interview: Southpaw Records

Southpaw Records has been enjoying a quiet string of vinyl successes. Their list of releases reads like the garage rock anthology for future presidents. How did two Marylanders transform their love of Bay Area fuzz into a successful, independent Oakland-based label that has music nerds squealing with delight at each release? We talked with Rob Fales, head of the label that GvB counts as friends, about coming to California, and befriending the bands you once adored.

I’ve lived in San Francisco 2 years. I’ve never met more people in my life from Maryland. How disappointed were you to find out the streets were not paved in gold?

RF: Haha I wasn’t disappointed, California is a true inspiration to me in so many ways. My only regret is not moving to Oakland sooner than I did, I spent two years in Santa Cruz before here. I love Santa Cruz but you feel so isolated.

Southpaw’s list of releases is deep for a record label that started not more than two years ago. What’s behind your success? Passion or good business sense?

RF: I think it’s both. I’m obviously passionate about it, almost everything I’ve ever released I was already obsessing over the band and asked them to do a release. I hardly ever do a record because someone approached me about it, although it has happened. I’m also never greedy with bands, some people/labels might think I’m crazy with some of the stuff I do, but I truly enjoy helping bands with everything, not just putting out the record.

Most enjoyable artist to work with?

RF: Ty Segall is an absolute sweetheart to work with. I challenge anyone to find a more sincere person in the music industry right now.

Is it all business or are you friends with some/most of the bands?

RF: The Bare Wires dudes are good homies, we all live in Oakland so we’re always seeing each other around the neighborhood. I work at a local heath foods store and I’m always running into band members, etc. It’s a lot of fun. But for the most part it mostly stays business, I’m a pretty reserved guy. Although, I did meet most of these bands from hanging around different bars and stuff, especially Amnesia in the Mission District. A few years ago that place was the place to be, I still like it but at that time it was really fun.

You guys are based in Oakland and press records from bands on either side of the Bay. How would you describe the differences between the scenes in San Francisco versus the East Bay?

RF: This is honestly a hard question, so I’ll do my best to express my feelings. I really relate to Oakland, it’s dirty, dangerous, but also full of charm. It’s pretty hard for me to leave because everything I love is here. My only gripe is I don’t really care for the show situation here, although that is going to be changing soon hopefully with the development of a new show space I know that is opening up. I’m just not into the warehouse/house show scene, I did that for so long in my teens/early 20’s and it’s just not for me anymore. The bars are ok, but I just prefer a lot of the bars in SF. I get more of a punk vibe here from people and a pretty much the total opposite from SF, but I dig it all.

The East Bay is a huge flashpoint for the greater DIY movement in the Bay Area. A few days ago we interviewed Ben from Tundra, a small electronic label based in Berkeley. He said, “I just kept hearing all this amazing music and realized that there was only maybe 2-3 labels releasing this type of music so I decided to get on board.” How much of that sentiment do you agree with? What will keep you motivated?

RF: Honestly right now I feel like with the”garage scene” it might be a little too flooded with labels. However, I think with my wide range of musical tastes I plan to push the limit of what is acceptable to put out on Southpaw. I don’t ever plan to totally stray away and have my original fan base feel unwelcomed, but I always am down to squeeze as many genres as I can out of the label. Even sometimes when I feel so bored I want to give up the label, I get knocked on my ass by a new band, and that is what it’s all about for me.

What can you tell us about freakbeat?

RF: Haha, well I like a lot of bands from that era, what else is there to say?

You’re the head of an independent record label in Oakland that puts out vinyl AND cassettes of bands that are on the cusp of breaking into the national music consciousness. You can pretty much rest your laurels upon the fact that you’re indie cred is untouchable. Tell us about a band that would be considered a guilty pleasure. I sometimes listen to Franz Ferdinand, sue me.

RF: My guilty pleasure list could go on for miles, but my consistent one is straight edge hardcore. No I’m not straight edge…

Any upcoming releases that you are excited about?

RF: Everything I have coming up this year is insane. I told myself I was going to take it slow this year but coming out in the rest of 2011 is…

Bare Wires – Cheap Perfume LP
Ty Segall – 7″
Mikal Cronin – 7″
Younger Lovers – 7″
Useless Eaters – LP
Outer Minds – LP

You can still pre-order the two 7″ announced earlier this month from Nectarine Pie and The Splinters at the Southpaw store here. Both are in very limited release (400) and come in either black or color vinyl.

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