Lolipop Records is leaving the comfort of its cozy shop under the bridge in Echo Park for a big warehouse in Boyle Heights. Since 2013, when they opened on Glendale Boulevard next to the Echoplex, Wyatt Blair and Ignacio Gonzalez used their little nook as a record store, label headquarters, recording studio, social hub and occasional venue. That claustrophobic friendliness endeared Lolipop to the local music scene, but now it’s time to grow.
“We want to do more humanitarian things,” Blair says. “We’ve always wanted to, but it was hard in our old space. We want to help bands and artists on a real level. I want it to be like a rec center for the music community.”
For a while, Blair and Gonzalez have been engineering recordings for the Mary Pickford Foundation. When the film company bought a building in Boyle Heights, they invited Lolipop to rent part of the space and continue working together. Everyone knew the building needed some fixing up, but the extent of the issues came as a shock.
“The foundation is fucked up," Blair says. "The electrical is fucked up and the plumbing is fucked up. They found asbestos. They found lead in the water.” These new developments present some setbacks to the grand plan, but the guys aren’t fazed. They expect the new space to be operational by summer.
Blair is excited about the possibilities: “One half of the warehouse will be an event space and the other half will be the recording studio, and there’s a room we will use as an office for the label. People can come and just play music, rehearse, record, make videos, basically just use it as a creative space. We’re going to build out rooms so touring bands can have a place to stay. We’re talking about making the event space a nonprofit.”
When Blair started Lolipop in his “man cave” in his parents’ garage in Laguna Beach, he had no idea where the path would lead. His initial aspiration was to put out comedy cassettes, which is why he named it Lolipop — "LOL" as in "laugh out loud." Nobody really got the joke.
Then he started releasing music from friends. The first two tapes on Lolipop were for Your Ugly Sister and the band he played in with Tomas Dolas, Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel. He was 19 years old at the time.
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Soon, Blair, Dolas and their friends in Mystic Braves, including Gonzalez, moved to Los Angeles in search of a more vibrant scene. Once settled in Echo Park, Blair began selling handcrafted, hand-dubbed, painted cassette tapes created in his kitchen. In 2012, Lolipop moved from Blair’s kitchen to their now-familiar Glendale Boulevard location, originally using it as a rehearsal space for the two bands. Six months later, the space next door opened up and they seized the opportunity to expand into a shop that would sell cassettes and records.
As they achieved success, including a friendly partnership with Burger Records on many co-releases, Lolipop began putting out vinyl and CDs in addition to tapes. They cover the gamut of punk, shoegaze, post-punk, dream-pop and garage-rock, launching many bands that have emerged as some of the best in town. At this point, they’ve logged more than 300 releases, including music by Adult Books, Froth, Corners, Winter, Drinking Flowers, Kim and the Created, L.A. Witch, Peach Kelli Pop, Death Valley Girls, Dante Elephante, Feels and Thee Oh Sees. They’ve also hosted some legendary in-store performances, including one where someone went crowd-surfing in a wheelchair.
Being accepted by Boyle Heights won’t necessarily be easy. The guys have already received some unfriendly reactions, despite the fact that Gonzalez actually grew up in the neighborhood. “I understand people from Boyle Heights can get upset, but no one has knocked on our door and talked to us or asked questions to find out what we’re about," Blair says. "Iggy is from Boyle Heights. His mom went to school a few blocks from here. For him it’s about coming home. He was excited about that. It’s hypocritical to compartmentalize us because of how we look. It’s a community space that will be open to everyone.
“It’s always been a dream to do something like this,” he adds. "We’re so thankful for all the support we’ve had from friends, fans and people we’ve worked with. I feel blessed and I hope for the best.”