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
The Web site spawned Buddyhead Records in 2000 and has been extant ever since, no mean feat considering the perennially cash-strapped nature of startups. Sticking to punk and hard rock, the label has pressed two dozen records, including out-of-print eBay-coveted efforts from At the Drive-In, the Dillinger Escape Plan and 400 Blows.
“We just try and be as honest as we can be and do as much cool shit as we can,” explains Keller. “The label evolved as an extension of the spirit that was on the Web site, to actually release music that we thought deserved attention and that nobody else would touch. We didn’t really plan on starting it, it just kind of happened. The rock gods willed it.”
In recent months, the Buddyhead blog has been sporadically updated, with North touring nonstop with NIN and Keller, “doing whatever it is [he] does,” but with a sleek redesign, daily updates and a steady release schedule, Keller plans on a busy 2008.
I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll
If the dudes at Buddyhead are the Reds-huffing, Budweiser-swilling, cool older brothers of the L.A. blog world, I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll records is their precocious younger sibling. A former intern at Buddyhead, Jon “Matzvah” Weinberg, founder of I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll, shares his former bosses’ unflinching honesty and anti-industry stance. In fact, at just 20, Weinberg could be the poster boy for the waste and decadence that characterized the broken system, with a label literally founded on Capitol Records’ dime.
“I was getting paid $500 a month to do A&R, and when the industry went downhill, my boss got fired. Thanks to a glitch in the system, I ended up getting paid my salary for doing nothing,” boasts Weinberg. “I figured I could either take the money and get stoned or I could put out some records that I loved. I chose the latter.”
Though Weinberg received a good deal of help from friends, he confesses that inexperience caused his first, recently released effort to go well over budget. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the finished product — a handmade, limited-edition 12-inch split from Darker My Love and Moccasin, featuring gorgeous artwork, primal psychedelic chaos, and a sense of lysergic abandon that screams. Turn this shit up — loud.
Weinberg also blogs (http://sofreshsocold.blogspot.com) but prefers to keep the blog separate from his other sidelines, which include plans for an extremely limited series of cassette mixtapes featuring Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. As for I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll, he’s in talks to put out a 7-inch from San Francisco drone-rockers Wooden Shjips, one of the most promising bands bubbling in the West Coast underground.
“It’s not about building a huge label or making a bazillion dollars. It’s about putting out the art you’re excited about. That’s what gets me through the day,” Weinberg says. “It’s the raddest feeling to watch someone get excited about what you’re doing and want to buy a record.”
Cali Dewitt, the head of Echo Park–based Teenage Teardrops Records, was one of the friends who helped Weinberg get things off the ground. Dewitt is an ex-Geffen employee imbued with the sort of cynicism that only veterans of the major-label system could possess, but his goals for Teenage Teardrops are diametrically opposed to those of his former employers.
“It’s a great time to be a label like us, but it’s awful to be a major. I love that they had to sell the Capitol building, sucks that they’re going to make it condos,” the heavily tattooed 34-year-old says. “They truly don’t know what to do, and they’ve been the fat cats for so long. When I was younger, working at Geffen, it struck me as an awful place to be a musician. They’d be all psyched about records, and the sales wouldn’t be good, and then three days into the campaign, you’d never hear about the record again.”
Founded less than two years ago, Teenage Teardrops (http://teenageteardrops.com) also began as a blog, but soon evolved into one of the central hubs of the downtown punk-rock haven the Smell. Pressing 7-inches from the likes of No Age, the Sads, and No Age’s tour mates, the New York City–based Soiled Mattress & the Springs, Dewitt’s label/Web site might be young, but his underground roots date back to Jabberjaw, the Smell’s legendary precursor that operated in the late ’80s in the Pico-Crenshaw area.
“I don’t have a strategy. My rule is to just work with people that I’d be honored to work with. That’s it. I’d be happy working the job that I have and being able to make cool stuff on the side,” says Dewitt. “I want releases that I’m proud of. After all, how big can you get putting out weird books and vinyl?”
But stranger things have happened. One year ago, Dean Spunt, one half of the Smell breakout band No Age, probably never thought that his snarling, thrashing punk duo would ever appear in the genteel, white-tablecloth pages of The New Yorker. But with the sanitized mass-marketization of the old zine culture, a few strong reviews can break a band out of the niche it has previously been confined to. While that might not translate into blockbuster sales, it can yield bigger and better touring opportunities, which lead to more merch and records sold, which leads to labels becoming full-time jobs that can overwhelm anyone, let alone full-time musicians.