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Wiretap records has quickly become a favorite of us here at 1340mag. With releases like Avenues, Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves, and Ordinary People we've been blown away by the quality that they have put out in this their first year. Rob Castellon has been a joy to work with always responding quickly when reached out to and he jumped right in when I asked him if he was interested in participating in our Labels We Love interview series. Here is what was said...
Rob 1340: What is the ‘birth story’ of Wiretap Records?
Rob C: Wiretap is just over a year old. We had our first release in Sept 2014. A 7" split with an LA band called Watch For Horses and Indian School (previously Audio Karate). And when I mean "We", I basically mean myself, my wife and my two interns, my 6 and 4 year old kids who often help me package orders. I had wanted to start a label in the early 2000's. I'd been managing local bands and shooting video for bands/booking shows on my college campus, and interning/working for a few indie labels including Vagrant, The Militia Group, but never had the follow through and funds to do so. So I pursued a career in radio, where I currently work in doing sales-marketing as my day job. I'd had the name Wiretap picked out for over a decade, taken from the Sparta record Wiretap Scars. I always thought that would be a rad label name. A year in now, we've put out 4 releases, with another two more releases due out before the end of the year.
Rob 1340: You’ve put out just a few really great records this year. Many labels would launch with more than a handful of releases in their first year. Was this an intentional move on your part?
Rob C: Not really. To be honest... it was a probably for a handful of reasons. I think by nature most labels reluctantly put out a release and see what the reaction/feedback is and see how sales go for the first release and that partially decides if they do another. Luckily our debut release got a lot of support especially from the vinyl collector community on Instagram. A big portion of my initial support was from Instagram vinyl supporters. After that, the digital compilations we release online really helped me extend my reach and make ties with bands across the country. There’s so many great scenes happening right now. The Wolvesx4 guys out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina were one of the first bands I reached out to after I decided we would continue with WTR002. I’d like to say we consciously wanted to only put out a few releases this year, but we explored a few more things, but things just didn’t pan out. We had about 3 other projects fall through for a variety of reasons. A few were about timing. And another was in reality the band wasn’t sold on our label as established enough... which is a totally viable reason they went with another label.
Rob 1340: Did your career in radio help you in finding the bands you started with?
Rob C: Well not so much in the way you may think. I’ve never led with the intro to a band the fact that I work in radio. I usually only make that aware to them till we’ve gotten closer just so there’s never any misconceptions on me getting them airplay and all that. Really, what I do in my day job really has no direct impact on the bands I work with. Maybe just helping me structure the business side of a label like coordinating, email etiquette, common business practices, etc.
Rob 1340: You’ve released mostly punk rock and emo releases thus far, fitting the mold of the labels you mentioned earlier (Vagrant, The Militia Group (RIP)). Are you looking to continue to mine that vein or will Wiretap expand outside of those borders?
Rob C: Ya that wasn’t intentional either. Some of those releases I mentioned that fell through wouldn’t have traditionally fallen into the punk/emo filter. But that genre/music is what I personally enjoy. The “Jade Tree” and “Vagrant” era of the early 2000’s was what you may call my favorite era of independent music in terms of when I consumed music and it took over my life. Vagrant did an amazing job of releasing bands that were so much different in sound, but somehow made sense on the label together. Rocket From The Crypt and Dashboard on the same label? But somehow it worked. Face to Face and Koufax? The Hippos and Saves the Day? Somehow they managed to keep a thread among the bands that made sense. So to answer your question, sure.. we’d put out a hardcore record... or ska band? Sure. If the band/record somehow make sense...we’ll back it. Watch for Horses, who we released our debut 7” split, are more indie-rock/guitar driven band that we think are fantastic. There’s so many bands today that don’t sound punk that are doing punk/DIY things more than most “punk” bands. I know it sounds cliché to say, but we’re just are trying to put out what we enjoy/like.
Rob 1340: How important is putting out physical music to you?
Rob C: It's extremely important. It's part of the reason I started a label. I can honestly say that buying physical music in my youth (CD's/vinyl, and early on cassette singles) brought me closer to a band's record more than any digital format ever will. I don't think most of us give the proper time/attention to a record when it's released today. When you stream it, most people listen to it maybe 1-3 times all the way through, then move on to something else. Especially in the social media world we live in where there's 35 song/Album premieres/streams per day. It's so much harder to get fans to pay attention. I still like getting a physical album like a CD compilation or when a local band hands me their CD outside a show. I'm more likely to pop that CD in my car than sit down at my computer and enter the download code. Sure, we all love the experience of sitting with a 12" or 7" record and looking at cover art, but the same applies for CDs. Even when I was younger, pre-Internet, you took the time to read the CD liner notes and the band's Thank You's. We all found so many more bands from all those liner note Thank You's. You can't get that from a digital file or a Bandcamp site. I swear, I'd love to make Wiretap strictly Mail Order. But we know that's not realistic. Can't tell you how many times you rolled the dice on a record and hoped it was good. You trusted a label's track record.
Rob 1340: You are speaking my language so loudly here. How important do you think the community feel of a label is?
Rob C: To me it’s important. I think kids now are looking to align themselves with a label or community. For a minute I think it went away within the independent label community. Labels like No Sleep, Topshelf, Run For Cover are doing for kids now what Epitaph, Jade Tree, Vagrant, Asian Man, Crank, Trustkill, Victory did for me. We hope we're starting to do that for our label in our infancy. Even a label like Burger Records (label here from LA) I’d say is more about how they’ve branded the label more than they’re actual roster. Burger is a brand which arguably is a more recognizable than the bands. They’ve been killing it lately. There’s a reason tons of kids wear “I’m a Burger Kid” buttons.
Rob 1340: Have you ever thought about releasing an album without a digital form factor?
Rob C: I would love to personally. But bands/artists would likely would be opposed to that in fear of nobody hears their music. I could see it working for a label with an established community for limited or exclusive content, etc. One day maybe.
Rob 1340: How important is album art to you?
Rob C: Of course it’s important. I’m so happy with the cover art for all our releases so far. The cover art for Sons of Strangers’ The Sailor. The Sea that Jathan Carter put together is truly awesome, and Avenues’ Creep Show art done by Jeremy Kirk is so badass. But it’s more than just being able to print it on a vinyl packaging and stare at it while listening to the record. Cover art in a lot of ways defines the album. It’s your imagery on social media, your website, posters, etc... A lot of young emo/pop punk bands recently are choosing to go with a simplistic approach to their EP on Bandcamp with a picture of a American Football esque’ Mid-Western house or a landscape or something. Put some effort into your cover art. Even if it’s your debut EP that cost $100 to record....try a little.
Rob 1340: How successful has your mail order catalog been?
Rob C: Hahaha. It’s actually not a thing at all. I included a black and white catalog in a few packaged orders as a novelty/joke. I’d love to do it one day... but right now, we haven’t had any mail orders. I’d be curious to see if Mike Park actually gets any mail orders still for Asian Man?
Rob 1340: Why do you think records and tapes are making such a comeback?
Rob C: Who knows? Even as "trendy" as we think it is now, with Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods selling vinyl, in the larger spectrum it's still a niche. Just hoping it fizzles out soon so I stop getting 25 week turnarounds for releases at the pressing plants.
Rob 1340: Haha, everyone is complaining about record turn times right now. Do you think that will end up being the undoing of this trend?
Rob C: I’m probably not informed enough on when/if the plants will work out the issues. It obviously will pan itself out eventually. Just trying to ride it out I guess. We could very likely be re-exploring CD releases as a more cost effective and quicker as opposed to vinyl. We will keep pressing vinyl, but could likely introduce CDs this year to our releases.
Rob 1340: What are your favorite records not on Wiretap Records right now?
Rob C: I'm all over the place this year. I think cause of what I said above. I'm spending more time with an album now. I probably missed so many great records over the past 10 years that I didn't give proper attention to since it sat in my iPod with thousands of other albums. This year, the new Sufjan Stevens is amazing. Ceremony's L Shaped Man is wonderful, Spraynard's Mable, Leon Bridges, Donovan Wolfington, Red City Radio, Diamond Youth's Nothing Matters, Looming's Nailbiter, Dustin Kensrue's new record Carrie the Fire. But my AOTY is likely Turnover's Peripheral Vision.
Rob 1340: What are your thoughts on the whole emo revival with bands like The World Is A Beautiful Place and Spraynard. Is this a chance to re-do 2000-2001 properly or will it be ruined by pop again?
Rob C: Haha. I’m gonna reserve that question to my friend Tom Mullen from Washed Up Emo. Although I have a soft spot for the 2nd wave of emo bands like Texas is the Reason, Braid, Mineral, The Get Up Kids, etc.... I do really enjoy a lot of what’s going on today. You kind of have to. But I sort of already see the shifting away from twinkly-emo sound to building from that. TWIBP new record doesn’t sound emo to me... it’s a solid indie rock record. Call it what you call it.. its good. I’d compare it to what The Anniversary did on Your Majesty after Designing a Nervous Breakdown. People didn’t understand the shift... but Your Majesty is a perfect record.
Rob 1340: Where do you see Wiretap Records this time next year?
Rob C: If all goes as hoped/planned, we hope to have another 4-6 releases out in 2016 including a tribute compilation record to one of my all time favorite punk bands, as well as a vinyl reissue of a record that was never pressed on vinyl. I'm super excited about that and hopefully something other people will be excited about too. Honestly if we're still doing this label this time next year, we'll be thrilled. Who knows maybe we'll have to put it all on hold next year so my kids can get braces, and oh ya that mortgage as well.
Rob 1340: Last chance for comments, what does the world need to know about Wiretap Records that they have not learned here?
Rob C: We’re grateful for anyone who has purchased a record from us, supported our bands, bought a shirt, put a sticker on their turntable. Anything. We just want to be part of the community. That’s it. It’s given so much to us. If we can be just a small part of someone’s nostalgia in 10 years like one day they say.. “Oh man! I used to love that band/record.” I’ll be happy. We’re excited about 2016 and will keep at it. You can follow us on all the socials @wiretaprecords on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. Thanks...