A few Februaries ago, Corey Savage attended Lolipop Records’ Lolipop Your Heart Out music festival in Los Angeles. As he took in sets by the label’s bands – acts like Mystic Braves, The Creation Factory and Psychomagic – inspiration struck. He decided then and there that he had to start a Houston-based record label.
“I just knew that I had to do it,” Savage said. “It wasn’t really a question.”
On the spacious outdoor patio of Midtown dive bar Two Headed Dog, Savage sipped a Bombshell Blonde Ale while he recounted the sudden notion which would eventually become Wallflower Records. Savage describes it as “a hobby record label” with an emphasis on the physical distribution of vinyl and cassettes. It’s become one of the Houston’s busiest, thanks to a steady flow of new and reissued material and an ancillary booking agency. With Wallflower Records primed to invade Cactus Music Saturday for a “takeover” event featuring label acts Young Mammals, Flower Graves and The Rotten Mangos, Savage shared how far the upstart, self-funded business has come in a few short years.
Savage is not a musician. In fact, he admits, “I don’t have a musical bone in my body.” But, he is a studious music fan and a resourceful business person. Once he started in earnest, he felt the need to tab a musician with strong ties to local and far-off acts, someone who knew the performance side of the business. By the end of 2016, he worked up the nerve to share his vision with one of Houston’s most notable musicians, Mikey Drag.
“He had a Mikey and the Drags show, pre-Flower Graves, at Satellite Bar and I walked up to him after the show,” Savage recalled while Drag sipped from his own drink and nodded in agreement beside him. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m putting together a label, you seem like you kind of have similar interests, do you want to work together?’ And he kind of blew me off, actually.”
They shared a laugh and Drag confirmed that’s how they initially met. They had mutual friends and those folks vouched for Savage.
“The idea of him starting the label kind of became more of an actual interest for me,” Drag said. “I’ve been playing music since I was a teenager, I have a big appreciation for music as well, I’ve always wanted to be a part of a label, I’ve always felt like that would be a good spot for me, but I never tried, I never really tried to do anything on my own. To have a label you need a lot of capital.”
Mikey Drag (far left) and Flower Graves at White Oak Music Hall
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
A good business model helps, too, and Wallflower’s adds a component which functions as a booking agency. They actually booked shows as Wallflower Records before they issued their first release. Savage said adding the booking element to the label’s repertoire was Drag’s idea.
“The main reason I decided it would be really cool to do shows under the Wallflower name is to kind of help the label, to just put the name out there a little more,” Drag said.
“It was serendipitous, to say the least. It’s funny how the universe just kind of pulls things together like that for you sometimes,” Savage said. “I had no clue he was a booking agent at Continental Club or any of that. He was kind of the only person that was really doing garage rock in the style that I enjoy in town.”
The booking arm has helped them reach out to more artists and they’ve placed shows in Continental Club, Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge, Satellite Bar, Rudyard’s, Rockefeller’s and Walters. They’ve booked shows in Austin and San Antonio, too and Drag said “the caliber of bands that we bring in, I like to think, is pretty groovy. We’ve had Acid Mothers Temple, Holy Wave, Ringo Deathstarr, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, we helped with the Roky Erickson thing at Continental, the last show he played in Houston. It kind of speaks to what the label is capable of and what we really want to give Houston.”
Recently, Wallflower Records brought Frankie and the Witch Fingers to Houston. That L.A.-based band has lots of upside. It’s a 2019 Desert Daze, Levitation and Freakout Festival act and is supporting ZZ Top and Cheap Trick on October dates.
“That was their only Texas date and they came to work with us. At that show, we had people from out of town coming to see them,” Drag said. “To me, that was exciting and just a groovy feeling, to know that this band and this agent worked particularly with us, when they could have worked with someone in Austin or Dallas. It was a great night. It was a lot of fun. The love was all around.”
Wallflower’s first record release dropped in May 2017, an album by Easy Love, the side project of dream pop act Summer Twins. To date, the label’s discography boasts 26 releases. Do the math and the average is right around a release a month.
“When we actually got it going, we got it going fast,” Drag noted. “We started listening to music right away, we started booking shows under Wallflower right away, so momentum was going and we never really had time to stop and reflect on anything. And we’re still doing it, we’re pretty much working non-stop with releases and shows.”
Their latest release, which dropped September 6, is the self-titled Blushing LP.
“They’re out of Austin, they’re a dream pop band that’s got a really good local following there. It was actually produced by Elliott Frazier from Ringo Deathstarr. He mixed the album and produced it and he’s been a really avid supporter of the band. It’s been really nice having him on the team like that. An artist that you really enjoy and look up to, having their support, it means the world,” Savage said.
They noted the LP was nearly sold out from presales alone, just a handful of albums left from a 300-record pressing. Another album that’s done well for the label is the recent Young Mammals record. That one sold briskly and drew interest from music publications like Paste Magazine.
“I’m glad, too, those boys deserve it, just how long they’ve been doing it and their level of talent – they toured with Parquet Courts, they deserve far more attention. And I think they kind of embody the Houston spirit, they’re kind of the underdog,” Savage said.
“The LP we released for them, Lost in Lima, in my opinion is the best work they’ve put out,” Drag piggy-backed. “All the other work they’ve put out has been great but this is the best I’ve ever heard them. I’ve known them for years. I started playing in Houston in ’05 or something like that and I’ve known them since I was in The McKenzies. To see them grow as musicians and for them to be friends of mine, I’m really happy and proud of this release.”
Savage and Drag are native Houstonians and exude H-town pride.
“Houston has a really special place in my heart, hell, it’s home, obviously,” Savage said. “In regards to the music scenes in Texas, Houston’s kind of had this underdog thing about it and I can’t help but get over that. I kind of adore it more so. Here in Houston, people seem very genuine about what they’re doing, their love of music. We just get together and we’re all friends.”
That philosophy allows the label to be fairly liberal with its artists and their growth potential. Drag said there are no unwieldy contracts in place and “If any band we work with gets picked up by someone bigger than us we are super excited to even be a part of the process.” Savage added, “There’s no exclusivity as far as distribution or anything like that. We actually encourage our bands to shoot for the stars. We’re just there to kind of help facilitate the steps.”
So they work, putting events like tomorrow’s showcase at Cactus together, hosting national acts like Thelma and the Sleaze (September 25) and Jacuzzi Boys some time in November. They just greenlit three new record pressings. They have an eye on the future and hope to someday work with bands like Ringo Deathstarr, Night Beats and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Savage says he’d like to reissue albums like Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert or The Pastels’ Truckload of Trouble to “get some fresh eyes on them.”
The point of it all, as Drag sees it, is to lend support to bands that are expected to do so much in the modern music era.
“A band needs to write the music, they need to perform, they’ve got to get out there, they have to fund their own tour, they have to fund their own streaming somehow – it’s a lot of work and a lot of pressure for a band to do anything,” said Drag, who speaks from a wealth of experience. “As a label, we try to relieve some of that pressure off of some bands. We just want to help.”
Wallflower Records Takeover Cactus Music at 2 p.m. Saturday, September 14. With Young Mammals, Flower Graves and The Rotten Mangos. All ages. Free.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.