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This month, Rolling Stone said My Morning Jacket's new CD Z is one of the best albums of the year. Before MMJ was signed to Dave Matthews's ATO label (distributed by RCA), the experimental country rock band recorded for the Vista-based mom-and-pop independent Darla Records.

"I found their demo in the mailbox," says James Agren, who owns and operates Darla out of his Vista home with partner Chandra Tobey. When the two-record deal between Darla and MMJ singer/songwriter Jim James was fulfilled, the band left. "Now we generally offer a three-record deal to artists who require development," Agren says. (Superdrag bolted for Elektra after two Darla albums.)

Agren admits he'll continue to benefit from his association with James/MMJ.

"We own everything recorded during the term of our agreement," says Agren. "Besides what was on the first two records, we own 66 songs and some Christmas music." Darla has so far released two additional My Morning Jacket albums.

"People have wanted to buy [master recordings] from us. More than once we have said no," says Agren, because of bad experiences when Darla product was licensed to distributors in the UK and Europe. "We feel capable of giving our records a good home."

Darla has released 169 titles during its ten years as an indie label. For seven years, the label was based in Northern California; since 2002, they've been in North County. The label will gross a million dollars this year, says Agren.

"We are the only completely independent label, distributor [of 35 other small labels], online retailer, all self-contained in its own building in the whole world. The UPS truck pulls up twice a day."

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