GRATEFUL FOR DEATHSTOCK TWO
AN INTERVIEW WITH DEATH RECORDS
BY STIAN RASMUSSEN
In Guerneville, just a short "Pink Floyd CD and a half" north of San Francisco, a micro-festival of super chill proportions is gearing up for partytime this June 17-19. It's called Deathstock, and it's taking place at one of weirdest campsites ever: Camp Outback (aka J's Amusement Park), just across the road from the best mini-golf course in California. And IMHO, it's the by far the coolest music festival happening in Northern California right now. Ironically, it's also probably the smallest. No crowds, no lines, no loud groups of gossipers... just a scattering of really mellow musicians and vibe lovers eating BBQ, drinking beers, smoking stuff and relaxing in the grass. I don't know about you, but for me, living in San Francisco can be a real drag sometimes. What they say about the Tech Industry drowning out the creative class is true. But for every action there's a reaction, and for me, the Deathstock crowd represents an energy I've been missing. It's the b side of rock and roll culture that is less bent on breaking the pop charts and more apt to hang out with good friends and jam.
Unfortunately, we were only able to stay a few hours at last year's fest - just enough time to make some new friends, and ensure that I clear my calendar for this year's event. Lucky for me, one of the dudes I met was Brian Wakefield, the frontman of Emotional and a co-founder of Death Records and Deathstock itself. He's a cool guy, so in leading up to this year's event, I thought I'd reach out to him and the other dudes behind Deathstock to learn more about the scene.
Who are you guys? Where did you grow up?
BW: My name is Brian Wakefield. I come from San Jose, the armpit of the Silicon Valley and the epicenter of all things suburban.
CA: Colin Arlen, hailing from the valley of trees, Sacramarnto.
PH: Pedro Hernandez, here. I grew up in Watsonville, CA -- strawberry capital of the world. I spent a lot of my formative years in Santa Cruz.
San Jose has given rise to a pretty weird range of musicians.. From Smash Mouth to Xiu Xiu, Peanut Butter Wolf to Getter.. Who’s your top 3 favorite hometown bands of all time?
BW:IBOPA/ 10 In The Swear Jar, Doobie Brothers, Sleep
PH: Buckingham Nicks -- Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks attended San Jose State. I’m a big Fleetwood Mac fan. Watsonville didn’t have too many bands, but some of my favorite local bands growing up included Yaphet Kotto, Slow Gherkin, and Cara Dura.
Is San Jose a hidden gem of Bay Area culture?
BW:It definitely has some cool history, I think it is so large that the connectivity between latin culture, suburbia and a super tech industry.
Why did you start Death Records?
BW:Colin and myself, felt an emptiness inside the belly of San Francisco. Yes there are many active labels amazing mover n shakers, but nothing was exactly “our” style. Our buds from Gnar Tapes / Burger showed us a few cool tricks & we’ve gone wild with it since.
PH: Brian and Colin started Death Records, and I joined the team in 2015. Actually, I met Brian around 2008 from booking shows at Adobe Books, and I had met Colin that same year through our mutual friend Chris Wilmore. Colin and I appreciated much of the same music. I had finished law school and wanted to jump back into supporting local music, so our friend Cole Lodge suggested that I join the Death team. So here we are!
I get a super serious, businessman vibe from Death Records and the Gnar Tapes guys. Do you guys ever loosen your ties and relax?
BW:We are very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very serious businesspeople, from time to time when the party gets loose we may burn a few.
CA: I don’t wear a tie.
What’s the story behind the name Death Records?
BW: Around the time it was all a dream, I was obsessed with the Brian DePalma film, Phantom Of The Paradise. It’s probably my favorite movie / soundtrack of all time. The record label is called Death Records and is this super evil guy Swan is kind of the decider of cool, a true rock god, like Sledge/
PH: Death Records felt like a cheeky reaction to everyone saying the scene was dead, and that was the same time Brian and Colin started Death Records. I saw it as a reactionary movement.
Seriously though, starting a music festival from scratch seems pretty ambitious.. Was it a lot of work? Did all the planning and organizing keep you up at night? Did you have nightmares? I mean.. Aren’t there a ton of hoops to jump through for something like that?
BW: Well, there are a few “officialities” we may have skipped because it’s still pretty...underground… But ya it takes months of planning so many small things you don’t even realize you need to have a show, or put on a fest outdoors.
CA: I think we all freak out about it all the time, In the end, when it comes gametime everyone brings their best.
PH: I have to give Brian and Colin credit for envisioning it. It’s a ton of work, but we have things on lock right now -- actually, I’m sleeping quite well.
Speaking of nightmares, what's up with the return of the cassette?
BW: It’s cheap, convenient, they are made pretty quickly. We like the way they sound.
Best form of media sub vinyl for music production that fits our budget and our vibe/aesthetic. The turnaround allows us to get the music we love and support on a physical music to the world in a fraction of the time of vinyl.
PH: It’s a great way to get a lot of music out to the masses. Like Brian said, it’s cheap, convenient, and we can get them out quickly. We like being able to support musicians, and tapes are an effective medium to get music out.
But they are also pretty unique in that skipping through tracks is kind of a pain in the ass. Isn’t there something special about listening to music that isn’t ‘skippable’?
BW:Yeah of course, if we can help preserve the idea of an “album” that would be pretty freakin tight. I love albums and miss the focus of an entire piece of work vs just a song on soundcloud
PH: I think the limitations of tapes work to their advantage. You’re locked into an experience and have to stick around for the ride.
Last year, at Deathstock One, I noticed that almost nobody was spending time looking at their phones. Do you think that people simply forgot to bring them? Or perhaps they all broke the night before?
BW:I think the vibe is that you’re in Guerneville, isolated from most modern conveniences. It has a lot to do with the fact it’s hard to use your iphone when you’re on shrooms. Maybe it’s cos it's a place that everyone's friends go to as well so you can just check the fire pit to find yr bud, hopefully your boo isn’t swimming at the river with someone else…
PH: They probably lost their charge by Saturday morning.
Would you say Deathstock is much different from Coachella?
BW:No, we're money grubbing whores just like the rest of them.
PH: 1/100th of the people, x100 the awesome.
Would you say that Deathstock is a dangerous place to hang out?
BW:Only for the weak spirited or those who just got out of A/A
PH: Hah -- honestly the whole operation is being run by a lot of good friends.
I heard that Kyle Newcheck from Workaholics is coming to Deathstock… Do you think he’s gonna bring a crazy entourage with body guards and stuff?
BW: I think he seems pretty chill, he’s become good friends with Gnar Tapes & made a White Fang video, etc
PH: Yeah, that video was insane.
My favorite aspect of Deathstock is it’s size and vibe.. Would you rather keep Deathstock small and chill, or have it grow into something bigger?
BW: It’s great as a smaller festival, and as perfect as it is now, growing into a bigger fest will only help the artists, people, who make it possible.
PH: Death Records is constantly thinking about the next thing and how to make what we have better. Future Deathstock festivals are part of that.
Would you be looking for brand partnerships to help the festival grow? Lagunitas Beer is a pretty cool, local, and stoney company that I could see being a cool partner…
BW: Hmmm, well maybe if they respond to our phone calls… TOSTITOS - we’re talking to you!
PH: I was hoping Taqueria Guadalajara would be knocking on our door by now.
Speaking of partnerships, do you expect a guest appearance from Suge Night this year?
BW:No, but he’s always on our list. Suge if yr reading this come do security for us! Maybe he could help us sign some new up & coming bands...
PH: Not on my watch, but I was a big fan of The Chronic.
On a more chill note, It's great that you can kind of relax and get away from the craziness of Deathstock by playing 18 holes of mini golf across the street. Was the proximity of a mini golf course a deciding factor when you were shopping for venues to host Deathstock?
BW:Yeah, we got some young one on the pro mini tour, wouldn’t want anyone to lose their chops for a weekend of non stop partying, tunes & rad BBQ food.
PH: Nothing like a little mini-golf to tap away the stress of a good time.
How have the locals responded to the event?
BW:It’s was polarizing last year, some loved us, some did not. Our last time up, the vibe was a lot more like “Oh, you're THOSE boys” and maybe now they know we aren’t trying to come and fuck up their small community and leave they’re cooler.
PH: We’re known as the “rock and roll boys"
Who traveled the farthest for Deathstock one?
BW:We have one good homie travel from Minneapolis, this year he’s coming back with a friend =)
Were there any surprises last year?
BW:A big surprise for us last year was that our Juggalo camp hosts were into throwing fire rings, snakes, meth dads with pierced nips who wanted to “volunteer” doing security then ended up trying to steal a bike, money, weed, and booze.
Maybe you should make a sign that says “Beware: River Rats”
BW:That would probably help some, or “Beware: River Meth Heads”
Speaking of the dark side, Bohemian Grove is located just a few miles away in Monte Rio. Have you reached out to them about doing any performances for one of their secret illuminati ceremonies?
BW:No, fuck them for killing my heroes, and being exclusively all male.
CA:This is our Summer of 99, baby!
PH: Seriously trying to keep our own secret ceremonies under wraps. No need to bring in those creeps.
PHOTOS FROM DEATHSTOCK ONE: SATURDAY AFTERNOON