Since 2017, the Valley area of Los Angeles has experienced a not-so-strange rash of stolen vans, white being the color of choice for theft. While these vehicles may seem nondescript, they are often the primary transport for tradesmen, electricians, plumbers and such. Hence, they are full of tools, which are stolen and then sold to pawnshops and flea markets, while vans are quickly abandoned, usually found somewhere ransacked within a few days. This writer even had a less than cherry 1996 white Honda Odyssey jacked from a quaint Sherman Oaks neighborhood two years ago. So yeah, it’s a thing.
When thieves came across local musician and bartender Brandon McCulloch’s 2005 Ford Econoline E250 in Valley Village a week ago, they hit the jackpot… more than they could’ve imagined. “I thought I was being stealth, with the white panel van. Turns out I was wrong,” he says.
The van was more than transport or storage for McCulloch, it was a labor of love. Under the moniker “Tiny Records,” it was a top flight mobile recording studio, packed with everything necessary to deliver a high quality sound experience. Barely broken in, it had seen only three recording sessions at the time of its unfortunate disappearance, with artists including Parker Lane (feat. Printz Board of Black Eyed Peas), Rainee Blake (from TV’s Nashville) and Louis Schefano (Remy Zero, Maria Taylor).
The van was eventually recovered from an impound lot in East Los Angeles, and it was robbed clean, down to the last patch cord. “They did a really professional job, it was almost weirdly respectful, they didn’t do any real damage to the van,” he laughs halfheartedly. It’s not clear if McCulloch’s sharing and promoting about the project on social media — which of course he did — played a part in the theft, and as of now there are no leads. A GoFundMe has been set up to help McCulloch get Tiny Records back on the road. Celebs and artists like Mark Rivers, Amber Heard, Shooter Jennings and Gary Jules have all voiced their support.
“I think Tiny Records is a great idea. A studio on wheels! But then of course, someone had to go and steal it, literally,” Jennings tells the Weekly. “This is a shame and anyone who has had an idea that was crushed by assholes should feel the hit on this one. Hopefully with a little help from the community, and some extra security steps, Tiny Records can get right back on the beat and keep going.”
If anyone would be able to rally rockers and scenesters, it’s McCulloch. The musician and bar industry vet has been bashing around Hollywood for two decades now. His band Silver was part of the much lauded Villa Elaine collective (featuring artists who lived and made music via the historic apartment building on Vine Street in Hollywood) spawning local faves like Remy Zero and Space Twins. Silver saw success with film and TV placements, while his other group, Brandon McCulloch and the Deadbirds, gained attention in the boho shoegazer scene alongside The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Spindrift.
Following his music projects McCulloch delved into photography and acting. He had an entertainment blog in Spin called “Brandon’s Big Night Out” and even appeared on the beloved show Parks and Recreation, where he played himself in Andy Dwyer’s (Chris Pratt) grunge band, Mouse Rat.
Another McCulloch brainchild is Sunset & Vinyl, the hidden gem tucked away above 800 Degree Pizza in Hollywood. The bar celebrates the time honored practice of drinking while playing records. While away on a shoot in Shibuya, Japan, he came upon a bar called the JBS Lounge, where the sole proprietor, Mr. Kobayashi, bartended, bar-backed, and spun vinyl, all at once.
Mr. Kobayashi was well versed in the character of the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld. “He decided what beer or whiskey you were drinking, he decided what records were playing,” he recalled. One night McCulloch left a personal gift on his bar tab, a masonic ring. This caught the gruff Mr. Kobayashi’s attention, and McCulloch continued to chip away at the stoic bartender, eventually getting permission to join him behind the bar.
“When I came back to Hollywood I was pretty pumped up about that experience, and then the manager of 800 Degrees Pizza said there was a bar upstairs and they didn’t know what to do with it,” McColloch recalls. And so the idea of Sunset and Vinyl was born (naming credit going to a keen drunk friend at the bar).
The concept took off, and soon there were too many records behind the bar, which led to another idea- letting customers leaf through the records as well as bring in their own. Thrillist, Yelp and this publication took notice. We even named it best new bar in L.A. a couple years ago.
As with Three Clubs several blocks down Vine where he worked previously, McColluch’s presence is big part of S&V’s success. But he’s stayed active as a musician as well. He released a five song EP, called “November,” in February. Co-produced with his Sunset & Vinyl partner Josh Jacober, it is a stirring hybrid electronic and organic soundscapes.
McCulloch is no stranger to traditional studio environments, but Tiny Records represented a fresh new approach, and he hasn’t given up on the idea. But getting back to where he was will be a challenge.
“Unlike many other artistic endeavors, audio recording requires a relatively large financial investment,” says Rivers, his Parks and Rec Mouse Rat bandmate and the guy who wrote the theme song to Mr. Show. “Good audio gear doesn’t come cheap. And most of us audio guys are essentially musicians, with a musicians income. So losing all your stuff is more than a bump in the road. It’s devastating.”
Learn more about the fundraiser for “Save Tiny Records L.A.” here.