Label celebrates underground bands that 'color outside the lines'

Growing up a pro wrestling fan in the 1970s and '80s, Gary Daniels tended to gravitate towards the villains, or heels, pulling for them even as he jeered at their onscreen antics.

“You don't realize some of your favorite wrestlers end up being the ones you boo the most, that you really hate, that you want to see get beat,” he said. “There's not an appreciation for that art, let's say.”

Daniels applies similar logic to his Columbus-based label, Heel Turn Records, which will celebrate its third anniversary with concerts at Dirty Dungarees (early) and Ace of Cups (late) on Friday, Feb. 23. With the label, Daniels focuses his efforts on the music turned out by “the freaks, the weirdos, the misfits,” as he termed the artists, most of whom he counts as friends.

“A lot of it is loud, obnoxious music,” said the Youngstown-born Daniels, who launched the label with a pressing of Day Creeper's Central States LP, released in tandem with Superdreamer Records. “These past few years, the [population] growth here has been dramatic, and … the people coming into Columbus aren't the weirdo artists. Those are the people getting priced out of Columbus, or having to take up a second job so they don't have the time to continue to make music. [Heel Turn] is meant to be a counter to that very mainstream atmosphere.”

Daniels borrows another wrestling term to describe the label's growing roster, which he refers to as his stable, a noisy, gritty, occasionally ornery bunch that includes locals such as DANA (the band's self-titled debut is currently Heel Turn's top seller), Raw Pony and Bloody Show, as well as a smattering of regional groups (Indiana's Mr. Clit & the Pink Cigarettes, Tennessee's Burning Itch) and one international act: South African garage duo Make-Overs.

There are no contracts at Heel Turn — “I didn't get into this shit to do contracts,” Daniels said — and all of the artists maintain full rights to the music.

“If Hyundai wants to pay someone $20,000 to use their music in a commercial, more power to them,” said Daniels, who embraces the label as a break-even proposition, hoping to recoup the cost of pressing each release to vinyl (the label typically orders 300 or 500 copies of each release, with pressing done at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland). “It's not my music. I don't have ownership of it. … Somebody can take their music and do whatever they want with it.”

Daniels said the inspiration for starting the label was simple.

“It was seeing friends' bands and saying, ‘Someone should get this on album and put it out,'” he said, noting Heel Turn might not exist if now-defunct Columbus Discount Records were still around to release albums that documented the underground rock scene. “Then it just kind of snowballed from there. It's all stuff I'm a big fan of, and that's the main criteria. But, at least generally speaking, it tends to be pretty in-your-face. … These really are those people who sometimes color outside the lines.”