• Astrid Sedgvvick

'Rock Roll Repeat' Keeps the Spirit of Punk Rock Alive!

Rock Roll Repeat is not your mother's clothing brand. Since 2016, Joshua Shame has been creating badass designs based on famous punk songs and artists from the bygone and oft nostalgia-ridden punk rock era of the 1970's-80's. From the synthy, futuristic sounds of Devo to the sultry, droning guitar riffs of Iggy and the Stooges, Rock Roll Repeat offers intriguing designs based on grungy, angsty and powerful lyrics.

Some of Rock Roll Repeat's original designs, including the Logo Tee, Street Walkin' Cheetah Tee (a line from the Stooges track "Search and Destroy"), Garbage Man Tee in yellow (featuring a lyric from the Cramps song of the same name) and the Young Hot and Loud tee. All images taken from rockrollrepeatforever.com

The brand has been able to launch numerous collaborations with different notable artists over the years. The "Jenny Lens" collection features the iconic photographer's photos of singers Darby Crash (The Germs) and Alice Bag. A collaboration with Mirian Linna, co-founder of The Cramps, displays her covers of 80's zine "Bad Seed" proudly printed on sweatshop-free tees. And the badassery doesn't stop there.

I got to chat with Joshua about how the brand came to be, how they find collaborators, the pros and cons of launching an online brand in the digital age, the spirit behind Rock Roll Repeat, and more!

The author wearing her "Undead Undead Undead" shirt (a line from Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead") from Rock Roll Repeat, taken by Leon Bonin in 2018. Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls/Heartbreakers) donning the same tee, thanks to Joshua's expert photomanipulation.

What made you decide you wanted to launch Rock Roll Repeat?

I designed shirts for bands for years at a big punk rock merch company and fucking loved it. So, while having my own brand or freelance career was always in the back of my mind, I really felt at home developing tour lines, making presentations, and new designs for hundreds of bands every year. I worked my way up from cleaning screens to being the art director; and rock’n’roll, punk, and art have always been a huge part of my life so I hustled hard to get that job. There were zero design jobs in Oakland at the time and here I was working in the same place that made Green Day’s merch, and Alternative Tentacles'…the singer from the Swingin’ Utters was running a press, half of Spitboy was in the office…I was stoked!

After a decade I sort of thought that job would always just be there. Well, shit happens, and they downsized and moved to LA. But I was able to fall back on freelancing, and I worked the counter at a couple of tattoo shops, and that’s where I decided to launch my own brand. I was surrounded by amazing artists, inspiration and down-time, and sometimes some really goddamn hip people get tattooed and I was a bonafide shirt snob at this point and starting to get my own ideas. 

The "Bad Seed" collection, a collaboration with Miriam Linna featuring the covers of her vintage zines. From the website: "Bad Seed lovingly documents the sex, crime, switchblades and hot rods, gang debs and the paperback smut that told the tales. So, naturally, we put the covers from all 5 issues on shirts!" Images from rockrollrepeatforever.com.

Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit or was it something that sort of fell into your lap?

It was necessity as much as spirit: I needed to evolve to support my family. My folks, though, both owned their own businesses, mom is a seamstress and my dad was an independent contractor when he wasn’t bouncing at strip clubs. So, the idea of running my own business never seemed weird or out of reach, just a matter of going downtown to file the paperwork.

I still have (or had? because of Covid) a day job, though, and I run this brand by myself from home, after work. 

What’s been the easiest and hardest things about growing your brand online?

It’s hard being heard online above the noise, the algorithm’n'blues. Ideally, I’d like to just do what I like, and ride the notion that if people like it they’ll ride along with me. But it’s a real hustle, I’m not that cool and I can’t afford ads. So, I think the hardest thing about being an online business for me has been to sell it without feeling gross about it. 

I hate marketing speak and feel like the door-to-door salesman on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse making posts about discounts.

If anything has been easy it’s only been because of the friends I’ve made along the way. And they know who they are, I hassle them all the time for advice.

I also don’t have to worry about brick-and-mortar headaches like rent and building out some storefront, employees…and what if no one shows up!? As George McFly once said, “I just don’t think I could handle that kind of rejection."

The Karlheinz Weinberger 'Rebel Youth' collaboration. The collaboration with the Swiss photographer is a milestone for punk clothing - "Rock Roll Repeat is the first brand to ever partner with the photographer’s estate, creating an exclusive shirt collection celebrating Weinberger’s brash love affair with the young and the reckless." Images from rockrollrepeatforever.com.

What is your favorite collaboration you've done so far?

I seek out collaborations with people that are already my favorites.

My favorite pursuit, though, is my collaboration with the Karlheinz Weinberger estate, that collection is total class, and I’m really proud to be the first brand to partner with the estate. It’s amazing to me that big glossy fashion rags write profiles on his influence for years, but no one had ever once reached out to the source to really make something happen. 

That’s sort of my brand’s M.O., though. I’ll have to be the one to topple the pedestals of the glossy rock’n’roll-nostalgia-complex and sort of erect my own pedestals for all the underground movers and shakers I love, whether it’s the Cramps first drummer, Miriam Linna, or Jenny Lens. I reach out to them personally and these shirts are like a continuation of their story. It goes from them to me to you. I’d probably sell more shirts if I wasn’t so niche, but I think the world has enough Black Flag parody tees.

Just a handful of the fundraising tees available for purchase on rockrollrepeatforever.com. During the COVID-19 crisis, 10% from EVERY SHIRT sold will benefit the East Oakland Collective. Image taken from website.

Similar to the passionate roots of the punk movement, Rock Roll Repeat has never shied away from supporting minority groups and people in need. Varying fractions of profits from about half a dozen different designs go directly to a corresponding charity or organization, like the East Oakland Collective, which "provides food and sanitary supplies to the homeless, and most vulnerable" in Josh's community, or a Kathleen Hanna-inspired tee that benefits SafePlace, an organization supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in Olympia, Washington, where Hanna's pioneering riot girl band Bikini Kill was formed. Right now, you can get your own Black Lives Matter tee in the style of the Rock Roll Repeat logo, with 100% of the proceeds going to BLM itself. In this day and age, when a significant amount of punks of the original era are touting their support for a conservative world, it's important to embrace the queer, anti-racist and anti-establishment motivations of the punk world, which Joshua does flawlessly.

Rock Roll Repeat will continue to keep the spirit of punk rock alive and in our hearts.