Before Matt Jones takes me on a tour of Castle Face Records HQ, the label he runs with Brian Lee Hughes and Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer, he warns me: “This place is weird.” He’s right: The building used to be a factory that manufactured baby carriages; there’s still a woodshop downstairs and sawdust sprinkled all over the floor. Once Jones unlocks the door — identifiable only by a kaleidoscopic poster bearing the label’s logo — it’s evident that Castle Face HQ is less an office and more a record vault. Boxes pile on top of one another, and a lone computer is pushed in a corner.
In a way, the office feels like a manifestation of the anarchic spirit of the label itself, which is guided by the desire to release a steady string of shit-kicking, acid-eating records. “If you feel motivated enough to put something out, you have to really be able to stand behind it,” Jones says over a beer at Pop’s in San Francisco’s Mission District, near where the Castle Face office is located.
Jones met Dwyer at a party in 2006. Dwyer had been looking for a label to release his band Thee Oh Sees’ sixth album, Sucks Blood. After hitting it off with Jones — who worked at the record plant Pirate Press by day — Dwyer enlisted him for help with the album’s artwork; soon the two began to collaborate. With Dwyer’s vision, Jones at the production helm and wildcard Brian Lee Hughes injecting a level of mystique into the fold, Castle Face Records was born. (The name stems from a term Dwyer coined to describe the look on someone’s face once they’d had one too many drinks or drugs.)
They began slowly. They released titles from the likes of Bare Wires, Fresh & Onlys and a Ty Segall/Thee Oh Sees split before they released the debut from Blasted Canyons, in which Jones played.
When Jones first moved to San Francisco, around 2005, the punk scene was virtually nonexistent. “It was pretty wack. I got here and I was like, ‘This is it?’” he says. “It seemed like shit was kind of dormant — I think it was.” But as Castle Face became more and more active, a scene began to spring up around them.”During that Coachwhips era [John Dwyer's searing punk three-piece, active from 2001-05], there were a lot of rad bands.”
Some might argue the era of expansion is over. Dwyer’s move from San Francisco to Los Angeles seemed to cast doubt on the label’s future, and garage rock mainstays Ty Segall, King Tuff and Woods’ Kevin Morby have also pulled up stakes as San Francisco’s tech boom continues to drive rents up and artists out.
“This place has changed overnight,” Jones says. “You have to ride the wave, and not be consumed by it.” He does a little dance in his seat, saying, “Shifting sands man! You gotta dance a little bit. Sun is hot!”
Fortunately, Castle Face isn’t going anywhere. Jones himself is unflinchingly positive, and mentions at various points in our interview that he expects 2014 to be a banner year for Castle Face. “We have eight records lined up, and they are all really cool in different ways.” He smiles. “We’re really trying to branch out — this year is expanding in really beautiful ways. I love how people are adapting to the fucking crazy world we live in.”
Jones speaks of the label, its artists and releases, like a proud father. “They’re all like my little children,” he says, beaming, “You put something out into the world, you put little short pants on it and go, ‘All right. You’re gonna go forth.’”
Matt Jones on 7 Castle Face Essentials
This one is personally important for me. Around the same time we started doing the first Flexi Book [a playable, 3D multicolor book comprised of FlexiDiscs], John and Brian [Lee Hughes] talked and were like, "We want to bring on Blasted Canyons." So they asked, and I graciously accepted. It was pretty sweet that John wanted to put it out. The album cover is one of my favorite images so far — it's a Pink Floyd rip-off with picture frames and a rainbow coming out of it. We recorded this in three different places — Matt Hartman from Sic Alps helped. We recorded five of the songs in one day, including a few while we were hanging out with my grandma up in Portland. Then we recorded the rest in Chinatown here. It was super fun and exciting.
This is a big one. Me and John [Dwyer] just sat with them in the studio and listened to it off the tapes, and it just sounded really dimensional. This record totally fucking changed things for that band, too. When we put it out, it really helped them out a lot. All of a sudden, they're playing a million shows, and were getting a lot of attention — I guess that's kind of the point. This is a total classic record.
Those are some buddies of mine from Chicago. They were like, "Hey you want to put this out?" They let me hear a sample, and it was killer shit. This record is incredible. The guitar tone on is so insane — Running is all about that freaky guitar-feedback nastiness. Their records have always been almost misanthropically free-form and totally chaotic. They really tighten up on this record, and distill it down into 30 minutes of warped stuff.
This one certainly stands out. Total banger. I still listen to it all the time. It's like they got heavier and grungier all at once on this one. It was the first kind of official release for Thee Oh Sees. We had done the Singles Collection, but that was sort of different. It's a fucking slayer right off the bat, and that was a total rollercoaster ride. It all ended up coming out super perfect; the stars were aligned. It's such a good record!
The "Live" series in general is awesome, but this Fuzz one — oooh! That show was crazy. This was John's idea, the Live Series. Live records are usually pretty wack, but John knows how to do it right. The way that all of Fuzz's live recordings have come together has been really cool, and it's been a special part of an ongoing project. I came up with the layout and look of the series too, so I have to answer for that. I'm happy about this record, and we're getting some more live ones together soon, like for OBN IIIs.
That one was kind brought back from the dead. [The Providence, Rhod Island, band was active around 2003-04 and disbanded shortly after. — Ed.] John had the idea to put something together just because he saw [the record] was awesome and was lying around [unreleased]. They barely got anywhere, but there are some songs on a four-track they gave John that are super rad. This record is super raw, uncompromising. It sprung out of having all this stuff. These sorts of releases are fun, but kind of challenging. You have to dig this out of a vault and put it on wax.
This is a recent awesome highlight. I think that people are really psyched on this record — it's gotten a lot of hype. It's a killer record, and those guys are great. Byron's a really sweet guy. He handed me a cassette of the songs and I listened to it and thought it was great. They weren't sure about the artwork at first. One day Byron was at my place and I opened up this book, this integrated history of circuit boards. Fun book! It has all these rad pictures of really early circuit boards that are weirdly primitive and have all of these strange colors. So that's where we got the images for the record cover. I put together the art for this one more than usual. It's kind of like the Mallard record — by virtue of us putting it out, it's gotten them a lot of attention and that's exactly what we want.