Ozona Records is a great label run by Josh Zirkle in Texas. They've put out some great releases over the past three years on both cassette and vinyl formats. Currently, they are in the process of releasing their first two 12" LP releases. I reached out to Josh on a bit of a whim as I've loved their recent releases by Phargo and Televangelist and find the name Ozona to be very interesting for a label based in Texas. Josh proved to be amazingly approachable (as everyone in the DIY/tape scene is) and here is the conversation we had.
Rob: What is the ‘birth story’ of Ozona Records?
Josh: Ozona started as a multimedia project I experimented with in high school. I had a bunch of friends who were in bands, a nice camera, video editing skills, and a little bit of experience in graphic design. I worked with a lot of local bands; filming their live sets, taking promo pics, designing flyers, etc. I ended up growing out of that scene, which was primarily scene core bands who seemed to be competing for the heaviest breakdown. It got old, the music got repetitive, and I just wasn't appealed to it anymore. I began using Ozona as a platform for my friends' music. I had gotten a bit of a following from folks locally and non-locally, and used it as a way to share the music my friends were creating, and hopefully project their projects further than giving out CD's at local shows.
My good friend Peter came down for two weeks the summer before my junior year, and we spent his entire vacation here recording his LP, "Chivalry" in my bedroom. I had invested in some recording equipment to record acoustic projects out of my house. During the recording process, we would walk to the neighborhood park that was down the street from my house and talk. One night, we started talking about how Peter should go about releasing it. Somewhere during that discussion, we concocted a plan to turn Ozona into a record label and release the Chivalry LP that way. The original plan was to have Peter, my buddy John (who has a degree in marketing), and I run this label. John had recently moved to Colorado, Peter had moved to Wisconsin, and I live here in Texas. We thought running a tri-state label / collective would be the sh*t. Unfortunately, it turned out to be me who kept it up. So here I am, today, running a label. Always had the dream of helping out bands somehow, and when the multimedia thing didn't work out, I've resorted to this, and I couldn't be happier with where I'm at right now.
Rob: Where did the name Ozona come from?
Josh: Oh god. I was on a road trip with my family several years ago, and we were in Colorado eating at a Taco Bell across from the hotel we were staying at. The name of the road the Taco Bell was on was Ozona Boulevard or something like that, but the word Ozona struck me and I saved it in my phone. I later dug up the note I had it in when I was looking for a name for the multimedia project. A lot of people tend to think Ozona is named after the city here in Texas, which would make a lot of sense, but no, it’s named after a street in Colorado where a Taco Bell sits.
Rob: How important is putting out physical music to you?
Josh: Putting out physical music is really important to me, actually. I wouldn't be running a label if it weren't. There's this certain feeling of accomplishment you get from holding a physical piece of music, whether it be a cassette, vinyl record, or CD. I feel it, and I've never even held a physical copy of my own music. I can't even begin to imagine how someone who has devoted so much time, energy and emotion into their music must feel when they finally hold a physical copy of it.
Rob: What makes you decide what form factor to release different records on?
Josh: There’s a few factors that go into it. Does the band tour? If yes, we’re more inclined to put their music on vinyl. If not, we’ll do tapes. Same goes for the bands’ following, and how much money I have to budget.
Rob: Do you think that streaming services like Spotify are a boon to the music industry or a curse?
Josh: I never understood the issue people have with Spotify. I use it, and I love it. I would rather use Spotify to listen to a band's’ music and continue giving them money than to purchase a digital download once and have that single time be my contribution, monetarily, to the band. Maybe I have to do research, but I’ve never seen an issue with it.
Rob: Why do you think records and tapes are making such a comeback?
Josh: Geez, that's a great question. I think it probably started with the introduction of "hipster culture" a couple of years ago when shops like Urban Outfitters began capitalizing on it, propelling the "vintage" products to their audience, and from there it just blew up once major labels saw the potential for it. I think, though, in a way, it never really died out. Bands were still putting their music out on vinyl when it was unheard of. Cassettes were still being produced. I think it went from kind of being this underground society of dead format lovers to becoming a more mainstream deal, and now it's blown up to vast proportions. CD sales have plummeted to where the CD is nearly obsolete, and I recently read an article that said vinyl sales are skyrocketing and beating out digital sales. Hell, I just re-tweeted Bethesda's announcement that the Fallout 3 soundtrack is going to be on vinyl. Everything is about vinyl nowadays, and cassettes are beginning to see their breakthrough as well. It's fantastic, really. At least, to me it is. My mom is still wondering why I bother collecting vinyl records. I'll never tell her that I set aside a portion of each paycheck that's strictly for records..
Rob: Haha… I have a line item on my budget for records as well. Why do you think albums that are given away on Bandcamp are still sold in physical form?
Josh: I think physical music is important to people. Sure, we’re progressing into a digital age, but there’s still a market for physical media. Giving music away for free is cool because it allows potential / existing fans to hear the music before buying it on vinyl or cassette, rather than spending the money on something they’ll end up not wanting. Of course, you then get the question of “what about music that isn’t streaming but is up for pre-order?” and with that, usually there’s a song premiere or two, and a full-album stream happens eventually, so I guess the original answer still stands. People will buy records regardless of if the music is free or not, but giving it away for free makes it easier to share and spread around. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything to put your music on Bandcamp, unlike producing vinyl records or tapes.
Rob: What are your favorite records not on Ozona Records right now?
Josh: Oh, geez. Do they have to be recent?
I Would Set Myself on Fire For You - Believes in Patterns
Coma Regalia - Ours is the Cause Most Noble
Loma Prieta - Self Portrait
Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Sh*t, I Don't Go Outside
Self Defense Family - Heaven is Earth
Under a Sky So Blue / Celebration split
TIOUOL (now Anthony Jay Sanders) - Siamese
That's most of what I've been listening to lately.
Rob: I like asking people about their Desert Island Disk’s. So what are yours if you could only pick 5 records for the rest of your life?
Josh: I was talking about this with my girlfriend and I mentioned Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, but I feel like if I vocally express that I can listen to Channel Orange for the rest of my life, he’ll never release his damn new record.
Cursive - The Ugly Organ (I have the album art tattooed on me. I will forever stand by this record as it’s the greatest record ever written and recorded.)
Alexisonfire - Crisis
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Raise Yr Skinny Fists Like Antenna’s to Heave
The Sound of Animals Fighting - Lover, the Lord Has Left Us
A Lot Like Birds - Conversation Piece (although I like No Place more, Conversation Piece is nostalgic for me and still a 10/10 record.)
By the way, this is the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. There’s so many great records I could live with forever. It was terrible having to prioritize them!
Rob: Where do you see Ozona Records this time next year?
Josh: I don't even know. Hopefully once I get some of these records I've been working on out, I'll be able to push Ozona to do bigger and better things, but for now I'm still running it out of my bedroom. I'd like to continue doing art shows and showcases. We did two this year. Maybe offer some screen printing services. Who knows what the future holds!
Rob: Here’s your chance, what else should people know about Ozona that they don’t know yet from this interview?
Josh: We’ll never stop supporting great bands. We have a ton of really freakin’ sick records coming out. Bernie Sanders 2k16.