Santa Fe record label Mama Mañana embraces local musicians and old-school media

Legend has it, storied producer Rick Rubin germinated the idea of Def Jam Recordings from inside his New York University dorm room in 1983. A year later, the record label released debut singles by little-known artists Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, and hip-hop culture would never be the same. Around this same time in Olympia, Washington, Bruce Pavitt self-published an independent music fanzine dubbed Subterranean Pop as a college class assignment. He curated companion compilation tapes for the zine and, in 1986, shortened the name to Sub Pop; the enduring label was born with once-obscure bands like Soundgarden and Sonic Youth (and, later, Nirvana and The Shins) signing on. This popularized the so-called “Seattle sound” of the late-’80s and 1990s, grunge became mainstream and rock would never be the same.

In the years that followed, myriad punk, rock and hip-hop labels like Asian Man, Fat Wreck Chords, Drive-Thru, Babygrande, Fueled by Ramen and so many others flared into existence. Then for a long time, nothing happened—-until 2021 when, disenchanted by corporate metropolitan America, transplant Kiley Larsen arrived in Santa Fe from Fort Collins, Colorado, and found himself deeply moved by the underground music scene in the area. So enamored was Larsen with the bands of Santa Fe and Albuquerque that he quickly hatched a plan: Form an indie label with a mission to support the region’s burgeoning indie rock, pop and experimental artists. Mama Mañana Records launched in 2022.

Since kicking off the label two years ago, Larsen has cultivated Mama Mañana through a mix of streetwise promotion, global publicity efforts, local concerts and a distinctive emphasis on producing cassette tapes during a time of disappearing physical media.

“Like everything else in this country these days, our music tastes are dictated by a few corporations who pay out the ass to feature their music on your Spotify playlists, films and commercials,” Larsen wrote in a label introduction blog via online platform Substack in August 2022, around the same time he released the label’s first-ever record, Empty Dreams by Hubba, the solo project of Santa Fe’s Jared Garcia, previously of indie-rock act Thieves and Gypsies.

“There’s still room for indie labels,” the blog post continued, “and creating a community of artists from diverse backgrounds remains the most organic approach.”

Since then, Larsen has released a steady stream of albums from acts like Santa Fe surf-inspired rockers Gold Tides, Albuquerque indie experimentalist Lowmello and enigmatic surf-meets-Western artist Zivi from Los Angeles (not New Mexico, but that’s OK), with many more in the pipeline.

Wanting to know more, I recently met up with Larsen at a local tea house. Upon sitting down, he handed me two cassette tapes and some Mama Mañana stickers.

“Do you have a tape deck by any chance?” he asked.

“I do, yeah,” I lied. “Why the emphasis on cassettes?”

“People are craving a tangible experience,” Larsen explained. “People have reached the peak of digital streaming.”

With streaming services inexplicably deleting certain films and TV shows from existence, can music be far behind? How long before we can’t find that band or song? Luckily, Larsen is a dedicated networker, connector and promoter, and has helped grow a vibrant music scene in Santa Fe alongside those physical media releases, as evidenced by a talented, eclectic and growing roster of bands and artists who have formed a de facto residency of sorts at Midtown boutique hotel The Mystic. Still, while the local events have been successful, Larsen adds, roughly half of the online fanbase of his carefully curated Santa Fe sound now comes from listeners in the UK and Europe.

We can’t let them beat us! So, for the uninitiated, here’s a quick primer on getting up to speed and into the Mama Mañana vibe.

  • Plan to attend Mama Mañana’s Locals Only music festival on Saturday, April 27 at the Mystic. The event brings together live performances from many of the label’s artists, including Red Light Cameras, Side Montero, Free Range Buddhas, Zivi and the Rocks, Lowmello, Almost Always Never, and Gold Tides. Expect DJ sets by Up All Nite collective, too, and an afterparty with Albuquerque indie act Sweet Roll. We’re talking two stages and food trucks. It’s a celebration of the “fantastic local music scene and local independent vendors,” says Larsen.
  • While you’re at this festival, buy some cassette tapes of the artists you enjoy.
  • Next, go to your storage and dust off that old cassette player. Yes, that’s cool again. Very cool, in fact. But it’s not just cool, it sounds amazing. I went home after our meeting and dug up my old Realistic (shout out to Radio Shack) dual cassette player and hit play, and as I ensconced myself in producer and songwriter Zivi’s 2023 release, Lost in Love, I was greeted by a warm blast of nostalgia—in part because of the endearingly melancholic and masterfully produced sound, but also because I hadn’t thumbed through cassette tape liner notes since the late ‘90s.
  • Be on the lookout for another Mama Mañana artist, Strange Magic, the nom de musique of prolific Santa Fe-raised/Albuquerque-based songwriter and producer Javier Romero. Romero gave himself an ambitious resolution to write and produce one song a week for the yera; he hit those 52 jams and last year put out four albums! Larsen and Romero have produced a double-cassette tape compilation dubbed Slightest of Hands that highlights Strange Magic’s driving, jangly, crunchy and infectious indie-pop-rock sound. Romero has announced through social media that the double-cassette is slated for release on May 3. However, you can listen now to a two-song teaser release on major digital streaming services. In fact, please note that many Mama Mañana artists are available to stream online through Keep an eye out, too, for a future release from Albuquerque artist Alex McMahon entitled DisFigure/Graveyard Shift, an unsettling yet excitingly expressive release from new roster artist Alex McMahon.
  • Go to one or both of the shows at The Mystic this week (details below). Easy.

Mama Mañana Records Presents:

The Chachalacas: 8 pm, Friday, April 5. Free.

Ezrakh & the Mystery Club: 8 pm Saturday, April 6. Free.

Locals Only: Noon-10 pm Saturday, April 27. $20-$25. The Mystic, 2810 Cerrillos Road, (505) 471-7663

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