Randy and Matthias Layton: Continuing the Alternative Records Tradition of Greatness

Randy Layton is a legend… to those of us that know good music. Which is not often what you hear about label owners (and not always a good thing when you do), but Randy in many ways transcends the typical label owner pigeon hole. He collects rare tracks like an uber fan, but releases albums and compilations based on quality rather throwing it all in. His label has worked with bands that are favorites of DTL readers – The 77s, Daniel Amos, Two Pound Planet, Steve Scott, Robert Vaughn, etc. There is even a Wikipedia page for his small label that hasn’t been deleted by overzealous mods (which speaks to importance of the music). His posts on Facebook have given fans great insight into his label and related bands – and the banter with people like Michael Roe and Steve Scott is always entertaining.

Of course, Randy has shared his health issues as well, and it hasn’t been good news for friends and fans recently. You can find him on Facebook to read more about that. As someone that has been friends with Randy on Facebook for a while, I have always enjoyed my interactions with him immensely. I only regret that I never made it out to his neck of the woods to meet him in person. He still has some projects in the works, and he is handing his label over to his son for upcoming releases. So I wanted to talk about all of that with Randy and Matthias in a quick interview. I tried to goad him into dropping some dark secrets, but he passed on that. After I totally flubbed the release decade of Songs From the Riverhouse, we dove into some projects everyone reading this should check out.

First of all, let’s get to the immediate project. You two are working on a vinyl re-issue of Robert Vaughn and the Shadow’s Song From the Riverhouse. For those that are not familiar with them, but are maybe interested in getting a hidden 80’s gem, how would you describe this album?

Randy Layton: Well first to be accurate, it’s not an ’80s gem, it came out in 1991 and thankfully isn’t an 80s gem because it doesn’t have a lot of the things that mar many of those recordings from that time, Including Love and War.

So instead I would just describe it as something that almost foresaw Americana musically. It’s a lot more stripped down sonically and there’s quite a mixture of styles on the album from rockers to things that are more introspective.

Lyrically, the songs are different than those on Love and War. It’s more a look at people living on the borders down by San Diego and going through a variety of tough times but also some positive times as well. It’s more writing about characters than I think he’d ever done before.

I think prior to that he had just a lot of things he wanted to say and came down to almost like a message oriented approach and this is much less like that musically. I think it’s also a lot more commercial or had that potential certainly.

Why a vinyl release? Why not just do a digital release and be done with it?

Randy: Simply because I’ve been asked for the years for a vinyl release. I may have overestimated how many people had asked but it sure seemed like a lot of people thought this would be a cool vinyl piece so I decided to go with it as a reissue. I didn’t want to get into a CD reissue because I figured there were plenty of CDs out there.

Matthias Layton: The original album packed in a lot of content into a CD with 74 minutes of music and the accompanying lyrics shoehorned in. With this vinyl release, the record will get the larger format it deserves and better showcase the prolific songwriting. It’s also nice just to hold something of this quality in your hands.

There are already two versions of this album (two song difference from the original tape and CD versions for those that don’t know). Will this be one of those versions, or a third? What goodies and extras can we look forward to on this release?

Randy: a third, really. Something that adds a great song that wasn’t there before and adding on ones that were extra from previous formats. It’s about 82 minutes. To facilitate that “Lost Highway” was taken off. All of that can be downloaded as well .

Also adding on the unreleased White Trash Supper Club EP (though now expanded) from 1991 that was canceled when Robert signed with Sony.

(I’m already in, because it is an awesome album. Readers can find out about the details on the IndieGoGo page – I would highly encourage you to jump on this before it is too late.)

Speaking of Robert, did Decayed Volume 1 get enough interest to garner a release of Volumes 2 and 3?

Randy: I really haven’t promoted that. There are two others but not likely to get released.

(Alright people, we need to right this wrong. Get yourselves to BandCamp and purchase multiple copies and gift copies of Decayed Volume 1!)

So let’s step back now to history stuff. You did a great interview with True Tunes Podcast (see above). There is also a good discography / history of the label releases archive online as well. What would you say were the most successful releases for Alternative Records? Whether in terms of sales, or fan response, or even your personal favorites?

Randy: More Miserable Than You’ll Ever Be by 77s and Lost Horizon by Steve Scott launched things and were the biggest sellers, but I’d add on Two Pound Planet for favorites. But that’s leaving this (Riverhouse) out too! So it’s like choosing a favorite child, which isn’t right. And I’ve heard a lot of fans tell me every one of those are favorites for them.

Matthias: I’d have to say More Miserable myself primarily due to nostalgic reasons growing up around the 77s music as a little kid.

On Facebook Randy you have share stories about demos you got but didn’t / couldn’t act on, or projects that you wanted to do but that didn’t work out. What are some of your favorites from the “wish this could have happened” files?

Randy: Oh, that’s tough. I could have worked with Knott early on but declined. There are others but you wouldn’t know them.

(Note: Randy does have a SoundCloud account with rare songs and unreleased mixes of several songs by The 77s, Steve Scott, Robert Vaughn, etc, etc. There are also songs by his father and mother. Even a few tracks by bands that he wanted to work with for Alternative Records (Lighweight and Jim Upham for example). At the very bottom is a demo by a band called Armageddon Soundtrack and a brief story about the band he wishes he could have released.)

Recently it was announced that Alternative Records is being turned over to Matthias to take over the reins. What led to that decision at this point in time?

Matthias: As some fans of the label may be aware, my dad is towards the end of a long fight with a terminal form of cancer. In helping him with this Riverhouse project, it became apparent to me that this work is something I would like to continue, both on his behalf and in the interest of my own love of music.

For those that don’t Matthias as well, how would you introduce yourself as the successor to Alternative Records? What is your history with the bands that have been released on that label?

Matthias: Being Randy’s son, I grew up around lots of music in general but also around some of the Alternative bands as well. My earliest memory of a concert is seeing the 77s at the age of 4 in Eugene, Oregon a couple of years before they put anything out on Alternative. That band and several others from the label provided a lot of the background music of my childhood.

There has been some mention of an exciting upcoming project on Alternative Records as well. What can fans look forward to going forward? What projects are in the works?

Randy: Potentially later this year, we’re looking at a first real issue of the legendary Steve Scott’s Emotional Tourist album, that was supposed to come out through Exit/A&M but didn’t. As originally conceived, mixed and designed, from the tape masters .

Randy, with your health issues, how can family and friends help the most? Both with prayers and practical needs?

Randy: Prayers, certainly, and supporting Matthias on this adventure. The better these things do, the more high quality releases can come out. It’s very hard going through this but I appreciate all the love and support all these years. Thank you.

There you have it – the low down on Randy, Matthias, and Alternative Records. You can purchase recent digital releases and left over merch on the Alternative Records BandCamp page, including the last re-issue of Robert Vaughn and the Shadow’s Love and War (35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition), Pantano/Salsbury’s Hit the Switch (Deluxe Edition), and Part One of the Sonny Richter collection (Randy’s Dad). If you don’t have it already, you should go to the Two Pound Planet BandCamp page and check out the Songs From the Hydrogen Jukebox deluxe re-issue. Finally, be sure to check out Josh Rude’s “Gotta Go To Church! (Josh Rude vs. The Churchgoers) single – 100% of profits will be donated to the Randy Layton family to help offset expenses due to illness.

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