Raw emotion, dedication, honesty and hard work. These are just some of the words that best describe Los Angeles rock trio The Record Company, who hasn’t wasted much time since forming in late 2011. Even before releasing its debut album Give It Back to You last month on Concord Records, the band had already racked up quite the resume thanks largely to these qualities. Their music has already been featured in over 30 commercial, film and television placements including the theatrical trailer for Last Vegas, commercials for the likes of Coors Light, Miller Lite and Subaru, and television shows like Showtime’s Shameless, ABC’s Nashville and CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
“We were fortunate enough to have some things come through for us. For the band, it gets you exposure, and it helps make you some money so you can go and do more things as a band,” says singer Chris Vos. “The first time that you hear your music on television is a pretty crazy feeling. We always got on things that we liked. Honestly, it was always cool when it happened.”
Ultimately, making good music is their top priority.
“You have to care about making the best music you can first. And no matter where you’re from, that’s gotta be the first thing that happens,” Vos says. “You have to be playing something that you really love and that you really care about. And all that other stuff can fall into place after that. I think more important than where you live is what kind of stuff are you trying to do. LA has a lot of wonderful opportunities and is a wonderful place to live as a musician.”
Their hard work culminated March 7 in their first late night TV appearance on Conan. Vos says it was a dream come true to play there, as he’s been a fan of the talk show host for much of his life. He got to say a few words to Apple’s Steve Wozniak (who later grabbed a vinyl) and had a passionate conversation about slide guitars and tunings with late night band guitarist Jimmy Vivino before the show (the 1958 Fender Champ slide guitar Vos is seen playing on the show is one he bought at Wade’s Guitar Shop in Milwaukee while he was in college).
“We talked a lot about old slide guitars and slide tunings, because he likes slide guitar,” says Vos. “I’ve been watching him play forever. It was a tremendous experience from beginning to end. The best part about it was everybody was super nice. Conan was nice, and Andy Richter was nice. The staff was nice. They were really great people, and they treated us unbelievably well. It was a tremendous experience. It was a dream come true. There’s no other way I can say it. It was a real amazing thing to do and which I’ll never forget. I’ve very thankful for it.”
He added that he was a bit nervous prior to the performance, but when the lights came on he quickly acclimated.
“It’s not like a live show where you have a little time and can settle into the sound,” he says. “You gotta get ready and do it right away. As the song went on, I was feeling more and more loose, as you say.”
They’ve also shared stages across the country and Europe with acts like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Grace Potter, Trombone Shorty, Charles Bradley, Robert Randolph, The Wood Brothers, Social Distortion, Galactic and Blackberry Smoke. Off the strength of two EPs – and for the last month and a half, their debut LP – they’ve won over new fans wherever they’ve gone thanks to their raw rock and roll energy and Vos’ howling vocals. Vos says getting to open for these veteran acts has helped the band refine their craft.
The Record Company recently announced a tour that’ll see them play shows in the US and Europe. They’ll be playing with Mavis Staples, JJ Grey & Mofro, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band as well as headlining their own shows in the US, UK, Germany and France.
“By watching these acts, you realize that you have to play your heart out every night,” Vos says. “You have to bring 100 percent of yourself to a performance, because you should. The audience is there for you, and you have to respect the audience. You want the audience to see the best show you can give. I think the best thing I’ve learned from those artists is to be honest and to play the best you can on any given day.”
It also doesn’t hurt when a Beatle wishes you well after watching your band. The band had the opportunity to open a LA club show for James McCartney, Paul’s son. As luck would have it, Ringo Starr was in attendance to see McCartney.
“Ringo had gotten there to see James McCartney’s set a little early apparently, because he caught the last part of our set. It was a small club, so I saw him,” Vos recalls. “And as I was coming off the stage, he gave me the piece sign so I was like ‘Holy smoke.’ That was an insane thing to happen.”
Afterwards, since they had booths next to each other, Vos tapped Starr on the shoulder and the two struck up a conversation. ?
“He shook my hand, and I told him I was a big fan, and he told me ‘Keep up the good work, keep playing rock and roll and keep doing what you’re doing,’” Vos says. “That’s one of those things near the start of the band where I was like ‘Jeez, this is crazy.’ I could have never dreamed I would be playing a show that a Beatle would be there. We were fortunate enough to play in front of him, which was an honor.”
When it comes to describing his band’s sound, Vos simply describes it as a rock and roll. Their sound incorporates Delta-inspired slide guitars, distorted bass and a garage-sale Ludwig drum kit. Inspiration is drawn from everything from early rock and roll and blues to soul and early punk rock.
“Everyone knows what the rock is, but the roll is where all the swing is, the soul, the gospel. The blues to me is all in the roll,” Vos says. “So when people say there’s a blues influence in your music I’m like ‘Of course, it’s rock and roll.’ As Muddy Waters said ‘the blues had a baby, and they called it rock and roll.’”
The First Spin
The Record Company’s sound and tenacity is the culmination of its members’ many years of experience playing in bands across the country. Vos is originally from Wisconsin, while bassist Alex Stiff is from Philadelphia, and drummer Marc Cazorla is from upstate New York.
Vos grew up on a dairy farm outside of Burlington, Wisconsin and quickly developed a love of blues and early rock and roll thanks to his parents’ record collection.
“Growing up on a farm outside of Burlington, Wisconsin, I spent a lot of time with my parents’ records and they had a lot of rock and roll and soul records,” says Vos. “I just loved it from the beginning. I can remember hearing early Beatles records that my mom loved where they’re doing versions of ‘Kansas City / Hey Hey Hey.’ I would go crazy for that when I was in second or third grade.”
Vos is drawn to music that feels honest and real.
“I liked any music that sounds like it’s being played from the heart,” he says. “Whenever the music being played sounds like the person who is playing it needs to play it I’m going to listen to it.”
He says everyone’s influences are in full display in their songs.
“Our music is a mixture of all our life experiences. All the places we’ve lived are in there,” Vos says. “Because we write the songs together, it’s not easily divided. We all bring different perspectives into it.”
Eventually all three decided to move to Los Angeles to see what music opportunities they could find. When Vos moved from Milwaukee to LA around 2010, Stiff and Cazorla had been living there for quite awhile. It took some time to get adjusted to new surroundings, but he quickly found comfort in his new music scene.
“It’s just like life. You make friends in your life, and you make different friends as you go through different parts of your life,” he says. “In the case of a musician, a lot of times you have different bands at different stages of your life. This is where I ended up now, and I’m going to be playing with this band for a long time.”
Vos and the others quickly formed a friendship, thanks largely to listening to records. Stiff had come across music that Vos had previously made and, seeing they all lived in the same area, invited him over. They discovered they all liked the same styles of music.
“What we realized is that we kept on putting on records that we all liked. Nobody put on a record where the other guy was like ‘Oh, what’s that? I don’t like that,’” Vos recalls. “I remember putting on Muddy Waters at Newport, and Alex and I had a really great moment. Everything from that to the ‘60s to as far apart as The Cramps and The Grateful Dead and even Beastie Boys stuff. Everything one guy put on, the other would be like ‘Hey that’s great, how about this?’”
The most influential record for them was the John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat collaboration album called Hooker N’ Heat. It was at that moment they decided to be a band.
“Alex had a home studio, and we were like ‘let’s get together and play some music that’s kind of raw, and let’s play it all live and see how it sounds,’ Vos says. “So our first recordings were us in the living room playing live. We like the way it sounded and put out our first EP, and it kind of went from there.”
Vos says he’s thankful for all the friends, booking agents and others that helped them get their band off the ground. Through hard work, they began finding support and opportunities to open for notable touring artists.
“We were lucky to have the chances. We had some luck and worked hard to try to get noticed by these people too,” Vos says. “We wrote a lot of e-mails and had friends writing e-mails at the beginning, and then eventually we had a booking agent and management, and they have connections.”
If Vos were to give advice to a new band, he’d tell them not to be afraid to reach out to someone about getting an opportunity even if the odds seem overwhelming and out of reach.
“One of the best things I learned when starting out as a band is don’t be afraid of being told ‘no’ or ‘sorry, we’re not interested,’ he says. “Don’t fear the word ‘no.’ It’s OK. Get used to the word ‘no,’ you’re going to hear it a lot. If you can work through that, you can have some opportunities hopefully come. There will be occasionally a ‘yes’ if you put it out there enough.”
From the beginning, Vos knew that this band was more than just a fun little hobby.
“I’ve never started any band and thought it was a hobby. I’ve started every band with the intention of playing as often as I can,” he says. “And I can say that moment that we were the band The Record Company was literally the first day we played together. It was always like ‘Let’s get some gigs, let’s record some music, let’s write songs.’ It was all-consuming right away.”
“I’m not saying we were making money at the time, but we were looking it as ‘we want to do this,’” Vos continues. “This is what we love. I never think of any band I form as a hobby, because I throw everything I have into whatever I’m in. All three of us were in from day one.”
With each show the trio’s played since, it’s become clear that they really compliment each other.
“This band has been a pleasure to play with since day one, because I really love working with Mark and Alex, and they love working with me,” Vos says. “We look at it as a team where one guy’s good at something, and the other guy might be good at something else, whether it be musically or business-wise or any element. I certainly have my limitations, and it seems like if I’m not able to do something one of those guys can do it and vice versa.”
Ultimately, they’re thankful for making music people are having fun listening to.
“If people like what they’re hearing that’s way more fun,” Vos says. “Especially when you’re playing what you love and being as honest about it as possible, that’s really fun. You have to work hard but there’s a lot of fun involved when people are enjoying your stuff. That’s what you do it for, is to be honest and connect….It’s nice to playing in a band where everyone is trying to find the best and most honest songs we can with each other.”
Making a Statement
With the release of Give It Back to You, Vos thinks they’ve picked a good representation of what’s they’re about. They recorded the album at Stiff’s home studio with Stiff helping to record and mix the album. Cazorla also helped with the album’s artwork. Last year they signed with Concord Records. Vos says they were very receptive of the band’s direction.
“The label was cool, and they accepted all of that,” he says. “They believed in our recordings from the house, and we didn’t have to go re-record anything, so it’s been very cool.”
Some of the songs are a few years old, while others were written during the album’s sessions. Vos believes these are the best songs they’ve written.
“These are the songs we feel make the most accurate statement of where we’re at right now,” he says. “You have your whole life to write your first record, so put your best music on there. We only put out EPs, because we didn’t want to put out a full-length until it was time. When we signed to Concord, it was time to do a full-length.”
For Vos, writing good songs is “like any good relationship.”
“As you go through time, when it’s a healthy relationship, you learn how to do things better together,” he says. “And songwriting is no exception. We’re not a band where one guy is writing songs. We’re a band where all three of us are getting together and creating songs together.”
“So it’s important to have a trust and communication system with each other,” Vos continues. “It’s a very fun process writing songs with this band as you get to get together with two of your best friends, and you try to write the best music you can. At this point, speaking for myself, I trust both of those guys that if they like something and I’m not seeing it I’ll give it a second look.”
Following the Grooves
2015 was full of highlights for the band, including opening for Blackberry Smoke’s tour of Europe. As Vos says, “it was one of the most thrilling and eye-opening experiences of my life and something that I’ll never forget.” 2016 already has the band poised for even bigger things as they will be headlining many of their upcoming tour dates.
One special memory so far this year for Vos was their record release show in LA.
“It was just beautiful, after four years of playing with this band, to be able to play in front of your hometown crowd and have it be such a wonderful group of people, a full venue of people who had supported us, and new fans, and fans who had supported us from the beginning together.”
In addition to opening shows later this year for artists like JJ Grey, Vos is excited that they’ll get to headline their own shows. They plan to play festivals and go to Europe again later this year.
“It’s exciting, because we’re going to get to play live more than we ever have before, and I love that,” Vos says. “That’s what I live for and that’s what we live for as a band, playing live.”