It’s difficult to top what you’re about to read, especially since this is being written in the midst of the most annoying winter the Midwest has experienced in years. Not only has Darla Records been releasing wonderful records for years, plus distributing numerous indies, plus putting out great compilations of groups you might never have heard were it not for Darla (well, before the Internet took off anyway), but it sounds like founder James Agren, his wife, and his staff are living the dream out there in the warm California sun. Maybe all it takes is a few avocados and a view of Santa Catalina Islands to really understand how easy the digital downloads vs. vinyl debate is. — Thomas Rooker White
Who runs the label?
Here at the HQ in Vista, Calif. It’s me and my wife Chandra and our GM, Jon Derosa who also records for us as Aarktica. In Virginia Beach, Va. it’s Jason, our Web guy, who records for us as Sprites. In Ensenada, Calif., Nicolas does our advertising and CD packaging layout and also does the Sound Sister label, which we distribute.
Where is the label located? Describe your digs…
It’s a little slice of paradise here. We are in north county San Diego, up in the hills about 10 miles from the beach. We’re in the avocado capitol of the world. It’s semi-rural. Lots of small farmers. Lots of specialty nurseries. The main crops here are avocados, palms, nursery plants and flowers. Many of our neighbors grow sub-tropical and tropical fruit and sell them at farmers markets and to local grocers. We live/work on our own 1.5 acres covered in fruit trees. We have a 1000 sq. ft. work building and office out behind the house. It’s remote enough for peace and quiet but we’re close in enough that UPS can come twice a day for delivery and pickup. We have an ocean view from here, and can see San Clemente and the Santa Catalina islands when it’s clear. Everyone in the neighborhood is retired. The neighbors on both sides of us are in their 80s. They call us “the new kids on the block.” They bring us chicken pies, cherry pies, peach pies, cookies and fruits and vegetables from their gardens. We’ve learned it’s much better to live in the sticks with the old folks.
How did the label get its start? Its name?
I started the label, distributor and mail order simultaneously in April 1994 from scratch out of my studio apartment on Alamo Square in San Francisco. I’d done a lifetime of work in many facets of the music business from record store clerk to college radio DJ, club DJ to production assistant, and A&R assistant (glorified computer & phone boy) at BMG in NYC. I’ve been an avid record collector since about age 12, which is how I got started. I used to skateboard around to garage sales and buy records for 25 cents and sell them to the record store downtown for $1. While collecting, I realized there used to be many regional independent labels that had hits, with women’s names. Laurie, Paula, Sue, Tamla — to name a few. I thought it a cool little bit of forgotten Americana and wanted to name my label in that tradition. Now I’m stuck with the name!
How many releases do you issue a year, on average?
We do 10 to 12 releases a year on the Darla label. We also manufacture and distribute about 40 labels exclusively: Acuarela, American Laundromat, Attack Nine, Audio Dregs Recordings, Elefant, Le Grand Magistery, Labrador, LTM, n5MD, Siesta, Static Discos, and more. The labels provide a full release schedule throughout the year.
True or false: Digital downloads are okay, but 7″‘s are cooler…
Digital downloads are waaay cooler than 7’s.
Favorite label besides your own…
Favorite record ever…
The Beatles, White Album 2LP
Favorite movie ever…
Harold & Maude
Vegetarian or carnivore?
Both. All things in moderation.
Your guiltiest pleasure. The thing no one would believe you watch, read, or listen to…
Watch: “History Detectives.” Read: The Fruit Gardener (California Rare Fruit Growers club magazine). Listen: Martin Denny. Hey, no guilt here. Aloha!
[tags]Darla Records, James Agren, Factory Records, Avocado capitol of the world, Fruit Gardener, The Beatles[/tags]