Twenty years ago, when Bela Koe-Krompecher founded Anyway Records with his friend and co-worker Jerry Wick, he was young, ambitious and nearly broke. Also: frequently drunk and constantly heartsick. A full-time employee at Used Kids, he lived for records, rock shows and the camaraderie that comes when friends, music and booze converge.
Now, in his North Campus living room the week before Anyway’s two-night anniversary party at Ace of Cups, Bela, 44, sips coffee while classical music streams from a laptop. His four-year-old son Bruno frequently, humorously interrupts our interview. It’s common in this household.
“How can you do something with somebody crawling on you, calling you a poopy face?” Bela wonders.
The obstacles change with time, but Bela’s common thread remains: He releases some of the greatest Columbus rock records.
Anyway began after Wick, the frontman for seminal Columbus punks Gaunt, nursed Bela “back to some sort of sanity” after a crushing breakup. Having contributed $25 to help fledgling Columbus label Datapanik release the first New Bomb Turks record, Bela had vinyl on the brain.
“I started realizing I had a little extra money because I didn’t have a girlfriend,” Bela explains. “And I loved Gaunt. So I was like, ‘Why don’t we put a single out?’”
All 500 copies of that single, “Jim Motherf---er,” sold out. So did Anyway’s next seven releases from Columbus mainstays including Greenhorn, Belreve and Monster Truck Five plus Athens rockers Appalachian Death Ride.
Even Dayton lo-fi masters Guided by Voices released music on Anyway. Bela tells a great story about the Used Kids tape deck mangling the only copy of GBV’s “Hardcore UFO’s.”
Wick left Anyway in 1994 to focus on Gaunt. Meanwhile, Bela inked a nationwide product and distribution deal with San Francisco distributor Revolver.
“So Revolver for the next five years paid for everything,” Bela explains. “LP and CD for the most part, then it was just CD because nothing was really selling.”
After catching fire with those early records, Anyway’s fortunes cooled upon signing with Revolver. When the deal expired in 1999, Revolver didn’t renew. Anyway maintained national distribution, but funding was back on Bela’s shoulders. He drank a lot that year.
“I was a little disenchanted,” he remembers, “because the three bands who I had worked with really hard, which was Jenny [Mae] and Moviola and ADR, basically all had this opportunity to go somewhere musically to reach a wider audience, and for whatever circumstances it never happened.”
Bela’s spirits worsened when Wick died in a 2001 hit-and-run. Still, Anyway never stopped releasing albums — Tiara, The Patsys, Terribly Empty Pockets.
Bela moved to Florida, got sober and moved back. In 2005, he re-enrolled at Ohio State, rattling off three degrees in seven years. He’s a social worker now.
The records keep coming: Ghost Shirt, The Lindsay, The Kyle Sowashes. Next year brings Connections, The Whiles and Winter Makes Sailors. Bela has more money and time, at least when not reining in rowdy children.
Anyway persists, and that’s worth celebrating. So Bela scheduled some of the label’s past and present greats (including Belreve’s first show in 18 years) for two stacked nights at Ace of Cups. Although he prefers to be in bed early nowadays, he’s happy to celebrate these bands.
He’s also fired up about the charities that will benefit, including the National Alliance of Mental Illness, which helps Bela’s clients — mostly ex-cons and homeless people — bust through red tape to get food stamps: “I can use this silly anniversary thing to make people more aware that as a society we’re not treating people with the dignity that they need to be treated.”
Read the full 7,000-word interview with Bela Koe-Krompecher at ColumbusAlive.com.
Photo by Meghan Ralston