(KenNERDdy): What inspired you to want to start your own record label?
Several years before I started a label, I was on tour with a band called Save Amos. My future La Escalera Records partner, Ziggy, was in that band and that’s how I met most of the earlier bands that I released records for: Success, Bastards of Young and a few others. It was through going on tour with Save Amos up and down the coast for a couple of years – I did about four tours with them. Then, towards the end of that band, I had an epiphany and realized, “Why not put out records for our friends?”. Initially we were gonna do split sevens: so a 7″ split on either side – one band on one side and another band on the other. We did that for the first three releases. Our first record was Success / Bastards Of Young split 7. After realizing there’s not much markup on a 7″ – we had to put out larger stuff like LP’s, and also expanded into releasing CD’s and all of those platforms. We needed to do that to make a little more money so that we could reinvest in more records. So, I met all those people like Rev and Sean Hills on those early tours and then we just decided that we were gonna try to help out our friends by putting out records that we liked from bands that we love.
Cool! So, how old is La Escalera today?
It is six years old on April 15.
That’ll be when La Escalera Fest is happening too, right?
When you started your record label did you have this vision of La Escalera Fest happening every year?
It was only called a Fest as of last year – at Fest 5. The rest were just shows and were one day type things where I’d bring down five or six bands from the label and they’d play a show. They’d always coincide with me returning or going on tour with someone like Success or Western Settings. This last year, in 2016, I happened to be home in April. I wasn’t on a tour or anything like that so I was able to concentrate more on the festival aspect and make it bigger. I was here. I was able to promote and get more people to come out and get it to expand to be a multiple day thing. Since we had been doing so many shows in TJ, I decided to include a TJ date so now it’s a three day thing.
Wow. Yeah I had no clue. Last year was my first time going and the turn out was huge! I had no idea that was the first actual “Fest”. I really enjoy how it’s like a big reunion for so many people too. I didn’t know too many folks last year – but I could just feel the connections and positive energy coming from practically everyone there. It’s definitely a great doorway into the local punk scene here, in my opinion.
Yeah – that was the first one that was an actual festival – the ones prior were more like anniversary shows. I was surprised with the turnout last year, actually. Since I’m also a curator for Awesome Fest, there’s a lot of stress involved with getting bands and making sure you have enough money to pay them. But with Awesome Fest I have six other partners whereas LE Fest – it’s me and Shrum. If something goes South we HAVE to pay out of pocket. It’s a little bit more risk but it’s also a lot smaller then Awesome Fest. But I also have the support of my AF team to help push LEFEST. We’re like the little brother to Awesome Fest.
What’s one of your favorite memories from either the anniversary shows or LE Fest from last year?
Ya know, it’s always good to see some of the original bands come out. Bastards of Young had been here each year except for this year. It’s always good to have those bands come down and to get to see them. Often times when we go on tour, that’s the only time we get to see them and sometimes we have to skip certain cities when we’re booking these tours. So every year I try to bring down as many of the original bands as possible — so it’s like a family reunion. That’s basically what this thing is. It’s just us getting together, throwing ourselves a party and also including a few other bands that I’ve met on the road or that are really close friends of ours. I love including smaller bands that I feel are active in their respective music communities, it brings us all together and in the long run these connections help out all the bands on the label, and bands we associate with.
Are you looking to bring a lot more bands onto the label? Where do you ultimately see La Escalera going?
No, I think I have enough bands and releases for now. I think that the rest of the year I’m gonna be concentrating more on getting the distribution side taken care of – like the online stuff.
You handle that, right? Or do you have help?
No, I used to but Tony Shrum has taken over all of the distribution stuff – such as the online ordering. It’s a Godsend for me. Now I can concentrate on putting this kind of stuff together and bringing in new artists. This year we do have a lot of releases coming out but they’re mostly from bands that are already on the label.
Like who, for this year?
We are doing a release for Gentlemen Prefer Blood and Black Dots. Black Dots will be new. I have two or three new bands that are coming out: Nights Like Thieves from San Diego, we’ve already announced them. I have a band coming out from Texas called Despero, that has Ron Hall – he was in The Anchor, which I also put a record out for and he’s currently in The Capitalist Kids. We just put out The Bigger Empty, which is Mike Felumlee’s band – he’s out in Chicago. He used to play for a couple smaller bands you might remember (Alkaline Trio, The Smoking Popes) and There’s a couple of records I can’t say I’m putting out yet because I don’t know if I’m gonna get them. Hopefully I don’t get the record because that means that this particular band actually got a bigger label. But, if they don’t, I’ll be more than happy to put a record out for this particular band that you guys will totally love. We might end up doing the next Western Settings full length, we’re currently writing that record but that’s also contingent on whether or not we can get that on a bigger label: the goal is always to have the artist move on and move forward. Kind of like Success – they moved onto Red Scare. I have a Regan Ashton solo record that I can’t wait to put out – I think it’s gonna be acoustic. I have a couple other things that I can’t mention just yet because we are still in the negotiating process but there’s some cool stuff coming up. The newer bands are just smaller bands, though. There’s nothing “big” coming this year — yet.
Everything you just said is just as exciting to me!
I know you just got back from tour with Western Settings. How was that 10 day tour?
It was good! When we went out on our first tour in 2014, we were invited to go out by Success. That’s always been kind of a thing that we do – when we go out to try and bring another band with us – it’s either a band we love or a band with a smaller reach so we can get them into some markets that they may have never played in. Obviously Caskitt was on this West Coast run but Problem Daughter had not been in those areas yet so we decided to bring them along on this tour. That was actually really special because we had Regan fill in on guitar for our European tour in 2015 and we were able to hang out with Problem Daughter for six days and Caskitt for twelve. It was like a family tour kinda. Every stop we were surrounded by familiar faces – which normally that is not the case when you’re out there by yourself.
When you’re with bands that you don’t know – is that typically weird in anyway? Weird meaning breaking the ice with them? Or do you keep to yourself? How are you guys on tour with people you don’t know – do you try to get close to them?
Yeah. From the get go we have always set out to make friends and contacts. That’s probably one of the things that people like about Western Settings – we are all very friendly. We are very open – we wanna bring you in, hug and hangout. On tour we tend to hangout with the other bands whenever possible. Sometimes you can’t because of time constrictions or because we aren’t staying overnight. For the most part we tend to make friends with the bands that we play with.
I don’t see why people WOULDN’T want to do that, I just wasn’t sure.
Sometimes you can’t, though, because of schedules. You may be running late or have to take off after your show to drive to the next town, so you don’t get much time to bond. A lot of times the other bands may not be as receptive, either.
So it’s a two way street. Makes sense. That’s pretty much anything in life as far as relationships, haha.
You said you were touring with bands for forever before starting the label. What were you doing there?
I was doing merch or the infamous “TM” word, Tour Managing, but that’s just a word for basically doing whatever. You know, helping out. On the two Success tours I went on, I was helping out with merch and I also had just put records out for them so I was managing that aspect too, you know, trying to sell those records. For the Save Amos tours I was there as a merch person and just to hang out. Obviously on Western Settings tours I’m there to do pretty much everything, haha, mostly yelling at the new guy, Tom. The guys help out a lot too, just saying that it’s a lot of work but it’s fun being on the road.
Tracking back a little bit further – have you always been into the music scene in some way? Or did something change in your life that put you in that direction?
I’ve been involved in music since my teens. I’ve been going to shows since I was thirteen. The genre has changed. I grew up listening to hair metal whereas in my late teens I finally got into the “punk” scene. I used to play in a band around thirteen years ago that was a pop punk band in San Diego. I had already been “in the scene” but I had a nice, long hiatus where I was mainly working. I was still going out to see shows but not involved musically until I got back with the label.
As far as playing wise, you’ve always played guitar? Is that the only instrument you’re versed in?
The first band I had played in, I played drums. I did that for six months and…. it’s a lot of work. I look at Adam or Matt Caskitt and I’m like…”Man!” It didn’t work out for me, it just wasn’t a good match.
When you mention you were working – I know you do screen printing. Have you always been in that industry?
No, I have been doing screen printing for the last seven years with my own company B Street Hill. Besides that I’ve just done regular jobs. I’ve done construction gigs, I used to be a Systems Administrator, telemarketing, paper route. Etc….. I’ve been working since I was about twelve doing whatever, I’ve always been working or busy.
When you were working at twelve with your paper route did you see yourself here? Is this what you always wanted the end result to be — La Escalera Records/Western Settings/screen printing?
No, when I was a teenager I definitely wanted to be a musician. Back then you think it’s gonna be so much bigger – but it’s not. Haha. It’s a lot of work.
It definitely pays off for you guys! When you go to San Diego, everyone knows of Western Settings or La Escalera in some way. I feel like you’re some sort of glue in that community – I’ve never heard anyone say anything crappy about ya’ll either. WS is just a lovely group of peeps. I think that’s really special and in some form you’ve achieved that dream!
I think that when we started we wanted to surround ourselves with like minded people and people that are positive. So far it’s worked out. The label hasn’t really had a bad relationship with the bands its put out either.
Changing up the topic a bit – I notice you’re in Iceland A LOT! What makes you want to go there so often?
I would say Google, “Iceland”, and look at the pictures. Now imagine all those professionally taken photos that are posted on the internet, and you finally arrive in Iceland, and it looks even BETTER than those pictures. My true passion is photography and I haven’t seen anything more beautiful in the world (yet) then Iceland.
Have you travelled to a lot of different places then?
I’ve been to a few. I’ve been to other tropical places like Hawaii and some parts of Mexico. I’ve been to Spain. Even the States, traveling around is awesome, but Iceland is pretty magical. I used to think Hawaii was that but Hawaii kinda got beat down by Iceland as far as vacations go.
I don’t know too many people that go to Iceland, so I find it interesting you go there so often.
I think that it’s getting more popular. It’s a place that people don’t normally associate with vacation because they probably associate it cold and winter. It’s quite the opposite if you go at the right time.
How many times have you gone now?
What do you like to do there?
A little bit of everything: hiking, take photos, camping, driving, taking in the culture. Everyone there is extremely friendly and it’s a very open minded type of vibe. It’s a very positive vibe. I would say go because it’s really inexpensive too.
That’s definitely important to me! Iceland wasn’t even on my list honestly of places I have to see in my lifetime but it is thanks to you now. I always like to end my interviews by asking what is the nerdiest thing about you?
Oof. I don’t really have anything “nerdy” per se. I’m not a Star Wars thing or anything like that.
*After much contemplation*
I have about 2000 pictures of my cat on my phone. So that’s pretty nerdy.
That is pretty nerdy! What’s your cat’s name?
It’s Mr. Peeks. It’s a little tuxedo cat. I’ve had him since he was teeny tiny. He’s twelve now.
Oh wow. I also have a little tuxedo boy! His name is Boo.
He will not go on with his day unless he lays on my chest in the morning. He’s a special guy.