I met Craig Oliver at a scorching rock spread (Oh Sees, So Cow, and Bare Wires at Bar Pink). Unless he’s pouring lager and adjusting sound at the Whistle Stop, Oliver’s at just about every gotta-go garage-rock show. His schedule’s become more complicated by a record company he’s started, which from the outside can look more like a kid in a candy store than work. Volar Records has released the Fresh & Onlys. But the 30-year-old Marine brat is equally stoked about broadcasting relative unknowns such as Pope Anything, Tijuana Panthers, and Audacity.
Born in Guam, Oliver scuttled with his family to Colorado, then Arizona, by the time he was four. He spent most of his teens in Japan, where he got into PJ Harvey, skateboarding, and writing. In 1998 he landed in San Diego:
“Going to high school on a military base, I’d never been to a show in the States. I’d given up on playing music. The idea was to attend community college before going to film school in L.A. Then life happened. I was excited about coming here, mostly because I was obsessed with Drive Like Jehu and Clikatat Ikatowi. I came at a weird time, just after most of the Gravity Records and Cargo/Casbah scenes had died. Thankfully, the Ché Café was still going strong, and I was fortunate to see a lot of great bands — like Camera Obscura, one of my favorites, close to 15 times. When I was 18, they opened for Tristeza and Blonde Redhead — a totally perfect show. The Sess were always amazing, almost blindingly so, just a total force of nature. They had the same live approach as Camera Obscura — a pure, exhausting blast of energy from start to stop. And Hot Snakes were really great.”
Oliver ended up in South Park, which he calls “one of the last great communities in the city...its own little bubble of sanctity,” and playing guitar with Spirit Photography and Christmas Island.
How did Volar Records come about?
“In 2009, with Spirit Photography, I wanted to split a seven-inch with Sharp Ends but couldn’t figure out who I could get to put it out. When someone suggested doing a record label, my ex-girlfriend and I ran with it. There were some newer bands we wanted to work with. Beaters and Ale Mania were unleashing their first songs after the demise of the Sess. I loved the new stuff, and they’re friends, so it became a matter of starting collectively. It’s been more curatorial than anything, like having another place for artists to share their work. It’s been a slow process. I wasn’t really aware where it could go at first.”
What’s Volar named for?
“In English it’s a term for the palmar region of the hand. In Spanish it’s a verb that means different things — to fly, to disappear, to blow up or demolish, to be blown away by. My ex-girlfriend came up with it. We liked the idea of holding something in your hand that could be destructive or take flight.”
Why the ferocious cat logo?
“My cat Anton’s face eventually became the logo.”
With several recent releases (Black Orphan, Audacity, Stalins of Sound, Cold Pumas, Under the Covers Vol. 2, and another compilation) and more upcoming, do you ever feel like you’re in over your head?
“Of course — all the time. The Under the Covers and Ale Mania LPs are the biggest projects I’ve tackled. It’s another case of trying to stay on top of everything after the initial, ‘Hey, I love you guys, let’s do a record!’ excitement. Then the work comes in, and there can end up being more involved than I initially thought. With the Ale Mania LP on its way out, the band and I are constantly having to figure out the best way to go about promotion and touring and everything. There’s a different set of expectations, depending on who I’m working with, so I have to adjust accordingly.
“Despite the time, energy, and money I’ve put into the label, I only recently learned to accept it as real, with responsibilities. A lot of people come to depend on you, so juggling it all — the communication and deadlines and making sure I can work enough at my job to pay for everything — can make my head spin.”
As Oliver catalogs the minutiae of wrestling with record plants, graphic design, social networks, and Bandcamp, I’m glazing over. Poking through his lists are the words “fun and exhausting,” which have the authentic ring of the fan-as-rocker-as-fan ethos coloring a recent high:
“I kinda know Keith Morris, and he just wrote to give me Peter Case’s email because I guess Pete was asking for a copy of Under the Covers. Paul Collins wrote to me as well, to see about getting copies. And that’s a little surreal, dealing with these punk legends.”
The Ale Mania record-release party will be at Soda Bar on March 5, with Stalins of Sound and Mrs. Magician. ■