You wouldn’t know it based on the look of the neighborhood, or from the vibe of the surrounding city, but the sound of the modern American psych rock band is being packaged and sold out of a nondescript, quaint little home just outside of downtown Orange.
Mike and Casey Condia’s home is as unassuming as you’d expect given the surrounding area. The fact that they’re running a rock music label out of one of Orange County’s sleepier cities is an appropriately trippy contradiction, and yet their office and home are hardly reflective of the colorful, often surreal, music they’ve released under their label, Rad Cat Records. Perhaps best known for albums from their marquee artist, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, the label, founded officially in October of 2014, finds a way to thrive as a small time operation that’s far greater than the sum of its parts.
After several run-ins with the guys from Mr. Elevator around town, Mike, attending Cal State Fullerton at the time, approached them about pressing a single and thus was the birth of a years-long musical journey. Last year the band released their latest LP When the Morning Greets You on the fledgeling grass roots label. Amidst a turbulent beginning that saw Casey battling cancer and Mike fighting off a serious viral infection, the two set to work trying to figure out how to make money as a label, reading how-to guides by night and working with up-and-coming bands by day.
Currently home to the ’70s glam sound of rockers like Hammered Satin and the lush space travel of Gantez, the label early on developed some obvious aesthetic and sonic comparisons to other music institutions, perhaps most obviously to OC neighbor Burger Records.
Those comparisons aren’t unwarranted — if it wasn’t for Burger initially passing on the early Mr. Elevator material, Rad Cat Records likely wouldn’t exist as it does today, something Mike and Casey acknowledge wholeheartedly. “When I was starting to tiptoe into the music stuff, I would just offer to bring those guys a pizza for advice,” Mike says. “We’ve worked hard on carving out our own thing separate from them, but we owe them a lot.”
Rounding out the label’s small-but-growing roster of OC-bred bands are poppy throwback indie outfit Spendtime Palace, who are becoming bigger by the day, as well as psychedelic surf rats of Chinese Wax Job.
Working to create something new with such a small operation has been a long journey. “People will email call and ask to get in touch with Mike because they think there are more people involved in this,” Casey says, before Mike jokingly adds that early on they would make up different names to make everything seem bigger. Almost four years in and by and large it’s still just the two of them.
Days begin around 10 a.m. and usually involve a trip to the post office to ship off records around the mid afternoon, and a host of emails and calls before they attempt to call it quits around 5:30 p.m. These days, in addition to focusing on the label, a potential animated TV show and a Sun Records-style storefront are the focal point of the future. “No day looks the same,” Casey says. “Sometimes we’re driving up to L.A. for a meeting, or sometimes we’re going to the studio because Hammered Satin is recording.”
Or sometimes, they’re filming a video. For their first promo video back in April, the label made a featured promo centered on a boring father and his teenage daughter sitting around listening to old timey banjo music before the daughter finally gets frustrated and goes to her computer to look up Rad Cat’s website and orders some righteous platters. The sound of Hammered Satin’s raucous garage rock kicks in as a guy looking like Jeff Spicoli with cat ears (the reali life version of “Mr. Rad Cat” himself from the logo drawn by Ben Montero) bakes one up like a pizza, hops on his skateboard and tears down the sidewalks of Orange to deliver the goods just in time to rock out on the catchy chorus: Rad Cat Records! CD’s and taaaaa-pppeeees! The kitschy, bright-colored, lo-fi video is the perfect vibe for how hands on and happy Mike and Casey are as organizers of the store.
Being married and running a business out of their house comes with a complicated caveat: their house is a home first, a place of business second (“at least whenever possible”). From the living room you can see an office space filled with records, cassettes, and two desks with computers; even while the rest of the house doesn’t feel overtaken by the ups and downs of working from home, you can tell much of the day is spent there.
“We did it wrong at first,” Casey admits. “There wasn’t a good work-life balance and I think we learned that the hard way. Now we try and schedule time with each other — ‘This Saturday is technology free, no emails, no technology’ — as much as we can.”
Mike and Casey joke that they have checkered pants that they wear sometimes, and if the checkered pants are on that means it’s go-time. “For real though,” Mike clarifies after a good laugh. “We do have checkered pants.” Ah, the joys of working from home! That refreshing businesslike-zaniness seems to be emblematic of Rad Cat Records, and what makes the label primed to be successful in the future.