Stacy Ellen Rich forged Sex Tape Records based on her lifetime love of music and the inspiration of one great punk show. Rich’s notable taste in fashion and music are impressive but what is most striking is her ability to manifest her ideas and “get things done.” As her father likes to say, “There are three kinds of people in the world. People who make things happen, people who wait for things to happen, and people who say, “What happened?” Stacy is most certainly the former.
Recently she has taken her career as a costume designer and fabricator and melded it with her love of music to mastermind her latest creative endeavor, Sex Tape Records. The L.A.-based record label run by Rich includes releases by Die Group, Brain Bagz, and Tenement Rats. For her, “It’s a spark, it’s a gut feeling. I just wanted to tell a story and create this soundtrack in my head. That’s what Sex Tape Records is.” We talked with Stacy about the roots of her love of music, what brought her to the punk scene, launching and running one of few (but growing) female-run records labels, Angelyne’s involvement, and going for and getting what you always wanted. Meet Sex Tape Records founder, Stacy Ellen Rich.
Alxis: Where are you from and how did you first get involved in the music scene?
Stacy: I was born in St. Louis, Mo., and I lived there until I was twenty. Music has always been a giant part of life. My first concert was Shaun Cassidy when I was six [laughs]. It was just always around. My dad is this “party-throwing businessman” who really loves life. He has this amazing record collection; everything is alphabetized in these ’70s wooden cabinets that pull out. He has the reel-to-reel, the turntable, and these giant Bozak Concert Grand speakers. They sound amazing. They’re my height (5’2”) with yellow curtains and brass grates. My dad would throw parties and he would make the party mix on his reel-to-reel. He still has those tapes. We still listen to those tapes.
He also dabbled in managing bands. When I was about eight years old, he started managing a band named Pavlov’s Dog—well, the second incarnation of it. He threw a concert for them in our backyard when I was a little kid. I was like, “Rock bands are in my house. [laughs] Who are these people?,” so I was into rock at an early age. My family was a big influence on me. I can say that now, but there was a time when my family was freaked out over the music and fashion I was into. After years and years, they had to accept that this wasn’t a phase. They seem to like it now.
Alxis: You have a wide range of musical tastes but you seem to consider punk your home. Was there a certain moment when you made that shift, to “Punk is my thing”?
Stacy: There was a definite thing. In 1984, when I was fourteen, I went to see Van Halen. Then two weeks later, my friend Cynthia invited me to go see this band, Black Flag. That was it. I started going to more shows. It literally changed my life.
Alxis: What was it about that show? Do you have any specific memories about why it was so special?
Stacy: It was so different and I loved it. I do remember, “It’s the costume designer in me,” that I had no idea what to wear. I was just a kid, a burnout. I looked like Rivers Edge, which, in retrospect, probably would have been better. [laughs] I wore this really long, splatter-painted DIY shirtdress with lace gloves and my Stan Smith Adidas.
Alxis: It’s like “punk” from the movies.
Stacy: Yeah, my outfit was terrible [laughs], but I remember people being really cool and thinking, “This is rad, this is amazing.” I was just taken with it. I don’t remember what songs they played or anything, but I remember Henry Rollins was wearing shorts. Mostly, I remember the crowd. It was insane and happening and I just felt like, “This is where I’m from.”
Alxis: So what brought you to L. A.?
Stacy: My Auntie Di lived in Orange County and when I was little I use to spend the summers out there. I loved her. She was the coolest lady, just this eccentric, really independent woman. I wanted to live with her and live in Los Angeles. Then I graduated high school and ended up in Chicago for school studying costume design. I stayed in Chicago for thirteen years. I can’t say that I regret that, I love Chicago. I saw a lot of great shows there and did my own thing there, but I always wanted to be in Los Angeles. I ended up moving here in 2004.
Alxis: Was the move motivated by your work in costume design?
Stacy: Not really. I just always wanted to live in Los Angeles. In St. Louis in 1984, there wasn’t a lot going on. MTV was a huge channel to the world for me. I saw this documentary, Punks and Poseurs: A Journey through the Los Angeles Underground, and, honestly, people here were probably embarrassed about it, but to me it was a lifeline. It featured Pleasant Gehman, Iris Berry, GBH, and the Olympic Auditorium. I loved how everyone looked in it. It was that “Gun Club punk death-rock action,” and it just always stuck with me. I still have my video where I taped it off MTV. You really have to put it in perspective that I lived in Missouri. Bands hated playing St. Louis; a lot of shows got shut down and bands would get harassed. There was a music scene—and I’m not trying to dis that—but it’s no L.A. I think it was just always in my blood.
Alxis: Your label definitely has a distinct aesthetic. Tell us about your design work and how it influences the label.
Stacy: When I was a kid, my uncle Harlan owned this glam denim store, Jeans & Things, and he was a huge influence on me. I’m obsessed with looking at people and why they wear what they wear. It’s not about trends or what’s fashionable—I really don’t care about that. It could be anybody, it’s not classist. I just like looking at interesting, intriguing energies and people.
In high school I use to sew and cut up clothes, but I didn’t have any idea about what a costume designer was or how to be one. My grandparents bought me a sewing machine, so I learned to sew. Then I saw Amadeus and I just loved it. I didn’t love it just for the costumes; I really love great acting and great stories. The costumes aren’t superficial, they are an important part of character development. For me, it’s all-encompassing. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do.
My background was always art. I loved drawing and making jewelry and doing metal work. I barely graduated high school, but I decided to do this art program, a semester in Italy. I studied jewelry design and the history of opera. Before that, I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was more destructive. After, I cared more about school. I applied for community college. Chicago is a natural place where a lot of people from St. Louis end up. I moved there and went to Columbia College, and studied costume design for theater.
My first early works as a designer were for the theaters in Chicago. Then in the early 2000s I meet a performance artist and started designing for her. It was more the “art world” than the “theater world,” and that’s where I met performance artist Ron Athey. That work took my design to great heights. Collaborating with all these people and working in Europe, that was magical. Last year I worked with Ron Athey and composer Sean Griffin, designing Gifts of the Spirit with them via The Broad at St. Vibiana (cathedral turned event space). Sex Tape Records is going to put out a studio recording of Gifts of the Spirit as well. Ron is such a driving, forceful pioneer in the queer, art, punk scenes, which is what I’m all about.
When you work with people you love, it just clicks, there’s a synchronicity. With the label, it’s the same thing. I don’t really have to think about it, it’s just organically happening. It creates a life of its own. The aesthetic really come from my childhood and my love of vintage rock’n’roll and punk. I love Biba, the English boutique, but I also love Slash Magazine and Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. I take everything I love and I mix it together. I drew the Die Group and Sex Tape Records logos. I’ve cast metal Sex Tape Records jewelry and badges. With the label, I can incorporate all these things. I can do jewelry and merchandise. I love that it can be an outlet for all my skills. I feel like I can do whatever I want to do, really. [laughs]
Alxis: That’s how you should feel! You can do whatever you want! [laughs] What bands are on Sex Tape Record and how did you pick them?
Stacy: Die Group was first, Brain Bagz were second, then Tenement Rats. I can tell you the exact story. I didn’t really know those guys at all, but on April 1, 2016 Die Group played with Brain Bagz at Cafe Nela. When I heard those two bands together, I loved it. It was like a lighting blot. It just hit me that night, “Oh my god, I’m going to start a record label,” and I did it. I can’t even believe it. We just had a lot of fun with them and they agreed to be on the label.
Brain Bagz came and recorded and we cultivated it. I told them, “I’m doing this because I just love music so much and I want everybody to feel good about this.” It’s never about ego. As a costume designer, I always say I’m a conduit between the character, the actor, and the director. I just want to manifest what they should be. That’s what I wanted to do for Brain Bagz, “What is their sound? Get to the heart of it and extrapolate the life of the sound of the band.” Eric (“Big Arm” Hurst), he’s the audio engineer (Big Arm Recordings). He does all the recordings for Sex Tape Records and he’s my husband. Being married, he understands me and what I’m trying to do. But it’s always “art first.” That’s really important to me.
Alxis: How is it working with your husband? What are they advantages and disadvantages of working with someone you know so well?
Stacy: In the big picture, it’s been really great. There have been some tricky things. I’m a very “get stuff done kind of person.” So, let’s put it this way, if I don’t like something, that’s the first thing I say. I want to love everything so, to me, the “not liking something” is the most important thing. That’s the thing that I want to address first. I want everything to be the “love,” but it can’t be, so I prefer to just get the stuff I don’t like off the table. I’m trying to take care of business. Sometimes I can be brash because when something is wrong, I just “feel it.” Eric says I have great ears. I was really flattered that he said that. After doing this recording and going through this crazy adventure, I know what I’m talking about and I am just trying to cultivate the Sex Tape Records sound.
Alxis: Tell us more about the label and how it got started.
Stacy: To me, in Die Group I hear punk, post-punk, death rock. Tenement Rats is cutting through, kick your ass to pieces, ‘77 classic. Brain Bagz are a very Cramps-y, Gun Club sound and they just want to tour and work hard and do their thing. They’re so amazing. Back in Chicago when I DJ’d, I played whatever I wanted, even when things were so opposite. I just wanted to tell a story and create this soundtrack in my head. That’s what Sex Tape Records is.
Angelyne (singer, actress, and L.A. icon known for her self-promotional billboards, pink Corvette, and roles in films such as Earth Girls Are Easy) has been a “magical spirit” in my life and I love her so much. She has made amazing records, I love them. The Baby Blue stuff, Rock’n’Roll Rebel, I think they’re just fantastic. She knew I was starting the label and she thought it was really exciting. I had told her about Die Group and that we had these songs. She said, “I want to help you get this record pressed.” The record plant I had planned on using for the debut 7” was bought by United in Nashville. My intention was to keep everything local, so I started looking for another L.A. press. Angelyne’s been at this quite a long time so she said she could help as liaison with her connections at the two plants she was working with for her own project. Soon after that conversation, she called and told me there was a small window to expedite my 7” but I’d have to move quickly with getting the audio, paperwork, and payment to the plant.
I asked if we could sign, in trust, a document saying she was presenting on my behalf. We met in the parking lot of Pavilions (grocery store) on Vine [laughs] and she told me, “We’re going to do it. We’re going to get your record pressed.” I said, “Can we please sign something because I’ve never done this before?” So on 5/26/2016 we signed this paper, we both kissed it, and she helped us get the record pressed. She really helped push our record through. I have to thank her. She really was the spark that got things going. She inspired me to do this.
I’m trying to do everything that’s in my head, and just get it out there. I’m an overthinker, so I try and think less and just do. As a designer, I design for other people. I try to manifest their dreams of their characters and I love doing that. I don’t ever want to stop doing that, but Sex Tape Records is all me. Recently, I realized, “Wow, you’ve learned a lot of skills” doing this. If fifteen-year-old me saw me now, well, it’s just crazy because it’s what I always wanted.
Alxis: Tell us about the launch party you had for Sex Tape Records and what drove you to have it?
Stacy: I’m a new label and all the bands are new. I want it to be known that I’m the label, that’s one reason. A lot of people don’t know that I run the label. I’m much more than people think and this launch is an opportunity for people to see what’s in my head. I also want bands to know I’m open to submissions, that for me it’s a spark. It’s not, “Oh you have to fit into this box” to be on the label. I love the people supporting the label, but it’s not as diverse as I would like it to be. So I put my brain into this space and created a world with all people I’m friends with who are doing amazing things.
Human Resources is a great space. They want interesting things in the space, but they also want females, POC, LGBTQ. Inclusivity—that’s very important to me. You can’t just wait for stuff to happen. You have to make it happen. My dad always says, “There are three kinds of people in the world. People who make things happen, people who wait for things to happen, and people who say, ‘What happened?’ Which one are you?”
Alxis: So what’s the dream for Sex Tape Records five years from now?
Stacy: I want more bands and I want more diversity. I have certain projects slated and I would love to be able to keep going, growing and to keep selling records and financially sustain it. I’m more about quality not quantity. I fund all these myself. I don’t have this arsenal of money. I wish I did. “Please send money to Sex Tape Records. Come on, give me money.” [laughs] In the first record, I did actually try to do an old school fan club. It said, “Send $7. Get killed by Die Group.” I’m so crestfallen nobody has done it. Maybe people don’t check the inserts, but if anyone ever does they’re getting a big present!
Alxis: As one of the few female-run labels, have you experienced discrimination while running Sex Tape Records?
Stacy: Totally. Totally. Well, people don’t even think it’s my label. They think it’s Eric’s. Let’s give Eric some props for being a personality in the scene. People know who he is [laughs]. It’s tricky. I just try and forge ahead. I’ve had some horribly anti-Semitic comments also. I was so taken aback by it. I flat-out said, “I’m Jewish.” I may not be religious, but it’s my culture and heritage and I’m not going to shy away from that. I think you just have to navigate it the best way you can and speak out.
Alxis: Is there any thing else you want people to know about you or about Sex Tape Records?
Stacy: One of my things is I want to create all original content. I use stock fonts as little as possible and I do all art direction myself. I use the inspirations of all the things I love, but it’s original and new. I’ve really tried to stick to that as much as possible. All the record covers are a mix of art I’ve designed or drawn by hand, or original content like Jonny Watkin’s (the drawings on the cover of the Tenement Rats album) and I did the layout and art direction.
When I get asked about submitting to the label, I say “of course” and I’ll listen to everything, because I think that’s very important. It’s a collective, a Sex Tape Records family, and I wanted everyone to feel like they are represented right. I don’t let things slide—but at the same time I would never put something out without everybody signing off—and if that means it takes longer to put out, so be it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Sometimes you push too hard and nothing is happening. I learned to be able to walk away. Eric taught me that when it’s not working, there’s a reason. When you don’t know what to do, do nothing and let it come instead of getting frustrated and picking it apart. I used to just burrow and try and figure it out.
I know what I want to do, so every day I just try and do it. I felt like to show what I was trying to do, I needed to create this world first, to build it up. So I have the three 7”s and the Die Group LP, Disease Control. So now it’s a proper thing, it’s real. I can go say, “Hi, I am Sex Tape Records.”
Sex Tape Records has put out vinyl releases for Die Group, Brain Bagz and Tenement Rats. Although the bands sounds may vary, their common thread is punk and the vision of founder, Stacy Ellen Rich. We talked with the bands about being part of the Sex Tape Records family, working with Stacy, and on the good times they’ve shared playing with their label mates. Meet the bands of Sex Tape Records.
Alxis: How would you describe Brain Bagz to someone who’s never heard of the band?
Mikey and Kristin: Sounds like the playlist for the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s fuck night, or maybe the Wolfman and Dracula’s acid trip. We usually just tell people it’s fucked up rock’n’roll. I think we wear our influences on our sleeve pretty hard: Cramps, Scientists, Misfits, horror, true crime, art, where humanity is at, but we do our own thing with it.
Alxis: How did you get involved with Sex Tape Records?
Mikey and Kristin: We’d ran into Biggy (Eric) and Stacy at a couple Gonerfests, and then Big Arm set up our L.A. show on our first tour.
Alxis: Tell me more about that show and your experience playing in Los Angeles.
Mikey and Kristin: It was our first tour and it was pretty rough. Our van broke down, most of us got sick, and we’d played Oakland the night before to about three people. We just thought, “Cool, L.A. tomorrow. No one is going to give a shit about us.” When we got to the venue, Eric was pulling pranks on everyone. It was April Fools. We played with Maniac and Johnny Davila, who Kristin and I were and are big fans of. Then we saw Die Group play and they were our favorite band we’d seen or heard in a long time.
Eric came up after our set—which was our best attended show and also the best sound-wise the whole tour—and told us it was “kiiiilller.” [laughs] Then he introduced us to Stacy, and she said she’d been thinking about starting a label for a minute and after seeing us that was it, she was doing it. We just thought it was excited after-show talk, [laughs] but they took us out for food and margaritas the next day. A couple months later, we went back down to L.A. and recorded our first record with them.
Alxis: How would you sum-up Stacy Ellen Rich?
Mikey and Kristin: Incredible.
Alxis: Do you have any other notable stories from your time in Los Angeles?
Mikey and Kristin: Getting locked out of Big Arm’s studio while recording the 7”. It was a hundred degrees outside. [laughs] Or the time we came down to play a show and the stupid drummer we had at the time dropped my pedal so my guitar was fucked the whole time. He also got too drunk and forgot/fucked up the songs. Suck it, Zane! We got incredibly lucky to meet these people and work with them. We look forward to what the future holds for all of us and Sex Tape Records.
Reuben Kaiban—Drums, Lead vocals
Eric “Big Arm” Hurst—Guitar (and some vocals),
Natalie Grace Sweet—Bass.
Alxis: How would you describe Die Group to someone who’s never heard of the band?
Eric: Well, Angelyne says, “It’s like a scarier Ramones.” I’d say it’s like a dark ‘77 sex drug punk.
Reuben: I always say “rock’n’roll,” but what does that even mean now? Guitar music? I guess it would depend on whoever I was describing us to. If my Aunt Kathy or my doctor was asking, I’d say, “We’re sort of like Black Sabbath meets The Ramones, but angrier, since it’s 2018 not ’76.” If a millennial was asking, I’d say, “We’re sort of like the audio equivalency of eating dirt—it may seem horrible at first, but you get used to it and quickly develop a strange addiction to it. Soon you’ll want to eat nothing else, and will wish that everything had a similar texture and flavor.”
Natalie: I usually describe Die Group as spooky rock’n’roll. It has a rawness to it that’s hard not to like.
Alxis: What are some memorable moments from playing with your labelmates?
Eric: I remember a hot room, explosive sounds, lots of warm bodies wrapped in leather, and everyone had a good hair day. Then after the show we all had a giant slumber party and spilled drinks everywhere and broke stuff.
Reuben: There was one with Brain Bagz at Fern’s Cocktails that ended in my kitchen, with Mikey Blackhurst taking out his genitals and placing them on my chopping block. I was making Big Arm a quesadilla, so maybe Mikey thought some more protein was in order? Family vibes. There was a great one with Tenement Rats where we had a rock’n’roll rumble. We set up facing each other and traded blows, song for song. Good times.
Natalie: I just joined Die Group pretty recently. My very first show with the band was a rad birthday party in Hollywood and the Brain Bagz shared the bill. I was pretty nervous. I watched the Brain Bagz deliver a spirited performance that just made me think of Iggy. I was so impressed. Everyone held their own, a totally solid band. I harnessed their good vibe and tried to match it in my first set with Die Group. After the show, we hung out and smoked with the Bagz. Mikey and Kristin went out of their way to tell me they liked the show and to welcome me to the family. It felt amazing. After that, I was completely sold on Die Group and the entire Sex Tape Records scene. Positive vibes and ripping music—seriously, what’s not to love? Super excited to see where we ride this wave.
Alxis: In as few as possible words, how would you sum up or describe Stacy Ellen Rich?
Natalie: Bewitching. She’s just a force
Alxis: Tell me about your experiences working with Stacy and Sex Tape Records.
Eric: Stacy has a super trained ear that most wish they had. As an audio engineer, I’ve found her ears are so fuckin’ precise that even I get jealous. She hears it all. She really knows and feels the music overall. She sees and hears the finished product from phase one to completion—from the sound, to the look, to the art work and gram weight and color of the vinyl. Everything.
Reuben: Stacy is a badass lady with the best taste in all things cool and interesting, and she’s had our backs from day one. We will occasionally disagree on something, but we are pretty similar. She’ll told us to stop smiling in pictures and to stop playing James Brown beats in-between songs. “You guys are better than that.” I’ll was like, “Yeah, I don’t take myself or this band too seriously. I’m gonna do whatever I want in the moment and laugh when shit is funny.” But then I’ll catch myself saying shit like, “No high fives on stage. Wait till we’re off.”
Natalie: Getting involved with Sex Tape has been really cool. It’s awesome. Stacy’s a woman with a clear vision and it’s cool as fuck. Everything she touches is artful. And I totally agree with no high fives on stage. [laughs]
Jonny Watkins—Guitar, Vocals, and mild concussions
Eric “Big Arm” Hurst—Bass
Alxis: How would you describe Tenement Rats to someone who’s never heard of the band?
Jonny: We rip shit up.
Alxis: How did you get involved with Sex Tape Records?
Jonny: We knew Stacy’s husband Eric from playing shows with his bands, Way To Go Genius and Die Group. Eric is also a sound wizard. He recorded our first 7” that was released on No Front Teeth Records. With Stacy’s involvement comes a lot of knowhow and taste, so when she approached us about six months after our first release looking to put out our next 7”, we happily obliged. Also, we split ways with our original bassist and, as it happened, Eric knew all the songs since he recorded them. It basically wound up being a family project. Plus, Eric is a wrecking machine, so he fit right in.
Alxis: What are some of your most unforgettable memories from playing with your labelmates?
Jonny: We all got slots in Gonerfest last year. Tenement Rats and Brain Bagz got after party shows, and Die Group got a stellar slot at the Hi Tone the same night. All of that was just bananas. I think I shit half my liver out along the way, I’m not sure. We also had a show at 4th Street Vine in Long Beach where we alternated our sets, song for song. At the end we all covered “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” by the Dead Boys. We just all work tight with one another. That’s what makes it what it is.
Alxis: In one word or as few a possible how would you sum up or describe Stacy Ellen Rich?