UPDATE, Oct. 20: After this article’s publication, Pitchfork cited an unnamed source as saying that, despite Bloodshot Records co-founder Rob Miller’s departure, a note on the website saying the office is “permanently closed,” and the myriad issues cited below, the label “is not shutting down and that the Bloodshot catalog will remain available.” Variety will have more on the situation as it develops.
After two tumultuous years of turmoil within as well as from outside the label, Bloodshot Records is shutting down, as a message on the company website says the office is “permanently closed,” and co-founder Rob Miller penned a long farewell message that begins, “Regrettably, it is time for this phase of Bloodshot Records to come to an end.”
However, his post alluded to the possibility that other parties may still attempt to keep the label or its name afloat, presumably if a sale were to happen. “Finally, whatever happens to the Bloodshot name moving forward,” Miller wrote, “whatever form the company takes, and wherever the artists go, it is, as always, the music that remains important.”
Bloodshot’s most recent publicist could not immediately be reached for comment.
The possible end of the influential end has been a drawn-out saga stretching over year, before this seeming nail in the coffin. The writing seemed to be on the wall when the label sent out an email Oct. 11 advertising a nearly-storewide 40% off sale (individual artists’ LPs excepted), with 100% of the receipts earmarked for a charity, Toys for Tots — a strong hint that Bloodshot might be officially exiting the money-making business. But Miller’s announcement still took many by surprise.
“I will no longer be a part of the label I started over 25 years ago as an impossibly ill-conceived hobby,” Miller wrote in his message, posted on Bloodshot’s Facebook page as well as the company’s website. “It’s not what myself, the staff or the artists wanted, but few get to write their final chapter. That we lasted as long as we did — an indie roots label, too rock for country, and too country for punk, in Chicago — was nothing short of miraculous.”
Miller added, “I am sad there wasn’t a chance for a proper goodbye and that we weren’t able to whip up a wake, a celebration or one last party. I seem to remember a few good ones over the years. I have no doubt forgotten a few of them, too. I hope we brought some fun into your lives over the years and were pleasant members of the community.” (Read his full sendoff, below.)
Among the artists who recorded for Bloodshot at some time in their careers are Neko Case, Ryan Adams, the Old 97s, the Waco Brothers, Robbie Fulks, the Sadies, Alejandro Escovedo, Justin Townes Earle, Laura Jane Grace and Lydia Loveless.
Bloodshot’s hometown alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader, has kept readers abreast of the turmoil at the label in recent years. A extensively detailed December 2020 story, “Will Bloodshot Records stay in the saddle?,” said that “for nearly two years Bloodshot has been wracked by a staff revolt against one of its founders, by a #MeToo scandal implicating its top seller, by allegations of unpaid royalties, and by a bitter falling out between Rob Miller and Nan Warshaw, the unlikely partners who’d helped launch the business in 1993.”
The newspaper reported then that the label had been up for sale since summer 2020, with a staffer noting that a valuation had placed the value of Bloodshot at $3.2 million. The tone of Miller’s announcement suggests that a sale has not transpired but that the company is still open to one, although that has not been confirmed.
It is Loveless’ allegations that seemingly were the first or at least foremost domino in the label’s downfall. After the New York Times published its story about allegations being made by women against Ryan Adams, some were unhappy that the label didn’t come out with a stronger statement against Adams, who had not recorded for Bloodshot in 15 years. In the wake of the Adams news, Loveless went public on social media saying that, over a period of years with the label, she had been sexually harassed by Mark Panick, the domestic partner of co-founder Nan Warshaw.
Subsequently, Warshaw said he was stepping aside from the label, and a month later, Bloodshot announced she was resigning. But Warshaw said she had been forced out and compelled to choose between her partner and the company she co-founded. This was not the end of the story, as the Chicago Reader reported that an internal investigation had revealed that the label “had shorted many of its artists money” and owed at least $500,000 in unpaid royalties. Miller and Warshaw continued to blame each other for the label’s financial and other problems.
A message just put up on the company website tells potential mail-order buyers, “Thank you for your ongoing support and patience with our small operation. Our office is PERMANENTLY closed. We are continuing to accept and fill orders for the time being, but we ask that you please be patient with us. Take care of yourselves and each other and continue to support these amazing artists however and wherever you can.”
Amid the apparent end of the label’s operations, many in the music community took to social media to mourn the loss of such an important label voice. Wrote the band Sarah Shook and the Disarmers on Facebook, in one of hundreds of comments on the goodbye post: “There is no justice in this world. Devastated for you and for the staff. Fucking hell.”
Miller’s farewell message, in full:
Regrettably, it is time for this phase of Bloodshot Records to come to an end. I will no longer be a part of the label I started over 25 years ago as an impossibly ill-conceived hobby. It’s not what myself, the staff or the artists wanted, but few get to write their final chapter. That we lasted as long as we did—an indie roots label, too rock for country, and too country for punk, in Chicago—was nothing short of miraculous. It has been a humbling privilege to be able to intuitively concoct a record collection I really loved and have so many follow along for the ride. You trusted us, and that always meant the world to me. I personally never took that for granted. Thank you for all the support and good cheer, for enabling this strange endeavor, for letting us be a part of your lives and communities, and for being—as a friend and former Hideout bartender characterized Bloodshot fans—polite, sloppy, and good tippers.
Little did I know that a journey that started with having my brain rewired at a DEVO show in Detroit in 1980 would lead to such a wonderful and challenging life in the world of independent music. I am filled with nothing but gratitude for the artists on whose behalf I worked. I had a hand in releasing some truly remarkable music over the years. That artists would entrust me with their creations was a responsibility I took very seriously. I’ve made friends with some enormously talented people along the way, too numerous to mention, and some were even heroes of mine long before Bloodshot was even a drunken gathering of neurons in my head: Dex Romweber! Alejandro Escovedo! Rosie Flores! Graham Parker! Mekons! Barrence Whitfield & the Savages! It boggles my already boggled mind when I think about it. And that so many of them have reached out to myself and the staff with tear-inducing words of support the past couple of years—you know who you are—for that I am further in your debt.
From the early days of the Old 97’s, Lounge Ax and Delilah’s all the way through to up-and-comers Rookie, a new generation of cool venues like Sleeping Village, and, well, Delilah’s, it was never boring. Tedious? Sure. A giant pain in the ass? Often. A quixotic and sisyphean exercise? You betcha. But what a kick! What an absolute improbability! Often, I’d find myself standing at a show watching the crowd connect with the music—that special and thrilling two-way relationship between band and audience—marveling at the whole thing and that I was allowed, in some small way, to help. I was a record geek version of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory.
Well, we had some fun, right? I am sad there wasn’t a chance for a proper goodbye and that we weren’t able to whip up a wake, a celebration or one last party. I seem to remember a few good ones over the years. I have no doubt forgotten a few of them, too. I hope we brought some fun into your lives over the years and were pleasant members of the community.
I would be deeply remiss if I did not offer praise and everlasting thanks to the former staff of Bloodshot who endured a great deal of undeserved and unrelenting darkness the past two and a half years. They remained steadfast to the core purpose of the label and shared my principles of integrity in supporting music and artists we cared about deeply. Hannah Douglas, Mike Smith, Nina Stiener and Josh Zanger (and even Lisa C and little Billie): They rarely got the spotlight, but they were as much in the fiber of what Bloodshot was as any music. Any label—or any business—is lucky to have them on staff; any artist is lucky to have them on their team; and I am so proud of the job they did under very difficult circumstances. Their kindnesses and fierce loyalty to the ideals of what I thought Bloodshot should be is something I will carry with me always. I learned so much from them about what is really important during this time. If you see them, thank them, buy them a delicious cocktail—or in Mike’s case, a Malört. They have the hearts of lions. I miss seeing them in the trenches every day; I miss watching them perform feats of creativity with the same dedication and zeal that led me to even consider starting a label. There will always be a big hole where what we could have done over the next few years should be.
Finally, whatever happens to the Bloodshot name moving forward, whatever form the company takes, and wherever the artists go, it is, as always, the music that remains important. Support the musicians you discovered or enjoyed on Bloodshot in any way you can, as directly as you can. Furthermore, keep supporting all independent labels, artists and businesses (be they record stores, book stores, presses, breweries, bars, restaurants, apparel shops, bakeries and beyond). They are what keep life interesting. They are what make our communities vibrant and unique. It is through them that we can keep the forces of Bezos-ization and Kardashianing at bay. We would all be poorer without them.
Take care of yourselves and each other, believe the women, work for justice and accountability in your neighborhoods and, to paraphrase the ever relevant Joe Strummer: Search out the good stuff, go underground and don’t buy what’s shoved in front of you. Amen.
Thank you again, for everything.
Maybe I’ll see you again at a show sometime.