By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“I have always wanted to put out records. I am influenced by the great independent record labels like Discord and Touch and Go. When I was growing up, those were the small ones,” he continues. “It definitely starts as, and should stay, a labor of love.”
DeWitt, who is eating grilled cheese at The Brite Spot in Echo Park, currently has six bands on his label: The Fuse, The Rolling Blackouts, The Mean Reds, Hello Fever, Dutch Dub, and Future Pigeon. He is also releasing the final 7-inch, recorded in ’95, by ’90s Geffen band Jawbreaker, as well as an EP from L.A. buzz band Dios.
“We’ll make a 12-inch,” DeWitt says, explaining the indie label’s process. “We’ll make 250 copies and try to sell them on tour. As [the bands] get better and people like them more, you make more. I find myself now thinking I would like to do what for me is a larger-scale [release] and what for everyone else is still really small-scale.
“I would like to put out 4,000 CDs.”
For DeWitt, who doesn’t play music, being around music was the only thing that ever really made sense. He dropped out of Calabasas High — hence his nickname — in the 10th grade to work full time at Jabberjaw.
“It was a conscious thing,” he says of dropping out. “I was like, I never want to go back to school. I totally want to hang out here. I want to know these people. I feel like the education I got there was really important.”
Working at Jabberjaw led to roadie gigs for bands like L7, Ethel Meatplow and Hole during its first tour. That led to living in Seattle with Kurt and Courtney and taking care of their kid. That led to selecting the opening bands for Nirvana’s In Utero tour (not to mention appearing in drag on the In Utero disc’s cover art). And that, aided by the fact that he was the first person to turn Geffen Records on to the band Elastica, led to an A&R job at Geffen back in “94, 95.”
Just 21, and with a substantial heroin addiction at the time, DeWitt found his two-year stint in the corporate world daunting. “I would sit in my office all day and drink and make mix tapes,” he recalls. “After Nirvana, every label thought they had to have a young, cool kid at their label. But I never knew exactly what an A&R person does. To me, no one seemed to be doing anything . . . I would play whatever 7-inches I would buy that week, and they would look at me like I was crazy. I tried to sign Brainiac. They never let me sign anything.”
Eventually they sent him out on a radio concert tour with the band the Bloodhound Gang. One night in Philly, sick from running out of drugs and getting drunk to compensate, DeWitt says, “Supposedly, I punched the head programmer in the face. So, my tenure at Geffen ended unsuccessfully.”
Since then, most of his time has been spent “recovering from my 20s.”
After the Geffen gig, DeWitt spent his time in and out of rehabs, booking local shows, deejaying, working as a roadie, and briefly starting and running another indie label called Broadway Jungle.
Thanks to a recent partnership with friends who run a larger independent called Record Collection, things are starting to look a little brighter for DeWitt.
“They have great distribution and a lot more funding,” he says of Record Collection, which has an affiliation with Warner Bros. records.
“They asked if they could buy into The Rolling Blackouts and The Mean Reds as split releases with me. I’m not gonna turn help down. I want to do these records well, and I’m not gonna push [my bands] into situations where they have to record in a basement on a four-track.
“I love ghetto records. But not every band wants their record to sound like that, and I want the bands to be really happy,” explains DeWitt, who sold a couple of hundred records from his personal collection to pay for The Mean Reds’ first 12-inch. It was something he hated to do, but he loved the results.
DeWitt has since moved his offices from his two-bedroom Echo Park apartment to True Love Records’ Venice garage. Things may be looking up, but he’s kept his night job managing a bar.
The Mean Reds, whom he has now known since they were 16, have fueled his dream. “[They] reaffirm in me that there are always gonna be these great kids who want something different than what is handed to them. And they are going to invent their own little culture and blow everyone away.”The Smell is where kids are doing it for themselves.
Located in an alley between Second and Third Street in downtown L.A., the Smell is like CBGB meets the Little Rascals. The 3,000-square-foot all-ages club is the most refreshing thing to happen to the L.A. club scene since, well . . . Jabberjaw.