No New Kinda Story Review

AKA: No New Kinda Story: The Real Story of Tooth & Nail Records
Genre: Music Documentary
Year Released: 2013
Distributor: Tooth & Nail Records
Origin: USA
Running Time: 66 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Danielson: A Family Movie, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?, 943 Gilman St., Forget Not, MxPx: Both Ends Burning, Demon Hunter: 45 Days, Punk: Attitude
-No New Kinda Story is available on DVD, but director Jesse Bryan has it available for streaming on his YouTube account for free.
Fun Facts:
-No New Kinda Story commemorates Tooth & Nail’s existence by being released during the same year the record label’s 20th anniversary.

-The name of this documentary comes from Starflyer 59’s song of the same name from their 1999 album Everybody Makes Mistakes. There’s even a music video that even references 8 1/2 as well as The Seventh Seal of all things. You’re welcome film buffs! Also, Starflyer 59 is the 3rd band to be signed with T&N as well as being on the current roster as of this writing.

-Tooth & Nail is a music company that has multiple divisions. In addition to the main label, they have imprints with Solid State which emphasizes metal and hardcore. There’s BEC which started out as a pop/rock label before signing more explicitly Christian rock and worship artists. Fugitive Recordings is a fully secular label and one of their biggest signings was The Presidents of the United States of America (you might know them for the “Peaches” song). Two former labels associated with T&N were rap label Uprok and the now-independent Plastiq Musiq label that focuses on synthpop as well as experimental electronic artists which was originally owned by Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric fame.

-Some of the most successful bands that were associated with the T&N company that achieved mainstream success would be P.O.D. who were signed long before they went multi-platinum, MxPx, Underoath, Thousand Foot Krutch, Hawk Nelson, Norma Jean, and Demon Hunter.

-Did you know that there are some famous bands that have or had at least one member associated with any band from the T&N umbrella? This will blow your mind. Dashboard Confessional’s lead singer/guitarist Chris Carabba started out as the first lead singer for Further Seems Forever. Every Time I Die at one point had Keller Harbin from The Chariot and Queens Club in the band. Throwdown had Lance Garvin (Living Sacrifice, Zao, and Soul Embraced) and Yogi Watts (Demon Hunter, Holland, and The Lonely Hearts) as touring drummers respectively. Evanescence had Living Sacrifice guitarist Rocky Gray as their drummer for 5 years. Korn’s guitarist Brian “Head” Welch was signed at one point with his band Love and Death before rejoining that band. Switchfoot has Jerome Fontamillas who was in Mortal as well as former BEC band Fold Zandura. Paramore had Aaron Gillespie as a touring drummer. He’s best known for his work in Underoath, The Almost, and as a solo artist. Andy Duncan, one of the former bassists for experimental punk band Frodus would be an original member of OK Go. Fastball had Driver Eight’s (ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED INDIE ROCK BANDS EVR!) Andy Blunda at one point. Also, Ginger Pooley, the bassist for Halo Friendlies would eventually play that instrument for Smashing Pumpkins as well as being in Gwen Stefani’s backing band.

-Founder and CEO Brandon Ebel was actually born in Dallas, Texas before his family moved to the Pacific Northwest. His degree in college was actually in Broadcasting which makes sense since it’s mentioned he was a DJ during his time at Oregon State University. This is also the 2nd documentary which features Ebel since he makes a cameo in Danielson: A Family Movie.

-Jeremy Enigk makes a cameo via archived footage. Any music fan should know him as the lead singer and guitarist for emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate as well as The Fire Theft in addition to his solo work. He’s also collaborated on two songs with former T&N band mewithoutYou (“The Dryness and the Rain” and “O Porcupine” from their 3rd full length album Brother, Sister).

-Speaking of mewithoutYou, they are the only T&N alumni band who have won an MTV award. They have the MTVU Left Field Woodie Award for their music video “January 1979”. The Left Field Woodie Award is for the most original artist. Want to know who they beat out to win it? Matisyahu, Arcade Fire, and M. I. A.! Trust me, that’s no small feat since all of them got more visible mainstream attention than mwY.

-It’s quite funny hearing Aaron Sprinkle talk about not being a good producer when he recorded MxPx for free when he was only 20 years old. Flash forward some years, and he’s recorded and engineered several records. Outside of the T&N company, he’s produced artists such as Gatsbys American Dream, He Is We, Beth Orton, Eisley, and Relient K.

-Four artists across T&N, BEC, and Solid State have RIAA certified Gold albums. MxPx has one for Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo, Kutless has one for their Strong Tower album, Underoath has two for Define the Great Line and They’re Only Chasing Safety respectively. Jeremy Camp has a record of 4 Gold albums and 1 Gold single.

-Cornerstone Festival was a music, art, and film festival in the tiny rural town of Bushnell, Illinois. Several Tooth & Nail bands have played there especially when they had their flagship T&N Day where their bands would play and they would set up a long merch table. This is the same festival that bands and singers such as Over the Rhine, Phil Keaggy, La Dispute, and Sixpence None the Richer have played in the past.

-Animation Fan Bonus: Two animated works featured music from bands that were affiliated with T&N at some point in their careers. Clone High’s theme song was written and performed by electronic rock band Abandoned Pools. The LEGO Ninjago series (both the animated show and the movie) was scored by pop punk band The Fold.

Nostalgia can play a part of the things I review. This year, I certainly felt that when I rediscovered Hikaru no Go. While that was one of my favorite anime/manga series during my high school years, that doesn’t compare to something that I was an even bigger fan of. Other than anime, I was a HUGE music fan for even longer than my otaku years. There was one record label that was a big part of my music fandom: Seattle, Washington’s own Tooth & Nail Records. Not many record label companies could say they have a core fanbase, but this one was a huge exception. I had a zeal for this record label that would put Disney and Nintendo fans to shame during my high school and early college years. Before I go into how I got there, I have to make a confession. I had a laughable taste in music when I was a child. Sure, my parents would expose me to classical music, jazz, and retro works, but I actively listened to either Christian pop music as well as Top 40 stuff including the songs that would get played on (DUN DUN DUUUUUNNN!) Radio Disney when that was a new thing during my childhood. My first experience with Tooth & Nail Records (okay, it was technically BEC at the time with this example…) was listening to The OC Supertones’ “Away from You” song when I was a kid. I thought it was an interesting mid-tempo ska ballad, but nothing really changed. It wasn’t until I bought some of that label’s compilation albums with my own money when I was a bit older especially their Songs from the Penalty Box vol. 5 album and everything changed. I was exposed to punk rock, indie, experimental music, pop punk, metal and even rap music when Uprok was still a thing. I then went to Cornerstone Festival for the first time during my youth for Tooth & Nail Day all the way in the cornfields of central Illinois with my Dad. It was my first exposure to seeing those type of bands live. I even had the opportunity to see Hawk Nelson a year before they got signed which made them the first band I ever saw in my life where I knew who they were before they got famous. It’s mind blowing that a random Canadian pop punk band that would be in the Drake Bell remake of Yours, Mine, and Ours, had some VH1 exposure (including the fact that their video for “The One Thing I Have Left” was #1 on their Top 20 Countdown), and played The Who in American Dreams on NBC years after the fact. During my high school years when I would get some money from my first job, I would splurge on CDs and anime DVDs. Most of the former involved musicians who were signed to any of the T&N labels at the time. I even met the founder Brandon Ebel by accident at Cornerstone a few years after my first experience at a T&N Day event. For years, I was a stan for this music company. During my freshman year of college in speech class, I was part of a mock interview assignment with a classmate. To the surprise of NO ONE, I pretended to apply for a job at that label in Seattle. My partner for that assignment was asking typical questions for a music job and she ended with asking me about things I would know about Tooth & Nail. In one of the few confident moments of my life, I fact-dropped her with information about grunge band Wish For Eden who was the first band ever signed, their album Pet the Fish was the first ever release from the label, and the serial number was TND1001. She leaned in to pick up her jaw off the floor and the rest of the class (as well as the professor) gasped when I said that fact with pinpoint accuracy. Yes, I got an A for the interview. Anyways, I don’t deny them being a tastemaker record label, but I haven’t paid attention to them in years.

Then I was suddenly reminded about a certain documentary about this music company I find synonymous with my teen years as well as my early college years. My younger self certainly had an excuse to geek out when watching, but is my current self enjoying this in the present despite not knowing much about the current roster. Of course, they just HAD to name it after a song from one of my favorite bands growing up.

Are happy days here again? Yes, that’s another Starflyer 59 reference for those who don’t know.

No New Kinda Story documents the history of this renowned, yet controversial record label. It got it’s start in 1993 by a recent college student from the Portland area by the name of Brandon Ebel. He loved music for a lot of his life despite his issues growing up in special education classes as well as struggling with ADHD. After finishing up his undergrad at Oregon State University, he got a job at a Christian Alternative Rock label Frontline. Ebel moved one state down in Southern California for the job. He had a keen interest in indie rock, punk, hardcore and metal, but at the same time he wanted to know if there were bands who played in those genres while also having a Christian worldview. Frontline wasn’t delivering when it came to those genres most of the time, and Ebel was exposed to various bands like Wish for Eden, Focused, and even earlier with death metal band Living Sacrifice during his college days. Frontline thought most of those bands sucked while the recent college grad thought they were amazing as they played quality music without being evangelistic or copying whatever mainstream music was doing. Chastened by Frontline, he decided to create his own record label in secret called Tooth & Nail Records. Why the name? His parents would always tell him to go after things “tooth and nail” all the time, so that was the main inspiration. Unfortunately, he only lasted half a year at Frontline and they wouldn’t let him use their building to help with this new label let alone use T&N as a kind of feeder imprint/minor league system/developmental project before upstreaming the bands onto his now former place of employment. Ebel even cajoled folk rock singer Mike Knott to help him out since he was more known in the various indie circles in SoCal to make it look like he was in charge of the label (hilarious in hindsight side note: Mike Knott would release the Strip Cycle album on T&N in a few years time). Other than that, his grandfather Alex Ebel despite being a harsh man who grew up during the Great Depression gives Brandon a $60K loan to start the label. This musical entrepreneur would eat bean cheese and rice burritos every day and live in a tiny apartment just to promote these quirky bands that no one else was signing. What he didn’t expect was how big of an impact a ton of these various bands of different genres would have as T&N gets off the ground.

This really caught my attention almost right away regardless of my previous fanboy status. The production involving black and white modern footage mixed colorful archived footage (old-school music videos, VHS recorded concert footage, TV spots, etc.) was amazing. It was a beautiful convergence of both the old and new cinematography elements in a very tasteful and eye-opening way without showing off. Despite knowing so much about the label, there were so many things I didn’t even know about like the origin of the label’s name, MxPx’s success when they started out, or even seeing their early years at Cornerstone in the 90s was mind-blowing to me. Them covering the 90s stuff with the different bands and interviews was awesome. I worried that they would have chockful of moments with their more successful and recent moneymakers like Underoath, Emery, or even Jeremy Camp, but those interviews from those people respectively (mainly Aaron Gillespie and Matt Carter from the first two bands) didn’t overshadow the people who work at the label or some of the older talent who were associated with T&N or any of their subsidiaries. The story involving the Ebel family dynamic was very inspiring to say the least as Brandon gets choked up talking about his grandfather as well as visiting his gravesite near the end of the film. I will certainly seem biased here, but the music choices were great. They involved T&N-related music in ways that weren’t distracting. I even geeked out when a clip of “I Feel Nothing” by experimental/jazz band and T&N alumni Havalina played during one scene because I know that song was on the aforementioned Penalty Box compilation. The commentary about music, art, and faith was very fascinating. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about that intersection since there were similar discussions in Danielson: A Family Movie (How appropriate. Danielson got their start on T&N, too.). Not every band they signed had Christian members even later on in the label’s existence like how one of the guys from Frodus was agnostic while in the band or one fact that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary was that former bands associated with the company such as death metal band The Famine’s vocalist/ex-bassist who is an atheist and how everyone besides the drummer of electronic/pop punk band And Then There Were None were either agnostic or atheist. Even Mike Herrera became an agnostic a few years ago despite some of MxPx’s lyrics being about God. These albums besides those associated with the more gospel oriented BEC Recordings are intentionally sold with the rest of the secular music at any record store. There was even an MTV employee who complimented Living Sacrifice for saying how unique they were instead of just being a Christian copy of whatever metal band is out there and many of the other musicians agreed that it’s possible to be a musician who happens to be Christian while also having artistic integrity. At the same time Brandon Ebel and the bands he signed during the 90s got backlash from the ultra-conservative Christians as well as staunch atheists/antitheists at the same time for what they were doing even though they were just releasing music. One could argue that they were doing something right if they can get the both the religious right and the militant irreligious groups to be mad at them just for existing. Even though Christianity does play a role in this documentary, the narrative isn’t preachy as well as most of the bands associated with the company past or present (barring most of BEC’s signees, of course). The emphasis is the history, the successes, and stories of all these different bands shown there. The stories presented were quite interesting such as one of the OC Supertones locking up Brandon Ebel to get a T&N contract, Mike Herrera from MxPx being told by his teacher that being in a touring band was a stupid idea despite proving her wrong, or the Cornerstone stories involving Ebel camping with Jeremy Camp (no pun intended) before he got into music or how the label sold $10K worth of merch at their first C-stone festival in 1994.

No New Kinda Story does get chipped a bit as they talk about the works of (once) unknowns. Yes, I used wordplay about the record label as well as referencing a Joy Electric song! One thing that really stood out to me was a severe lack of story involving the creation of the other labels in their umbrella. Sure, Solid State gets mentioned in passing by Jimmy Ryan from Haste the Day and Trenches, but I would’ve loved to have seen an exploration between that metal label, BEC, Fugitive, as well as the former Uprok and Plastiq Musiq (Ronnie Martin is right there! Why didn’t you bring that up?). That was a huge missed opportunity even if they got alumni as well as current artists affiliated with their subsidiaries. Going back to those labels that didn’t get much representation, that would’ve made the narrative stronger especially with the rappers they signed with Uprok or the electronic artists Plastiq Musiq signed back when they partnered with Ebel’s label before breaking away into doing their own things. The emphasis was more on the rock and metal artists which I get because they signed a bunch of them, but showing people and music in other genres would been a better pick. I hate to sound like a Joy Electric stan, but the fact they didn’t play any JE music despite Ronnie being interviewed was a MAJOR let down for me especially since he sounds like no one else with his brand of avant-garde synthpop. You also had Trey Many of Velour 100, Pedro the Lion and Starflyer 59 fame, but don’t play any of his work in his first band which did a ton of dream pop and ambient stuff would’ve helped. Besides the archived Mike Knott footage, it didn’t have any folk or solo artists like Denison Witmer (he was in The River Bends, so it counts!), Corey Crowder, or the acoustic duo Poema there. While it was amazing seeing the 90s stuff represented as it plays a part of history, it would’ve been nice to mix it up with footage of the 00s and 10s in there. Maybe a little bit of Becoming the Archetype, Mae, Showbread or Fine China over here to name a few? There should’ve been more representation with the music they’ve discovered. Since this was distributed by T&N proper, I could tell there was some bias. Don’t get me wrong, it was great seeing the MxPx story with how they had label disputes when A&M (yes, the same A&M that would eventually sign Maroon 5, Flyleaf, as well as K-pop group NCT 127 later on) tried to court them or how Brandon Ebel admitted to not always liking The OC Supertones, but I felt that the documentary did lean into the bias of the business itself. I’m sure not every band had sunshine and rainbows during their tenure there. One example I could think of was an interview with ex-Hawk Nelson singer Jason Dunn. He said that they would be marketed as the “Christian Good Charlotte” which made me facepalm since that story contradicts the ethics of the label by not trying to find the Christian counterpart of some famous band or singer like so many CCM labels still to this day try. As much as the label touts indie rock, let’s be honest with ourselves here. T&N had a distribution deal with EMI starting in the mid-90s before switching to Sony RED in 2013. Sure, they aren’t owned by any one, but they’ve worked with major distributors for over 2 decades and they’re RIAA-certified as mentioned in the Fun Facts section. There was also some errors in the ending credits. As amazing as it was playing Starflyer 59’s song and listing every former and current artist (as of 2013 when this was filmed), I noticed two glaring errors. There was never a band signed on any of the labels called Bad Talk. The other error was the metalcore band The Agony Scene’s name being misspelled. That was a rookie mistake and it’s not hard looking at the present and past alumni of all the labels.

If I saw this documentary during my zealous music fan phase, then I would give this a hard 8 to even a soft 10. Was this documentary still good though despite my former biases? Yes, it was. Seeing the history of T&N was very intriguing. I could see fans of that label knowing and learning new things especially those in Gen X who grew up during the label’s first wave of music in the 90s. The production with the visuals and music was great. However, the narrative was slanted and there were glaring omissions from some of the history there. No New Kinda Story may not be the best music documentary, but this was still an entertaining way to spend an hour. It is certainly commendable for a label to last this long as well as helping with the success of bands like P. O. D. or Anberlin as well as establishing musicians with major indie cred like Pedro the Lion or Starflyer 59 out there.

Here’s some of the music I listened to from Tooth & Nail, Solid State, BEC, and Uprok for those that are curious. Enjoy!

Deepspace 5 (Hip Hop)
Joy Electric (Experimental/Electronic/Synthpop)
Velour 100 (Dream Pop/Shoegaze)
Becoming the Archetype (Technical Death Metal)
Showbread (Screamo/Post-Punk/Experimental)
LPG (Hip Hop)
Mainstay (Power Pop)
Mortal (Industrial/Rock/Electronic)
Beloved (Melodic Hardcore)
mewithoutYou (Experimental Rock/Spoken Word)
Lengsel (Progressive Black Metal)
Mae (Piano Pop/Indie Rock)
Lucerin Blue (Hard Rock)
Driver Eight (Indie Rock/Shoegaze)

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a huge fan of Tooth & Nail Records especially their early discography.
Add 1 point if you are a fan of indie rock, punk, metal, hardcore, or even experimental music.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re into Top 40 music.
Subtract 1 point if you feel uncomfortable with musicians discussing their faith in interviews or in music.

-Wonderful camera work and usage of archived footage
-Inspiring story with Brandon Ebel starting up the record label
-Fascinating dialogue about art vs. faith regardless of what one believes

-Severe lack of information about the T&N subsidiaries
-Noticeable company bias in some of the stories (mainly the 90s stuff)
-Production gaffes in the ending credits

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: No New Kinda Story is a relatively tame watch, but certainly edgier than what you would find in a Christian bookstore. Scott Siletta from Plankeye and Fanmail says “What the hell?” twice in a matter of seconds during one of the interviews. There’s also a bleeped out F-bomb during an interview segment where one ex-T&N musician quotes hardcore vocalist John Pettibone (of Himsa, Undertow, and Heiress fame) telling fans not to bash the bands with Christian beliefs on stage despite not being religious or spiritual himself. One of the pictures used in the montages involves blood on a guitar as a musician is playing it (insert “blisters on me fingers” meme). There’s some drinking and smoking mentioned while the latter is shown via archived footage of Mike Knott’s music video for “Tattoo”. I could see this getting a PG. I’ve seen more offensive documentaries let alone other movies.

Side note: Even though a bunch of T&N artists have clean music, there have been cases of some of their past and present bands using profanity on their albums such as Brave Saint Saturn, Norma Jean, and one of their more recent signees Civilian who were signed years after the documentary came out who have a song called “Michael” which uses multiple cases of strong language in the lyrics.

-Curtis Monroe

All videos and photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. No New Kinda Story is property of Tooth & Nail Records. The DVD cover is from IMDb and is property of Tooth & Nail Records.

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