Modern Radio looks back

Label founder Tom Loftus reflects on running the Minneapolis independent record label.

Tom Loftus poses for portraits in the office of his record label, Modern Radio, on Jan. 20. The label, which includes such bands as Hollow Boys, STNNNG, Fury Things and B.O.Y.F., is celebrating its 16th birthday with two shows this weekend.

Maddy Fox

Tom Loftus poses for portraits in the office of his record label, Modern Radio, on Jan. 20. The label, which includes such bands as Hollow Boys, STNNNG, Fury Things and B.O.Y.F., is celebrating its 16th birthday with two shows this weekend.

Jared Hemming

It’s never been easy to decide what to do after graduating college.
 
 
Fresh out of school in the late ’90s, college radio nerd Tom Loftus chose an unexpected next step when he started a music label.
 
 
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life before then anyways,” Loftus said.
 
 
A little more than 16 years later, Loftus still runs the Minneapolis DIY label Modern Radio, a small yet busy boutique that specializes in documenting the Twin Cities post-punk scene.
 
 
Local bands that Loftus has worked with throughout Modern Radio’s history — including STNNNG, Vampire Hands, Hollow Boys and Fury Things — are helping him celebrate 16 years with a weekend of shows at the 7th Street Entry and the Turf Club on Friday and Saturday.
 
 
It takes commitment to start any business, and Loftus’ devoted local fandom sparked his passion to create the project.
 
 
“I knew I loved music, and I was an avid fan and would go to shows all the time,” Loftus said. “Besides being a DJ and besides going to shows and setting up shows, I [decided I] could help some bands that I knew put out their records.”
 
 
Taking inspiration from other independent punk collectives like Havoc Records and Profane Existence magazine, Loftus shifted his aim toward the post-punk scene as Modern Radio’s initial niche.
 
 
“The bands that I liked were a little bit more melodic, a little more tuneful,” Loftus said. “There really wasn’t anybody documenting the people that were influenced or in that same vein in the Cities, and I thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ And at the very least, not knowing what I wanted to do after college … [Modern Radio] was something I could hang my hat on.”
 
 
Today Loftus said Modern Radio chooses to work with bands based on shared musical ideals and doesn’t limit itself to one type of sound.
 
 
“To me, there is an aesthetic and creative similarity between Mirah, Deerhoof, Yellow Swans, Vampire Hands, Hollow Boys and STNNNG, even though, musically, they sound completely different,” Loftus said.
 
 
Sixteen years in, Loftus still likens co-running Modern Radio with Peter Mielech to being in a band.
 
 
“I think it’s the same financial realities that most bands face,” Loftus said. “If you lose a ton of money on [a] record, you can’t afford to put out another record. But if you break even, your money that you put into it you bring back in, and you put it into another project.”
 
 
Navigating a local imprint to provide national and international promotion, distribution and manufacturing to a band or artist isn’t easy, but Modern Radio approaches the work with ease — the label doesn’t offer any contracts.
 
 
“We always wanted to work with people, where something just clicked, and they just got our philosophy for why we put out music,” Loftus said. “We don’t use contracts because we develop a relationship with the artist, and ultimately, we decide to work or not work with them if we’re on the same page.”
 
 
When punk shoegazers Fury Things decided to release their first LP “VHS” in December, singer and guitarist Kyle Werstein said the band wanted to work with Modern Radio because of Loftus’ commitment to Minnesota’s DIY rock scene.
 
 
“There has to be a lot of trust from the band, agreeing to basically a handshake deal with a label,” Werstein said. “But there also has to be an immense degree of trust on the part of the label to put that much faith in a band. … I think that says a lot about his faith in the local music scene.”
 
 
Though Modern Radio continues progressing as a small label, Loftus attributed part of its success to his genuine love for the music the company releases.
 
 
“The myth is that people who run record labels make money off of it, and I think the reality is that the overwhelming majority don’t,” Loftus said. “So why do people keep doing it? It’s because they love music.”
 
Modern Radio Sweet Sixteen
 
Where First Avenue 7th Street Entry, 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis on Friday and 1601 University Ave., St. Paul on Saturday
When 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost $10