Speaking With Brenna Ehrlich, Founder of All Ages, DIY Record Label and Small Press

(Photo by Jane Bruce)

Brenna Ehrlich opened her record label and small press, All Ages, last October. But she decided to hold out for a special day to pass before throwing the official launch party, which is happening this Saturday at Shea Stadium. “I thought, ‘what better way to have a 30th birthday party than throw an all ages DIY show?” she explained. “It’s something that makes no sense for 30-year-olds to have I guess, instead of a cocktail party or whatever other people do.”

I found it hard to believe that Ehrlich was 30–not that 30 is old, it’s the new 20, right? But her slight voice, stature and bright eyes give off youthful vibes. It’s fitting that Ehrlich is a writer and editor for MTV (forever the harbinger of what’s cool in dominant youth culture), an author of Young Adult novels, and most recently the founder of All Ages, a record label and small press specializing in “weird tapes, books, and zines for teens– and whoever else.”

Teens? Yes, sort of. The point of All Ages, Ehrlich was careful to remind me, is not to “pander to kids,” but rather make books and tapes accessible to teens and anyone else who might be interested.

“I go to a lot of all ages shows and I see a lot of teenagers there and I always think it’s really awesome that me and teenagers like the same music, but what is there for those teenagers?” Ehrlich explained. “Are there books or music that don’t pandering to them as teenagers but just kind of like–you can like this when you’re 17 or 30– it’s doesn’t really matter.”

Unlike many adults, particularly Millennial alarmists who understand this generation of youth as an ignorant, spoiled, and ultimately unproductive one, Ehrlich doesn’t underestimate teenagers today and feels they deserve more credit.

“It’s like that whole Paul McCartney thing that happened– a bunch of kids were actually just kidding about not knowing who Paul McCartney is,” she said. Many people are too quick to judge, and “it’s like forgetting that you were a teenager not too long ago, and you were stupid, and you’ve probably said some stupid things since.”

Worst of all, Ehrlich said, “It’s turning kids into this weird unknowable group of people.”

But Ehrlich admires teens, particularly the ones she sees at shows throughout the city. “The DIY scene can probably be intimidating to kids and not the easiest thing to access,” she said. “But I think there are a lot of people in the DIY scene here who are really trying to bring in kids.”

Jordan Michael who works at the Silent Barn is one of these figures. Ehrlich wrote a story about him for MTV because “he was offering to do kids’ homework if they came to shows.” She said the two had spoken about the best ways to attract people of all ages to shows.”

One can’t help but assume Ehrlich’s own experience as a teenager growing up in what she called “a little tourist enclave,” Mystic, Connecticut. “In my town there wasn’t anything,” she said. “We had one record store and the guy who worked there put out a zine. But there weren’t shows. So I felt like I partly got to be a teenager when I moved to the city and could start going to shows.”

All Ages isn’t putting out teeny-bopper or pop stuff, in fact the label will focus mostly on garage and punk bands. Punk in particular is the soundtrack to adolescence, and, in a lot of ways, music in general is kind of an ageless thing. “You have no idea how old people in bands are,” Ehrlich laughed.

The first release from All Ages is David Otto’s Motel TV, which could be taken for a sweeter version of a Ty Segall record any day. As for the first issue of All Ages’ zine, Smaller Town, Ehrlich was able to recruit Ryan Kattner of Man Man to contribute.

“I think it’s going to be an expanding web of people, and I really want anyone who’s interested in collaborating to contribute,” she said. “I really want this to be an open thing.”

However Ehrlich is not interested in putting the zine online and there are only 100 editions for the first issue. The label will have a similar approach to distributing music– tapes only. “I think physical music now is about having something special, having like a piece of a band,” she explained. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be creative and you can create really cool ephemera to give to somebody.”

The press side of the All Ages operation came to Ehrlich when she couldn’t find an appropriate venue for her new book, Placid Girl, set to be released this summer. “I’m putting out my debut YA book through the press,” she explained. “There are some really good traditionally published YA books. But I kind of wanted to go a non-traditional route when I couldn’t find what I wanted.”

Instead, Ehrlich brings her DIY approach to Placid Girl. “It’s about a girl in a band in high school who starts talking to her favorite punk musician over social media and then she goes to meet him and nobody knows who he is because he wears a mask,” she said. “It’s kind of like Catfish but punk rock.”

Ehrlich revealed that she was wary of censorship, of Young Adult novels that are more in line with how adults think kids should act as opposed to how they actually behave. “The YA book I like isn’t necessarily for children,” she explained. “Every time I see criticism of a book on Amazon where people complain: ‘they said fuck too many times, my kid can’t read this,’ I’m like, you don’t want to hear how your kid talks without you.”

One might wonder how Ehrlich does her research and why she feels so connected to teens in the first place. “I don’t feel that different right now than when I was 17,” Ehrlich admits.

“I think it would be kind of weird to be like hanging out with 16 year olds in New York, like ‘Let’s chill, tell me all the new slang!’” she said. “But I think part of writing for teens, instead of trawling through teen message boards, is thinking about how you felt when you were a teenager and getting back to that instead of replicating what the kids today are doing.”

And though Ehrlich’s collaborators at All Ages have so far been adults, she’s not opposed to looking at work submitted by teenagers. “I actually had a couple of kids email me about their books,” she explained. “There was someone from Nigeria [who contacted me and] was like, ‘I wrote this experimental novel.” Ehrlich said she was excited to read it.

But for the moment, Ehrlich seems to be looking forward to Saturday, when a gaggle of her favorite local bands with gather at Shea Stadium including High Pop, Handjob Academy, Atlantic Hills, Heeney, and Strange Kids (David Otto’s band). She’s excited for the show and for the first public debut of All Ages.

“I wanted to make something for weird kids, something I would have liked as a kid,” she said. “But really I just wanted to make something that anyone could relate to.”

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