The tiny record label with the strangest name in town turns a year old this weekend. Fittingly enough, Wonky Power Records — the Eastside recording studio/rehearsal space/party palace that’s home to local acts including Bang Bangz, Tax the Wolf, GIO Chamba, FLCON FCKER and more — will celebrate the completion of its first solar orbit on Saturday in true Wonky Power fashion: with live music and free booze.
After hosting a few unforgettable parties like that, it’s no wonder that sometimes the place feels like it’s brand-new and sometimes it feels like it’s been here forever.
“It’s been a wild year, I guess,” laughs Mario Rodriguez, Bang Bangz guitarist and Wonky Power’s head man.
Starting up a record label was a fantasy that Rodriguez has been kicking around almost since he first picked up a guitar. But the gears really started turning last year when Bang Bangz set out for a tour of Mexico, and the group got an up-close look at what could really be done when you DIY.
“That tour I did with Bang Bangz really influenced me heavily,” Rodriguez says. “I feel like the people we were working with in Mexico, they had a lot of great, great energy and great movements — a lot of great startups and entrepreneurship. All of these people we met were very young, almost the same age we were. But they were doing bigger and better things! They were really well inclined toward what they wanted to do with a music career.
“I came back to Houston and started trying to figure out how to start a small company, a small record label, getting the right people to work with, and really getting a structure of what to do,” he adds.
The first step was obvious. Bang Bangz had just moved into a space on Navigation Boulevard with the aim of turning it into the city’s coolest little rehearsal studio. Upon their return from Mexico, plans changed. The former mechanic shop would now become the world headquarters of Wonky Power Records — christened in tribute to Rodriguez’s whacked-out high-school nickname. The group called up all of their musician friends and got to work, building a roster of acts who would record and rehearse (and party) there.
“Really, as a record label, it was really just a small project that I didn’t think was going to get anywhere,” Rodriguez says. “It was just something fun and cool to do, and something to learn from so I could continue to grow. But it kept growing! I realized it was something I actually needed to do. I let go of my full-time job in the oilfield business and decided that this was what I was going to be doing. I currently do this full-time now.”
A year later, the little label that could now has something cool to show for it: its first compilation disc, Early Ears, featuring all of the artists who have come through the place over the past 12 months. The release was put together with the help of sponsors Topo Chico and Deep Eddy Vodka, who will be on hand to dispense free drinks at the anniversary party Saturday.
“The music was hand-selected and made for the compilation, and we’re really excited about it,” Rodriguez says. “I think it has a nice mix of various genres. Some people might think it’s a little wild, because it’s got everything from very slow, acoustic folk to heavy, fast-paced Latin punk. We want to get our feet in different genres. It’s so early in our career as a label that we have to take risks, and we’re happy taking risks. That’s why we’re calling it Early Ears.”
The compilation will be handed out free to the first 50 guests on Saturday, so show up early. This could be the last chance to witness the current incarnation of the Wonky Power Live headquarters, because the label has big plans for Year 2.
“We’re going to be expanding next door to us, which used to be the Summit — another little venue on this strip,” Rodriguez says. “That’s going to help us out a lot with more space for our recording studio and rehearsal rooms. We want to get more business, more recording time, more releases and have all this working 24 hours. We’re also trying to develop some new applications to get known more nationwide. We want to expand on to the airwaves where we can play our music and all the artists we enjoy through your phone.”
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If that sounds suspiciously like an honest-to-God business plan, you’re not far off. But at heart, it’s likely that Wonky Power Records will retain that DIY spirit that inspired its creation in the first place. After all, these aren’t suits running a big company. These are musicians running a small community.
“Really, our goal is just to succeed as artists, more than anything else,” Rodriguez adds with a grin. “We want to do this for the rest of our lives.”
Wonky Power Records’ "1 Year Wonky Anniversary" kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday at 3534 Navigation Blvd. with music by DJ Squincy Jones, JERK, Birthday Club, and Mind Shrine. Free. Listen to more Wonky Power tracks on their Soundcloud page.