As the 1980s approached, the punk subculture exposed a generation of youth who were searching for a musical outlet to a “do-it-yourself” attitude. California band Youth Brigade still embodies this attitude many years later. Youth Brigade is a punk-rock band created by brothers Shawn, Mark and Adam Stern in the early eighties. Shawn and Mark also own an independent record label called Better Youth Organization, better known as BYO Records. “We were kids when we started,” Shawn Stern says. “We weren’t thinking about making money. We were focused on promoting the music we were playing and giving exposure to the music we enjoyed.”

After fixing issues with mixing and mastering on their first LP Sound and Fury in 1982, the trio re-released the album and began a North American tour. “On stage, our attitude was to go in and bang it out,” Stern says. “I love playing shows because you’re never going to capture that live sound. It’s hard to transfer it onto an album without the feelings from an audience.” Confident from the success of their first CD, the band focused its sights across the Atlantic.

In Europe, Youth Brigade gained international success in the independent music world as they drew large crowds in Poland, Spain and Holland. Following their European tour, Adam decided to leave the band and return to school.“ Adam contributed a lot to Youth Brigade and he is still a large part of who we are,” Stern says of his brother’s departure. “Now he’s doing animation for films in L.A. I’m happy for him—we are a super close family.”

After Adam left in 1991, Youth Brigade added bassist Joey Balls and guitarist John Carey. Although the band continues to play and record music, their record label has also garnered a significant amount of attention. BYO Records has signed several acts such as 7Seconds and the Edmonton band SNFU.

Recently, a documentary about the label called “Let Them Know” was released by producers Ryan Harlin and Jess Alulis. “Whether you were part of it or not, the film gives you a first hand perspective from the people who were there,” Stern says. “It offers insight into the punk-rock scene and Youth Brigade’s part in it.”

For an independent label, 25 years is a long time to remain both successful and relevant, but it seems Youth Brigade and BYO Records have found a way to sustain their influence. “Our message is to think for yourself, then try to change the things you think about the world,” Stern says. “I’m not in a rock band to make money. I want to make music that gives a valid voice to young kids with daily concerns about everyday life.”

by Mary Ann Boateng

image: tbannika (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)