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May 25, 2024

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Indie Label Hot Seat
Gearhead Records

By: Randy Harward

Who are you, and what do you want?

Mike LaVella of Gearhead. For you to buy my records, read my magazine, come to my festivals and above all, have fun with it.

Where is your Fortress of Solitude?

The "Rock Church" in Helsinki, Finland.

What was your defining musical experience? How old were you?

Seeing the New York Dolls on Don Kirshner's "Rock Concert." It was 1975, I was 10.

What was the first record you purchased?

Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies

Ever smashed a record/tape/CD in disgust?

No way! No matter what it is, you can always get something for it at Amoeba!

What is your favorite album of all-time?

I have 10. The Gun Club - Fire Of Love, Heartbreakers - L.A.M.F., MC5 - Back in the USA, New York Dolls - s/t, The Stooges - Funhouse Velvet Underground - s/t, The Who - Sell Out, Misfits - Walk Among Us Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street, The Wipers - Over The Edge

What are you currently listening to?

Sugar Shack, The Jewws, new NRA demo, The Dragons, Baseball Furies, Riverboat Gamblers, Your Enemies Friends, new Rocket From The Crypt, anything that totally kicks ass.

What is the coolest record store you've ever patronized? Why?

Axis Records in Alameda, 'cause it's got tons of punk records, plus zines and shirts and toys and buttons and stickers and 8 tracks... all under one roof.

What is the best concert you've seen in the last twelve months?

In recent memory it's Kraftwerk in 1999, but this year, probably Gearfest... any one of them. Best of all time is Devo in 1981.

Have you ever left a concert dissatisfied? Details?

Sure, anytime a shoegazer band plays. If you're all sad and lonely, stay at home!

Do you have a musical guilty pleasure (e.g. you secretly dig Night Ranger--)?

Bobby Short, Doris Day, Wayne Newton, really square pop vocal stuff. For rock, I'd say Sparks, 10cc, Jo Jo Gunne, Edgar Winter, lots of vaguely glam 70's stuff.

What is your musical kryptonite (the worst band ever--one that makes your toes curl/skin crawl/blood boil/stomach churn/mouth go dry/anus clench)?

Limp Bizkit, I guess. Anything that combines metal and rap, then is packaged as punk...a crime against humanity.

Who is the be-all/end-all greatest band ever?

New York Dolls

What was the last book you read?

Walk This Way, the autobiography of Aerosmith, by Aerosmith and Stephen Davis

What's your drink of choice?

Classic Rum drinks, like a Zombie or Samoan Fog Cutter, made correctly, i.e. STRONG.

How did your label come to exist?

I starting putting singles in Gearhead Magazine starting with #1 in 1993, but the label really got started properly when me and Michelle became partners in 2000. There was a lot of great bands out there without a home, and we couldn't have them stumbling around like a bunch of hobos now, could we?

What was your first release?

In the magazine, a Gas Huffer/Supercharger split single (it WAS 1993 remember!) and for Gearhead Records proper, it was the Runnin' on Fumes compilation, which compiled the singles from Gearhead Magazine on one CD. 20 bands, 23 tracks. The first thing unrelated to the magazine was The Hypnomen "Trip With Satan" 10"/CDEP. The first full length record that wasn't a comp was the Red Planet "Revolution 33 LP/CD

How many people are you keeping off the breadline?

Um... none! Not even us!

How do you discover your bands?

Most of them I just saw in Sweden over the last 6 years or so. I met The Hives in 1998 and went nuts for 'em, I can't believe it took the world 5 more years to catch on. I was friends with The Hellacopters since 1996, you just build up a trust. Then sometimes we just see a hot band in a bar, like Red Planet or The Nads. If you're great, we'll find you.

Why should a band sign with your label? What do you offer your bands that other labels do not?

Um, respect! Me and Michelle are both in our late 30's and have been in the punk scene for over 20 years each. We done everything: worked retail, at distributors, booked bands, were college radio DJ's, etc. I don't think there's anything we didn't do, so we went into this understanding how everything works. We have almost a half century of dedicated service to the scene between us... scary but true! Plus, I was in a band called Half Life for 5 years that never went anywhere, so I know how it feels to be overlooked, so every time we sign someone, we save them from obscurity, which is swell.

What do you contribute to the world by operating an indie label?

Well, I ask myself that a lot. I guess someone has to put out good records to combat all the crap, sort of helps to balance out the universe. If it doesn't work out, I'll open a body shop, people are ALWAYS wrecking their cars.

What releases do you have coming up?

A budget sampler called "The Gearhead Records Smash*Up Derby" - all our best stuff for a mere $4.98. A new Mensen LP called "Oslo City", singles from The Lazy Cowgirls, The Hypnomen, Randy, The Turpentines, The Maggots and The Demonics. Another New Bomb Turks full length, The Hellacopters "Cream Of The Crap Volume 2" The Hypnomen "Andromeda Airport" LP/CD, NRA "Machine" CD, and today we signed The Dragons, so their next LP will be on Gearhead too. That takes us to about May!

Favorite member of KISS?

It changed constantly through the 70's... I dunno...Eric Carr? No, Gene Simmons of course.

Please detail any brush with greatness you've had.

Are you kidding? I've met everyone from Abba to ZZ Top, I'm serious.

Would you say dentists or indie label owners have the highest suicide rate?

Swedish dental students that are into indie rock probably win that hands down.

What motivates you to get out of bed day after day?

Wow, I think about that too... I dunno, getting that call from the head of Mercury saying that they want us to take over the New York Dolls LP's.... seriously, knowing that every magazine in the checkout aisle at the supermarket features The Hives. There is some justice in this world, it's not all bad. Plus they show The Simpsons 3 times a day in the Bay Area.

Do you have any musical inclination beyond listening? If so, do you record and tour? Do you manage any bands or own a club?

Well, I played in Half Life for all those years, before that I was in a band called Real Enemy, which was really hardcore. Also in the mid 80's, I was in a band called Moist that was pretty cool, I wish we could have recorded, but I've always been broke. In 1988, I realized that I had no talent whatsoever, and retired... I was hoping others would join me, but it didn't happen. Currently I tour manage the "Demons" from Stockholm in the US, so I'm on the road at least two months a year. My goal in life to own a club actually, I even have a can't fail, million dollar idea for one, but I ain't taking because someone would steal it instantly... seriously, it's that good. Hello... investors?

If you weren't running a label, what would you be doing?

Running a magazine silly.

How do you measure success?

"By the amount of good people I have around me." That's from an episode of Eight is Enough, but it's true isn't it?

In Music We Trust recommends:

Fuckin' everything. Gearhead gets the newly created (and sure to be coveted) "Crapless" classification. A Crapless label's catalog contains less than 10% crap. For every ten releases, only one sucks the gnarled, louse-ridden Big One (or is simply so-so). The rest merit at least 3 outta 4 stars and are totally worth your coldest, hardest cash. A sampling of Gearhead's wares:

Mensen, Delusions of Grandeur: Like the Donnas? So do we. How about a band that sounds like the Donnas? Therein lies the head-scratcher: Surely, this Norweigan foursome aren't aping everybody's favorite Ramonas, but the sonic similarity is astounding. Do we hold that against them or hail them as Donna twinners from an alternate reality (which, you know, Norway could be)? Opt for the latter and spin this repeatedly.

The Dukes of Hamburg, Some Folks by the Dukes of Hamburg: There is little English text on this one, so we're left to wonder who the hell the Dukes of Hamburg are. Could they be the sauerbraten-munchin' Germans they claim to be? Or are they wigged Americans with ties to the Phantom Surfers, Mummies and Bobbyteens? It's moot, really. Once you hear the souped-up garage n' blues classics the Dukes are fond of dishing up, all you'll care about is whether your wig's on straight while you do The Monkey or--whatever.

Demons, Stockholm Slump: Greased-up garage punk...with one toe dipped in psychobilly...for the loud, fast rules set. Makes you wanna drive fast and drink faster, though not in tandem.

The Hellacopters, Cream of the Crap, Collected Non-Album Works, Volume 1: Non-album works? My people call 'em B-sides--filler--you know. But guess what? This filler be killer. After all, how can you go wrong with the Hellacopters? You just can't. If these are the Hellacopters' turds--call us fecalphiliacs. Spread some o' this crap on a Triscuit and have a taste. Mmm, mmm, good.

New Bomb Turks, The Night Before The Day The Earth Stood Still: First album since Epitaph kicks with the intensity of their early shit and the comparatively measured focus of recent discs.

Red Planet, Let's Degenerate!: Power pop with a set of shotput stones. Somethin' to sing along with when you're fixin' up that primer gray Camaro.

Gearfest!: Recorded in 1998 and ostensibly the only of its kind, this companion compilation to Gearhead's rip-snortin' festival. Features the Hellacopters and Backyard Babies (incentive enough to purchase) as well as Sator and The Flaming Sideburns, The Robots, The Strollers, The Turpentines, The Sewergroovers and The Nomads. It's The Shit.

Buy some shit: Gearhead P.O. Box 421219 San Francisco, CA 94142

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