Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Duff Interview: Jason Lawless of the Reggae 69 Fan Club and Moondust Records

Editor's note: Jason Lawless is the man behind the amazing new Reggae 69 Fan Club and its just-launched imprint Moondust Records. Modeled on music fan clubs from the 1970s, like the Trojan Appreciation Society, Reggae 69 Fan Club's mission is simple: "Release new music and help foster the sounds of '69 from today's modern bands." Everyone who loves ska and reggae and vinyl needs to know more about--and then join--this amazing club (samples of many of the Moondust Records releases are at the bottom of this post!).

The Duff Guide to Ska: What initially inspired you to start the Reggae 69 Fan Club and Moondust Records?  Why did you want to link the label to a club?

Jason Lawless: Why is easy. I love vinyl. I'm a junkie for it. I'm a collector and a selecter, so I have to have things on vinyl, of course. Which is why I've always been trying to get things going in the right direction to launch a new label. I knew it was going to be vinyl-focused (with some CD/digital at some point too) and with the right push behind it. There are plenty of “labels” out there, but are they doing things for the fans or for themselves? Everyone needs to make money of course, but I hope to be able to do some really interesting projects/ releases and not just because the band needs a CD out. There needs to be some passion behind it--a reason for it to be put out.

I got to thinking that there needed to be something that made fans want to participate more, too--sort of like back in the day with the Madness Information Service or Trojan Appreciation Society (which has now relaunched, too!). I really wanted to make that sort of exclusive and fan-driven aspect a big part of the new label. Back in the day, fan clubs were a big thing. You got special deals, exclusive releases, letters from bands, etc.--so that idea of making something special and exclusive appeals to me greatly. I think it can make for a really great package and promotion too. Especially in today's market. I envision the fan club being able to help market and distribute releases from other like-minded and musically-inclinded bands from around the globe too in the future--not just our releases, but a real collective of DJs, bands and labels working together to support the music.

DGTS: The first two releases from Moondust are reissues from the great, late Laurel Aitken (Reggae 69 b/w Big Fight In Hell Stadium and Apollo 12 (Skinhead Invasion) b/w Moon Rock). How did you ever manage to get your hands on these amazing tracks?

JL: Well, it was pretty easy actually. I licensed them from the label that is overseeing Laurel's catalog at the moment. Reached out to them and we worked out a deal. It went pretty smooth, in fact. The idea behind the whole thing really came out of my love for the work of Laurel Aitken. He was the first JA artist I started listening to via the old Moon Ska release and he is, after all, the Godfather. It worked out so well to come out swinging with some top tunes that fit perfectly into what I was trying to do, as well. It set the tone for what I hope to do in the future. It was just awesome to be able to do something with an artist I hold with such high respect.

DGTS: Down the line, which other ska or early reggae artists would you really like to reissue on Moondust?

JL: Oh man, so many. But the collector/ reissue market is very specific. I debated really issuing the Laurel Aitken tunes on my own label for instance. We all love the original labels deeply, right? I wanted to give people an instant idea of what I hope to do, so getting the Laurel tunes was a perfect way to do that. Trojan pretty much has a lock on so much of the original material, but as Rock A Shacka has proved, there are plenty more producers that are looking for outlets for their music. Should we have issued it on our own label instead of a true classic? Well, I felt strange really just taking an old label and reissuing a new release on it, especially if it was not a true repress (meaning tracks from different releases, but on the same label, for instance). I even asked the licensor what they thought about doing a New Beat release. They did not really say no, but that they didn't have the rights or anything for that art, so I decided that issuing it on the Moondust was the next best thing.

I also knew I was not going after the reissue market as much as I am the new collectors and DJs. No one plays modern records really, but if I could make some new releases that looked and fit in with all the old ones, maybe they'd be more apt to play 'em out. The DJs are a big part of everything I plan to do. Being one myself--getting that group on board was key for me. They are the ones keeping the music alive, playing it at clubs, collecting, and promoting it. That is why we've set up parties across the nation with a lot of them that I know. Most have been very enthusiastic about it and spreading the word.

So many times lately the fans have really been passed over by bands trying to get their music out. Sort of like bands saying, “well they don't have much choice, so they have to buy what I put out” and then dropping the ball on a lot of things that people do care about. This is a big part of why I think we're in such bad shape with modern band, really. So as far as orginal artists I can't say for sure, but Derrick Morgan and Dave Barker are high on my list since they are still active and more apt to do something. There are so many artists that I just don't have enough money to make deals with yet, but maybe one day. So going forward there are some new artists and releases already worked out --some more in the 70s style, rootsy stuff like more Irie Beats and Soulutionaries. I'm a big fan of the Rocksteady 7 stuff from David Hillyard too, so been talking to him about that and it's pretty much a go. Then more Delirians hopefully.

DGTS: All the Moondust singles feature a UK-style center punch (a brilliant detail!)—where did you find a record pressing plant that could still manufacture these?

JL: There is only one and in the US, in fact! I've been working for a few years to get more material to release. But it never seemed right or the music just wasn't there. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. But as a few of my collector/ label friends and I always said, "man, it would be really tight if we could have those UK centers." It was like the thing we never thought we could do. We always want things to be as original and old school as possible. Many of them like Rhygin Records, Axe or Jandisc record only to tape (no digital) or do silkscreened sleeves-- that sort of stuff to make it more original. We all want it to be super tight and outta sight--clean and 60s as much as possible. So I'm always looking at deals for pressing plants. One day I found this ad for the pressing plant talking about UK style centers and I immediately said, "perfect!" After this and some other things that are coming up, I think they might start getting more business from it.

DGTS: The Reggae 69 Fan Club was successfully launched as a Kickstarter project. With actual sales of recorded music increasingly limited to diehard music fans (since the vast majority of recorded music now acquired by the public is obtained through illegal file sharing), do you think that this is a viable model for indie labels and bands to utilize going forward? It seems like groups of dedicated fans will have to become investors in a recording project before it can be put into production and fully realized….

JL: I love KS! Been a fan for a long time--always looked at the site and the projects thinking, "wow, that's a really cool and fun way to connect with fans." So once I got some things lined-up, I dove into using it for my project. The first one failed by just a bit though, but I looked at it--figured out why and relaunched it to success. I think I'll be using that in the future. I've got some other ideas that I think will be fresh and fun, including new music, of course.

DGTS: What are your plans for the label once the initial eight limited-edition singles are all released? Are you going to expand the label’s focus beyond (mostly) California early reggae bands?

JL: More releases, for sure, as I mentioned! We already have two to four more in the planning stages. There is a punk label that releases a single a month every year --they pre-sell the year of releases and then go about doing it. That is the model that I would love to be able to do. Constantly releasing --there are still a lot of bands around the world keeping the flame alive, like The Granadians, Crabs Corporation, The Prizefighters, just to name a few.

DGTS: To state the obvious, you’re a big fan of vinyl. When did you start collecting records; how big is your collection, and what are some of your most treasured records?

JL: Not nearly enough--that will never end. Before I moved into my current place, I had a really small apartment. It was funny, because in the kitchen I didn't have dishes, I had records on the shelves! Now I have an extra room with shelves and more storage, so I've moved the records out of the kitchen. I started buying music in '94 in high school, and then over the last 16 years just kept collecting. I don't actually have a collection that some others have, like Nina Y Viktor (The Rocksteady Lounge) or Mark Morales (Hot Shot Sound System) or the SF Vintage Reggae Society guys-- these cats have been collecting a lot longer with more money than I.

DGTS: During the 80s and 90s, the SoCal/LA-area ska scene was massive—much bigger than NYC’s. What’s it like now?  What are some of the bands that you’re following now?

JL: Well, honestly there has been a massive drain over the last 5 years. Hepcat doesn't do much anymore and every other band has gotten older, had kids, etc. They still play every now and then, but the young bands have just disappeared in the traditional style. There are plenty of the Latin Ska crowd but that's not my scene too much. I think there isn't anyone for kids to look up to and idolize, so they don't go that way. For a while, there was a lot of good talent and they had something to emulate.

Then the Bluebeat Lounge and Chris Murray came along, For a time there was something to look forward to each week. Some were good, some were bad, but it was there. I think that really created a black hole of sorts once it was gone. We've got some promising talent here and there again. I can't say it enough, but The Delirians are just so tight. The Revivers/Debonaires are still working it. The Expanders, if you want that 70s heavy roots, but we need some of the older acts to really show the kids how it's done again.

Maybe Hepcat can hold a retreat or something. I kid, of course, but maybe not that much. Hepcat Camp where they teach some kids how to play or pass along their knowledge. Been trying to get a industry night together where we could have some of the people that have been around for a while talk about different aspects of the business and invite anyone that is in a band down. Still working on that.

DGTS: The graphic artist Chema created a limited-edition print for Reggae 69 Fan Club members who pledged at a certain level. Why did you select him/how did this come about?

JL: I've known Chema for many years now. Talked off and on and he would always ask me about doing art. I used to work for a large Latin music company that represents artists like Manu Chao and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, so he was a big fan of those artists. I really liked his work and def wanted something special for the Kickstarter. Just worked out great with his piece. I want to do more. As a art collector myself--I have some Shag and Manu Chao pieces--I want to support artists, make what is happening a joint art and music thing. There are some amazing artists out there doing very ska-centric art, so why not bring them into the fold? Just like working with the DJs to make sure the artists join in the fun. It's all about being creative and fun for the fans.

DGTS: Since these releases are all in limited-runs, are there spots still available for fans to join the Reggae 69 Fan Club, make their pledge of $45, and receive this series of singles?

JL: Of course! We're doing launch parties around the nation during November and have a pre-sale going on 'till that time. You don't get everything that the KS supporters do, but you can get a really great deal on the first series. Just go to and you can see the packages available. Once that is over, the prices go up on each release. Then stop by our Facebook page at and say hello. Got some more surprises coming up, too. It's all really about showing the love for the music of a young Jamaica and for fans around the world. It's Reggae for the People! Thanks so much for chatting with me.

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Check out some Moondust Records tracks here...

Irie Beats People Need People

Ocean 11 Miss Understanding
Delirians Musical Remedy

Revivers Reggae Fever

Impalers Mr Uppercut

Soulsteppers Bout Time

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