I Love Your Label: Raegan Labat of Tough Gum
6.13.23 by Zach Mitchell
Welcome to I Love Your Label, a new column on Tabs Out, where Zach Mitchell interviews the heads of tape labels about their labels and artists. For the inaugural entry, I spoke with Raegan Labat of Tough Gum, a Baton Rouge, LA tape label specializing in left field, colorful, home recorded punk. You may also know Raegan as the bassist in the live formation of Feel It Records artists Spllit. Check the label’s tapes out over on Bandcamp, and their video series over on YouTube.
ZM: How did Tough Gum initially start?
RL: Me and Ryan [Welsh] started this music festival and we ended up collaborating with this other band Loudness War. We called it WarFair. We would try to bring in bands that we didn’t get to see here a lot. I did this twice, maybe? I was like “I really don’t have my name on any of this shit and I kind of want recognition.” I was already wanting to get press passes to do photo stuff at concerts, so I was like “I’m gonna start a blog.” I already had a name, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. I hadn’t started it yet because I didn’t have a clear vision of what it was, and that’s kind of what it became. I just started to describe it as a file folder of things I was doing. If you look back on old [Instagram] posts you’d probably see playlists, festival content, photo diaries, and I was also booking shows under the name. Then the pandemic hit. I knew I always wanted to start a label but I didn’t know how, so I just started following – just like everyone else in music scenes – DIY labels and seeing people make more tapes. Somehow, a live video series and a tape label started to form. I got a tape deck and it just happened.
ZM: Thematically, what do you think Tough Gum really is? Is there a Tough Gum sound you’re looking for or is it just whatever strikes your fancy as it comes across your plate?
RL: I feel like it’s more whatever strikes my fancy. I don’t feel like a curator, I just have my tastes. I was booking a lot of energetic punk shows. I was bringing the kind of stuff I wish we had in Baton Rouge but just wasn’t happening. That was me being self-serving, but I knew it was really fucking cool and I wanted people to get into it. People did get into it! No one formed punk bands after that, but, y’know, people had a great time. With the label, I had similar ideas and wanted to bring interesting sounds and stuff that I really loved to the audience I already had. I think the Tough Gum sound is definitely per my taste but I’m looking for new and unique sounds that really energize me and make me feel like I really want to help share this person’s stuff with people.
ZM: It seems like a lot of the Tough Gum output is pretty regional to Baton Rouge. What’s the Baton Rouge scene like these days?
RL: During Covid, it really dissipated. It became disconnected. People weren’t doing a lot in person, obviously, and I don’t really recall a lot of stuff being put out. After that, it was very slow to pick up as a committed scene. The Baton Rouge scene has always been very eclectic. There’s a mix of sounds and individual crews doing whatever they’re doing. They all come together for live shows, it’s pretty cool.
ZM: I want to talk about your history with cassettes a little bit. Have you been a cassette lifer or did you pick up collecting them at a certain point in your life?
RL: I really don’t know! I remember my first record, how I started collecting, and what I started collecting first but with tapes, I don’t know. You know me and physical media – I have an addiction and an appreciation. I’d imagine that it ramped up at the same time [as Tough Gum starting] for me. It’s always the cheapest thing on the merch table, at least compared to the records. Ever since I got an actual player I started getting more and more. Before that, my only memory [of tapes] is with my dad. He used to run a nightclub in LaPlace [Louisiana] of all places – like an alternative, new wave nightclub. He was the owner, bartender, and DJ. He made mixtapes for it and that’s kind of the sentimental aspect of cassettes. I cherish having those and seeing the designs and how he curated stuff.
STEEF – POST F
ZM: With Steef, everything on it makes sense together but it covers a lot of genre ground over 16 minutes. There’s zolo stuff, straight ahead punk stuff, and a really funny dance song on there. Which one is that?
RL: “Get Uglier.”
ZM: There’s also a silly element to it, which I hope you don’t find insulting.
RL: Sounds like Stevie [Spring]! I feel like this and the Fake Last Name record are really similar in that there are, like, 30 different genres attached [to those releases]. But yeah, I remember when Stevie sent [the album] to me. I was on Side A and I was like “sick, I’m so excited for this.” On Side B I was like, “what’s going on? This record completely changed!” It sounded like a lot of his solo stuff. He’s, just to put it out there, a pop master. He’s XTC’s biggest fan. I feel like he has this pop sensibility and just loves to sing. He’s also good at making “Ableton Punk,” which is just bizarre, freaky sounds. He creates his own world.
ZM: I was surprised at his pipes, honestly. I feel like a lot of vocals in bedroom punk stuff just end up being an afterthought and are buried in the mix. Dude wants to croon a little bit.
RL: Yeah, with the harmonies and everything! I feel like it makes it more unexpected. The melodies and sounds on that album are kind of a strange vibe.
Urq – Stop Mania/Scrapped Ideas
ZM: Urq is probably the closest to Steef in sound, but it’s a little more straightforward. You released a cassingle, which is cool. I think you told me you only did a cassingle because you bought the wrong tape, right?
RL: I misordered the Steef tapes! I’m also obsessed with singles and I love a good b-side. I had a lot of good ideas for singles but Matthew [of Urq] ended up having the energy to come up with an idea for how to use the tape. He has other records that aren’t as straightforward, like stuff that’s more into the strange, Residents-y world. Very strange, weird voice alterations and characters. For his single, he sent me two options and this is the one I picked. The other was a mega-song that would be split and you’d have to flip [the tape], but I didn’t think it would make sense for the format. I just loved the guitar lead on side A. It’s all about sugar addiction. He started performing live as a one man band and I think it’s everything me and his friends have wanted to see him do.
ZM: That’s what I liked about the single, I could tell it was kinda the poppier end of what he wanted to do with this project.
RL: I agree. His record The Castle Has a Backdoor is also very poppy. This leaned away from that garage sound and more towards the stuff that he’s good at. It’s still the Ableton sound. He’s still in there slicing and dicing. But even this single has a strange B-side that was kind of an “ok, that’s what we’re doing?” moment like Steef’s b-side. He also likes to write pop songs.
Fake Last Name – It’ll Happen Again
ZM: This one breaks the mold of the other two a bit. It’s still very homespun but it’s spooky.
RL: To have started my label with this is so important to me. [It’s] not only because Ronni has been such a dear best friend to me for 10 years, but everything about it is what’s important to me and important to running a label. It’s all home recorded. It’s got field recordings in it and it’s kind of experimental. It’s so vulnerable in the lyrical content. Just knowing the artist and the way they work – I dunno. I just respect it so much and love the sound of it, everything it’s about. No one really knew how to talk about it and when they did talk about it it was so different from everyone else. It was cool.
ZM: That’s how I felt about it too. I definitely liked it but I dunno. I felt like I shouldn’t have been spooked by it but there’s definitely a “someone whispering from around a corner” element to it.
RL: Those recordings were born out of lock down and getting fired. I don’t know if any of the themes of getting fired made it into there, but –
ZM: There’s one song on there.
ZM: Yeah. I don’t think I got fired vibes from it but I did get very “I am worried about my employment and the impact it has on me” vibes which, again, is very pandemic related.
RL: For sure, there’s a lot of sensitive and vulnerable themes on that record, which is admirable to me. I don’t write or make my own music currently. I just love it with all my heart. It was recorded on a four track!
Time Out Room – Tight Ass Goku Pictures
ZM: This one isn’t punk but still kinda falls in line with the homespun bedroom pop sound.
RL: This one is back to the four track vibes. I think he altered his voice by pressing on the tape and wiggling it. Only recently did I learn that all the drums were from a Casio keyboard. I just remember listening to it and when I started hearing these old sounds of where my record collection started I got a little jittery and excited. I fell in love with it immediately but I just kept listening to it over and over again. It was unlike anything I’d put out before but it was still very unique. He’s local, so it fits in in that sense. It wasn’t a question [of if I should put it out], it was just a question of the details.
ZM: Most of the other tapes from your label are all from the Spllit family of artists but this one is from outside of that. I was wondering how that came about.
RL: What’s crazy is that he was just in a rut and Stevie told him if he did something I might put it out. He just had that in his head. He apparently locked himself away for two months and fleshed out this album. I moved to Baton Rouge for college in 2013. At that time he had either just moved or was moving [from Baton Rouge] to New Orleans. He was in this scene way before I got here. He was in a band called Melters. They were this garage, pop-punk sort of thing. I wasn’t around for that, but I’ve learned that it was Taylor [McCrary, the artist behind Timeout Room] writing pop smash hits for them as well. There’s just something warm about this release. I loved the way it sounded.
ZM: There’s something really nostalgic to it, especially with all the little interludes that are kind of like weird radio transitions.
RL: I’m sure when I first heard it I was like, “do we need those?” but I’m not the artist. It grew on me. It’s also silly. It all fits together into this wholesome vibe I must be drawn to.
Look out for new releases by Spllit and Fake Last Name out on Tough Gum soon!