Jose Tillan and Ruben Leyva already have their hands in the South Florida music business. Tillan, former bassist for Forget the Name, is managing Latin rocker Nil Lara. Leyva, erstwhile manager for local groups Erotic Exotic, Penguin, and Forget the Name, among others, is director of marketing for ANS Records, a Latin rock independent label. Still, both want to expand the boundaries of their business endeavors, hence the formation of Rojo Records, a new indie label operated and owned by Tillan and Leyva.
"Ruben and I have been friends a long time and we've been talking for the last eight months about getting more involved in the business and more involved with local bands," Tillan says. "We wanted to have more to do with the creative process of making records, from the artwork to helping put the songs together and arranging the songs -- something we can market and promote and have fun with."
Rojo bows next week with the re-release of Earlier Thoughts, the 1990 debut album by local trio Quit. The album -- a crunchy chunk of poppy-punk originals recorded when the band was a foursome -- sold out its initial pressing and has been out of print for about four years. The band will be playing July 3 at Cheers at a release party for the disc, which was remixed by Lounge Act auteur Mike Boudet and now includes a pair of previously unreleased tracks, "Remember" and "Searching," culled from an early Nineties broadcast on WLRN-FM (91.3).
"We just brainstormed and decided to re-release Quit's album," Tillan explains of his label's first effort. "People wanted it and it hadn't been available for a long time. Plus, we had a big constraint, a money factor, and we thought reissuing Earlier Thoughts would just be a matter of pressing it and putting it out. An easy gig."
Actually, the gig wasn't so easy. The original analog master of Earlier Thoughts, produced at Sync Studios by Ralph Cavallero, was in rough sonic shape and in need of a digital remix. Also, the negatives for the front and back covers had been lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, so they had to to be reshot and laid out again. "It took a lot more time than we thought it would," Tillan notes of the work involved in getting Easier Thoughts back on the shelves. "It sounds and looks better now than it did before, though."
Tillan estimates costs for the CD-only reissue at about $2500, and adds that the disc will first be distributed by Rojo throughout Dade and Broward record stores A big outlets such as Spec's as well as mom-and-pop places like Yesterday & Today. He's hoping to get Earlier Thoughts distributed throughout the state in preparation for a Quit tour in support of the disc. National and international distribution would then be pursued.
Although the label has entered the marketplace with a punk band, Tillan stresses that Rojo won't be devoted to any one music genre. "If we stumble on something we dig, we'll do our best to put it out," he claims. "It just has to be music we both like and believe in, and we'll stay up until three in the morning to do what we have to do. We aren't going to be narrow-minded and say we'll only do this kind of music or that. For instance, my father's friend sings traditional Cuban songs, and we may approach him about doing a record. We want this to be a label where the bottom line is the music, like Elektra and Virgin. They've always been about the music, whatever kind of music it is. That's the exciting part of having a label A not putting out formulaic rock or whatever, but taking chances and moving forward."
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Their French name translates into English as the Jugglers, and, appropriately enough, the Jongleurs toss around a lot of different styles. On its eponymous, self-released debut disc, the Coral Gables quintet roams from smart-assed college-boy funk ("Psycho Bitch from Hell," "Gap Girl") to multitextured rock-y jazz ("I Said Whoa"); from skronky sax-laden jumbles ("Sunny Acres") to songs that have Frank Zappa's name smeared all over them ("Flea Circus" and the two-part "Chunky Chicks").
Jongleur Michael Stegner says people hear a lot of different things in the group's music, few of which the band members themselves can detect. "The influences we have never match up to what people think we sound like," states the 21-year-old keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter. "We always get comparisons to people like John Zorn and Frank Zappa -- my songs always get compared to Zappa. But I'd never even heard of him until people kept saying that. I was always into Miles Davis, Prince. I took classical piano, so I'm really into Bart centsk."
The band has been together for just under two years and was formed by Stegner and fellow University of Miami music major and alto/soprano saxophonist Matt Glassmeyer. After recruiting UMers Forrest Giberson (bass) and Josh Sclar (tenor sax) and UM grad Eric Hastings (drums), the Jongleurs practiced only twice before landing a gig at the now-defunct Stephen Talkhouse, through Hastings's friends in Day by the River. They've played at least one gig a week ever since, at local spots such as Rose's Bar & Music Lounge, South Beach Pub, and Churchill's Hideaway, trying to live true to what Stegner describes as the band's philosophy: "If you fall on your face enough, over time it will pay off."
In search of that payoff, the Jongleurs will spend the next couple of months on tour throughout Florida, the South, and up and down the East Coast. Their last local show before taking off will be at the South Beach Pub Saturday, July 6. When the four undergrad Jongleurs finish school, Stegner says the band will most likely relocate to a more central location. "Probably somewhere in North Carolina, Virginia, or the D.C. area," he figures. "We want to be someplace where we're in the middle of everything and can pretty much drive anywhere. You can't do that in Miami.