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Clothing store Moonlight Graham didn't mean to start a record label when it reopened after a five-year hiatus. But after an off-the-cuff suggestion of an in-store concert with owner Bart Silberman's favorite band, X, and a shot-in-the-dark email to the iconic LA punk group, it happened anyway. Moonlight Graham has branched out to Moonlight Records since that fateful in-store show with X singer Exene Cervenka, and the label attributes much of the inspiration to her.
It has released her clothing line and offered the shop as a venue for her to do pretty much whatever she wants, be it her monthly Moonlight Hootenanny, a sewing circle or reading to children. Dave Nielsen, who does marketing and booking for Moonlight, says it's just the begining. There's more in the works with Phil Alvin of the Blasters, John Doe of X, Rikk Agnew of the Adolescents and other local punk originals. It plans to release new albums with Alvin, the Knitters and—fingers crossed—X, who haven't recorded a new studio album in nearly 20 years.
OC Weekly: What made Moonlight decide to start a record label?
Dave Nielsen: It came from working with the artists. The need to do something more artist-centric than a lot of the bigger labels. A lot of the artists we deal with are too small for the big labels and too big for the small labels. Nobody wants to take a gamble on them. We don't think the companies these people are with are doing them justice. You see how jaded everybody is and how scarred by the industry they are. We want to give them another shot because they've earned it.
How did you start working with Exene?
My boss Bart said maybe we can have a show in here. I said, "Okay, who would you want?" He said, Exene Cervenka. I emailed her, and she got back to me within 30 minutes. We met for lunch, and we said, "Let's do a monthly show—the Moonlight Hootenanny." One month, it was just her doing her album. Next month, it was her, John Doe and Phil Alvin. It's a thing with varied artists, and we pay the artists fairly. Most places, the artist gets 30 percent of the door; we give them 70 percent.
What's been the biggest challenge?
People taking it seriously, whether it be the artist or management. I can see where they're coming from. People think, "What do these guys know about a record label? They're a clothing store." But what they're missing is we're really good businessmen, too.
How have you changed their opinions?
We have Ron De Blasio, who's managed Richard Pryor, George Lopez—he's completely behind us, as is Jim Martone, the founder of Enigma Records. He had a lot to do with breaking a lot of bands. When he was with Interscope, he basically was the lead on breaking No Doubt when they came out. Obviously, we're doing something right to have guys like them behind [us].
Any parting words?
The biggest thing we've taken from this is you can never be afraid of what you want or what you like because you never know what might happen. We never knew that Exene would [have a] huge role in the company. Never be afraid to go after what you want because sometimes you may just be the only people crazy enough to move it forward.
This column appeared in print as "X Marks the Moonlit Spot."