In the Commonwealth Press warehouse on the South Side, there are show posters, made in-house, hanging on the wall. For example, Springsteen and Grushecky at Soldiers & Sailors: The screenprinters at Commonwealth designed and printed that one. Then there's one that stands out. Frank Turner at ... Dan Rock's basement.
The British folk-punk songwriter most recently headlined Mr. Small's, and warmed up the crowd a few months ago at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. But just a few years ago, he was playing Dan Rock's basement. So ... who's Dan Rock, and what did he do to deserve this?
"Dan is just a really down-to-earth guy, who makes a lot of things happen for our community," offers Roger Harvey, a singer-songwriter who plays in the band White Wives. "Dan is a man about town."
Harvey released his first record, under the name Dandelion Snow, on Rock's Lock and Key Collective imprint; it was one of the earlier releases on the label-and-more that's become Rock's signature. Lock and Key celebrates its fifth birthday this weekend with a series of shows in a space that's making its debut as a concert venue: The Murderroom, otherwise known as one corner of the Commonwealth warehouse.
Dan Rock grew up in Brentwood; his older brother, Mike Rock, was in the late-'90s/early-'00s Pittsburgh poppy punk band Teddy Duchamp's Army.
"I started going to see bands because of my brother," Dan says. "At the beginning, it was basement shows on Sarah Street. Those gave me the feeling — you can do this yourself!"
Dan started putting on shows at the Brentwood Rec Center, then graduated to promoting shows at the Mr. Roboto Project, in Wilkinsburg, in the early-to-mid 2000s. From there, he took a job at A-F Records, the label run by Anti-Flag.
After his time at A-F, he took a job at Commonwealth Press, helping owner Dan Rugh run the shop; at that time, Rock also started Lock and Key. He set out specifically to release some old Teddy Duchamp's tracks for the occasion of a TDA reunion show. After that was done, he started courting new talent to release.
Rock thinks of Lock and Key as not exactly a label — more than anything, it's about bands sharing resources, and about Commonwealth Press sharing resources. Rock does record sleeves, merch and the like in-house at the warehouse, making a lot of the work of running a label a little easier. Rugh, who comes from a punk-rock background himself, doesn't so much mind — in fact, both he and Rock see Commonwealth and Lock and Key as being largely intertwined.
Early Lock and Key releases included records from Captain We're Sinking, a Scranton band that recently signed to Run for Cover Records, and Pittsburgh punks American Armada. More recently, the imprint has been assigned to bands with long-term Pittsburgh punk pedigrees: Allies, German Shepherd, Killer of Sheep.
Allies features two members of the early-'00s band Pikadori, which Rock worked with setting up shows in Brentwood and at Roboto. The connection with Lock and Key, though, first came about because bassist Max Gregg was close with Rock.
"It brought up that Pittsburgh generational thing," says Allies guitarist Joel Grimes. "Dan is Mike Rock's little brother; we were good friends with Mike and played with his band back in the day. And I think back to the era of the first Roboto Project, there were local bands, local venues and local labels. A lot of those labels — Hope Records, Hardtravelin — aren't as active anymore. But people underestimate the value of having a good local label."
In early 2011, Lock and Key released the Situationist EP, the first release from White Wives, which features Roger Harvey and Chris #2 from Anti-Flag. When one of your members is in a band that's known worldwide, you could likely find help releasing it from a national-level label — and White Wives' first full-length ended up on Adeline. But for the EP, Lock and Key was a fit.
"It was really cool to see, when White Wives started, the support that we had from our old friends," says Harvey. "And to work with our old friends on it, it just felt more natural."
Running a label is just Rock's speed.
"I was always more into the behind-the-scenes aspects," he notes. "I'm certainly not a musician; I never had any real expectation of playing in a band."
But that changed two years ago, when he began World's Scariest Police Chases, a six-piece hardcore punk band that's ... at least half-serious.
"It was never supposed to get out of the practice space," Rock says with a laugh. Police Chases has a facetious police theme (with songs like "Drug Dog" and "Citizen's Arrest"), and a melodic hardcore sound reminiscent of early Hüsker Dü or Dag Nasty.
Police Chases is one of the bands on this week's birthday shows at the Commonwealth warehouse: Thursday night, Oct. 11, the band shares the stage with Sparrows, Adventures and Oklahoma City's Red City Radio. Friday night, Oct. 12, it's old-school and older-school, with Allies, German Shepherd, Killer of Sheep and legendary Pittsburgh punks Submachine. Saturday afternoon, Lock and Key holds a barbeque with music by The Beagle Brothers, Roger Harvey, Sloover, Matt Conner and Grumpy.
Five years on, Rock seems a bit surprised Lock and Key is still going strong — though not so much because he thought it couldn't happen, but because he couldn't envision what releasing music would mean in 2012.
"When I left A-F, I thought, ‘We'll ride it out as people figure out the next phase of what the music industry looks like,'" he recalls. "Five years later, nobody knows, still."