To succeed in DIY music, you have to be willing to put in the work for little reward. A solid foundation builds something bigger. It’s not uncommon for projects, bands, labels and media outlets to fail; the ones that continue on to become something greater are the ones that begin as passion projects. You enter an independent music community with no end game, because you have no other choice.
So goes to the tale of Lauren Records, an indie-/emo-leaning Los Angeles label founded in March 2011 by the man who is still its sole operator, Aaron Kovacs. “I run it out of my house, but it takes up the entire house so I sleep on the couch in the front room,” he jokes. “Some people will help out with certain things, like the guy who does the website when I need it or when I need help assembling things. There are certain people I can call.”
Kovacs' mentality is the epitome of DIY — make a thing and, if you need assistance, a friend will be willing to extend a helping hand. For Lauren Records, in its six-year existence, that approach has remained the same — it’s just become larger and more efficient. With a catalog including SoCal hometown heroes Joyce Manor (who have since gone on to sign with Epitaph) as well as newer L.A. staples Upset, Peach Kelli Pop and more, there’s a particular community Lauren champions, and its fans are loyal.
“When I started it — it’s the same [reason] now for why I do it — there was an empty space in the scene that I was in," Kovacs explains. "The bands that I liked and my friends’ bands, no one was putting out records for them. I wanted to fill that void.”
His foray into underground music began with booking, a much more manageable undertaking than producing and releasing physical media. “I’ve built all the relationships with the label from booking shows, tours and stuff. Probably everybody I met through the label was from booking them shows.”
Lauren Records' first release was a compilation LP called I Think We Should Stay Away From Each Other featuring his own band, Summer Vacation, and future heavy-hitters Andrew Jackson Jihad (now called AJJ), Japanther and Joyce Manor, among others. “It is kind of representative of the scene at the time," Kovacs says. "Some of the bands aren’t around anymore, some got bigger and aren’t in the same scene anymore. All those bands were always playing shows together back then.”
Where the first few releases of an indie label typically exist in obscurity, Lauren Records found success early on. “The first four releases were the comp, the Pangea CD [later Together Pangea], Andrew Jackson Jihad’s cassette and Japanther’s cassette. Those were just friends who gave me an opportunity, and I was looking for opportunities then. Those bands were so much smaller then.”
The growth has been gradual and manageable, but it’s a full-time undertaking. “Lauren’s a lifestyle for me. There’s no stopping. I do Lauren all day, every day — 16-hour days sometimes. I didn’t plan on the label lasting or plan on it not lasting. I assumed I was going to pursue it, but there was no expectation. It all started because no one else was doing it.”
For Kovacs, Los Angeles is more than just his home base — the city plays a crucial role in the identity of his label. “Garage rock is really big here. Every new festival or label that’s popping up here is a sub–Burger Records thing. It’s a separate scene, the one I’m in and the one Burger is in. I think the whole label has been built around my personal taste.”
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There’s no Lauren Records sound, per se, but there is a characteristic all of his artists share. “They’re all motivated and they try," Kovacs says. "I can’t deal with lazy bands. A lot of the bands I work with now, it’s a lifestyle for them, too. Peach Kelli Pop will text me early in the morning and say, ‘I’ve been dreaming about these new shirt designs.’ It’s great." He smiles. “All of them are the people you could ask to set up a show for someone else and they’ll all do it because they’re all involved. They’re not just playing music.”
In the last few years, Lauren Records' repertoire has begun to include more bands made up of women and people of color — not based on any political agenda but simply because the most exciting music is often created by those from marginalized backgrounds, and Lauren Records represents that. “I’m not going to shove it in people’s faces, like, ‘Hey, this band is Mexican.’ I think part of it is because I’m half-Mexican, half-Japanese. Maybe that’s why I’m not pushing these minority bands as minorities, because they’re just bands. All of the bands I work with that are all girls don’t want to be called an ‘all-girl band.’”
Ultimately, Kovacs is a music fan first and foremost, and a firm believer that anyone can do what he does if they put their minds to it. “Help the bands in every way possible," he advises. "The band you like, book their shows, make their merch, help them tour, help them in any way. Get all the kids to come to the show. That’s how everyone is going to find out and get excited.”