Is rock dead? Not at EasyRider Records, Hermosa Beach resident Daniel Hall's paean to heavy metal's golden formative days.
The label began pretty inauspiciously. A friend sent him a link to some heavy psych from Salem's Pot, EasyRider's first band. "I loved it," he says, "I wanted to know when they were going to have physical product." The band said they planned to make tapes, which then promptly sold out in five minutes. He then asked the question any hardcore fan of heavy rock asks: "When's the vinyl coming out?"
When the answer was "never," Hall set about putting it out himself, merely because he wanted it. "That was the only thing I had in mind," he says, "I just pressed up these records because I wanted them."
Not long after that, other bands started coming out of the woodwork looking to work with him. The label has now put out 29 releases in less than a year, a prolific output by any measure, especially for a label run by one guy out of his living room.
It's easy to file EasyRider's output under the "stoner rock" label and forget about it. But Hall consciously - and successfully - avoids the generic sub-Sabbath noodling that the genre has largely boxed itself into. There are notes of Sabbath, sure, but releases like Slow Season's Heavy EP and the self-titled debut LP from Old Man's Will owe a lot more to bands like Uriah Heep or Captain Beyond. The label's latest signing, Electric Citizen, even features the electric organ, a once-ubiquitous instrument in heavy metal's paleontology.
"Our sound is pretty conscious," says Hall. "One of the criteria that I have for whether or not I work with a band is the vocals ... The vocalist actually has to be singing."
It's this tunefulness and songcraft that sets EasyRider apart from the rest of the pack. Even the label's heavier releases from groups like Sons of Huns have more to offer than just a lumbering heaviness. If anything, the best point of reference isn't your older brother's stoner rock, but the new generation of fuzz warriors like Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and LA's own FUZZ ("my favorite record that came out last year"), as well as Swedish giants like WitchCraft and Graveyard, both of whom have cassette releases on the label.
EasyRider Records is about more than just the music, however: Each release is an event, with artwork the equal or better of anything from the golden age of album art. Hall scours Instagram for artists making cool psychedelic art, then offers bands a choice of five or so. "I don't tell guys how to tune their guitars, but we have a certain aesthetic and I'm very hands on with the art." His wife assists him with some of the graphic design.
The label will be changing its name to Riding Easy Records over a four month period starting next month, due to some legal issues with Easyriders magazine. A sister company, Sleazy Rider, markets apparel with a similar aesthetic ('70s rock meets punk), primarily to women. "I had a growing female audience," Hall says, "but they weren't really buying records."
EasyRider's bands are starting to get noticed: Sons of Huns are touring with Kadaver and the semi-legendary St. Vitus, while three other bands are represented by the influential Agency Group. But Hall is honest about his prospects.
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"I don't ever expect to be Roadrunner," he says. "That's not what I'm looking to be."
In fairness, Roadrunner probably didn't set out to be Roadrunner either.