Will Castro lives and dies by the pressing plants that make the vinyl releases for his local label La Escalera Records. Demand for vinyl keeps increasing. But turnaround time is getting worse. Castro says it can take up to four months for small labels like La Escalera to get its records; it used to take eight weeks.
"Wonderful Multiple Episodes"
...off of Western Settings' album Old Pain
But Castro and other small labels got some good news last week when the New York Times reported that America’s largest vinyl manufacturer, United Record Pressing, would be expanding its Nashville production facility to the size of “two football fields,” thereby doubling its capacity to turn out 7- and 12-inch records. United produces 30 to 40 percent of U.S. vinyl discs and most of La Escalera’s releases.
“It keeps getting harder and harder for small labels like mine to get their records back on time,” says Castro about La Escalera, which has put out 36 releases over six years. “Now that the big labels are getting interested in vinyl again, they really clog up the pipes. Small labels like mine who get, like, 500 at a time have to wait for them to press the latest Miley Cyrus on pink vinyl.”
Along with Justin Pearson’s experimental Three-One-G Records, La Escalera has become one of San Diego’s most prolific rock diskeries, following the path set by Cargo Records, which thrived in the ’80s and ’90s by focusing on local standouts such as Drive Like Jehu, Fishwife, Olivelawn, and Rocket From the Crypt.
Castro’s own band, Western Settings, has released three EPs and one full-length record on La Escalera, joining other local labelmates such as A Scribe Amidst the Lions, the Marsupials, and Caskitt. Castro says he plans on six releases in 2017, including artists the Black Dots from Denver and Gentlemen Prefer Blood from L.A.
Because Castro says “he heard horror stories” about boxes of records from small labels “sitting around in warehouses,” he says he avoids independent distributors and follows a very simple distribution model, relying mostly on online orders and a handful of indie record shops (including Red Brontosaurus, locally).
Band contracts are equally simple: the band presents him with a mastered product, La Escalera pays for the pressing of the discs, the band keeps a set amount for itself (say, 20 percent of the run), and La Escalera sells the rest. “Once I pay off my investment, I sell the rest to the band at my cost.... We do everything on a handshake basis.”
1903 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside
Castro says he hopes his own Western Settings and other La Escalera artists eventually get picked up by larger labels, such as L.A.’s Epitaph or San Francisco’s Fat Wreck Chords. “That’s what happened to Success from Seattle who moved on to [Chicago label] Red Scare Industries,” Castro says.
Castro says his bro deal helped bring Oakland’s Civil War Rust, Sacramento’s Bastards of Young, and San Antonio’s Signalman to La Escalera. “They came to me,” says Castro.
Western Settings appears January 21 at the Pour House in Oceanside with Buckfast Superbee.