By Chase Kamp
Last summer, Colin Bauer and his family moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, but his beloved guitars wouldn’t be arriving for another few months. Itching to somehow participate in his new scene, Bauer founded Warped Your Records, aiming to help his friends release cassette tapes and stave off boredom.
In the short time since, the label has cultivated an impressive discography of 22 releases, encompassing adored local acts alongside the disparate sounds of Canadian noise rock and Los Angeles rap-funk. Though there is a fun-loving, casual air to the label’s aesthetic and operation, the participants are serious where it counts.
“I like to call myself the voiceless voice of the voiceless,” Bauer laughs. He sees the work of releasing small batches of hand-assembled tapes for fledgling bands simply as a way to honor the efforts of artists with positive goals.
“I’ll release anything made by nice people,” he said. “I don’t need to release this music because it’s the greatest thing ever, it’s because the artists are the greatest thing ever.”
The most prolific act in the Warped Your Records roster is The Expos, a fuzzy and effervescent pop-punk project that has released four full-length albums on the label. The band’s inexhaustible mastermind is Aaron Ponzo, a 17-year-old high school senior from Chandler who self-records his material at home with occasional guest spots from the Warped inner-circle.
On Jan. 6, Warped Your Records hosted an album release show for The Expos, as well as Bauer’s project Closet Goth, at Trunk Space in Phoenix. Available on cassette and lathe-cut vinyl, the new Expos record, Joy, finds Ponzo exploring the most pressing topics of suburban youth.
“Soda, love, dogs,” Ponzo said flatly. “That’s basically it.”
He also accomplishes this task in record time: the album has 18 songs but clocks in at just over six minutes. A live Expos show often involves Ponzo, his long blonde hair draped aside his guitar, frosting his light voice and tender lyrics upon a massively loud brick of distorted guitar.
Unsurprisingly, he grew up listening to classic rock and still goes deep with Rush, Thin Lizzy and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yet the clearest influence on his songwriting prowess is contemplative indie rock like Dear Nora, the project of subtle Pacific Northwest singer Katy Davidson. One of the brisk, buzzy tracks on the new Expos album is titled “Dear-Nora.png”.
Immediately noticeable is the visual aesthetic of prankish yet affectionate cut-and-paste collage that Expos and Warped Your Records share.
The likenesses of the World Series-champion 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks appear often. The album art for Expos’ “Weezer II / KSLX” features a vintage photo of the actual Montreal Expos layered alongside Sonoran cacti and Ponzo’s goofy grin.
Ponzo insists on using the original Warped Your Records logo, which of course is a spoof on the emblem of the Vans Warped Tour, the annual legacy pop-punk festival.
“We like making each other laugh with the artwork,” Bauer said. “Whenever he sends me art, there’s always a random dog in there.”
Of course, there could very well be legal ramifications for naming a band after a former Major League Baseball franchise and plastering its tapes with Luis Gonzalez’s likeness. But Ponzo and Bauer aren’t taking that seriously—they look forward to someday getting a cease-and-desist letter.
“I hope it happens,” Ponzo laughs.