Probably even more of a surprise than the new Suicide Commandos album is seeing the record company logo printed on that album: Twin/Tone Records, a label many people had left for dead.
The legendary Minneapolis imprint — which helped put the Replacements, Soul Asylum, the Suburbs, Jayhawks and Babes in Toyland on the map — has been “in mothball existence” since the late 1990s, said co-founder Paul Stark. Twin/Tone’s last new release before the Commandos’ “Time Bomb” was the 1994 live album “Viva! Suburbs!”
“This is the perfect way to test the waters again,” Stark said, since the Commandos themselves are also returning from a long hiatus with a cultish following. “Neither of us are starting from scratch.”
Stark started Twin/Tone in 1977 with the intention of issuing the Commandos’ first album, but the band got signed by a much bigger label first. Twin/Tone made out all right, though.
Sidelined by the sharp decline of CD sales, Twin/Tone’s only business in recent years was selling T-shirts and mugs with the Twin/Tone logo, as well as special-order CDs that Stark burns himself of releases no longer available. About 30 Twin/Tone titles are still in rotation at record stores through a contract with Warner Bros.
The Commandos and Twin/Tone share equally modest expectations. Only a thousand numbered vinyl copies of “Time Bomb” have been printed. The label and band will charter the murky waters of digital downloading and streaming together, too. Stark believes digital distribution will be a sustainable business in three years or so, but for now he remains skeptical.
“It’s really up to Peter where it goes from here,” he said.
He means Peter Jesperson, the former Replacements manager who is Twin/Tone’s other remaining proprietor. (A third co-founder, Charley Hallman, died in 2015.) Jesperson recently left the reputable Americana label New West Records in Los Angeles after almost two decades but plans to stay in the business.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said from Los Angeles of Twin/Tone’s future, which for now is all about this one-and-only new release. “Both Paul and I felt the Commandos made such a great new record, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
But Jesperson, too, is optimistic about digital delivery eventually becoming a boon to a small-scale (read: two-man) label: “If we can figure out a simple and fun way to finance, make and release more records, we’ll do it.”
He added, “If we can’t, and the Twin/Tone resurrection is just the Commandos album, I think there’s something sort of poetic about that.”