Labels We Love: In the Red

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Larry Hardy makes a home for several generations of VU-pushing garage punks.

In the age of hyper-digital music, L.A. label In the Red is putting out songs that sound like they belong on a cherished mixtape from the late ’80s… and that couldn’t be more refreshing. The label has released the punk riot known as Jay Reatard, the plucky shitgaze shitstorm that is Vivian Girls, weird rock magic from Thee Oh Sees, and the catchy licks of The Ponys, not to mention records from a slew of other rebels both modern (Black Lips, Miss Alex White) and classic (Sparks, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion).

It’s not like owner Larry Hardy is on some nostalgia trip—he’s just doing things the way he’s done them since late 1991, when In the Red released its first record, a single by Detroit garage punks The Gories. “[Big Star guitarist] Alex Chilton had told my friend, ‘You have to check out The Gories—they sound like The Cramps if The Cramps were black,” recalls Hardy. “I knew I was going to love them before I ever heard a note, based on that recommendation.”

Hardy, who says he “never dreamt of being in a band,” was nonetheless bitten by the music bug, and dropped out of college and his grocery-store job to obsessively collect and release records. These days, he runs the imprint out of a detached garage in his backyard, surrounded by prized vinyl that includes The Cramps’ glow-in-the-dark “Human Fly” 7-inch, The Stooges’ Funhouse album, and a recent obscure find: a 1965 record by the name of Tortura: The Sounds of Pain and Pleasure. “The record is nothing but the sound of slaps and spanks while a female moans in pleasure,” he marvels. “Two entire sides of this! I can’t believe this record exists or who they were targeting to buy the thing.”

While In the Red’s records are hardly as esoteric, they share a similarly renegade aesthetic—tracing the dirty, visceral, and throbbing side of underground rock music’s lineage all the way back to the blues of the early 20th century. “I think all the bands on In the Red are pretty raw, real, and, above all, eccentric,” says Hardy, when asked to sum up the label’s approach. “Like them or hate them, none of them are boring.”

Hardy also has a secret weapon on the sonic side—Mike McHugh, an engineer at Costa Mesa, California recording studio The Distillery, is the man responsible for the grit, grind, and utterly throat-grabbing directness that’s instantly recognizable from In the Red. “Mike is brilliant,” avers Hardy. “His studio is all analog and he has loads of gear—fuzz pedals, speakers, amp heads—that he built himself. He has no digital equipment whatsoever, which has its pluses and minuses, but he knows the sort of sounds that I like and he’s not afraid to experiment, which is rare for a studio engineer.”

Hardy, who is in his early 40s, says his favorite indie labels seemed to stand for something, and he counts Crypt, Bomp!, Amphetamine Reptile, Sympathy for the Record Industry, and early Sub Pop among his favorites. Like these era-defining outposts, Hardy has made sure In the Red stands for the loveliest, most intense, and loudest garage punk, rockabilly, and experimental American rock on offer. Hey, the logo doesn’t lie.

Reigning Sound’s Love & Curses is out this month, and Vivian Girls’ Everything Goes Wrong will be out in September.

pictured Larry Hardy flanked by Sparks' Russell and Ron Mael