Thrilling Living has put out some of the greatest punk records of the last decade, but right now, its future is uncertain. Uncertain in the way any fucking thing feels uncertain currently—whether it’s the rise in tomorrow’s heat index, which human rights will be stripped away next, which COVID variant is on the rise, or how many mass shootings we’ll have by the end of the week, all while world leaders are bickering over who looks more disgusting shirtless (yup). It’s not only that the last couple years have shifted everyone’s understanding of normalcy, but we’ve entered into a world that feels increasingly unsafe. And when a sense of safety shifts, priorities shift. When I catch Thrilling Living founder Grace Ambrose over the phone, there’s a sense her priorities have changed. She jokes about her negative tone. “Sorry,” she says, laughing dryly. “Caught me on a really grumpy day.”
So much has collapsed in both the music industry and the world since the Kansas City-based punk label put out its first release in 2016 (In School’s Cement Fucker EP). In a country that made clear its interest in the neglect of all life forms with three major supreme court decisions in late June—overturning Roe V. Wade, limiting states gun laws, and diminishing the power of the Environmental Protection Agency—these days, it’s much more of a horror to be alive than it is a thrill. After last year’s three full-length releases from Judy and the Jerks, MALFLORA, and Girlsperm, Ambrose has decided to prioritize her work with a Kansas City’s community-based harm reduction program, while finishing what will be a formative text about Swiss punk group LiLiPUT/Kleenex.
These days, it’s much more of a horror to be alive than it is a thrill.
Whether the label’s hiatus is for three months or a decade, thankfully the dozen or so releases on Thrilling Living have high perpetuity. Its roster covers a spectrum of high-octane punk music that will have your nervous system buzzing, whether its bands are decrying creatures such as American fascist cops or heralding goblins, slugs, and crazy frogs.
Ambrose says she didn’t start a record label with any intention of making money. “The label is not my job. It never was and I never intended it to be.”
Thrilling Living began while Ambrose was the coordinator of the iconic punk fanzine Maximum Rocknroll. Making the magazine and maintaining MRR’s archives was a full time gig based around the entire international punk community. And despite having some curatorial input at MRR, Ambrose wanted a punk project that was completely her own. “An important focus for me was that every band I've ever released has women in it, has queer group people in it, people of color… It’s a label that is focused on people that are marginalized within the punk community and at large, but that's not intended to be a marketing tactic or something that I advertise,” she says.
Even though Thrilling Living was a way to separate her own punk prerogative from Maximum Rocknroll, she took to heart the ethos from the publication’s founder. “Tim Yohannan always used to say about if music should be covered in MRR, ‘Well, is it maximum rock ’n’ roll?’ You have to take it quite literally. Is it wild, extreme, in-the-red rock ’n’ roll? I have that same feeling about Thrilling Living. I don’t want life to be a bore. I want to be excited. I want to be joyful. If you have that electric, alive feeling, I want to be thrilled. I hope that this music gets people going in that way.”