Rock music fans of color have been looking for more diversity on stage. Punk Black is an organization founded to highlight people of color in the rock music scene and they’re taking that mission further with a new music label.

This summer, the group's recording label Punk Black Records launched and signed its first three bands: Howling Star, Hijas de la Muerte and The Rack. All three bands are led by people of color and started in the South.  

The Rack formed in 2019 as a cover band with bassist Carlos Laquanous and lead singer Awleen Knight. Later on, guitarist Jonathan Lee and drummer Russell Dennie joined the group. Knight said while growing up in Georgia, she was ostracized for her musical tastes.

“Like, 'Oh, you're trying to be white, why are you listening to that white people's music?'" she said of people's comments toward her choices. "I always wore all black and all that. So it just feels nice to just kind of be as I've always been, but it's just the right timing now.”

Knight said the discrimination she faced growing up is what ultimately led her to trying rock vocals.

“It took me, like, getting fired from my kind of racist boss,” she said. “Then I went home one day and I just started jammed to these rock instrumentals and I started screaming for the first time.”

Dennie is originally from Atlanta and has watched the music scene in the city change since 2005.

 “When me and Von was playing guitar in front of Big Lots everybody always called us like, 'Hey, why are you guys playing rock music?'" He said. "I was like, 'Because we want to.'"

Von Phoenix is the founder of Punk Black and lead guitarist for the band Howling Star. He said there isn’t a complex system for how the bands got signed.

“The sounds we go for Punk Black Records just stem from people just being dope," Phoenix said. "Just because we love so many different types of rock music."

All three bands have put out new music since they’ve been signed to the label. Punk Black Records offers bands support in marketing and business opportunities that many didn’t have access to as independent musicians. Laquanous said the biggest difference has been in booking shows for the band.

“With representation, people treat you slightly different,” he said. “They treat you a little better than when you come in unrepresented. So that's been the main thing so far, is all our gigs have been steady climbing up.”

Even as musicians on a record label, the members of The Rack still have to work other jobs to support themselves. Laquanous said the goal is to be able to quit those and focus on music.

“We're trying to get it to the point where it is the full-time job and we don't have to work no more," he said. “That's 'cause it is our job. It’s just we have to do other stuff to pay the bills. But this is our occupation. It's our profession.”

As a lead singer, Knight puts all her energy into her performances. She said she always tries to leave a major impact on the crowd.

“I want the audience to feel like they are watching a classic rock band," she said. "Like they've seen Bon Jovi or Kiss or some crazy, crazy favorite of their own. You know, I want to be their new favorite.”

Punk Black Records is embarking on its first multi-city tour this month, with the last stop set for Sept. 30 in Austin, Texas.