NorCal comp thrives on organized chaos
By Jeff Latta
Listening to 22-year-old Agent Records CEO Aaron Wadler outline his daily routine might make the heads of his peers hurt worse than a night of finals cramming. A day typically "begins with responding to business e-mails," Wadler says, "then I print out the day's merchandise orders, go to class, work at my other job as an events programmer at Sonoma State University for a while, package the day's orders, return some phone calls for the label, go to the post office to mail the orders and then--finally--do some homework."
Most college students are lucky to get that much done in a month, unless drinking malt liquor is considered a productive activity. But Wadler and his intrepid crew, which includes co-owner Jeff Fasulkey, PR rep Lindsey Suda and girlfriend/day-to-day operations sidekick Annette Powell--the latter two also college students--seem to handle all this business just fine.
The history of Agent Records is as surprising as its young owner's lifestyle. Aaron Wadler was quite the tech-savvy individual in high school. By his sophomore year, for example, he had developed a system of code allowing the then burgeoning Linux operating system to be used on Palm Pilots and other such devices. A semi-tongue-in-cheek appearance at that year's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo led to several offers from technology bigwigs to buy the code. Sell it he did, and the resulting profits became the startup capital for Agent Records, which Wadler founded in 2002.
The label's first release was The NorCal Compilation 2003. Featuring 15 tracks by such bands as the Muckruckers, Drowning Adam, and the Slicks, the album sold almost a thousand copies, partly through positive word of mouth alone. The next year's comp sold around 2,500. The label has also released several EPs and full-length albums from select Bay Area artists.
One might think that all this achievement would go to Wadler's head, but the reality couldn't be further from the truth. He's humble when discussing the label, gushing about the time he got to be interviewed for San Francisco's LIVE 105 radio station and even sounding starstruck when talking about ditching a week of classes to attend Austin's annual South by Southwest music convention ("I got to hang out with Elijah Wood!"). Wadler's solid work ethic and decidedly noninflated ego will serve this mogul-in-training well in the coming months; with last week's release of The NorCal Compilation 2005, his label looks poised to break through bigger than ever before.
This year's entertaining compilation sticks to the tried-and-true formula of past releases, featuring homegrown bands, and lots of them. Busting out with a whopping 22 tracks over 71 minutes, and with a bevy of energy and catchy melodies to spare, the new CD emphasizes straight-ahead rock and punk on just over half the release. But that doesn't mean that several truly original artists don't manage to finagle their way onto the compilation. Highlights of the experimental variety include the space rockabilly of the Phenomenauts ("Tiny Robots") and the frightening postpunk laptop rap of MC Lars ("Stat-60").
Some might say the disc borders on the exhaustive; the dominating presence of pop-punk throughout the CD could fall under the dreaded description "repetitive" for those who aren't the biggest fans of the genre that Green Day made famous. But the NorCal comp is just what it aspires to be: a spirited snapshot of the local music scene, warts and all. If those warts include an overrun of cookie-cutter (yet admittedly lively) punk-rock blasts, then so be it; sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes the truth raps about math equations or plays rockabilly from beyond the moon.
Though only a handful of the bands featured have an official album to their name, none of the tracks come off as anything less than high quality. This shouldn't be too surprising, considering that some of the bands sport former members of such experienced heavy hitters as Tsunami Bomb, 26 MPH and American Steel. Available at most independent record stores throughout the Bay Area, as well as online at www.agentrecords.com, this jam-packed CD is a great way to support the local music scene, not to mention help keep madman Aaron Wadler as busy as he wants to be.
But with an upcoming EP from the Wildlife to release and promote, and a sponsorship gig with the Verge Showdown battle of the bands on tap for the summer, finding something to do shouldn't be too hard for Wadler and the little record label that could.
The Wildlife play Sonoma State University on Thursday, May 12, at noon. Stevenson Quad, SSU, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Free. 707.664.3363.
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From the May 11-17, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.