Yep Roc Records is a non-genre specific independent record label based in Hillsborough, North Carolina and owned by Redeye Distribution. Since 1997, the label has been known for releasing records from both local North Carolina and international artists including Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin, Paul Weller, Ryan Adams, Robyn Hitchcock,Tift Merritt, The Reverend Horton Heat, Aoife O’Donovan,The Apples In Stereo, Chatham County Line, Los Straitjackets, and Gang of Four.
Tor Hansen started the label in 1997, two years after moving to North Carolina to help manage a chain of record stores in the South. In and around the musical hotbed of Chapel Hill, he encountered bands making good music but not really knowing how to get it out. Back in Boston, he’d worked at Rounder Records with his childhood friend and former bandmate Glenn Dicker. Tor had worked in sales, and Glenn had worked in promotions. They made the decision to try and do both together with their own label and their own distribution wing, Redeye.
It started with a few local compilations featuring some recognizable names (Ryan Adams archivists will note Whiskeytown’s “Take Your Guns to Town” on YEP-2001, the inaugural 1997 release) and some names they hoped people would soon spot. There were no strictures or typecasts, no attempts to use the best bands in the vicinity to define a North Carolina sound or a Yep Roc brand. It was all simply stuff that Hansen and Dicker liked.
“It has been a sort of organic growth,” says Hansen, “It wasn't like we just started a record label with all this money. There were roots to this thing, and they start way back. Slow growth has been a good thing for us."
After about its first 100 releases, Yep Roc entered one of its most indicatively taste-driven spurts, releasing, in succession, records by Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould, Springsteen proselytes Marah, drifting folk act Dolorean and rock ’n’ roll madmen The Legendary Shack*Shakers. Jump down a few more catalogue numbers, and Yep Roc followed the debut of terse, tense post-punk act Cities with discs by alt-country progenitor Dave Alvin and Los Straitjackets, the masked surf rock stars whose sales a year earlier helped convince Hansen and Dicker that their personal and open approach to curating releases was a sustainable move.
The success of Los Straitjackets and the experience of working with Dicker on the Rounder-distributed Upstart helped provide the convincer to Nick Lowe to join Yep Roc. And after recording an album with a band named Wilco, Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey simply knew he wanted to be on the same label as Lowe, so he sent it over to Yep Roc.
“I’m a huge Nick fan, and I figured any label that was into Nick had to be cool,” McCaughey says. The label’s partnership with McCaughey has lasted nearly a decade, something he attributes to the openness of Dicker and Hansen to put their brand and money behind something they simply enjoy. “I’m surprised by the way they embraced my other bands, especially The Baseball Project. I’m also grateful that they support the Young Fresh Fellows occasional releases, with no hope of monetary gain.”
Yep Roc calls itself "the artist-driven label that refuses to be labeled."
“If I’ve got on my Yep Roc T-shirt,” explains label co-founder Tor Hansen, “I’m not really a part of one music scene. I accept that, and I think it’s actually pretty great. I like the idea that Yep Roc has the idea of an all-inclusive approach.”
Both Dicker and Hansen like to joke that such a release-what-you-love approach might not always make the most financial sense. They’ve very rarely pursued indie rock’s latest buzzing commodity or chased a trend washing through the industry. The label has never been about its own brand or the micro-celebrity of its owners; rather, Yep Roc has always tried to follow the path of the artists it claims. That might mean that they’re not able to return to the same customer core for every album.
“It’s a little challenging when we do a singer-songwriter, some blues guy, some garage-rock guy, some indie thing. It’s a little bit all over the place. It presents fun challenges, but the marketing of this brand is difficult,” explains Dicker. “It’s about the artist first- in fact, we’re driven by the artists. We’re going to market this artist and connect the dots for this artist; the brand is just going to follow behind that in the pop-up camper. That’s always the way we’ve looked at it, never the other way around.”
Tor Hansen and Glen Dicker currently own Yep Roc Records. Glenn Dicker is on The Music Business Association board of directors. Tor Hansen is a board member of A2IM. In August of 2013, Hansen spoke as a representative of A2IM before the US Congress Judiciary Committee on Copyrights.
“Yep Roc is staffed by a small number of people. I met all the employees in one afternoon, and it seemed pretty obvious they were all music fans, excited to be working there. I’d like to think the association implies a certain intelligence and integrity that aren’t common in this business.” -Chris Collingwood, of major-label escapees Fountains of Wayne
“I’m a huge Nick fan, and I figured any label that was into Nick had to be cool.” - Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows, The Baseball Project
“I ended up at Yep Roc because I was looking for a label that would give me - you know - the freedom to be me.” - Dave Alvin
“I recorded a few songs and I sent them to Glenn and we had a nice chat on the phone and he just made me feel like there were some possibilities that we could do some fun stuff.” - Chuck Prophet
"A tremendous amount of energy is freed up when you feel that your vision is actually respected and cared for by the people you're working with." - Tift Merritt