Southpaw Records: Celebrating the Underdog Rockers Since 2009
Name: Southpaw Records
Southpaw's Rob Fales
Headquarters: Downtown Oakland
Owners: Rob Fales and Amanda Niesslein.
Musical focus: The majority of Southpaw's releases fall within the categories of punk and garage, but Fales says he's willing to venture into hardcore if he was smitten enough with a particular band. Of course, Southpaw's roster can't fairly be described quite so summarily, considering The Sandwitches' warped folk-rock and the unabashed psychedelia of Snake Flower 2.
Creation story: Fales and Niesslein moved from Baltimore to the Bay Area in 2009, and they recall arriving at an ideal time for local music, as well as forging some important relationships right away. According to them, "The summer after we arrived, Ty Segall got really big, Thee Oh Sees got bigger, and things just seemed to go boom. I don't know what it is about this area, but it produces an unbelievable amount of talented people." As Fales remembers, "I met Matthew Melton, Jon Dwyer, and Ty Segall in the same night at Amnesia in the summer of 2009." They saw Snake Flower 2 shortly after arriving in Oakland, and Rob approached frontman Matthew Melton right away about releasing his music. Since beginning that relationship, Southpaw has released Melton's solo material as well records by his two principle groups, Bare Wires and Snake Flower 2.
Most recent releases: After an impressive run of solid records from Bay Area staples such as The Younger Lovers, Bare Wires, and Nectarine Pie, Southpaw has just now released two LPs by out-of-towners. Outer Minds (from Chicago) and Ketamines (from Alberta, Canada) play frantic garage-rock tempered with distinct pop sensibilities and penchants for psychedelic digressions. While this genre is often fraught with excess and self-indulgent dawdling, Southpaw has found a couple of groups who play it with taste and class.
Southpaw's Amanda Niesslein
On San Francisco/Oakland rivalry: With bands on the roster like Shannon and the Clams and The Younger Lovers -- who frequently identify as being from Oakland -- it's natural that Fales feels a slight rivalry with the city on the other side of the Bay. He says rock bands from San Francisco seem to be selling more records, but Fales and Niesslein identify with Oakland's underdog status. "We're from Baltimore, which is an underdog city of the East Coast, so we relate to Oakland in that way," Niesslein says. Fales only seems mildly chagrined when he admits that, "It does irritate me when Bare Wires are written about in an article and it says they're from San Francisco."
Primary format: Southpaw's first few releases were on cassette, more for the sake of financial practicality than aesthetic intent. Now, all of its releases appear on vinyl. Some LPs have a CD version, but they aren't particularly enthused about the format. "We don't really push them. They're great for radio and reviews, but otherwise they're kind of useless," says Niesslein.
On the pace of releases: Southpaw's pace of releases has slackened since the beginning, but Fales says that reflects a desire to cultivate more enduring relationships with the artists on his roster. "When I first started, I looked up to [indie labels] Goner and In the Red. In the beginning, I felt like if I didn't produce a lot of records, no one would notice, but I don't feel that way anymore." This also means focusing on LPs rather than 7-inch releases. For Fales, "Doing one-off singles, you don't get to be that close to the band. I prefer growing with artists. I've been working with Matthew [Melton] for two years, and we've developed a really good relationship. It's the same thing with Ketamines. I enjoy getting to know these people."
Eccentric artist interaction: Niesslein handles the graphics, layout, and web design for Southpaw and its releases, but coordinating with musicians about visual art is not always straightforward. In some cases, their idea of "album art" is something akin to a collage on a napkin. "And then they want their napkin back," Niesslein says.
Asked about the eccentricities of musicians on Southpaw's roster, Fales is quick to declare that, "I would say that almost everybody is eccentric, except for Ty Segall. That dude is really normal. Brontez [of The Younger Lovers, whose eccentricities we confirmed in this interview] is super eccentric. Matthew Melton is super eccentric. He will actually tell you that he is the most eccentric person you'll ever meet. He hasn't had a permanent residence for as long as I can remember, he just tours."
Origin of label name: If the East Coast connection and an affinity for underdogs evoked memories of Stallone's famed boxer character, Rocky, readers may have inferred the origin of Southpaw's name. Fales admits, "It's a Rocky reference. He's a Southpaw which means he's a left-handed boxer, and he constantly says it, especially in the first movie. He's the underdog. Not to sound cheesy, but I just really related to that character."