Your New Favorite Label: Refresh Records

Posted: by The Editor

Founder: Josh Higgins

First Release: Young Mister

Location: Charlotte, NC

Artists with recent releases: Maggie Gently, Jimmy Lo Fi, Things Amazing, Elders, Halogens



Refresh Records has grown from releasing albums from local artists to building a solid catalog and venturing out into new territory. I spoke with Josh Higgins about the birth and rebirth of the label and what it takes to be successful in 2022.

 Ok, so what made you want to start a label? and who was your first signing?

I’ve always been into the business side of music, from booking shows/tours, running a small venue, review websites, etc. Back in my early 20s I put out a few 7″ releases when I lived in NE PA for some regional bands, starting with a hardcore band called They and the Children out of CT. I was young, broke, and dumb and ended up running that label into the ground pretty quickly, but I loved doing it and knew I’d eventually want to do it again.

Fast forward like 10 years and the moment seemed right to do it again, but properly. That’s when Refresh started, back in 2015. We started the label with three 7″ releases from NC bands, each benefiting a different charity. From one of those bands we were introduced to an artist who would end up being the label’s first signed artist, Steven Fiore (aka Young Mister). In early 2016 we released his debut self-titled album.

I bet you learned a lot from that first go around! Were there any labels that inspired you to start? Or any that you still look up to?

The inspiration definitely goes back the whole 20+ years I’ve been doing stuff with music, so it depends on the era of my life. When I was a teen I was always a label nerd, signing up for street teams at like Victory Records, Solid State Records, etc. Around the time I did the first label, I was big on DIY labels of the time like Magic Bullet Records and Robotic Empire and really took a lot of inspiration from how they did things.

When it came time to launch Refresh, I was really inspired by labels like Topshelf Records and Joyful Noise Records, both of which are huge influences and even mentors to this day. I love watching Topshelf bridge the technology, art, and music worlds with a lot of forward thinking grand ideas. Kevin is truly a genius in his own regard. Joyful Noise has been a huge source of inspiration as a label that is focused wholly on fostering their artists as creatives and really building an amazing community of fans around their insane physical releases. We’re actually very stoked to be a small part of Joyful Noise’s family these days, as they recently took us under their wing for sub-distribution through Secretly Canadian.

Lately, I’ve been very inspired by all of the DIY labels popping up and finding amazing artists and fostering them. Chillwavve and Knifepunch both come to mind as labels that are just absolutely killing it. I could probably spend all day talking about labels I look up to.

Always fun to uncover another label nerd, although I suppose most people who start labels are. Where did the name come from?

The name has 2 origins: 1) Second time doing a label, so it was like a refresh since it’s the same music I have always listened to and was releasing before. 2) Reference to my day job as a software engineer and web developer.

Ok, what is your favorite part about running Refresh Recs? What is hardest part?

I’ve never been a band guy… I was in one crappy metalcore band when I was like 15 or 16 and that’s it. But I absolutely love being behind merch tables and meeting strangers. It breaks me out of my socially anxious ways and forces me to talk with people I would otherwise awkwardly distance from. So my favorite part of running the label is all the face to face interactions it affords. We love setting up tables at events, fests, etc. I love manning a band’s merch table. I absolutely love it when strangers come up excited about a band on the label or whatever and just want to talk. It pulls me out of my element in a good way.

The hardest part is the flip side of that social anxiety. The imposter syndrome. No matter how long I’ve been doing stuff with this music scene, I will always feel at least partially outside of it. It’s hard not to compare yourself against others and judge yourself against the successes of other individuals and labels.

Actually, I take that back. Lately, the hardest part is dealing with the non-stop manufacturing delays. Not just vinyl, but now tapes and even t-shirts. It’s beginning to feel like making any merch is impossible.

I completely understand the imposter syndrome part, I feel like many of us in the music scene have that. 

I didn’t know the delays were affecting tapes as well, that’s my favorite medium! That must be so frustrating. 

As someone who struggles with anxiety as well, I feel that. Good job finding something that forces you out of your comfort zone, that takes a lot of work and courage! I need to do more of that. 

What is one aspect of running a label that others may have no idea about?

I think a lot of people have the wrong idea of what an indie label is, probably because we all know about record labels from media and history. At the end of the day, we’re just an extension of the band and here to build upon what they are already doing and provide our own skills and knowledge. We’re providing a part of the whole record release puzzle, the same as a PR person, or a booking agent, or a radio person all would have their own individual roles in record releases. 

Karl from Joyful Noise told me a few years ago that the first question he asks himself when he’s considering a band for his label was, “Can they hustle?” That has stuck with me. A release is only as strong as the band behind it. A label might have the skills and connections to make something of nothing but, short of a stroke of luck, a record requires a band really hustling behind the scenes if it’s going to take on a life of its own. So yeah, I think that a lot of people have the idea in their heads that when they sign with a label they kind of hand over the reins of certain things and certain pathways automatically clear. In reality, we’re here to work side by side with the artists we sign and do more together, following the artist’s vision first and foremost.

This answer is why I think someone should do a “new band tutorial” or something. There are so many aspects of being a successful band that have nothing to do with the art itself. 

What is a valuable lesson you have learned from running a label?

To pace yourself and respect your own limitations. Going hard and fast isn’t good for you, your releases, or your artists. You might catch more attention, but you’re going to burn out and make more mistakes along the way

I bet that is a hard thing for most people to learn. When you are passionate about something and want it to really be successful, it can be hard to slow yourself down. 

How has the pandemic affected how you run Refresh Recs? have you had to change focus?

The pandemic has literally changed almost everything about this label. Ooph, this is going to be a story.

Before the pandemic rolled around, I was already struggling through a mental health crisis. I was depressed and the label was really feeling like a burden at the time. I recognized it and was taking strides to tackle it with more personal time, more travel, etc. My girlfriend (now fiance) and I were a week away from traveling to Austin for SXSW in 2020 when everything shut down. We had plans to meet people we’ve known online and worked with, like Cliffdiver, Chillwavve Records, Topshelf Records, No Earbuds, etc. That was a kick in the face and was just the start of a series of personal events that really rocked my mental health… Losses and hardships that all came to a head around the start of July and sent me into a series of panic attacks. On the other side of those panic attacks, I experienced generalized anxiety that was completely debilitating and terrifying. For a month straight I was afraid to even leave the house or set foot in a car. So I had to put Refresh on a mental health hiatus, and decided that with the pandemic canceling everything it just made sense to come back to Refresh after the new year.

This ended up being the best decision of my life and changed so much about this label. I spent a lot of time listening to the “Other Record Labels” podcast to help distract my mind while I was working through the anxiety. It re-energized me and gave me new ideas for the label. As I tackled my own mental health crisis, I felt the joy and excitement coming back with the label, and I also started recognizing my own issues in how I ran this thing. I came into 2021 with such a different perspective on the label that I honestly considered shutting down Refresh and starting new.

Our focuses have absolutely changed since the start of 2021. We hired the label’s first “employees” (which feels weird to say) and it’s been a joy and a huge relief working alongside them. We’ve changed what we look for when we’re considering artists. We changed distributors to better support our long-term growth plans. We moved cities with a big focus on growing our music ventures into commercial space. We’ve pulled back on vinyl releases and focused more on other revenue opportunities for bands, which is hard because I am a collector nerd… But vinyl production is just a mess. We’ve started internalizing aspects of the label that previously were outsourced (art, PR, etc). The Refresh of today is basically a completely different business from the Refresh of early 2020.

Jami Fowler | @audiocurio

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