No one would ever know from the outside of the typical Richmond home that behind those walls dwells Kyle Crawford, the man behind the best tape label in the city, Wizard Mountain. The brainchild of Crawford and Bryan Krueger, who moved to New York recently, the label, in its few short years of existence, has become nationally known for its excellent output, boasting releases from the Traditional Fools, Ty Segall, Grass Widow, Rank/Xerox, the Baths, Culture Kids, Superstitions and more.
But the label itself is only a fraction of the story. Crawford and Krueger have found success in their production and distribution of the tapes featuring San Francisco's lo-fi finest, but they've also formed an invaluable local institution and a tight knit community around their label as well. Friends and bands are commonly found lurking around the Wizard Mountain abode, some with Wizard Mountain tattoos soaked into their skin. Sometimes you can find a band practicing or playing a small show to onlooking friends in the basement. And it is there that you will usually find a jovial Crawford, drinking a cold beer, maybe crouched over his latest, astoundingly meticulous Sharpie drawing, but always with his ear to the music.
I sat down with Crawford to discuss all things Wizard Mountain.
How did Wizard Mountain begin?
Bryan Krueger and I started making noise music because we were really into it at the time. We wanted to put out tapes of our stuff because that was the cheapest way to get our music out there. That was the first Wizard Mountain tape but it's lost forever because it's so bad. It was a band called "Cruiser" and, I guess it wasn't bad, but it was just super silly. After that, I saw the Traditional Fools for the first time on New Years Eve of 2007 or 2008 and immediately they were my favorite band, so I wanted to record them playing live and that was the first real Wizard Mountain tape.
Had you always wanted to run a label or did it just happen circumstantially because of your work with Bryan?
Since I was younger I thought about doing something like this, but back then I thought it would be bigger. We only do cassette runs in like, 100 or 200. But I've always felt like I was good at organizing, and that I have good feelings. Not psychic abilities necessarily, but I've always been good at picking out good things. I have ideas that make sense. I guess I think I have good ideas.
I think you have good ideas. How did you come up with the name "Wizard Mountain" for the label?
It was out of a hat. We knew we wanted "mountain" in there, but I really don't remember how it all came together. I think it's a horrible name. I wish we had come up with something better, but it is what it is and it stuck.
Bryan moved to the New York...is he still involved with Wizard Mountain?
Yes. He's very busy with school, but he's still totally involved. I give him tapes and he spreads them out around the East Coast.
You guys mostly put out your friends stuff...
Do you pick what to put out based solely on that fact?
The music is really important too, but it just so happens that all of my buddies are really good at making music. I don't know how it happened. I don't know how I got lucky enough to meet all these people who are totally talented.
What would happen if a friend of yours approached you with really bad material for a tape?
I would be polite and find a passive aggressive way to say "no." (laughs)
Has that happened to you?
Do you do all the art on the tapes and records that you put out?
No. I carved the unicorn into linoleum on the Ty [Segall's] "Horn the Unicorn" tape; I did the Rank/Xerox/Grass Widow one...Kevin [McCarthy of Rank/Xerox] did the Culture Kids/Mondo Mando Bando one. That was originally a huge poster that he shrunk down. That's a perfect example of being stoked on your friends being creative and them being so good at what they do. It's just like, "Of course Kevin would make something this cool!
Wizard Mountain has become sort of an iconic boutique label over the past few years. How do you feel about the growth of the label since you started?
The mere fact that I can say "Wizard Mountain" to someone and they know what it means is crazy to me. I don't know how it happened. I owe it to the bands that we've put out. I just got lucky with my friends being so good at what they do. We're not that big, but we sell out our tapes and stuff like that. I have no idea how people in Middle America or the East Coast find out about us and order from our site because I'm so lazy. I don't post on things or advertise or anything. It comes down to the bands being so good and bands touring.
You have only put out one thing on vinyl: the Traditional Fools full length. Do you have plans to expand and put out more vinyl in the future?
It would be nice to expand, but as of now, I'm having too much fun with it. If I could live off Wizard Mountain, that would be great. But the fact that I can't, that it's a side project, or a thing of pure devotion to the bands that I think are great keeps it sweet. No pressure.
Are there any bands in the Bay Area that you would really like to work with?
That would be awesome. What other tapes can we look forward to in the future?
Next will be a compilation with a couple of songs from each tape. And I want to start doing digital downloads with each tape. For some reason a lot of people don't have tape players so then people can listen to everything on their iPods. We are also putting out an Essential Tremors tape. That's Jess from Brilliant Colors' band. Maybe a Dave Fox [of the Traditional Fools and the Ebonics] solo tape. I'm trying to talk him into it. All instrumental surf jams. These are my dreams. Maybe a Traditional Fools and Audacity split tape. Just a dream!
Do you feel like this is a really monumental time and place for music right now?
There's no doubt in my mind that the bands that we're friends with, or at least most of them, will do something great. It's like, all these bands are at this beginning time where all of them are just coming into their own, but they're going to explode very soon. Crazy stuff is going to happen in the next couple of years I think.
I think you're right. I could be biased, but I think the things that are happening here are extremely exciting and have been for a while. A lot of bands are growing immensely, but also tapping into things that were done before them but doing it so much better; doing it the best. I see it in a lot of people in this city...Rank/Xerox is the best at what they do. Culture Kids are THE perfect hardcore throwback band; everything about them is great, the music, the iconography...
And they're getting better! All these awesome bands are getting better and better! It's crazy. I feel like we're only at the start. Before it was the beginning of small eruptions and now we're getting into the big ones. San Francisco is definitely the best place to be right now.