Ben Vendetta grew up an avowed Anglophile, weaned on the music of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride, and the Stone Roses. He channeled his passion into the fanzine Vendetta, the shoegazer bible he edited from his home in Los Angeles, where he was also a PR rep for the indie label Orange Sky. But it's no surprise that he has swapped California for Cleveland: With our gray winters and calloused exterior, we're pretty much like London, only without the crappy food. So the wiry, shag-haired Michigan native arrived in December, bringing with him Elephant Stone Records, a rising young label devoted to Brit-inspired sounds from both sides of the Atlantic.
Elephant Stone's first release came from Cleveland's mesmeric, drone-pop standouts the Volta Sound, whom Vendetta had discovered after local music writer Rob Cherry sent him a copy of the band's first album. Vendetta visited Cleveland for the release party of the band's Fast Light With Radio Signal EP and found the place his new label needed to be.
"In L.A. it was nuts, because I was working full-time for a label, DJing twice a week, and trying to run Elephant Stone," Vendetta says from his Lakewood apartment, which is decorated with bold-colored figurative paintings by his wife Bella, who helps run Elephant Stone and creates album-cover and poster art for some of the label's acts. Vendetta learned how to run a record company at Orange Sky; next he wanted a city where the cost of living would allow him to concentrate on the label full-time. Cleveland was the natural choice, home to a thriving rock scene that includes the Davenport Collective -- the Lakewood-based group of '60s-influenced bands that counts among its members the Volta Sound and the more garage-rock leaning New Planet Trampoline, another Elephant Stone project.
The label's roster has grown to include more than 10 bands, among them atmospheric space rockers the Land of Nod, the scruffy Oregon pop throwbacks the Out Crowd (which features Brian Jonestown Massacre co-founder Matt Hollywood), and the beatific British fuzz-pop band Delta. The label has been buoyed by positive reviews for a handful of its releases in such noted publications as Magnet and Alternative Press, which have helped make Elephant Stone a label of choice among aficionados of psychedelic rock.
This is also good news for Cleveland.
"It means that there is one more beacon shining out from the city," Volta Sound frontman Mike Cormier says of the label's move, "letting everyone know that we have what every other city has: musicians, artists, writers, photographers."
Elephant Stone's specialized roster is a throwback to the days when famed independent labels like raw-rock trend-setter Amphetamine Reptile and the pioneering punk imprint Dischord developed strong brand names by focusing on signing the best bands of a specific style. Major indies like Sub Pop and Epitaph experienced huge spikes in sales in the early '90s, causing others like them to conduct themselves like mini-majors: Many abandoned a unified aesthetic to sign whatever bands they thought would sell; their rosters became much more varied, with punk labels inking deals with country stars and indie-rock stalwarts adding rappers to their rosters. That's not likely to happen here.
"I'm totally into labels like Creation, Factory Records, and Sub Pop at the beginning, where bands had their own styles, but if you liked one thing on Sub Pop in the early days, you would like pretty much everything," Vendetta says. "There's other genres I like, but Elephant Stone is pretty specific on melodic, psychedelic rock and roll. I think every band [on the label] has some '60s stuff in them."
Elephant Stone's next slated releases are a Delta compilation and a New Planet Trampoline disc, both due out in April. Though Vendetta discovered most of his bands through his connections at Orange Sky and his now-defunct fanzine, he'll be actively participating in the Cleveland rock scene, spinning at Capsule on Wednesdays, throwing an Elephant Stone showcase April 24 at the Beachland Ballroom, and scouting promising locals. Already, some of his bands are gaining recognition.
"A few major labels have asked to hear the Volta Sound," Vendetta says. "I don't know how seriously these A&R people are taking Elephant Stone bands, but at least they're out there. People are taking notice."
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.