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Meet Ashley Jex: Founder of JAXART Records

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Photos by Benjamin Hoste/LAist

If Wonder Woman had hung up her cape and chosen to give up her life of fighting crime and instead wanted to get into the local music scene, she may have asked some pointers from Ashley Jex. At the tender age of twenty five, Jex has created a local music empire. Not only has she launched a very influential record label, JAXART out of her living room, she still makes time for her music blog,Rock Insider, and her band The Monolators, and somehow her day job. She can do it all. LAist caught up with Jex in her industrial epicenter (aka living room) to ask her how the heck she manages to stay awake. Here is some of what was said.

Why did you move to LA?
I wanted to work in the music industry. Well, I wanted to work in radio originally. I was a DJ at my college station and I loved the whole ambiance behind it. Everything that goes into it, you know, spinning records, and having people talk in and ask what you just played.

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Yeah, that is an amazing feeling. I had a late night radio show in college.
Oh, so you know. Anyway I moved to Los Angeles to work in radio. I started working at KROQ as an intern and a programming assistant.

Did you like working at KROQ?

It was fun! I was the intern on the morning show with Kevin and Bean . I was just the loud mouth stupid intern, and they’d make me do fun, stupid stuff like send me to the summer sanitorium tour with a tape recorder to interview people on bands. They’d put me on air because they thought it was funny that I was raised Mormon. I answered the request line and screened their calls. I even learned a bit of production, so that was great.

What did you do after working there?

After that I worked at Drive Thru Records, which lasted about seven months. I did online marketing stuff for them. Then I worked at Capitol Records for three and a half years. Then I worked for Suretone Records which is part of Interscopeand we did Shwazye. I kinda took everything I learned from those things and started JAXART just as a fun little side project.

How do you approach bands when you want to release their work?
Well, JAXART is a record label, but we only put out only digital and vinyl tracks. It’s not your typical record label. In fact most labels like mine, everything is done by a handshake deal. You do it because you love it, and you want to help out your friends, and you want to build a catalogue. You don’t do it because you want to make money. You don’t make money. I don’t make a dime. In fact I lose more money than I make. So, back to your question, I don’t really approach bands as much anymore, they usually approach me and ask, “Hey would you be interested in putting this out?”

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How big is your scope right now?
I’m considered what is known as a bedroom label. I run my label out of my house, out of my living room. Everything is so DIY. I don’t have publicists. I have digital distribution, but the vinyl we just sell them at shows and we sell them online. I had physical distribution for one record, but I decided to pull it because it didn’t really work. It just cost too much money. So because I am so small, I’m limited in what I can offer bands, as far as distributing it. I don’t want to work with any bands, who don’t put out as much hard work and effort to put out their record as I do because part of having a label on board is that they’re taking partial responsibility financially for the records. Usually I’ll ask a band if they’re interested, like the Henry Clay People and the Mezzanine Owls, in vinyl and from there you work out a deal where you get paid back for what you put in, but usually you don’t get it all back. I consider JAXART a nonprofit company. I don’t make a profit. I do it because I love music so much and I really wanted to do something that supported great music from Los Angeles. If I can help get the word out, and if I can them a cool piece of product to sell, or get their music up on iTunes, I’ll do it.


How do you have time for your blog, your band, your record label, and work?

I don’t sleep. (laughs). You know you make time. Sometimes things fall through the cracks and you’re not always as organized as you’d like. To be quite honest, I don’t know how I do it…I just do it. I think that’s the way it is with anything. When you don’t think about all the things your doing, it makes life easier. I mean the flipside is, I am so passionate about what I do, I don’t have much time for other things. You know, going to the mall or going to see movies. I mean I hang out with my friends at shows because we all love the same thing. We’re all passionate about the same thing. When you love what you do, you find the time.

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Do you ever collaborate with other record labels?
I actually did. The Voyeurs record was a collaboration between JAXART and Otik Records. I’ve known the Voyeurs guys for about a year and they’re just the sweetest most hardworking guys. They have the same outlook on life and music that I do. They’re always helping out other people. They started Otik Records out of their bedroom because they wanted to put out their own records and then in turn they wanted to help out their friends and put out their friends records. I love those kinds of people. They do it because they love it, and that’s what I do too. And so when they came to me and asked how to get their record up on iTunes, I tried to set them up with a digital deal with iOta, but they weren’t accepting new clients, so they figured they would go TuneCore and have it up in six months. I offered to put out their record digitally and so we joint released it. They put it out on vinyl and I released it digitally.

Your blog, Rock Insider, hosts a lot of shows around town. How long have you been putting those together?
I’ve been booking shows in LA since 2003. It’s just something I know how to do. Usually for release shows though the band will find the venue and pick the bands that want to play and set up the show.


To you have any venues that you really hate?

(laughs) I don’t want to say that I hate any venues, but there are places and bookers in particular that I can’t stand. I mean there are the venues that just don’t work for what you’re going for because they’re either too small or too big or make you pre-sale tickets, which I find very inappropriate. Well, I think venues have to resort to that because they need a certain overhead and at the same time, bands shouldn’t be playing venues that are bigger than their britches. If you can’t sell out the Roxy, you shouldn’t be playing at the Roxy. You know, you should be opening at the Roxy. The booking agent over there, Megan, is adorable, I love her to death. The way it works over there is that if they like your band, they’ll put you in an opening slot on a big bill. You know?

If you had all the money in the world, what would you focus your energy on? Would it be the band or would it be the record label?

It would be vacation! I would move to Thailand where I could live off of $15 a day. (laughs) No, I’d still do both. I love the band and the label. I’d love to make JAXART my full time job, but it’s just not realistic right now.

What’s your highest grossing record so far?
So far? Henry Clay People. They’re single got added to Sirius and our iTunes went up six fold. They’re doing really, really well selling vinyl at shows. That is the only record where I’m even close to recouping the cost on. They have a lot of interest right now from other labels, and you know if they get signed to a bigger label, I’m so happy for them. I put out their record on JAXART because I wanted to help them out, and I think in a small way I did.

What do you want for the future of JAXART?
Well, there are thousands and thousands of independent record labels all over the country. At this point, anyone with a couple hundred bucks to spare could start a record label. It is that easy. Using assets on the internet or there's new companies like TuneCorepopping up where you can set up digital distribution for your band and your label. The downside is that it takes a lot of time for those things to get processed. There's companies who make widgets like TopSpin, where you can sell your own album on your website.

So why even have a label?

What I think labels serve a purpose of is branding. That's why I started JAXART. It's not like I had this world takeover mentality. I didn't do it because I wanted to be a millionaire. JAXART is never going to be a big label. It's a small niche label. The reason why I want that is, think about when Sub Pop Records first started out and Matador. They were small labels that were known for making really good music. They didn't have a lot of money for the bells and whistles and press, but they did what they could and they did it themselves. What really made them what they are today is their catalogue. They put out amazing bands. That's what I want for JAXART. There are so many amazing bands in Los Angeles. I want to put out that catalog, so when somebody discovers JAXART through Henry Clay People or Mezzanine Owls or whoever they go, "Holy crap! There is all this great music coming out of LA and JAXART is the place to get it." That's basically what my job is, is quality control. I want to put out records I believe in. It may not be anything that sells. You know? But it's something that I feel strongly about.

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Well thank you for talking with us, Ashley.
Thank you.

Get your dose of excellent local music at JAXART online store or at your local record store.