Like many of those who mull over the idea of starting a record label, Larry Hardy founded In the Red Records with the goal of putting out a few small releases. That was back in 1991, but 25 years later, Hardy has turned his imprint into one of the most heralded garage and punk rock labels in America. Over the years, In the Red has put out albums by some of the biggest players in the garage rock underground, from notable names like Jon Spencer and Ty Segall to bands like the Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, The Gories, and countless others.
To celebrate the label’s 25 years of service in the ugly, underground trenches, Hardy is hosting a three-day showcase July 14–16th at the Echo and Echoplex in Los Angeles. The lineup is a veritable who’s who from In the Red’s past and present, including Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, the Cheater Slicks, the Oblivians, and the recently reunited Boss Hog. We caught up with Hardy ahead of the anniversary showcase and asked him about some of his favorite records In the Red has put out over the years.
What does that 25-year figure mean to you? Does it feel like it’s been that long?
It’s weird. It makes me feel old. It’s strange because I haven’t paid that much attention to it. It was only my wife bringing up how long I’ve been doing it that made me stop and think, “Christ, it’s been 25 years.” It’s insane.
Is that what put the wheels in motion for the 25th anniversary shows?
Actually, the guy who owns [The Echo] here in Los Angeles, Mitchell Frank, had the idea. He’s been asking me to do an In the Red show for a long time, so long that I remember thinking, “Well, next year’s going to be the 20th anniversary, maybe we’ll do it then.” I didn’t want to do it. It sounded like a hassle, and now that we’re actually doing it, I’m finding it actually is a hassle.
Ty Segall // Photo by Ted Maider
I can see the reluctance. In the Red is very underground, so it doesn’t seem in your nature to throw your own label a party.
Sort of, yeah. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do. I never wanted to be the center of attention. I’ve had offers in the past. I also thought LA, even if this is where I live and run the label, didn’t seem like a friendly place to do it. We did In the Red shows in the ’90s back on the East Coast, and they were great. But I was worried about, “Does anybody care?” I didn’t want to be standing behind this thing if no one gives a fuck. LA’s changed in recent years. Now there’s a bunch of bands I work with that live here, so that was part of my reasoning to finally do it. There’s a bunch of newer, younger bands on my label who are here, which is new for me.
That said, the lineup looks great. What was the process of putting the bill together like?
There are some bands who I obviously wanted to be part of it, but we just put out feelers to see who was interested. There were certain individuals who I thought just had to be present. Jon Spencer, I’ve done a bunch of stuff with him from real early on. I felt he had to be there. I really wanted Mick Collins to be there. I was psyched to get The Gories, because they were the whole reason I started the label to begin with. Greg Cartwright, I asked him to be a part of it either as Reigning Sound or with the Oblivians. We tried to do both, but that didn’t work out. The Cheater Slicks, they hadn’t been out here in forever, but they were an important early band for us. Others I tried to get but couldn’t. I really wanted the Country Teasers to come over from England. I volunteered to fly them over, but that couldn’t happen. Thee Oh Sees, they’re another really important band to me. They were originally gonna do it but John couldn’t. The Black Lips were gonna do it at one point, but they had too much stuff booked.
Thee Oh Sees // Photo by Autumn Andel
How did you decide to start the label?
I thought I was just gonna put out a few singles. That was supposed to be the end of it.
I feel like a lot of people who start labels start them with the same thought: “I’m just going to do this.” Then, years later, they’re still at it.
Yeah. I’d been thinking about it for a while. I was a big music fan and a big record buyer since I was a little kid. A lot of my friends and people I’ve gone out with were in bands. I had no aspirations to be in a band, but I felt like I should do something. I went to see a lot of bands and bought a lot of music, so it seemed like I should participate. I just wanted to do it to say I did something.
You didn’t want to be a spectator.
Yeah. And truth be told, the artifact of the record is my favorite part of my whole rock and roll appreciation. That’s what I dug, and still do, so I thought, “Why not make some?” I talked to some people who I know had done it, like Tim [Warren] from Crypt Records and Long Gone John from Sympathy for the Record Industry. I saw them do it, and it didn’t seem that hard.
The fascinating thing about the punk and garage labels that sprung up alongside In the Red in the ’80s and ’90s is bands were putting out stuff hand over fist, and they were jumping from label to label. Did you feel a sense of competition with labels like Crypt, Sympathy, Goner, and others?
I guess that was part of the fun. Sometimes there was competition, but I guess friendly competition. I was very conscious of that when I first started, because I only planned to put out a handful of singles. I just thought, “What can I do that hasn’t already been put out on Sympathy?” The first band I approached was The Gories. At that point, they weren’t on Crypt yet. They just had a record out on Wanghead. No one really knew who they were. I went after a few bands. If The Gories didn’t say yes, I’d go after these bands. But that was the challenge, putting out something that stands on its own when there are a million labels springing up putting out 45s by garage bands.
Mikal Cronin // Photo by Ben Kaye
But by that measure, you’ve certainly done that. How did the mission evolve from just doing a few singles to running a label full-time?
It just snowballed. I sort of fell into it. The Gories were the band that got me thinking about doing a label. The Cheater Slicks were another, then the Gibson Brothers. At the time, one of my favorite bands in the world was Pussy Galore. Obviously, they were mining ’60s garage music, but they were also raw and primitive and kind of weird. It was kind of art damaged, and other labels weren’t doing stuff like that. Labels didn’t want to deal with them because they thought they were too atonal and noisy. But that’s what I liked about them. So I just thought, if I could get a few bands that sound like that, I could occupy this little corner of garage rock. When I did start putting stuff out, I did finally meet the Gibson Brothers, and by then Jon Spencer had joined them. I was a huge Pussy Galore fan and was asking the Gibson Brothers to do a single. He had just started the Blues Explosion. They didn’t have a record out yet. He gave me a single of theirs right as they started. Then Kim Gordon had a new band, and someone asked me to do a single with them. It was like, “Whoa, I didn’t plan on doing this, but I guess I am now. This is cool.”
In the ’90s, there was all of this forward momentum with that kind of music, so the timing seemed right.
Oh, definitely. It was a good time to be doing records like that. That definitely helped. Eventually, I started doing albums, which I never initially planned to do, and it just kept going.
How have you managed to keep that momentum going with all of the changes the industry has seen over the years? It’s harder and harder for labels to sell records with each passing year, but In the Red seems to keep operating steadily.
Part of it is just dumb stupidity, I guess. But also, I’ve never lost interest. A few of my friends got to a point where they just weren’t interested in hearing new bands anymore. They decided they’d rather reissue old music than have to deal with new bands and put them on tour and whatnot. I still care about hearing new bands. Even at my age, I still get excited.
Fuzz // Photo by Nina Corcoran
I’ve heard people say that back catalog labels are much more profitable, but you still seem to be in touch with that same spirit that inspired you to start the label to begin with. You still want to be active.
A few years ago, I did a few reissues and I thought, “Huh, I don’t have to do merch. These guys don’t exist anymore. I don’t have to do a ton of promo, and it still sells about the same.” I like doing reissues. I have a few on the horizon that I’m excited about. But every time I hear a new band that sounds really cool, I think: “Damn, I wish I put that out.” I just don’t ever want to be that guy who’s like, “Nope. Nothing after 1983 for me.” I don’t want to lose track. I guess I always envisioned myself as growing to be an old man who still cares about noise made by obnoxious teenagers. If they’re recording a 45 in their garage, I want to know about it.
I have a list of In the Red Records releases for you to look back on.
The Morlocks – Under The Wheel/Hurricane A’ Coming (1991)
This was the first In the Red release, right?
Yeah, it wasn’t supposed to be. That’s a weird release for me. The first band I contacted that made me want to start a label was The Gories. I contacted them and they agreed. I started a conversation with them about recording a single. I had my money ready and was ready to go. Over a year later, they’re saying, “Ugh, we’re still having trouble with guitar tracks. We don’t like this version of this song.” I was sick of waiting, because I was ready to go. The Morlocks thing was offered to me, and they’d been broken up for a while. They did this one record, Emerge, that I really love. They came out of that faux-’60s scene of the ’80s, but they were way more obnoxious and noisy and trashy-sounding, and that’s what I liked: somebody doing something with ’60s garage rather than just replicate it. I agreed to put out the single, but I don’t think it’s their best work. I kind of wish I’d waited so I could say The Gories were my first band.
The Gories – Here Be the Gories (1991)
But The Gories were the second release.
Yeah, that came afterward, so I was able to get that one out.
What attracted you to the band?
God, just everything about them. To my ears at that particular time, it was perfect. That was what I had been waiting for. I could hear strains of ’60s garage, but there was also an R&B thing going on. Mick had this really soulful, screaming voice. I found out about them before they even had a record out. A friend of mine knew Alex Chilton, and I guess he knew them. I think he got a hold of a demo or something, and he told my friend, “They’re coming out with a record. You’ve got to hear it. They sound like the Cramps if the Cramps were black.” As soon as I heard that description, I thought, “Oh wow. On paper that sounds incredible.” Then when I heard it, I realized, “This is the band I’ve been waiting for.”
Do you see them as the band that kind of defined the In the Red aesthetic, if not the sound?
Yeah, they were the foundation, followed up closely by the Cheater Slicks, I would say. They were the next guys I wanted to get.
Cheater Slicks – Whiskey (1993)
I read a review of them by Byron Coley in Forced Exposure. They’d done a self-released album, and I could tell by the review that it would be something I’d like. And I did, I really loved it. I wound up writing to them, because they had an address on the album. It wasn’t like people were beating down their door. It took them forever to put out that first album, but I really loved them. I saw them as a flagship artist on the label as it got going. Whiskey was one of the first full-lengths I did, as well. They had a song on the second side that’s 30 minutes long, which was something that garage bands were not doing at the time.
You mentioned Jon Spencer earlier, and you definitely hear some connection between Blues Explosion and those early Cheater Slicks records, just in terms of that off-the-wall interpretation of blues and early American rock and roll.
That was definitely my criteria. I love ’60s garage, and I love blues and all that old music. But if I’m going to listen to a new band, I wanna hear you do something to it. There were just so many bands around at the time that did things very faithfully, and I just didn’t see the point. I’ll just go listen to an old garage or rockabilly record if you’re gonna sound exactly like it.
Reigning Sound – Time Bomb High School (2002)
Reigning Sound are one of those bands that really makes creative use of their base influences. The music sounds so familiar, but at the same time they’re ripping up the floorboards.
I think Greg [Cartwright] is a natural for that type of singing and guitar playing. He’s got all the boxes checked, but at the same time he comes from a punk rock place. He’s not being reverent; he’s definitely being aggressive with it. Although some of the songs on Time Bomb High School are some of the most beautiful songs that have ever come off of my label, like those ballads. That guy, he’s the real deal. When I did that record, I felt like I was starting to branch out a little. Like, “Well, maybe it’s OK if I put out an album where half of the songs are ballads.” That was a new one for me.
That growth seems inevitable, especially if a label is going to live on as long as In the Red has.
Oh, definitely. I can definitely see when I look back at the catalog where my tastes have changed. Bands I’ve signed have reflected that. You can’t just do noisy, lo-fi stuff forever and expect people to buy your 300th release.
Jay Reatard – Blood Visions (2006)
I got involved with him through the Lost Sounds. I was a huge fan of Lost Sounds. They were looking for another label, and I knew their publicist. I signed on to do what would be their last album, and then they split up. During the course of their break up, Jay mentioned to me, “I’m working on this solo album. I have half of it recorded. Would you be interested?” I checked it out, and just the demos he sent me were like, “Oh fuck, this is so good.” It seemed like a reaction against the Lost Sounds in some ways, like he was determined not to have keyboards or some of those Lost Sounds influences that I loved. He wanted to jettison them, because not only did the band break up, but he was in a relationship with their songwriter, Alicia. When they broke up, I think he just thought, “I’m gonna kick everything to the curb and do this other thing.” It was a cool return for him to straight punk rock.
Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin – Reverse Shark Attack (2009)
Those guys seem cut very much from the same cloth that Jay was, not just sonically but also in terms of that fearless work ethic.
Yeah. I don’t know Mikal as well personally, but I’ve gotten to know Ty really well. He and Jay are pretty similar, a yin and yang of one another. Different personalities, but the talent and the work ethic are pretty much the same. Ty can do a record like Sleeper and turn right around and do a record like Slaughterhouse. This new record of his that I have coming out, this project called GØGGS, is a punk rock record.
He’s just really hungry to write and perform and record. Restless, but in a good way.
Well, the crazy thing about Ty and Mikal to me, now that I’ve gotten to know them, is that those guys have all moved to my neighborhood. Ty was living in San Francisco when I met him, and now he’s in LA, as is [John] Dwyer, as is Cronin. Ty, Mikal Cronin, this guy Charles Moothart, who’s in Fuzz with Ty, they all went to the same high school. They all grew up together in Laguna Beach, and every one of those guys can play every fucking instrument. They’ll say, “Hey, I just demoed this at home,” and it sounds like a finished record. It’s kind of insane. It’s like, “What the hell was in the water where you grew up?” It’s awesome. I’m glad I’ve got a front-row seat and have been able to participate a little with these guys. It feels like I’m witnessing something really great and really important, and I don’t always feel that.
Is it good to be able to sit here and say that, 25 years into the label?
Totally. It gives me hope, just in general. It’s life-affirming. It makes me really happy that I can go see Ty, or go see Thee Oh Sees, and I can say, “Yep. I’d put this up against anything I saw back in the late ’70s or early ’80s. I saw some cool stuff, but I’m still seeing cool stuff.