N ew Haven resident Carlos Wells decided long ago to help take music back to its vinyl roots. In 2005, inspired by the sonic clarity and heft of his analog record collection, Wells created the one-man, mostly vinyl-producing music label Safety Meeting Records out of his home in Westville.
The label’s discography is full-spectrum, representing more than twenty bands from Stone Titan and its unusually excitable doom metal to Blood Warrior, a soft, raw Americana-folk side project of New York City’s Greg Jamie (O’Death).
What’s the main driver of the curation process at Safety Meeting? Wells, smiling and shrugging, says it’s “whatever I’m into.” Emphatically unpretentious, he doesn’t seem inclined to overthink things. “I hear it and then, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to put this out,’” he says.
Wells became interested in music in a time-honored fashion: by going to punk shows in his teens. Later, as a student at Central Connecticut State University, he started booking local acts “to get other people psyched” about the music he loved. But with college drawing to an end and the “time-consuming nature of booking shows” wearing on him, he resolved to start his own label.
He started out partnering with Ernest Jennings Recording Company in Brooklyn, NY. While EJRC would produce CD versions of albums, Wells would produce their vinyl sisters. “They must have been wondering what I was doing,” he says, focusing on vinyl during the late 2000s—a time when physical media sales were falling precipitously and the record industry still didn’t seem to have an answer. But, “you’ve got to do what makes you happy,” Wells says of his decision. And besides, “the sound is so much more pure on vinyl.”
Wells isn’t in it for money. “I think one year I made 50 dollars. The celebration [of which] cost me 200.” (Wells actually earns his living managing local bar and music venue Firehouse 12.) He’s in it for making excellent records. Each pressing is created by selected, craft manufacturing companies from around the globe. The jackets (many of them pictured above), which Wells sometimes helps design, are made from a weighty card stock. Wells (and once even his mom, on Charles Burst’s Come Home and Feast) hand-calligraphies each jacket with the order number of the purchase before it’s shipped to the buyer.
Now in its eighth year, Safety Meeting Records has put out a total of 36 records for listeners’ enjoyment. CD and cassette versions are sometimes available, at the behest of the band or Wells himself, in order to reach a broader audience, especially for new musicians. Across the label’s vinyl catalog, the average record price, amazingly, is just over 10 dollars, and the tapes, CDs and digital releases cost less.
Those prices are even wilder given Safety Meeting’s very limited runs and reluctance to reissue. “Once it’s out of print, it’s out, and I’m on to the next thing,” says Wells, which translates to about five albums a year. He routinely updates the inventory on the label’s website, so “if it says it’s there, it’s there.”
The unadulterated sounds of a live album recently joined the label’s catalog for the first time. Recorded by Wicked Squid Productions and produced as a cassette only, Live at Café Nine by the Estrogen Highs, features that local band’s coarse, energetic punk in its rawest form.
Live recordings are a natural progression for Wells in his journey to distribute music that authentically captures the spirit of the music. He says more are on the horizon.
Also fresh in the rotation is Black Magic Satori, the newest from underground Japanese psych-rockers Acid Mothers Temple and Space Paranoid. The album is (ahem) a trip: heavy yet dreamy, with explosive drone jams, it includes a reimagining of Black Sabbath’s classic “Paranoid,” aptly titled “Space Paranoid.” It’s “the fastest-selling album I’ve ever put out,” says Wells; the album sold out in just one week.
It’s nice to see an audiophile getting some love.
Safety Meeting Records
196 Norton Street, New Haven (map)
Written by Jared Emerling.