"Stop listening to awful fucking music."

This phrase, emblazoned on Topshelf Records' now reputable merch range, embodies a lot of what the label from Boston is about, and what they are aiming to achieve. They're trying to change things.

I wrote a review a while ago of the new EP by New Jersey emo rockers and Topshelf-signed Prawn, in which I remarked that Topshelf are one of the only labels around that would trigger me, and I know for a fact a lot of my friends, to check out a new band simply on the merits of the label and its roster. I'll dedicate a lot of my time to checking out a Topshelf band I've yet to listen to over a recommendation of a band on any other label, and I think that speaks great volumes as to what the label, and others like it, are doing for indie music in the US. So far it's lead me to my favourite record of the year in the shape of the aforementioned Ships EP, and also to the astonishing and wonderfully named The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.

Emo has been making a resurgence of sorts in the U.S., with bands adopting a post-American Football brand of heartfelt lyrics and math-y guitars, and these two bands, alongside fellow Topshelf family members Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) and Into It. Over It., are helping to give it real substance and, hopefully, longevity. You can watch the video for Prawn's latest single 'Donald Domesky' here:

I spoke to Kevin Duquette, co-founder and one half of Topshelf, and he explained how the label came to be.

"Topshelf became an idea over the summer of 2005 between myself and Seth Decoteau (who runs the label with me) shortly after we met, actually. I was in a band (that Seth would later briefly join) and we wanted a more professional means to present the band, so we started Topshelf. Our band's EP would eventually become TSR001 — Topshelf's first release. We had literally no idea what we were doing, haha. We started running the label that October basically out of our dorm rooms and officially registered the business in February of 2006."

The label strives on releasing vinyls splits, special presses and all things physical, and Kevin told me how without this, the label wouldn't be half of what it is. "Oh, dude, we'd be dead in the water if we weren't doing this. I wouldn't even want to do this without those aspects. I love getting test presses. I love getting the packaging and all the parts in and overseeing the design of it all. I Love having this huge palette of records come in and seeing them for the first time. The photos people post after they get their stuff in the mail. How pumped bands are when they get their copies in. It's all that stuff that makes it."

From a distance, at least, Topshelf seems like a label which exists to not only pioneer and release brilliant new music, but also to form friendships and community, and Duquette stresses the importance of this in making running the label as enjoyable as possible.

"I'm glad that's an observable characteristic of what we're all collectively doing. I think it's really important — maybe the most important thing about all of this, really. We're really great friends with our bands, of course, but also other labels, other bands on other labels, etc.

"The sense of community is real and what makes this all worthwhile. I wouldn't say we strive for it when looking for bands, but I want to ultimately be working with people that share similar values and work ethic to us. From there, the community part sort of just happens, if that makes sense. I love hearing about or seeing people in this community meeting for the first time and witnessing firsthand how seamless and natural it all is. Everyone's so supportive of one another and that's awesome."

Topshelf bands Prawn and Pianos Become The Teeth have toured the UK already this year, and Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) are currently over here. Seeing their artists spread their wings and make waves abroad outside of the at times restricting U.S. gigging circuit is seen as vitally important to Topshelf.

"It's awesome. That was a major goal of ours, even just a year ago - to do whatever we can to make it more viable for bands we work with to get over there. I think our growth here has helped to make it more viable over there... if that makes sense? So, now Pianos Become The Teeth has been over a few times, Slingshot Dakota just came back, and The Saddest Landscape does amazing over there.

We just had We Were Skeletons over there too, and toe also just did their first ever EU/UK dates. Most of the Topshelf roster will head over in 2013 as well. We're all really excited about that. I've never been over myself but I'm hoping to take the trip eventually. We'll see. In terms of our involvement, it's more passive, but we do what we can to help. Bands tell us all the time that as soon as we announce working with them they start to get emails from overseas agents about coming over there which just blows my mind, haha. I mean, that's friggin' awesome."

There are lots of exciting things coming from Topshelf Records in the rest of the year, and into 2013. "We just released some pretty stellar records from We Were Skeletons, Slingshot Dakota and toe. The rest of this year will bring in a lot of splits, including a 4-way split between Code Orange Kids / Tigers Jaw / The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die / Self Defense Family, and a Fake Problems / You Blew It! split.

We've also got new EPs from By Surprise and The Saddest Landscape coming up. Next year will feature long overdue full length records from Caravels and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die along with one from Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) as well. We'll also have new EPs from Have Mercy, Diamond Youth and a re-issue of Octaves' Greener Pastures and a slew of other really exciting re-issues and new releases I can't speak about — and that's all before summer, haha. So we'll be keepin' busy."

It's hardly a secret that indie labels struggle financially, and Kevin told me of some of the troubles they have had over the years, and trying to keep afloat.

"We've been overcoming some growing pains now for the last couple years. Mostly regarding our personal lives and how the label is taking up more and more of our time - and trying to manage the label's day-to-day even though it's not really what we do for a living quite yet. Seth and I both have other jobs that we balance as well so that we can continue to roll any profit the business sees back into our bands and releases and get the most out of things that we can. So things are definitely tight, but we're growing a lot and I think we've found a formula that works and will continue to work for us."

"We're small, so it's still very easy for us to adapt and change on the fly - to tailor things on a case-by-case, or perhaps more appropriately, record-by-record basis. I think the overall consensus is still that the music industry is a shrinking industry and in a generalised sense, that's wholly accurate, but we're operating at an almost "boutique" level with an engaged audience and community that's supportive and truly gives a fuck.

"We don't take out expensive ads in magazines or whatever. Instead we try and focus on the product itself - the music, the artist, the quality of packaging and shirts we print on - the bells and whistles that can get overlooked sometimes. I take pride in that stuff. I realize it's easier now than it's ever been to just download a record for free and move on, so when you have someone willing to support the label and the band and actually pay for it — I want them to know & feel like that means a fucking ton to me - because it truly does.

"I think people appreciate that and hopefully it shows in the end. I think if something's good from the start the rest will take care of itself. I think that's the standard we've adhered to from the onset and one I hope we continue to."

Universal have taken control of EMI and it's been all over the news. Meanwhile, all over the world labels like Topshelf have carried on not giving a damn about this, and have instead continued working their guts out to innovate brilliant new music, and they deserve your attention.

Please stop listening to awful fucking music and turn yourself on to the fucking awesome music that Topshelf are releasing and pioneering instead.

You can visit Topshelf by heading to topshelfrecords.org