Quintessential San Francisco garage rocker Sonny Smith (of Sonny & the Sunsets) is about as plugged-in to the scene as anyone. Having released half a dozen full-length records and gotten his fingers in innumerable other projects, he decided to crowdfund a new idea: launching a record label with the self-effacing name Rocks in Your Head. Smith is not about to erect a mid-rise building in the shape of a stack of records, but mogul-dom awaits.
“If things are going well, I’d like to be able to put out an album every couple months,” Smith tells SF Weekly. “I’d like it to grow to where it’s a functional label and you’re putting things out you believe in all the time and not drown in things that you’re just doing” for the sake of doing it.
“The first year, it might be one every three or four months and the second year, maybe one every two or three months, and you move up like that,” he adds, chuckling. “Someday, there’ll be one every day!”
Three hundred sixty-five records a year might be a tall order, but Rocks in Your Head Records is off to an auspicious start, with its Indiegogo campaign rounding the three-quarters mark with six weeks left to get to the $15,000 total. And Sonny & the Sunsets’ new album, Hairdressers from Heaven, arrives on April 1 with none other than James Mercer of The Shins as a producer.
But overall, it’s not merely the cost that’s daunting. Smith admits to being hesitant about putting himself in a position of responsibility for other artists’ work. But when it came time to shop Hairdressers around, he realized he was dragging his feet in reaching out to other labels because deep down, he wanted to do it himself.
“It’s awesome to take control of your work like that,” Smith says Mercer told him. But it will be a long road.
“It’s time-consuming,” Smith says of the venture. “Like opening a restaurant or a business, you have to learn it from scratch and get everything in place. I have some people helping me, so it’s fun and it’s great, but it’s an uphill climb. … At some point, two years from now, there’ll have to be some sort of analysis to make sure it’s viable.”
After Hairdressers from Heaven, Rocks in Your Head is set to release a compilation album of San Francisco acts, a record that will be a very public boost of support for San Francisco musicians while gauging this town’s overall temperature.
Smith happily ticks off the list of acts he was happy to include on the compilation, including April Magazine, Blue Ocean, Cindy, and “a band called Galore that I basically decided I like so much, they might be the first band I sign, and I’m going to produce their whole record in a couple weeks.” There’s no anticipated release date, but it seems that if nothing else, being head honcho in charge has given Smith a bit of perspective on matters.
“There’s a great teenage band called Preschool, and they write great songs,” he says. “When I was recording them, I was like like ‘Shouldn’t rock ’n’ roll be made by teenagers? When did it get taken over by 55-year-olds?”
And as he implies in the Indiegogo video, one purpose of Rocks in Your Head is to buck up a city that’s taken some licks. Between an exodus of bands to cheaper cities and some ugly and premature journalism about how “San Francisco’s music scene is dead,” the city might need this kind of leadership.
“I’ve just been noticing that there’s more and more artists and bands — particularly in the Sunset and on this side of the city, which has been a little less invaded by the tech,” Smith says. “And more underground galleries and shows, and I thought, ‘This fucking city is not dead like people thought. It wasn’t destroyed and there’s a lot of artists making really weird stuff.’ And I just thought I got kind of inspired and I thought, ‘If I do a label, I don’t want it to be one of those labels where artists just make it so they can put out their own stuff. I want to make it for San Francisco.’ ”