Denver-based Sailor Records, which is celebrating its first five years this weekend, started as both a labor of love and a tax write-off. When founder Oscar Ross put out the first album by his hard-rock band Lords of Fuzz in 2010, he did it just to have an imprint on the sleeve of the twelve-inch record. He named the label for his son, whom he named after Nicolas Cage’s character in Wild at Heart (Ross’s favorite movie), and the initial intentions for Sailor Records were just as personal and humble as those of any band self-releasing its music.
At the time, Ross had played out extensively in Denver with the Fuzz, a band he formed around 2004, during his divorce.
“The band was like therapy,” Ross recalls. “It made me so happy, and I fed off of writing music with other people. We were literally a garage band. We weren’t very good, and we all knew it. We went through a lot of lineup changes, and then I met Leeroy Steele. The Lords of Fuzz is what kept me sane. We do it for ourselves. We know who we are on the food chain. We’re not out to conquer the world, but we still try to write really good music.”
The band consists of Ross and Steele, who both play guitar, as well as drummer Ryan “Hammercock” DeWitt and bassist Paul Montero. Interestingly, that lineup also includes two doctors: Montero is a general surgeon who juggles the band with fatherhood and a heavy workload; and Ross is a radiologist who attended medical school in Austin in the late ’80s and early ’90s — the formative heyday of the South by Southwest music festival.
After medical school, Ross realized that specializing in surgery left no time for outside interests, so he switched to radiology. After spending time in Arizona and California, he moved to Denver in 2002 to work at St. Anthony Hospital.
“I always liked Colorado; we came here when I was growing up,” Ross says about the decision to move. “I was married at the time. I put a map on the table, and my wife circled a couple of places. I wanted to go back to Austin, but she didn’t want to live in Texas.”
During his first few years in Colorado, Ross lived in downtown Denver, where he discovered the legendary 15th Street Tavern and popular Capitol Hill dive bar Cricket on the Hill. Ross became acquainted with various Denver bands of the time — including Planes Mistaken for Stars and experimental metal band Fucking Orange — at both venues, and when Lords of Fuzz got off the ground, the group played there, too.
When the Fuzz was ready to make its first real recording, Ross booked time at Uneven Studio, run by Bryan Feuchtinger. The process of recording fascinated Ross, and he consulted with Feuchtinger and Pete de Boer of World Famous Studios when it came time to build his own basement studio. At no small expense, Ross established Sailor Records Studio as a companion to Sailor Records LLC. Doing so allowed him to offer bands a space where they could bring in an engineer and record.