Last October, Warren Parker sat at his dining room table with a set of alphabet rubber stamps, a blue ink pad and a few dozen 7″ vinyl records with blank white labels laid out edge to edge.
Letter by letter, he stamped the labels: Beams, A, WarHen.
Once the ink dried, he flipped the records over and stamped again: Beams, B, WarHen.
After he’d stamped 100 records, he slid them into plastic sleeves with silkscreened cover art, a download code and a sticker. A few days later, copies of the Borrowed Beams of Light Sky of You/Sea of Me single covered the merch table during the band’s Ante Room show.
The record was the 10th release for Parker’s independent fledging label, WarHen Records. Parker (the “War”) and Mike Hennigar (the “Hen”) established the label in 2012 with the aim of putting out vinyl records of great music from some of Charlottesville’s best bands. The label’s motto: “We release whatever we want.”
“This town has a lot of great talent that I think deserves a spotlight,” says Parker, who has worked full-time as production manager at The Jefferson Theater for the past six years. “There wasn’t anyone stepping up to showcase that talent, at least not in the way I’m trying to with WarHen.”
WarHen’s first releases included 7″ records and LPs from Sarah White & the Pearls, Red Rattles, The Fire Tapes, Dwight Howard Johnson and Sons of Bill. Just as the label started to hit a stride, a number of the bands on the WarHen roster broke up and Hennigar left the label.
But local bands kept making good music, so Parker put WarHen on hiatus for 2014 while he strategized for the label’s future. It paid off: WarHen released four records in 2015, more than in any prior year.
When choosing bands to work with, he admits he’s picky, but not about genre. The music has to be honest, real and original, not, says Parker, “plastic or recycled or regurgitated fluff you can hear anywhere.”
Parker acts as a middleman between the band and the record-pressing plant, taking care of the business end and finding the best deal for the band’s needs. He has no interest in trying to morph a band’s sound or assume creative direction to sell more records. When a band has “it,” Parker won’t mess.
He uses Left & Right—Charlottesville ex-pats now based in Philly—as an example. “Five Year Plan is so balls-to-the-wall, so unabashed and raw. The big, fat sound is killer, the sequencing is perfect, the mix is great. There’s no way I was going to let them not let me put it out,” he says. And here’s why: The band puts in the hours making the music, and Parker wants to do whatever it takes—including hand-stamping labels and walking around with ink-blue fingertips for days—to get their music pumping through speakers because he believes as much as the band does.
This unyielding commitment to the art of music is what drew Borrowed Beams of Light front man Adam Brock to the WarHen label. Like many Charlottesville bands, Brock has happily worked with Harrisonburg label Funny/Not Funny Records. “But I love the idea of a Charlottesville label picking up steam and representing what’s going on here,” he says. “So we need WarHen. We need it to grow and show off a town whose acts are making some great music.”
In 2016, WarHen will extend its reach to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, releasing Teenage Hallelujah by rock ‘n’ roll band The Dexateens. Parker is also in talks with Richmond’s Wrinkle Neck Mules, a band already on the WarHen roster, about pressing some of its back catalog to vinyl.
Parker hopes to grow the label, but never forsaking the WarHen ethos of putting out physical copies of good music that’s a bit left of center. “I can’t put out a record for the sake of putting out a record,” he says. “I never want to release something that’s just going to be background music. There are bands that have something to prove, and that’s what I like to capture.”
Warren Parker’s top local band performances of 2015
The Southern, February 5
Guion Pratt is my next-door neighbor. Sometimes I hear him playing guitar on his porch, so it was great seeing him play his smart and intricate songs with a full band.
Erin and The Wildfire, Mock Stars Ball
The Southern, October 31
Mock Stars is always one of my favorite annual gigs. Everyone was great, but Erin and The Wildfire owned it as No Doubt.
The Jefferson, November 6
Michael and I grew up together. He’s a class act: kind, punctual and, above all, immensely talented. The sky’s the limit for him.
Left & Right
Tea Bazaar, November 7
These Charlottesville ex-pats played their entire new unreleased LP, plus some choice back catalog cuts. It was a little rough around the edges, but the energy was strong. That’s what I love about rock ‘n’ roll: It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Borrowed Beams of Light
Tea Bazaar, November 23
The band sounds inspired; I’ve loved everything they’ve ever done and every lineup they’ve ever had. Dave Gibson is a Charlottesville music scene secret weapon.