To say 2009 was quite a year for Jeff Castelaz is a gross understatement – he saw his label’s flagship band Silversun Pickups enter the Billboard Top 200 at No. 7 and go on to sell 191,000 copies of “Swoon,” according to Nielsen Soundscan; score a Grammy nomination for best new artist; and land on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart at No. 6.
But as all this was happening, he also lost his six-year-old son Pablo to cancer. Oddly, it was during his son’s illness that Castelaz noticed one element that made his label so strong and ultimately helped drive the success of his roster, including the Silversun Pickups.
“I modeled my label on 4AD and Rough Trade, labels I loved when I was growing up,” he says. “I always thought a label needed to have a strong brand and identity; I remember seeing certain logos on records when I was a kid and just knowing they’d be great. I saw a documentary about the Smiths and remember a scene where they were all the label offices; Morrissey was looking at art, Johnny Marr was doing an interview, and the other guys were just hanging out.”
Castelaz adds that he started the label out of his guest bedroom, and dangerbird’s offices remain in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. “When Pablo was sick, the way the bands on dangerbird rallied and got so involved was great,” he says. “I felt like we had this community, that the label was a ‘place,’ and not just a business.”
Keeping his acts loyal and local has made it harder for majors to poach them, despite the fact that they were initially written off. “After an early Silversun show, I had a friend who worked at a major call me and tell me why Silversun would never sell or get big,” he says. “Now I’ve had people make offers, but it’s not for me.”