a physical space, even just as a hang out space where people can meet up, meet each other, and find out about what else is going out in town.” If only every city were as lucky as Pittsburgh. You can purchase all available releases at their website or get to know the city and scene in person Tuesday through Saturday 12-8 and Sunday from 12-5 at 3138 Dobson St. (Second Floor) Pittsburgh, PA 15219.