Trippin’ Down Memory Lane With Stay Free Recordings!

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Main image circa 1987 Jon’s First year of college (in a dorm room). Crass poster to the left!

From booking Fall Out Boy for $50 to releasing a record with an original Sex Pistol and onto DJing tapes on the porch for his wife during lockdown – Jon Halperin is a one man musical rollercoaster. Recently the California punk, ska and reggae fanatic relaunched his own record label Stay Free Recordings and has since worked with Nile Marr. But there’s a whole lot more to this story. Way Out Radio dive in behind the scenes of Stay Free Recordings founder Jon…

1. You’re a music fanatic with your own record label! Can you give us a brief history of Stay Free Recordings? When did it start and how did you come to revive the label recently?

I had a record label in the ’90s. Mostly ska comps and power pop artists. It was almost all CD’s. I started talent buying shortly after and have since booked thousands of shows, over ten thousand artists (including repeats I suppose). During the pandemic, booking came to a halt. I bought a boombox and was DJ’ing cassettes during sunset on our patio for my wife. We’d read and listen to music. A few months later, over the Summer of 2020, I bought a portable record player. I would grab stacks of 45’s from our 4000+ record collection. It was awesome listening to the b-sides. My wife had been bugging me for awhile to bring back the ’90s label as a hobby. While listening to these 45’s, I had the epiphany to do a 7″ only label, but super limited runs.

2. Give us the low down on your recent releases- how was it working with Nile Marr (Johnny Marr’s son) and Glen Matlock (original Sex Pistols bassist)?

I had helped bring Glen over to the US for a short, acoustic run a few years back. He’s such a lovely guy to work with. Despite being an absolute icon, he’s got zero ego. I hit him up to do a single and coincidently, he had a lot of material he had just recorded with Earl Slick. I asked him for a cover song for side B and he gave me a KD Lang cover. It sounded amazing. Sometimes it doesn’t work out meeting your heroes, but in this case, it just made me admire him more. As far as Nile, a good friend of mine manages him. I told my friend about the label and he suggested a single with Nile. Nile is fiercely independent and self releases. I asked Nile for something a bit different and he delivered. His vision is so focused as far as what he wants with design and presentation. We did a splatter record and an opaque record. They look awesome.

3. As a kid what are some of your early music memories? What bands initially got you hooked, who was pinned up on your wall and what were some of your early shows?

My first concert ever in 1982 was Missing Persons and Bow Wow Wow. My second concert a few months later was Sparks. Super proud of that one. My first proper punk show was Toy Dolls on the Dig that Groove Baby tour. During that time period I got into punk, goth, new wave, ska. Luckily, we had Rodney on the Roq, who was our version of John Peel. I dressed all punk. Went to punk shows, but always had an affinity for other genres. I wasn’t like “I listen to punk so I can’t listen to General Public or ABC”. I just bought records and appreciated music that I dug. My walls in the early ’80s was all punk flyers (I still have them in a folder!). Later, posters of The Cure, The Smiths, etc, joined those flyers. 

Jon’s Beloved Record Player That Inspired The Revival Of Stay Free Recordings!

4. What are your top 10 albums of all time?

Oh boy…..this is hard.
Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks”

The Smiths “Meat is Murder”

Big Star “#1 Record”

The Clash “Self Titled”

The Specials “Self Titled”

Fela Kuti “Expensive Shit”

Vampire Weekend “Self Titled”

New Order “Power Corruption and Lies”

Kraftwerk “Autobahn”

The Pogues “Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash”

I think those would be my desert island discs as they say….but that was EXTREMELY difficult.

5. You’ve been putting on shows and working in the music industry for a long while. Give us a little insight into bands you’ve booked and roles you’ve taken on over the years!

I booked a few shows at a coffee shop in the ’90s. Ska shows, like The Mad Caddies under their original name Ivy League, and stuff like that. In 2000, I got hired to book Chain Reaction in Anaheim. It was dubbed the “CBGB’s of the West”. A lot of bands played their first shows there in California. I booked Fall Out Boy for $50, Panic at the Disco, Paramore, Maroon 5, The Mars Volta’s first show ever, Death Cab for Cutie, all the hardcore and punk bands of the early ’00s. It was an incredible time to be booking. I booked all genres and they all did great. Ska, punk, emo, screamo, indie rock, hardcore, etc. I’m so thankful for those six years. From then, I moved on to booking The Glass House, an 800 cap room in Pomona. I booked a lot of larger indie and hip hop artists. Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Jack White’s projects to Love and Rockets to Jesus and Marychain. You name the artist and they probably came through those doors. 

6. What are some tips you’d give to indie artists and creatives looking to follow in your footsteps? We really appreciate people like you who put creative vision beyond pocket gain – you do things for the passion of it and to make the world a more liberating and interesting place. We salute that.

Honestly, just shut up and do it. Don’t wait for someone to come knocking on your door. Release your own records, tour, own your social media presence, and build your band or project until people CAN’T ignore it. Make someone like me begging to book you or release a record. That’s what I admire about you Paula. 

7. How did you find out about Way Out Radio and what drew you to the show?

I first met you Paula when you were at the magazine. I think I emailed because I accidentally got two issues or something. You emailed back and was very nice. Then I got into your podcast and radio show. I was so late to the game, but in a matter of three days, I binged every podcast episode and loved it. If a radio show was a person, it would be me. Punk, ska, reggae. You know? I think it’s so great you interview the legends but give the up and coming artists a platform as well.

8. Where can people go to follow Stay Free Recordings and keep up with what you’re doing?

Stay Free Recordings is on Instagram, Facebook and has a Bandcamp where the records are sold. We have four records released right now (Glen Matlock, Nile Marr, Charles Edwards AKA Pure Evil, and Mexican Candy with a split record of artists from Sonora). In April, I have a release by Los Master Plus from Guadalajara. It’s tech-cumbia. They do a cover of the “Thong Song” on side B. They’re amazing. I’ve booked them four times. I also have releases by Horace Panter from The Specials (a charity record), John Doe of X (a charity record), a collaboration with Buried Zine (a London death metal zine), Waldman Management (a compilation of artists from the management company), All the Damn Vampires (keyboardist from Korn doing retro wave) with rapper ROCOM (this comes with a super limited vinyl toy), more Mexican Candy splits with CLUBZ and Porter, Jon Snodgrass, The Boom Bap Kids (puppets who have a hip hop show on twitch), Sam Brace from Skinny Lister, a New Zealand split with reggae artists L.A.B. and Ria Hall…and if all goes well, a record with Way out Radio 🙂

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