The Return of Noise Noise Noise as a Record Label Was a Labor of Love

The best reissue you can find in OC this weekend on Record Store Day won’t be a piece of ultra-rare wax. It’s the resurrection of an ultra-rare record store that’s taken on a brand-new form. Most local vinyl connoisseurs between 1991 and 2006 remember Noise Noise Noise, the revered Costa Mesa record store founded by Dave James (a.k.a. Dave Noise). This year marks the 25th anniversary of the store’s opening. Aside from being a great place to shoot the shit with the knowledgeable, scraggly haired owner behind the front counter, it brought James’ unique music taste to the most discriminating audiophiles.

Noise Noise Noise was a local gem throughout its 15-year history, though James is the first to admit it’s his fault it was shuttered in 2006. He spent years in the throes of a terrible heroin addiction that infected his business and led to the business getting evicted. It’s a loss that’s still hard for him to talk about, though in recent years, James has turned his life around. In 2010, he got clean and reopened the store under the moniker Factory Records. Several years later, another bout of determination and the return of his lost love, Lisa Amend, inspired the couple to create Noise Noise Noise Records.

“People are excited to have the name resurrected,” says James. “They’re happy to have it back — and to have me back, as well. I don’t like to pat myself on the back, but I’m excited to breathe new life into it because I fucked it up good.”

He and Amend are huddled in the small doorway of Factory, tucked away in a small strip mallon 17th Street and surrounded by a barber, a bar and a store that sells discount Hawaiian shirts. The first thing people notice about the couple is the matching shirts. Often, it’ll be some kind of couples theme, and sometimes, it’s a pair of homemade designs (the mock Nirvana smiley-face tees tweaked to resemble their twin pugs are amazing). Their complementary fashion sense oddly exemplifies their work as a team to build the label.

James, who once owned the label Insta-Noise Records with local musician Lob Instagon, has countless ties with local bands and distributors, as well as a bit of record-industry know-how from decades of slinging vinyl. But Amend has some big-time connections herself. As the former manager for the Legendary Pink Dots, a beloved industrial/experimental rock band who is indeed as legendary as their name professes, Amend was able to get the band on the Noise Noise Noise roster and release a new four-track LP, A Scented Candle (which will be available at Factory Records and other mom-and-pop stores around the country on Record Store Day).

The couple first got together in the early ‘90s, right after the birth of Noise Noise Noise. The two describe their relationship as “intense,” but it ended bitterly. Amend moved back to her Colorado Springs hometown, and later got married; meanwhile, James spent years battling his addiction and running his store into the ground. The two hadn’t been in touch for more than two decades — until James made the trip to Riot Fest in Denver in 2013 to see the Replacements.

“Part of the 12-step stuff I do is making amends for shitty old behavior, so I took a night to go to Colorado Springs and make personal amends with her,” James says. As it turns out, old love dies hard. Soon after their meeting, Amend divorced her husband and returned to James; the two bought a house in Costa Mesa. “There wasn’t really a cooling period. We were just all in,” Amend says. They show proof in the form of matching tattoos of pink flamingos on the outside edges of their left hands that come together to make the shape of a heart. 

The flamingo fixation came during a drive around Colorado Springs after they got back together. While cruising past a mobile-home park, they spotted a turquoise trailer with plastic Virgin Marys and all kinds of gaudy lawn ornaments. “We were like, ‘That’s fantastic; that’s where we’re headed,'” Amend says with a laugh. They went straight to a home-and-garden store and bought pink flamingos with the intention of sticking them on the front lawn of their new place together. “It’s a symbol of us putting down our roots and being where we’re supposed to be,” Amend says.

First came love, then came the label. In addition to the Legendary Pink Dots, the label has also signed Las Vegas prog-rock band the Universe.

“I never would’ve seen this coming,” Amend says, fighting the urge to tear up — something that she says, as a Pisces, she’s prone to do a lot. “But I was there at the beginning of Noise, so to see him getting to resurrect it is really emotional for me.”

James says the label’s not going to be genre-specific, though the music of all of the bands they are planning to release so far utilize varying levels of sonic spaciness. The Pink Dots, fronted by Edward Ka-Spel in 1980, made an indelible mark on experimental rock with a moody and dark sound that combines psychedelic folk, droning ambience and industrial beats to form what can only be described as the soundtrack to the apocalypse.

No matter what, knowing James’ and Amend’s adventurous tastes in music, Noise Noise Noise Records is sure to make for an interesting addition to OC’s sprawl of underground sound.

“I don’t think we‘re gonna turn into Epitaph overnight,” James says. “If it gets hot, we’ll worry about that when the time comes. I imagine we’ll just be a cool little indie label putting out neat shit.”

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