For the past decade (or 70 dog years), Community Records has strived to make a difference through their contribution to underground music. The label originally grew out of co-founders Greg Rodrigue and Daniel “D-Ray” Ray’s tenure in ska punk group Fatter Than Albert. While interning under renowned DIY label Asian Man Records, Rodrigue hoped to convince Asian Man founder Mike Park to add his band to their roster. When Park showed little interest, the duo put together a handful of their friends’ bands and decided to start something of their own. Beginning with a simple compilation CD in 2008, their discography has grown past 80 releases, boasting local favorites like Donovan Wolfington, Caddywhompus, and Gland. They’ve also put out music for out-of-towners like Dowsing, the Reptilian, and Football, Etc.
I first encountered Community Records by chance one early afternoon at Voodoo Fest in 2010, stumbling into one of Fatter Than Albert’s final sets ever. The high-energy and infectious enthusiasm of the label’s early flagship band drew me in. I’ve been along for the ride ever since.
On the second weekend of March, the label celebrates this milestone anniversary with its annual event, which originally began as a block party on Clio Street and the much-loved but now defunct all-ages venue the Big Top. Rodrigue and Ray spoke to me about trying to build Community, watching their dog (and de facto mascot) Daisi grow up, and the youthful love of ska that started this whole mess.
Take me back to the beginning. How did you two meet?
Greg Rodrigue: The first time that I can remember knowing that D-Ray was a person that existed was [when] Samurai Deli played with FTA [Fatter Than Albert] at a show with MU330 in… 2003? It was at Airline Ryan’s home in Harahan. I must’ve been 18 or 19, something in that range. I graduated in ’04. It was somewhere around then. Fast forward a little bit, FTA and Samurai Deli did a tour together in 2006 and then in 2007 D-Ray joined FTA. I can’t remember exactly what the path was with Samurai Deli or what band ended first. D-Ray and I really teamed up when he joined FTA.
Daniel Ray: Ska! [laughs]
GR: Ska! The short answer is ska! The long answer is MU330, ska, 2003.
How did being together in Fatter Than Albert lead to running your own label?
DR: Being in Fatter Than Albert and being on tour so much and meeting bands who were also touring under the same sort of mentality, Greg realized a need to put them under one umbrella. If somebody liked one band, it could facilitate them being linked to another band of the same ethos and genre all around the country. That’s kind of where the first comp came from.
GR: I think the label came out of wanting to have a foundation to promote our tours and our albums and also that there just wasn’t really another entity that was actively doing that, actively putting it all together under one umbrella. Community Records really started as a website. We weren’t really trying to start a record label per se. I wanted it to be a lot like Quote Unquote Records, where all the music was just free and money wasn’t even a part of the thing.
Greg, you interned under Asian Man Records. What was the biggest lesson you learned from that?
GR: That internship was what gave me the confidence to try to start a label. It also gave me the fire to start it because, frankly, I really wanted Mike Park to like our band or our bands. And at the time he was sort of interested, but not really. I was just like, “Oh. I guess I’ll start my own thing,” which ultimately was a good path to go down. I’d say one of the things that really struck me about Asian Man Records was just that Mike is very honest in all senses of the word, as far as I could tell. He doesn’t try to hide stuff from his own bands. He isn’t in it for financial gain. It seems like he stands behind the work that he does and I think we aspire to do the same thing: just try to be honest and support stuff that we really believe in. Asian Man Records still rules… We played their 20 year anniversary two years ago.
One thing that’s stuck out to me over the years is that you guys are very dedicated to the community aspect of Community Records. Even today, you’re still constantly putting together and promoting shows. How do you guys keep that up over a decade?
GR: [laughs] I think about quitting everyday. Laughing as we say that, I don’t know what else we would do with our lives… Since a young age, and I think D-Ray and I can both attest to this, music has been a positive force in our lives. What seems to make sense to me is to promote and to curate and gather music that is from the heart. Hopefully, it does something honest and does something good… I think one of my main ambitions in life really is to make and support good art from New Orleans… I want New Orleans to be taken seriously because I think there’s really good stuff from here. We want to be a foundation and a support system for that.
One thing you touched on was the importance of New Orleans to you and the record label. While Community Records also releases a lot of stuff from bands outside of the city, how essential do you think New Orleans is to Community Records’ identity?
DR: I think it’s definitely hugely important because that’s where we’re from and that’s where the label is based. Obviously, like you said, there are bands from all over that we put out music for so it is very important, but it isn’t the most important thing.
GR: I think part of it is participating on a national and international level. If we release a record for Football, Etc, who is from Texas, that’s a regional thing. We’re supporting a band that comes to New Orleans and is something that we believe in. When people find out about Football, Etc and they link it back to Community Records, that is also good for New Orleans. When Pope or somebody else who is a local band from here decides to go to Houston or Austin, they have a friend, a band that’s over there that’s a part of the label. That’s a part of our picture. If we want New Orleans to be taken seriously in terms of the indie or punk or DIY scene, part of that is also supporting bands that are not just from here.
Having done this for a decade, how does it feel to watch these bands grow over the years?
DR: It’s almost like watching a TV series but you’re in the TV series. They keep bringing back the same characters or new characters and you watch them develop and grow, disband. New characters pops up, develops and grows… That is how it feels after so long, seeing it play out in similar but different scenarios and also watching the music industry change and develop. It feels like [excitedly] “Oh! This season’s really weird!”
GR: It’s like a yearbook or a family portrait. If you were to take a family portrait once a year, it would always be a similar but somewhat changing cast of characters. It’s good. I love it. It’s hopefully seeing bands continue and grow… You can look at things retrospectively and be like, “Oh yeah! I remember seeing Zach Quinn do his solo project at Neutral Ground and then that was inspiring. The Lollies took off and totally disbanded. Then Zach Quinn joins All People and then PEARS pops up and PEARS is doing crazy stuff all around the world and touring and whatnot.” It’s still the same Zach Quinn that I knew 8 or 9 years ago, but it’s different… Getting to be a part of that is humbling.
What would you consider to be the most rewarding part about running Community Records?
GR: There’s two things that come to mind for me. One, we’ve already said it in this interview, is seeing bands grow. I remember when we first picked up Pope. They went from being so enthralled that we were interested enough to release a vinyl for them. And going from that with [their first full-length] Fiction, to selling out of Fiction. We just released [Pope’s second full-length] True Talent Champion, which is another LP that’s doing really well and getting good write-ups. Realistically, hopefully, the next step for them is probably getting signed to a bigger label. To see a band continue and grow, that’s what we’re in it for. The second thing that I find the most rewarding is shows. I remember our South by Southwest show in Austin just being fucking awesome. It was so cool and I wasn’t expecting that. Those are always the ones that get me: when I go into it being like: This is so much work. This is hard. I don’t even know if people are going to show up. Then the show happens and it’s like, “Oh my god! That was phenomenal!” The bands had a great time. We had a great time. Everyone was feeling good and we were a part of that.
What came first: Block Party or the first Community Records release?
GR: The old chicken and the egg question.
GR: Well, the short of it was that the first Block Party was in February of 2008 and we had just announced Community Records the month before that or during that. Then, the first real official thing that Community Records ever did was release a compilation, which we released the summer of 2008, so they kind of happened at the same time. Short of it is that Block Party happened first and then Community Records happened right after. Community Records was so new that to have it be “Community Records presents Block Party” wouldn’t have made any sense in 2008. [Both laugh]
Originally, Block Party was an actual block party taking up that whole street in front of the Big Top. How much of a struggle was it to put that together every year?
DR: My god.
GR: I probably gained a few gray hairs and lost a few years. [laughs]
DR: That was insane! I think we literally did it every year just being like, “Everything’s gonna be OK. It’s gonna work out. It’s just gonna get done. It’s gonna happen.” We got better at it every year, but the amount of stuff that we used to have to gather and work with to do that was just insane.
GR: Yeah. A lot of sweat equity. Still is that way but it just looks a little different now. We don’t block off a street anymore, which is helpful because that’s a lot to organize.
“Typical day: spend two to three hours posting to the internet. Fill mailorder. Respond to emails. Design, layout any number of releases, posters. Make sure all the release timelines are on track. Update and send the label stats to the distributor. Communicate with the bands. Eat lunch. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take a break. Drink Coffee. Repeat.”
What are some of your favorite memories from the years where the annual event was still at the Big Top?
GR: [I have] a ton of them but it’s also such a blur for us because, especially in those years, D-Ray and I would have to do so much to make sure that it was running properly that—
DR: It hurt.
GR: Yeah. It felt like I was watching a movie in fast forward. That’s what all those years felt like. There was one year—the last year it was ever at the Big Top—D-Ray maybe played five sets. I think I played four. Not that it was always like that, but on top of organizing all the stuff and making sure people are in the right place, we had to play shows.
DR: Honestly, [during] the Flaming Tsunamis set at Block Party, I remember looking out at the crowd and seeing one of the biggest circle pits ever. Somebody broke their knee or something. I’ll never forget that.
GR: It was out in the street so it was concrete. It’s a punk show and people unfortunately fall sometimes.
DR: Also, somebody got married at Block Party.
GR: Unfortunately or fortunately, I don’t think that we’ll ever do it in that way ever again, just because that was a moment and a situation and a venue that was very special and unique. We feel very fortunate that we were able to have those shows at the Big Top for so long. I’m so very pumped about this year’s show and it’s gonna be a phenomenal time, but those years were really cool. Having a big stage in the street and having a stage inside and people walking back and forth, feeling like we literally took over the street with our punk music. It was our thing.
Five years ago, Donovan Wolfington released their first full-length at Block Party. It was the release party for Stop Breathing. At this year’s anniversary event, Donovan Wolfington is playing their last show ever and releasing their final album. How does it feel to be releasing that final album and be sending them off?
DR: Bittersweet? Honored, but also it’s a bummer.
GR: Going back to that element of seeing bands grow, I remember we were like “Yeah. We’re going to put out your record on vinyl.” And they were just like “Fuck yeah! This is awesome man!”
DR: They did a lot of really awesome stuff.
GR: Yeah. Topshelf helped them out a lot and they toured a lot. Stop Breathing was our 28th release. That was one of the first records that really helped to put our label on the map nationally. I remember that record started getting press and I didn’t email anybody. People just started writing about that record because they thought it was good and they thought the band was good. Full circle literally with the band, we’re releasing their last LP. They did a lot of work in between and we’re able to be a part of that. It feels good to help close the chapter. Inevitably, all the members of that band will go on to do other stuff and that’s awesome. I view it as we’re helping to document this last little bit of the project and helping to create some level of closure for the band, I hope, and have a final show.
The vinyl for the final Donovan Wolfington album is being pressed locally at New Orleans Record Press. Can you tell me about that?
DR: It’s really a fantastic opportunity to be working with New Orleans Record Press. NORP is the first record pressing company ever to be based in New Orleans. It’s going to be great to watch them grow from the small operation to what I can only imagine will expand very quickly. Remi and Dan are so excited and ready to learn and excel at the craft. It’s been great working with them. They’ve got this brand new vinyl press that looks more like sleek scientific lab equipment than the older archaic looking machines.
When you started the label in 2008, vinyl was far less popular than it is now. How has the increasing popularity impacted the label?
DR: For one, it’s definitely created more options as far as pressing plants goes. Which is good because that same popularity started making turnaround times at the big plants a lot longer. Once the major labels started pressing 100,000+ vinyl again, there wasn’t much room for 500 unit runs. But again, that gave rise to new machines and new companies who were interested in catering to indie labels.
If we want New Orleans to be taken seriously in terms of the indie or punk or DIY scene, part of that is also supporting bands that are not just from here.
What are you most looking forward to at the anniversary shows?
DR: That new Jeff Rosenstock record is great. He’s been doing such good stuff lately. Everything that he’s done has been so well done. I’ve really come to appreciate the songs that he writes and his ethos and mentality. He’s just super awesome and positive so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’m looking forward to hanging out with a bunch of people and celebrating doing this for ten years. That’s crazy.
GR: Yeah. It feels really surreal. I’m imagining a moment of being there. I’m probably gonna get on stage for a moment. I’m sure we both will and just thank everybody. That is going to make my heart shatter into a million pieces in the best way.
DR: I will be uncontrollably crying most of the day.
What does a typical day of running this label currently entail?
DR: It depends on what day of the week, but generally every day starts with a to-do list that just feels like it only keeps getting longer the more you cross stuff off. Tuesdays and Fridays are nice because Greg and I typically have those days set aside to both be at the office. Everything about this label is easier when the two of us are in the same room and can bounce ideas off each other. Typical day: spend two to three hours posting to the internet. Fill mailorder. Respond to emails. Design, layout any number of releases, posters. Make sure all the release timelines are on track. Update and send the label stats to the distributor. Communicate with the bands. Eat lunch. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take a break. Drink Coffee. Repeat. You just do all the things you didn’t get done yesterday and tomorrow is more of the same.
What is the hardest decision you’ve had to make while running the label?
DR: Sometimes the hardest decision today, was the easiest decision yesterday. For me, the hardest decision is continuing to do this label. One day, we won’t be able to do this anymore. That’s just a fact. Somedays, that fact doesn’t even exist in my mind. Some of those days though, it’s the only thing I can think. The hardest decision is knowing when that time is and knowing to call it.
The last Community Records compilation came out in 2015. When will there be a Community Records Compilation Volume 6?
DR: Actually, we’re releasing one this year! Just in time for the 10 Year Anniversary shows, we are releasing a compilation with Saddle Creek. Saddle Creek is a really incredible independent record label that’s been around since the early ‘90s. It’s truly an honor to be working together with them! The compilation will feature 23 songs: half Com Rec artists, half Saddle Creek artists. Everyone who attends the Community Records 10 Year show will receive a copy. After that, both labels will be throwing the CDs in with mailorder and there will only be a short run of cassettes.
GR: In addition to the Saddle Creek/Community Records Compilation, we do have plans of a Community Records Compilation Volume 6 sometime for 2018, probably in late spring, early summer.
Otto Sploch’s art is very closely tied to the label. How did that relationship develop?
GR: Otto is a friend from college at Loyola. He had been doing visual art and music and I found his comics through that. I think he also knew Bryan Funck. Otto also at the time played in a band with my friend Mike called Gas Explode. We asked Otto to do the art for Community Records Compilation Volume 1. We also asked him to draw our dog logo, which is the most consistent icon for the label. After he did that art we kept asking him to draw our compilation art, festival posters, and such. He kinda just became our go-to artist. We are fortunate to have been able to work with him over all these years to help us create a consistent visual aesthetic.
Tell me about the relationship between Daisi and the logo.
DR: Well we like to say Daisi is the Community Records dog because she definitely embodies everything rad for us. However, the truth is I found Daisi during Mardi Gras 2012 walking to Banks Street Bar for a World’s Strongest Man show. She was rifling around in the trash (like she still loves to do) and started following us as we were walking. She hung out outside the show the entire time, and at the end of the night just jumped in my car. From that day forward, she became the real-life mascot, regardless of not being a spitting image of the logo.
How is Daisi?
DR: Daisi’s great. She’s getting older and grayer but also more fit. I put her on a diet. She’s looking very trim. She needs a bath. She’s a little stinky right now. She smells like popcorn.
Community Records hosts their ten year anniversary show at Gasa Gasa on Saturday, March 10 featuring Jeff Rosenstock, Donovan Wolfington (final performance), PEARS, and more. Two additional anniversary shows occur at Hey! Cafe on Friday, March 9 and Sunday, March 11. For more info, check out communityrecords.org.
photos ADRIENNE BATTISTELLA; Feature photo: Block Party 2013