After 25 Years, In the Red Records' Larry Hardy Still Loves Weird Garage Rock
Larry Hardy with his dog, Virginia
In the Red Records lives in a bright red (of course) shack hiding in the backyard of label founder Larry Hardy’s immaculate Eagle Rock bungalow. His home is so nice it should be on TV — and thanks to Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite, it was, featuring in the episode “Bisexual Because of Meth.”
On the stereo when he opens the door: Cold Sun, the devoted disciples of the 13th Floor Elevators whose staggering 1970 Dark Shadows album went unreleased for decades. On the floor, capping a row of dozens of LPs awaiting further attention: the Canadian proto-punk group Simply Saucer’s Cyborgs Revisited, destined for deluxe reissue on In the Red soon. And on the swooped midcentury modern couch facing two luxurious red (of course) audiophile speakers: Hardy and his mini-dachshund Virginia, who’s currently relaxing so deeply she’s about to sink into a coma.
It’s all so neat, clean, precise and serene — the very opposite of the garage, punk and rock & roll records that Hardy and In the Red keep making, 25 years and more than 300 releases since he was just an inspired night-shift worker at an Orange County supermarket who decided to start a label to press a single for his then-favorite band, The Gories.
“I’m 52 and I still listen to noisy punk,” Hardy says. “I used to worry when I was a kid because older people I knew didn’t like punk. They liked jazz! They’d get mellow! I don’t wanna ever be that guy — and I’m not. I still have all my old records, I still listen to them, I still love noisy guitar music. I don’t think that’s gonna change.”
In the Red celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend at the Echo and Echoplex, thanks to a chance meeting with the Echo’s Mitchell Frank, a longtime ITR fan who’d been patiently suggesting a blow-out for decades and decided to test the idea again. This time, it made sense, Hardy says: The bands were ready, the venue was set and the milestone was too good to pass by, and so in April, the birthday invites went out.
In the Red’s silver jubilee is three nights presenting two and a half decades of music, including a one-night-only reunion by the ferocious Hunches, the fully reunited Jon Spencer/Cristina Martinez group Boss Hog, a rare L.A. appearance by Detroit’s Gories and a wave of sets from recent-ish L.A. signees such as Wounded Lion, Zig Zags, CFM, Meatbodies, Side Eyes and, of course, Mikal Cronin and pal Ty Segall. Hardy would love to have signed Segall — who these days releases most of his solo stuff on Drag City — long ago; but when the band Segall was traveling with passed Hardy their demo, Ty got shy. Later he’d tell Hardy: “I had mine in my pocket, but they gave you one and I didn’t wanna give you one, too. I didn’t wanna be that guy!” “No! Be that guy!” Hardy laughs now.
The anniversary is all a little bigger than he thought it would be, Hardy says. When he started, the idea was to do 10 7-inch singles and quit at a nice round number. But the bands kept leading him to other bands he'd love, and then In the Red went into the black enough for him to go part-time at work. By the early 2000s, In the Red had cultivated a new generation of bands — The Hunches, The Hospitals, The Clone Defects, The Piranhas, The Ponys, Black Lips and Jay Reatard — and established a reputation as one of the best independent rock labels in the country. Even The White Stripes once recorded a very early tape they titled "The In the Red Demo," Hardy says — proof that his little red shack sounded like a dream home to a certain kind of musician.
“Psychotronic magazine wrote a review of the Cheater Slicks record and called it ‘garage music for Sonic Youth fans’ — too retro for Sonic Youth fans, too weird for garage fans,” he says. That may have been meant as an insult, but it's a source of pride now. In the Red was and is a place for musicians to pry open garage and blues and rock & roll and figure out where the noise really comes from — and if they can’t put it back together exactly the way they found it, so much the better.
Before In the Red, garage rock was simpler. It meant songs made circa '66 by bands ripping off The Rolling Stones with enthusiasm and/or fuzz, or songs made by bands decades later reverently trying to match the originals. But after 25 years of In the Red, what is garage rock now? Thee Oh Sees? Black Lips? The Oblivians? Wounded Lion? The Hunches? Hardy's label broke the sound wide open. He even put out records with synthesizers. (He remembers The Necessary Evils wanting to leave the synthesizer off the album credits, so purchasers wouldn’t recoil in disgust: “People were like, ‘You can’t have synthesizers! That’s a black eye for you!’” he says. “But Devo had synths.”)
“I never understood why you’d wanna make a band sound like a bygone era,” Hardy says. “When I worked with Sparks — total heroes of mine since I was a little kid — they were commenting that they didn’t know the label, so they checked it out and said, ‘We get the feeling we fit in somehow because it looks like everything is kind of eccentric. And that’s us.’ That’s perfect. Until they said it, I could never figure it out myself. But compared to other quote-unquote garage labels, we always had the stuff that didn’t fit in, and a lot that I don’t think is garage at all. Eccentricity is the thread — there’s always a weird side to it."
In the Red Records' 25th anniversary takes over the Echo and Echoplex this Thursday through Saturday, July 14-16. Three-day passes are sold out but some single-day tickets are still available via theecho.com.
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