For years, local brands such as Volcom and RVCA have cashed in on the link between music and fashion, endorsing hoards of nationally touring bands, presenting showcases and releasing compilations. These days, Sullen is also looking to get in on that action with its new record label, Sullen Musik, releasing its first 22-track compilation album, Sullen Musik Vol. 1, on Tuesday. While the sound is decidedly bro-centric, the album does take a few unexpected turns that could bode well for those seeking multiple avenues of aural aggression. But does a local brand known more for selling shirts than singles have a real shot at longevity when it comes to supporting bands?
Rob Burnelle of the Slow Forward thinks so. His band are the first to sign with Sullen Musik. "I'd be lying if I said that issue didn't come up," Brunelle says. "We had been speaking with a few more established labels at the time, but we loved the purely artistic direction that Sullen was headed with the label and the collective."
Sullen founders Ryan Smith and Jeremy Hanna say they want their pool of artists to be diverse—which doesn't necessarily mean innovative. The compilation's opening track, "Straight Subliminal" by Huntington Beach's John "Johnny G." Gillespie, is a Sublime-esque blend of hip-hop and pop written just for Sullen that sports a predictably promotional hook: "Rollin' with my Sullen family."
But Gillespie says it's more than just a catchphrase. "I called it 'Straight Subliminal' because I felt like I was part of a culture in the ink family, subliminally rising through art on canvasses to the ink on your skin," Gillespie says. "We are an art-driven family with an edge, and that's what I tried to portray."
Vol. 1 follows Johnny G.'s laidback sounds with the abrupt, metal-tinged detour of "Filthy Little Secret" by the Slow Forward, slammed with abrasive guitar riffs and Brunelle's throat-shredding howl. Though the Fullerton quartet are the first official Sullen band, they won't be the last, says Chris Egger, director for Sullen Musik/Sullen Clothing Public Relations. While not every act on the compilation will be signed to the label, Egger says, he expects the company to represent from five to 10 artists within the next 18 months.
Brunelle says being the initial band on a new, unconventional label shouldn't cause any problems for his group or their debut release, the 12-track When We Are All. "Our band have always been about exploring uncharted territory," he says, "so we think it's a great fit."
If Sullen's new label is going to be about diversity, it is definitely showing it on Vol. 1, which features a spectrum of sounds ranging from Illinois-based alternative-punk band Mest to Riverside reggae group Inhale, OC rapper Ca$his and Latin singer Andy Vargas (who fronts Carlos Santana's band).
Mixed in with the locals are some cameos from national acts that offer varying levels of credibility. A few signature flows from Cypress Hill's B-Real are a nice West Coast rap twist to the track list. But we probably could've done without the rhymes of Crazy Town's Seth "Shifty Shellschock" Binzer on "Lovin to You"—though we're glad he's alive and well outside VH1's Celebrity Rehab.
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The ultimate goal of the compilation, Smith and Hanna say, is to continue the company's aligning with the surf, skate, graffiti and tattoo cultures that inspire its clothes while growing a grassroots collective of musical acts and visual artists. The album came out digitally via iTunes with hard copies to follow, but the marketing aspect is already having an impact on Lords of Ruin singer Lauren Boquette, who says his band's inclusion on Vol. 1 has heightened his awareness of the Sullen line.
"It's an art-driven company, and music is the next logical step," he says. "They want to support the music and the scene that they are already a part of. You really can't ask for a better situation."
This article appeared in print as "Rawk Inkorporated: What happens when Sullen, one of OC's most popular bro brands, starts a local record label?"