For local entrepreneur Jason Galaz — head of the growing music promotions outfit and record label Muddy Roots — it all goes back to live music, especially in the right setting.
"I've been to festivals of all sorts," Galaz says. "I even enjoy the ones I throw rocks at. Several years ago, I noticed that the music I loved the best was on the side stages. So I wanted to create an event of nothing but those bands."
That's exactly what he's done with the Muddy Roots music festivals, record label and the other assorted projects he's launched over the past five years — all while maintaining an unwavering devotion to independence and eclecticism while building a community of bands and fans. This year's festival, happening this weekend in Cookeville, Tenn., features more than 70 bands. Hardcore punk legends Black Flag, Bakersfield honky-tonk bard Red Simpson, Swiss garage-rock heavyweights The Monsters and outlaw inheritor Shooter Jennings are topping the bill. What may at first look like a crazy quilt of a lineup actually proves to be an inspired pattern — once you look at it in terms of the Muddy Roots philosophy. It's a philosophy that began fermenting when Galaz moved to Nashville seven years ago.
"I grew up in Riverside, California, about an hour out from L.A.," Galaz says. "I was tired of traffic, crime and everything being expensive, and I just wanted something new." Although Galaz was into the Southern California punk scene, he really didn't know that much about country, Americana or whatever the hell else you want to call it. "I had listened to Dwight Yoakam and Hank III, but it wasn't until I moved to Nashville that it set in. From there it was just an explosion in every direction."
Galaz's silk-screening business, which he's run since he was 19, gave him connections to many independent bands. Those ties were vital when he began promoting Muddy Roots showcases at Matty's Alley (now The East Room) in Nashville. "I was just booking bands that I liked," Galaz says. "Pretty soon, I decided I wanted to see them all in one spot."
That led to the first Muddy Roots Fest in 2010. "My agenda," Galaz says, "was to get all my favorite bands in one place and to get all my favorite bands more fans. That's carried over to all the projects and different events we have." Along with encouraging a communal spirit between artists and fans, another goal was a category-free lineup. "The mix of country and punk is what gets noticed the most," he says, "but not all the bands we book fall into a specific genre. We like to call it 'everything in between.' At some point record companies started picking up music and putting labels on it, but music evolves organically. That's why I chose the name Muddy Roots. We're just planting a seed in the ground and saying you don't have to play by the rules."
That same philosophy applies to Muddy Roots Records, which launched in the spring.
"I've always wanted to have my own record label," Galaz says. "Even as a kid. I thought now that we have our name established, it's the time to do so."
Muddy Roots Records' main focus is the monthly release of limited-edition 7-inch singles. The first three releases were by punk veterans Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss, Brownbird Rudy Relic and The Dad Horse Experience. Starting with the July 2013 release, the format switched to featuring two artists on each 45.
"We decided that's more in line with what we stand for," Galaz says. "It's essentially three different organizations promoting each release, the labels both acts are signed to and Muddy Roots. We're all working together to promote the bands." Current and upcoming releases include The Monsters, locals The Ettes, Daddy Long Legs, Wanda Jackson, The Head Cat (Lemmy and Slim Jim Phantom's rockabilly combo) and more.
"It's been great," says Galaz. "We're getting a lot of artists that you wouldn't expect to kick in, saying, 'Sure, we'll send a song or two over.' We had no idea how to run a record label and still don't. Like everything we've done, we just jumped in and figured it out. I have different arrangements with different bands. Some we own the rights for a certain amount of time, others the bands still own them. We've tried to make our contracts as artist-friendly as possible, so there's none of that we own everything forever."
Muddy Roots Records also recently released their first full-length album: Hand on the Plow by the Cincinnati trio The Tillers. Like most of his business dealings, Galaz discovered the group through his network of friends. "I'm always looking for new bands," he says. "I asked [The Legendary Shack Shakers'] J.D. Wilkes who I should see, and he said The Tillers. They really kick ass, they weren't on a label, so we figured we'd pick up the fight."
The Muddy Roots philosophies of communal boosterism, refusal to abide by marketing categories and openness to any style of music are what remain most important to Galaz.
"Sean Wheeler told me the other day that Muddy Roots feels to him like punk did in 1980. That's a real compliment. That's why any time someone tries to throw a label on us I try to tear it down."