In a time where record labels are slowly on the brink of extinction, there are still smaller, independent labels out there putting out great bands and working to ensure the survival of independent music. One such record label is Wiretap Records. Based out of Los Angeles, this label is releasing some of the best new music in the scene today. Bands like Harker, Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves, and This Obsession, among many others are keeping the spirit of independent music alive with the help of Wiretap Records. The driving force behind this is owner Rob Castellon, whose “treat the bands like a family” mentality is something that is sorely lacking within the music community today. We got a chance to talk with Rob about how he started the label, his inspirations, his own musical ability (or lack thereof), and the process he uses to run his business.
Read the interview below.
What made you decide to want to start up a record label?
I started Wiretap in 2014 after really just feeling disconnected with new music and the scene in general. Although I worked in music at my day job, I felt like I still hadn’t been keeping up with the current scene. I missed that. The plan was to just put out a 7″ from two local area bands. Just cause why not? It was really a “Fuck-It. Why Not moment” time in my life that made me start it. And here we are 4 years later.
Can you tell me about how you got things started up with Wiretap?
There obviously isn’t a blue print for starting a label. You just have to do it. After the first 7″ came out with two local LA bands Watch For Horses and Indian School (previously Audio Karate), I came across the guys in Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves. Connecting with those guys and hearing their upcoming EP made me realize I wanted to put some energy into this and see how far we could take it. Every week/month/year is a next step… small goals. If someone is looking to start a label and have it immediately take off, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
Are there any other labels that inspired you or that you looked up to? If so, which ones and what about them did you like?
Growing up, I was always drawn to labels like Vagrant Records, Hopeless, Jade Tree, and the mid 00 emo stuff. All those labels created a brand that was just as important to me as the actual bands. When Jade Tree put out a record, there was 95% chance I was going to like it. I admired Vagrant’s ability to sign bands that sounded so different from each other, but still had a common thread and somehow, they made sense… like Rocket From the Crypt was on the same label as the Get Up Kids and Koufax, or The Anniversary. But in terms of the way the label was run… I admired and still do very much model Wiretap after Asian Man. Mike Park runs Asian Man exactly the way I hope to run Wiretap for years to come. Anyone who has spent any time with Mike or worked with him in any way, knows he’s the best and truly cares about the label, the bands and fans.
Did you play music yourself before starting up the label?
I played some saxophone in junior high but don’t think that qualifies me as a musician. Sadly, I can’t play a guitar or other instrument to save my life.
How often does Wiretap sign artists to the label?
There really isn’t a schedule. As the label continues to grow, we’re also getting better submissions or being approached by better bands, haha. So as much as I’d want to be impulsive and put out 24 records a year, the hardest is passing on a record, so you can properly promote a handful each year.
Is there any specific schedule for releases? That is, do you plan how often throughout the year that you’re going to release something?
We’re on schedule to have about 14 releases in 2018. Whoah! I never imagined we’d be doing that many this year. Things just keep aligning themselves and we continue to make it work. No release is the same and as you can imagine, as a small indie, funds are super limited but the goal has and always will be finding a way to get the record out to the masses and help grow the band’s reach and Wiretap’s brand.
What sort of things do you look for in bands and artists when you’re thinking of putting them on Wiretap?
I have to like the music of course and see that a band has their shit together of course. I know its cliché cause everyone welcomes their bands to their family, but I always look for a common thread on how that band will mix with current Wiretap bands. I encourage all the bands to tour together, reach out to each other for shows/tours, etc. And I really think lots of them have connected on many levels. But overall, I want to work with a band that WANTS to work with me. If you aren’t even following the label on social or know some of our past releases, there is a solid chance we’re gonna find it hard to connect.
The label has gotten itself fairly stacked with great bands lately. Specifically, can you go over briefly how you got involved with bands like WolvesX4, Harker, and This Obsession?
Wolvesx4 was the 1st band we actually started working with and is our longest running band relationship. I think I may have stumbled upon them on a site after they had just released their first LP on cassette with Flesh & Bone Records. So, I reached out and we’ve put out their 7″ EP “Scars”, their 2nd LP “The Cross And The Switchblade” and we’ll be putting out their next full length later this Fall. Harker, is part of the burgeoning UK punk scene. After working with our friends Kamikaze Girls in Leeds/London, we became exposed to the amazing DIY punk scene coming out of places like Brighton/Leeds/Manchester right now… like Gender Roles, Kamikaze Girls, and of course Harker. I got approached by the band’s manager/publicist Chris who referenced The Get Up Kids, Beach Slang and Jersey punk…and I was on board. Chicago punks This Obsession, I connected with via email when singer Mark sent over the new mixed record they recorded with Dan (Mr Precision) of 88 Fingers Louie at Bombshelter Studio. Mark is friends with fellow Wiretap band Cables & Arms out of San Francisco, and they suggested they connect with me about listening to the new record. I’m glad I did cause it’s a great album. A Confrontational Effort is out everywhere now.
Wiretap just recently signed Aree and the Pure Heart. Tell me how that relationship came about?
Oh man, I met Aree in 2015… right when I had just launched the label. He had just put out his debut “Heartsongs” EP on Bandcamp, and I stumbled upon it somehow and reached out to him. His voice and approach to his songs were some of the most genuine and heartfelt lyrics I had heard in sometime. Since then I’ve turned on as many people as I could and have seen his music reach so many since including making its way to Laura Jane Grace who tweeted with him a few times saying she dug his music. We’ve kept in touch over the past 2 years or so, keeping me updated on the new music and feeding me tracks here and there. This new record is gonna blow everyone’s mind. It’s so damn good.
What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry in general currently?
I don’t really have an opinion on the music industry as a whole. But the independent punk/hardcore community will continue to thrive if we continue to support it.
Do you feel that, especially in the Los Angeles area (where Wiretap Records is based out of), the market has become somewhat saturated? If so, can you briefly tell me about how an independent label “deals” with this idea that the music industry has become somewhat flooded?
Well Los Angeles is oversaturated in all things. That doesn’t mean LA doesn’t have tons of hard working and amazing bands here. We’ve put out records for our friends in Spanish Love Songs and Odd Robot who are both local and we love. Both bands whom we’ve seen a larger response from fans outside the area. The frustrating part of working with local LA bands isn’t their dedication and talent, it’s the saturation of options for fans to come out to shows. We have a great punk/DIY scene in SoCal. Maybe not directly in LA proper in my opinion, but tons of great scenes on the outskirts like Pomona, San Diego, and parts of the OC. But the plan for Wiretap was always to seek bands from all parts of the country/world. LA is where we’re based (cause rent/housing is so cheap.. hahaha)… but Wiretap reaches people in all parts..and I’m stoked on that.
Do you have any other signings coming up you’d like to share with me?
Soon, soon. I’ll just say we got two East Coast based bands announced soon… We also just announced we’re pressing Audio Karate’s 2002 album Space Camp on vinyl for the first time. I’m so excited for that. Space Camp was on a short list of records that never saw a vinyl pressing and after a few years trying to make it happen, it’s finally happening! Preorders are up now.
Do you have any words of advice for someone else that might want to start up a record label?
Do it cause you want to have fun doing it of course. Do it to make yourself happy and not to get noticed, attract attention on how cool you are…haha. You’re gonna start it, put out a record, and see that NOBODY GIVES A SHIT. You’re gonna post relentlessly on social media and get 4 likes. You’re gonna put up preorders and get 2 orders. You’re gonna get disheartened and say to yourself.. fuck it… why bother? But you’re also gonna meet some amazing people through it that all share your love for this community we all participate in. Since I started in 2014, I’ve seen countless small labels, bedroom cassette labels start and end in that time. Trust me, life happens while you’re running a label. Finances get tough in your personal life, partners/wives/husbands/kids need your attention more. You need to concentrate on college/day job, etc… Start a label only if you’re in it for the long run. Success, however you define it, will come at some point. Just set your boundaries on what you define as success and have fun. It’s gonna be rad!
Any final thoughts?
We just launched our debut Wiretap Records 2018 Record Club Subscription. I kept getting messages and emails from people asking about a record club and had always thought it was too early for the label to offer it, but we decided to try it. All the releases we press on vinyl in 2018… a minimum of 10x records including full length LP’s from many of the above mentioned like Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves, Aree And The Pure Heart, Odd Robot, Get Married, Avenues, that Audio Karate Space Camp pressing and already released LP’s from Breaklights, Harker and more. Plus, a bunch of other cool member perks like t-shirts, test pressings, promo stuff and more. It really is helping us keep doing the label. All the info and to sign up is at www.wiretaprecords.com. [I] just wanna say thanks to anyone who’s ever cared .02 cents about our bands/label.