A WILD WORLD!
We are passionate about all things from the Los Angeles-based record label Wild Records. So, we are very pleased to feature Reb Kennedy, the UK-born founder of the flourishing record company. Reb’s incredible knowledge and great taste for underground music gives his label the upper hand. And the bands on Wild Records are not only talented but extremely smooth and stylish as well. Some of our favorite acts include Furious, Luis & The Wildfires, The Rhythm Shakers, Santos, The Hi-Boys, Will & The Hi Rollers, Omar and The Stringpoppers…well there are too many to name. The growing, family-owned company is the focus of the highly acclaimed documentary Los Wild Ones. We chatted on the phone with the busy record label founder to catch up on all things “Wild.” Wild Records band photos courtesy of Daniel Funaki. Flyers courtesy of Reb Kennedy. https://www.wildrecordsusa.com/
PONYBOY: We are big fans of Wild Records. Reb, please tell us how your label came about.
REB KENNEDY: The record label came about because I wanted to put out some music that I liked. I lived in Europe, but I was fed up with what I call “jukebox” rock ‘n’ roll, or bands really only doing all cover versions. That, to me, was pointless and boring. I discovered Luis & Los Wild Teens. They were doing a hybrid of rhythm and blues, and early 60s rock’n’roll. I thought that it was really fresh. So, we began with the “La Rebel Donna” 45.
Then I got lucky with our second act, Omar and the Stringpoppers. They did all original rockabilly. And the label really just progressed from there. Each act we found for our label was doing something original. My intention was to make a record label that was relevant today. I always wanted the label to be about now, and not about the past. I thought music influenced by the 1950s could be contemporary. And that’s how we set the studio, to have a sound that was much “tougher” than most 50s type record labels. Basically, we wanted to create a sound that was a little closer to punk, as opposed to the 1950s or 60s rock ‘n’ roll.
PONYBOY: You were raised in the UK. Tell us what your upbringing was like.
REB KENNEDY: I was born in London, but my mum and dad are from Dublin. I only lived in London until I was about five or six years old. Then I returned to Ireland. So, my upbringing was mainly in Ireland. I came from a very tough neighborhood in Ireland with a lot of violence, a lot of fighting, and too many gangs. I really never wanted to have any part of that. So, I made a point to stay away from it. And, luckily, a few years later in my early teens, punk rock first wave happened. I was in the UK during 1976-77. I was very lucky to see most of the first-wave punk bands, which pretty much got me away from the gang mentality. I then ended up forming my first band in Ireland in the mid-70s. They were called System X. We played a lot of great shows, with a lot of great bands. This really allowed me to be an individual. And I found a few great friends in Dublin, who still remain my friends. They basically thought very like-minded to me. So, it was music that really was my savior.
PONYBOY: What kind of records did you favor as a young teenager?
REB KENNEDY: Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison are what my mum and dad listened to at home on our record player. We also listened to some 1960s beat stuff. But my own stuff that I really developed into was glam rock like T. Rex, Marc Bolan, and that sort of early 1970s glitter stuff including Rod Stewart. I’m still a big fan of his, but not the “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” kind of disco shit. I like his early, classic stuff. I also loved the Buzzcocks, Penetration, The Fall, and Magazine. During that time I still listened to rock’n’roll and rockabilly. And it was a bit of an enigma on the punk scene, because very few punks would acknowledge that they were also into rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, as well as punk. To me punk was always about being an individual. But it was also rock n’ roll music. That early stuff I listened to still influences me. And I still listen to Marc Bolan, Bowie, first wave punk, blue beat ska, reggae, soul, rock’n’roll and rockabilly.
PONYBOY: The record industry is quite a hard business. What is the key to your success?
REB KENNEDY: Well, we don’t really fall into that classic record label format because we’re an independent label. We have distributors and wholesalers in every country in the world. But they’re sort of unique as they reach to the underground market, not specifically rock ‘n’ roll, punk or blues. They cater to everybody. Those distributors and wholesalers get our records to people who have small record stalls, tattoo shops, car shows, clothing stores, etc. and anywhere that subculture might go hang out, have a drink, shop for clothing, get a haircut, or that sort of thing. We try and have our stuff there. That’s really what’s been successful for our label.
So we don’t really follow the norm of the record business. Also, I must point out that the business relationships that we have with our bands are unique. The priority is a good trusting relationship between the label and the musicians. So, we don’t really fit that record industry format. We have a distinct format for selling Wild Records merchandise.
PONYBOY: People sometimes stereotype your label as “rockabilly.” However, it seems that you take a stance to point out that you are not. Why is that?
REB KENNEDY: We’re obviously not a rockabilly label, because our acts are not all rockabilly performers. We have magnificent rockabilly performers that we are extremely proud of, but we’re really just a rock ‘n’ roll label. If there’s a guitar in it, we like most music and most genres of music. It’s just incorrect to label us as one thing.
PONYBOY: Of all the terrific acts on your label, tell us who you think has the most potential for a crossover hit.
REB KENNEDY: Wild Records really isn’t about being a mainstream success. What we want and what we aim to achieve is to be able to be seen as a contemporary rock ‘n’ roll genre. Within the label, we have punk bands, soul bands, blues bands, rockabilly bands, rock ‘n’ roll bands, and even a bit of gospel. Basically, all of my own musical influences are on the Wild label. So we’re not chasing mainstream success. I’d like to see our bands be more successful and make some money, so they wouldn’t have to work other jobs.
PONYBOY: What new, fresh band have you recently signed that we should all buzz about and take an interest in listening to?
REB KENNEDY: Furious, the teddy boy band from Liverpool, is quite popular. Australian musician, Pat Capocci, is a great one to catch. Another Australian band to pay attention to would be The High Boys. We just recorded their new record last week. Bebo is a tough rockabilly act from the West Coast. Josh Hi-fi Sorheim is late 50s rhythm and blues. And The Downbeats are a great late 50s rock’n’roll band. Black Mambas are first-wave punk. Jake Allen is a contemporary rockabilly performer from the UK. Terrorsaurs, a guitar instrumental band from the UK, is another one to catch as well. We have some great new acts.
PONYBOY: Tell us about the highly acclaimed 2013 documentary about Wild Records titled Los Wild Ones. Was that your idea?
REB KENNEDY: It was not my idea. It was the idea of the producer. They had come across our label while putting music together for another movie. They liked both what they saw and heard. Based on that, they asked if I would be keen on having a documentary made on the label. I said yes, not believing they would ever raise the funds. But, to my surprise, they did. Fast forward, the documentary was released and has done extremely well. And it’s still in the festival circuit. We’ve won many Best Documentary awards, as well as Best Audience awards, which is truly amazing to us all.
What’s unique about the movie is that it’s unscripted. Everything is real and nothing was rehearsed. The cameras just rolled for about nine months, seven days a week. We had very long twelve-hour days. The crew just basically shot behind me, filming whatever I was doing, mundane things, exciting things, sad things, happy things and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll things. Everything was captured. And as stated, it is still in the movie circuit, and there really are no plans to do a DVD sort of thing. But, hopefully, everyone will get to see it soon enough.
PONYBOY: We hear that there is a sequel being filmed at the moment.
REB KENNEDY: There is no sequel being made to Los Wild Ones. It’s worth pointing out to your readers that the film primarily focused on our 1950s type acts. Obviously, as I’ve stated, we have many different types of bands on our label. So, other ideas of making more movies covering the full spectrum of Wild Records is something I hope would happen. But right now there are no plans for this. Los Wild Ones does not cover everything that Wild Records is about musically. The person making that movie was only interested in the 50s Wild Records acts, which left out three-quarters of our other music.
There is no sequel being filmed. However, we are heavily involved in a fantastic new movie which will have three major artists from Wild Records as the main stars. And, of course, all the music will be from acts on our label. We start shooting at the end of September through October. This is a very exciting thing for us all. Plus it’s somewhat of a “road” movie.
PONYBOY: Who does Reb Kennedy put on his turntable when relaxing at home with friends over cocktails?
REB KENNEDY: On my turntable, I listen to every type of music like Otis Redding, Charlie Rich, Elvis Presley, Warren Smith, and Solomon Burke. I listen to rockabilly music and lots of soul. I really like live soul albums. I also enjoy listening to rhythm and blues, as well as some mod sounds. So really, I enjoy a little bit of every genre of music. I actually collect electrified gospel music. I’ve been collecting gospel for twenty-five years now. I don’t really listen to contemporary artists. There’s no one out there that I’m really excited about. But, I do like a bit of The Black Keys.
PONYBOY: It sounds like you have a lot of records! Lastly, will your son be the heir to the Wild Records label?
REB KENNEDY: Yes, of course, my son Hayden and my wife Jenny-Lin, are part of the business. The company is a family-owned business and they are part owners. And, also the extended family on the label are the Wild Records artists.