Collect Records' Geoff Rickly on the Label's Involvement with Price-Gouging Pharma Exec Martin Shkreli
By now, you’ve likely heard the story of Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager and current CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who made the New York Times this week when it was reported that Turing raised the price of Daraprim, a medication used to treat HIV and cancer patients, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Turing and Shkreli came under fire and the story hit a critical mass when Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both cited the instance in their calls to end drug companies’ price gouging.
A lot of odd stories have risen around Shkreli following this, from his combative interactions with Twitter users about the price hike to the story of his harassment of a former coworker. But in perhaps the strangest, there were rumors that he was the deep-pocketed investor behind Collect Records, the independent punk/hardcore label run by former Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly. In addition to Rickly’s own staunchly anti-capitalist screamo band, United Nations, the label is also home to acts like Creepoid and Nothing. The rumor wasn’t completely far fetched given that Shkreli was prone to tweeting about bands like La Dispute and Saves the Day, as rounded up by Noisey contributor Luke O'Neil on Bullett Media.
Naturally, for a label built on punk principles and run on a DIY ethos, the association with Shkreli’s shady Big Pharma tactics was held under high scrutiny as word started to get around. Would Collect continue to associate with Shrkeli now that his business practices had come to light? We reached out to Rickly who spoke with us from Germany, where he is just starting tour with No Devotion, his new project also housed by Collect Records. Additionally, we spoke with Nicky Money of Nothing, one of Collect’s newest and most promising signings. Those interviews follow below.
Noisey: How did you become aware of the controversy that was brewing around Martin Shkreli?
Geoff Rickly: Yesterday, I saw some back and forth on Twitter. This was very, very early, and I called his sister to discuss what was going on and what the deal was. Martin has a history of saying things that are very provocative, so I initially chalked it up to that. I had a record coming out this week, so I left it alone momentarily and boarded a plane to Germany for our record release tour. I got to Germany, and when I woke up from a nap, the world was on fire. I talked to Norman [Brannon, of Texas Is the Reason and a Collect employee] and things went from mild to terrible. If you know me, you know that I am definitely two things: naive and loyal. I want to believe that Martin wants to do the right thing overall. I’ve seen the guy give away money to schools, charities, and frankly, our bands, who if anyone really knows the industry, is a hard sell. I am struggling to find how this is OK.
How did you initially meet Martin, what were the circumstances?
Martin contacted me on Twitter and bought my guitar, the one that I wrote most of Full Collapse on. As a musician, steady income is hard to come by, so sometimes you do things to make ends meet. When I met him, he was charming, he was goofy and he was a fan of Thursday. It’s hard for me to come to grips with all of this because this was my first impression.
How did talks about his role with Collect initially start?
He sort of asked me if I was able to scale up and “do it right,” would I be interested in growing the label. My thoughts were that if I could do it my way, at my pace, and with bands that I believed in, I would definitely be interested. This was the start of our relationship, and he chose to be a silent partner in Collect going forward. He has never asked to see the bottom line and there has never been any check and balance with him. His only goal was to further my vision.
Were there any reservations working with him at the outset? What about looking back now on those original days?
There were no red flags at that time. I genuinely enjoyed his company, and I was just excited for the opportunity to work with him and to have someone who believed in my vision for the future.
How much do you know, or have you been involved in stocks, hedge funds, pharmaceuticals, or anything of the like, really?
I have never been involved in any of that. I am strictly an artist and a musician.
We talked a little about how you wanted to structure Collect, but what were your thoughts on making the label an “artist-friendly” realm?
One of the things that I really wanted was to make the label something free and open and creative and collaborative. When I was drafting those contracts, I got chastised by my lawyers for giving the bands so much power and leaving Collect very little wiggle room. I pride myself on doing that, and stand behind that now. Martin unconditionally supported me, and I found that refreshing and felt that his silent involvement could only make Collect a creative and positive space. Clearly I didn’t for today’s events.
How do you see Collect and Martin’s involvement going forward?
My head is still spinning, and though I want to believe that there is some reason that he would do this that is some remotely positive way, the only thing I can see is that it is totally and completely heartbreaking.
I can’t see my future at all in the label. I have to see what the bands want first, and see if there is any meaning or any mission following all of this. More than anything, I want the bands to see that I hold art as the guiding force in my life. Ultimately I see this going in the same way it always does, where all the artists get blamed for everything and capitalism is never held accountable. I really think that if Collect is going to be scrutinized as being capitalism, but that is how music survives. I’m not making excuses for what has happened, but there is no corner of the music industry that doesn’t live and breathe from subsidies from business. It’s reductive and hypocritical to hold us and only us accountable though, we are all at fault in some greater way.
Do you have any message that you’d like to give Martin, and the fans of Collect and its bands?
I don’t want to talk to him through the press. Frankly, I didn’t want to make a statement, but our bands have trusted me with their dreams and I’m not gonna let them down. Art, beauty, and dreams are the only things that can’t be bulldozed, and I’m here to make sure to look out for them any way I can.
Nicky Money, Nothing
Noisey: How did you come upon this discovery with Shkreli and what were some of the things you saw?
Nicky Money: Basically it all started with Twitter. I’ve been a victim of internet roasting as well, and how sometimes things can be pushed further than they really need to be. But as I started looking deeper and deeper into this guy that I am so invested in, I felt like I needed to read about his hedge fund tactics and his background in detail. It was then that I thought that we’re really dealing with a sociopathic businessman. I started to get a little bit sick and thought to myself that this is not good.
For the sake of argument, how does your situation differ from say another band at a major who has a board of directors from several similar backgrounds, which I am sure exists at many other places.
We were dealing with some other labels before we signed with Geoff, some of them majors. The deal with Collect was crazy, the contracts were 60 pages long. We are very DIY, but we decided to go for it because we believe in Geoff and we know what he is all about as a person. This is a fucking nightmare though, way beyond what any major label might do. It’s something that I could never live with.
Do you feel like Nothing could ever have a home at Collect?
Nothing will never be a part of a label that involves Martin.
Give me some sense of your thoughts on Geoff Rickly and his possible role in this?
Geoff Rickly is an amazing individual. I’ve spoken to him before about the label, but we never really got into what Martin did besides investing. Geoff and Norman were not aware of his background prior to working with him, and I stand by my decision to work with those two specifically. I truly feel terrible that they are dealing with this situation, and I know that they have broken their backs to try to make this label work.
If you could speak to Martin directly, what would you say?
I hope we can separate ways without things getting any uglier than it is now.
UPDATE (September 23): Collect Records and Geoff Rickly have released a statement, severing ties with Martin Shkreli. Read below:
Today, Collect Records — with the support and encouragement of all of our artists — have agreed to fully sever our relationship with Martin Shkreli, effective immediately.
When I decided to get into business with Martin, we took him on as a patron. He was completely silent and allowed us to do business as we pleased. His only ask was that we sign bands that we believed could make great art given the right environment and not to focus on a profit, no matter how dire the bottom line.
Never in a million years did any of us expect to wake up to the news of the scandal that he is now involved in. It blindsided and upset us on every level. As such, we know it is impossible for us to continue having any ties with him. For my part, I've always strived to make Collect a place that was so liberal, encouraging, and artist-friendly that no one would ever walk away from us willingly, though to do so at any time would be very easy. To that end, I hope that our bands continue to believe in our guidance and passion. Any of them that have had an incurable crisis of confidence will be allowed to leave with nothing but the kind of encouragement that we've built our label on.
For all the kind words of encouragement that I've received over the past two days, I'm forever grateful.
From all here at Collect Records, thank you.