Oscar Ross interview
From a pure geographic perspective, Sailor Records has the Denver, CO market cornered. The scene’s best known bands include former Metal Blade power metallers Cellador, Rocky Mountain “hydrogrind” proprietors Cephalic Carnage, and grinders In the Company of Serpents. Yet very gradually, Sailor label head Oscar Ross is building a very Denver-centric roster with its own charm. Ross founded Sailor Records in July of 2011, primarily as a tax write-off (according to him). From there, he built a studio in his own basement, gathering up amps, guitars, mics, and anything else, all with the idea of producing albums on his own.
“The label sputtered along for the first couple of years without much guidance or effort,” says Ross. “Then in mid-2013, I became partners with Nick Sullivan and Jeff Kanan in forming Consonance Productions and the building of a formal studio. This prompted a more aggressive approach to Sailor Records and the signing of powerhouse bands Native Daughters and Muscle Beach. We have been very busy since, getting bands signed and plans of attack set in motion.”
Presently, the marquee bands on Sailor Records (aside from Native Daughters and Muscle Beach) include tech metal up-and-comers Dreadnaught, Cult of the Lost Cause, and Summon the Ravens. To date, 2015 has been the label’s most successful year, meaning that Ross’s one-man operation is about to expand. “I’m interviewing a guy next week that has good experience at the national level and hopefully that will work out,” he says. “We have 4-5 full length releases in the next six months that are going to kill it! And I’m continuing to build relationships with people that want to help. I can tell the momentum is building and I’m excited about the direction we’re heading.”
The eclectic nature of the Sailor Records roster would suggest hard, strict requirements are to be met in order for Ross to sign a band. Not so, he says. He’s interested in bands who are self-starters, and, can engage properly in all of the present-day forms of social media.
“Obviously the first criteria is that I like the music. But I’m also focused on bands that can sell and market their product. If a band comes to me and says ‘We got this artwork set up, here’s our video script, we’re going to attach condoms to the download cards, etc.,’ then I’m interested. And if you come to me and say ‘Here’s our two month tour schedule after the release,’ then I might give you a tongue kiss.”
Tongue kisses aside, the support of the aforementioned Denver and Colorado rock and metal scene has benefited the Sailor roster immensely. The Denver scene, according to Ross, is very strong, as evidenced by the Underground Music Showcase [UMS] which is held every July and is sponsored by The Denver Post.
“There is no doubt that the UMS and other festivals are strong advocates for the scene,” says Ross. “You could also argue the 420 movement has helped. It tough because I’m not sure anyone has figured out exactly how to succeed in today’s market. Things are so different. Record stores are for old guys like me. And kids use the internet to get their music.”
Ross’s approach to working his bands is also unique, and even a little punk rock-esque. When the punk scene was starting out in the mid-70s in places like the UK and Germany, most bands and labels operated on loose, hand-shake agreements. Most contracts were so short that they didn’t go beyond a page. Ross prefers to work this way, building trust with his bands without the lengthy and sometimes confusing particulars.
“If you come to me and need help then we talk as men (or women – ha!) and work something out that makes sense for both the label and the band. Try and keep it simple but we have to trust each other. I play in a couple of projects, so I know what they’re going through.
“The goal here is to create something we are all proud of,” he continues. “If band A gets a major label deal then that’s awesome. But I’m not focused on how we’re doing against the competition. I’m doing it because I love it. It’s a way for me to give back to something from which I feed my soul.”
As for what’s ahead, Ross said expansion beyond the Denver music scene is in the cards. And as the label grows in reach, he hopes to be able to maintain a steady balance between homegrown bands, as well as the ones who could eventually push the label into new territories.
“Recently, I’ve decided to sign three or four out of state bands. That is my attempt to expand. But it’s more difficult because I know every one of the musicians on the current roster. We have beers and got see each other’s shows, so it’s more comfortable. It’s the classic battle between keeping is small, simple and cool versus growth and expansion. Both are good depending on your perspective.”