Survivor’s Tale: 25 Years of Headline Records

Interview with Jean-Luc Gaudry.

Words by Matthew Hutchison|Photos by Brendon Crigler Photography.

It’s 1995. The Clinton presidency is in full swing with the United States going through one of the largest economic expansions in recorded history. The era of e-commerce begins with Amazon already a year in business, and eBay is just launching. In Los Angeles, Amoeba Music is six years away from opening. Arlington Heights all-ages club, Jabberjaw, is entering its twilight.

It’s also the year Jean-Luc Gaudry lands in Los Angeles to open Headline Records, a considerable undertaking he does by himself. For 25 years, Gaudry’s been withering economic tides, changing consumer behaviors, and industry changes across the spectrum to keep Headline afloat.

It’s 2020 on a Sunday afternoon. When asked to describe his feelings about the last quarter of his life, Gaudry comes alive with a candid response. “Every day I feel could be Headline’s last day in business. That’s the truth. It’s very, very hard to run a specialized store like this in today’s economy. However, I really love what I do, and I’m very proud of my decision to move here and all the work I did to follow my passion.”

Jean-Luc Gaudry. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

Gaudry and I are sitting on a bench outside the back of Headline Records. Dead Kennedys “Drug Me” is faintly heard from inside the shop where business hours are in full effect and veteran employee, Ken, is working the front. People from all backgrounds cruise through the shop, which is on a stretch of Melrose between Spaulding and Genesee Ave. Tourists. Stragglers. Punks looking to kill time. Headline Records is a sensory overload for a first-timer with the amount of underground culture it holds. Rare vinyl. Rare posters. Spikes and studs. An onslaught of assorted band t-shirts. That Vice Squad import you’re probably looking for, Headline likely has it. If not, Gaudry can get it for you.

That’s part of the lore of Melrose Avenue; you can practically find anything you’re looking for along the 14-block stretch that runs from West to East Hollywood; at least that used to be the case. With the changes along the Avenue throughout the years, Gaudry’s assessment of those changes is as clear as day.

“Melrose, and for that sake, Hollywood, isn’t how it used to be when I first moved here. Back then, there were a lot of specialty stores for anything. Wacko’s in Silver Lake is a good example; they cater to a particular niche in pop culture products. Right now, it’s not like that anymore with most stores, it has to be more homogenized, and it makes sense because of the economics. It’s tough to pay your rent and employees these days without that; also back then, the economy was very different. Back then, people had something like $500, and I’m just speaking theoretically, to pay for something like a jacket with spikes on them. That’s where specialty shops came into play, a shop would carry something like that. At the time, people had the discretionary money to burn on something like that. In my case, I was dealing with labels and their imports in this scenario. Not many people are going to pay $20 or $30 for a CD now, and that’s what I would have to charge to stock it if I were to buy it from overseas labels.”

Headline Records on Melrose. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

Running a retail store isn’t easy. Moving to another country for the sole purpose of starting a retail store that focuses on punk culture is undoubtedly not easy. Then again, Gaudry digresses more: “Anybody can do this really, it depends on your state of mind. Not whether it’s hard or not.”

With the 25 years Headline has been around, 19 of those years have been on Melrose Avenue. The beginning four saw Headline in an unviable location on Westwood & Pico, which Gaudry affirms was a decision that lost four years of good business for him.

“At the time, I heard location is important, but didn’t realize it until later on. The people who were coming to the Westwood store were only coming to see the store, and that was the problem. It was just one store they were coming to see. It wasn’t really an experience, just an errand. On Melrose, you don’t have that with all the other shops, bars, and restaurants here; there’s more for people to do here. Some ideas like that, I didn’t think of in the beginning would affect the business, and eventually, I had to change. I couldn’t survive there.”

Headline Records since 1995. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

Since moving to Melrose Avenue in 1999, Headline’s visibility has increased tenfold, and the shop is somewhat of a cornerstone along the street. Gaudry’s reputation is known far and wide as a relentlessly hard worker and honest purveyor in the underground. To promote the store’s name, Gaudry used both locations as a venue for touring and local bands to play, totaling 500 shows by his count. Groups like The Adicts, early shows from Tiger Army, Terror, and The Casualties along with Dwarves, Zeke, Murder City Devils, SpitsDeniz Tek, The Mad, and 490 other gigs occurring during seven years (1996 – 2003). These days, the shop no longer holds live shows, but Gaudry holds court online with his podcast, The Punk Show, which broadcasts out of the store every Thursday evening and available via the Spreaker network. From 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. PST, he spins music from his own collection and has guests on the show where they discuss a variety of topics.

Gaudry’s path that brought him to Los Angeles wasn’t easy, and that was by design. Born in Paris, France, and raised in Montargis, a province south of the capital city, Gaudry came to America at age 30 to open shop. His previous life in France saw him working in Orleans as a graphic designer and decorator for multinational retail store Carrefour at 16 years old in 1982. Gaudry describes himself as a regular guy at the time, but a meeting with a man named Didier Fillioux catapulted his tastes into the punk/hardcore world.

Headline Records selection of punk rock. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

“Didier at the time managed The Burning Heads and Les Prives out in Orleans. He introduced me to bands like Minor Threat, New York Dolls, Dead Boys and classic punk. It was a shift from what I was initially listening to at the time, like Patti Smith and The Police. That was the start, and I got hooked right away. I was DJing the night shift around that time for a big radio station in Orleans called Vibration and mix it in with the classic rock I was playing. Honestly, I’m a terrible DJ, absolutely horrible, but I really do love it. “

In 1988, Gaudry left Carrefour and relocated to the U.K. for a few months.  An offer from his parents to work alongside them running a franchise of another grocery chain brought Gaudry back to Montargis for five years in a management role. The money was good, but it wasn’t fulfilling. To keep himself active, Gaudry came up with the Headline name and began booking punk & garage shows under it during the early 90s. Later, an idea to open a record store comes to him, something he always wanted himself. However, he knew it wouldn’t work in France with the process involved, along with other factors.

“It’s difficult to operate a store like this in France. There are a lot of taxes involved and it’s a very, very small market. Not to mention, the process of opening a business there is fucking long. It’s crazy. In the United States, you can set up a business in 24 or 48 hours – EIN, business license, bank account, filing status, and all that stuff. In France, all that can take up to a year! There was a very small scene there too, at the time. There wasn’t anything in Montargis, absolutely nothing. Orleans, Music Please, was the only store beside  a book/record chain called Fnac. Kaos Production was probably the most known label in Orleans with Komintern Sect, Reich Orgasm on their roster. We had to go to Paris to get access to stores more specialized in punk and hardcore. There were some great stores around for a while, like New Rose or The Silence de la Rue to name a few. New Rose Records was a well-known name around the country and the world because they were licensing a lot of stuff from all over the world and making it available there.”

Headline Records Merch, Videos and Records. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

Gaudry considered the U.K. as the shop’s home. The market was more robust, and the punk scene was large. However, the process of opening a store there was still arduous. He knew he had to come to the United States to make this work. Since the mid-80s, Gaudy regularly vacationed in Los Angeles and other major cities around the country. Drawing from what he knew, who he knew, and where he visited, his choices narrow to three possibilities.

“Headline was either going to be in LA, New York, or Seattle. Why Seattle? Because I knew the area, having been there many times, and I had a friend living there. I like the city, but I had plenty of rain and similar weather in France. I didn’t get a good impression of New York the first time I went there; it’s very dark and cramped. L.A. won out, better weather, and you can see the sky here with how spread out everything is. I’d already been traveling here for vacation, before I became a resident, so I knew the city. I also understood how tough L.A. is as city and ultimately said fuck it, it’s going to be hard anyway no matter where I start this. Another thing is, there wasn’t an all-around punk store in the city just yet. The only store that came close was Vinyl Fetish, but their image was more on the goth and dark side.”

With the concept and destination in place, he broke the news to his family, with their reaction not being the least bit surprising to his idea.

“My family was kinda supportive. First, they asked if I was sure. Secondly, they reminded me my English was terrible, which was true (laughs).  Thirdly, they wanted to know how I was going to deal with the new laws, accounting, leasing, and all those things.”  

A normal reaction to an extreme plan, one that requires incredible effort on multiple fronts in getting himself green-lighted legally and laying the shops’ foundations. All this was pre-internet, too, making the tasks that much more tedious. Gaudry reflects on the moment he decided to pull the trigger.

Punk Rock Accessories at Headline Records. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

“I knew it was going to be hard to do this in L.A. The reality is, though, anybody can do what I did. It comes down to your state of mind, not whether something is hard or not. For me, I’m very proud I took this decision, committed to it, and saw it through. There were so many excuses I thought of regarding not to do this, but I knew it was worth it. If you speak with anybody that has a passion in the back of their mind, it’s what’s driving them. Opening Headline was on the back of my mind for a long time and one day, I had the opportunity to make it happen, so I just did it.”

With the decision made, the real work comes into play. A referral brought Gaudry a lawyer out of San Francisco, and together they worked on scouting locations. Gaudry recalls the prime spots he wanted being in the highest rent locations around:  3rd Street in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Melrose, and Venice. A space on the upper levels of a mall caught his eye, and the rate was workable. A meeting was arranged with the landlord to sign papers. With that done and his visa paperwork completed, he packed a single bag, pulled all $50,000 from his savings, and embarked. The magnitude of what he had just done didn’t hit Gaudry until he landed in LA.

“That was the most surreal moment of that whole process. Getting the paperwork and everything done with the U.S. Consulate was an adrenaline rush, but the feeling of all this preparation didn’t hit until the plane landed, I’ll never forget it. When I got out of customs, it hit me that I was here full time, I sat down for an hour just wrapping my head around it. I arrived during the daytime. My lawyer gave me some great advice, which I’ve never forgotten and passed on to others who want to move here too. He said to book a flight where your landing time is during the day while business hours are occurring, also always have your papers on hand, not in your bag.” Why? Because if I ran into any trouble with customs, they can call him and get everything straightened in no time. And that happened to me! Customs saw that I was in L.A. multiple times prior, and with this being the fourth time in a short period, they got suspicious and pulled me in for questioning. Two agents asked what I was doing here, and I told them I was preparing to do business in L.A.. I gave them my papers, investor visa info, and my lawyer’s number. They knew I was legitimate from then on.”

Headline Records. The Punk Store. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

In September 1995, Headline’s doors opened for the first time. Gaudry’s life was spent in the store, providing him a residence along with being his bread maker. For the four years Headline occupies this area, Gaudry encountered excruciating business conditions on top of a lawsuit he was embroiled in with his landlord, not ideal. Gaudry credits his friend, Dan Clements, (Excel singer/Brooklyn Projects employee) for convincing him on the shop’s move to Melrose Avenue. A move that showed his work seeing pay off as the shop began getting into the black. This period is what Gaudry credits as the start of Headline as its known today.

“Initially, the store was behind Brooklyn Projects for three or four months when I came to Melrose. I moved in the Summer, and there were no spots available yet for me to rent myself. While I was in that small space, that big space right there [Gaudry pointing to his right at the building next to the shop’s current space] suddenly became available. Of course, it was super expensive, but at the time, I knew Dave Naze, who ran Chaser Merch. I met him a few times via his band Chemical People. Dave did the merchandise licensing for tons of bands, and I was already stocking his product. We spoke, and he was in the market for a new spot for his operation. I suggested we split that huge location and go half on the rent. Chaser in the back, Headline in the front with me being Chaser’s showcase, and that’s what we did for five or six years together. I took wholesale info from people who saw the merchandise in Headline and directed them to the back for Chaser to fulfill the order. It worked pretty well, I had all the merchandise I wanted, which I paid for of course, and had it in stock in no time.”

Business was good in the beginning. During this time, the store made enough for Gaudry to expand Headline into a record label to release a handful of 7’s and LPs, including local groups The Flash Express, The Skulls, and The Diffs (members of FIDLAR).

Then 9/11 happens, and the economy drastically changes. If that test didn’t rattle Gaudry, the 2007 Recession certainly did. He looks solemn as he recounts this time.

“That period was very difficult; here are the numbers. Between the time Bush decided to go to war in 2001 up until the Recession ending in 2009, I lost 75% of my gross sales. Between 2008 – 2009, I didn’t order anything. My accountant thought my numbers were wrong because he didn’t see any inventory orders. During those years, I sold my record collection and all of my personal stuff, everything! It had to go; I didn’t care. You have to do what you have to do, bottom line.”

Gaudry is resilient and enterprising. That’s a fact. With Headline being an integral part of his life and defining contribution to LA’s scene, another part of this life is taking shape online with a new venture. For the past decade, Gaudry’s been collecting various URLs as part of a website he’s launching called Shows In The US. The concept is a massive database and listings website for all 50 states to list and promote local and touring events. The investment of time and money into the operation is signficant. Gaudry doesn’t hold back with his assessment of his efforts and the plan.

“If Shows in The US picks up, I know I’ll have to make that choice between Headline or that. Very likely, it’s going to be Shows in The US. It’s very different than what I’m doing now, has great potential to change things, and is something flexible. With Headline, I’m too restricted with what I can do. It all comes down to money, and nothing is free, especially in L.A.. I’m realistic here; I have to be to make sure it’s worth it. These days, I’m careful about what I’m doing and working on, I’m conscious of avoiding burnout, and that’s hard for me (laughs). I hope Shows in the US succeeds to the level that I envision, having been working on this idea for more than ten years now! Owning all these URLs and having the name registered is what’s kept it going all these years for me. At that time, when I came up with the idea, the technology wasn’t in place, and the cost was insane. Over time, it’s scaled-down though. I think this year, the website will finally be complete.”

Jean-Luc Gaudry. Photo by Brendon Crigler Photography

Gaudry’s honesty about the current times for Headline is another moment of his showing a candid side.

“I don’t know what the future holds for the store. I always do a reevaluation every year and try to figure things out. The store doesn’t make a lot of money these days, making paying my employees and the bills difficult. I’m being honest, not looking for anything by saying this. It’s part of the business I’m in. The fact is, I’m very proud I made this decision to open the store and follow my passion, it’s incredible. Again, I want to make it clear that I truly love what I do.”

And that’s what will keep him going. “Don’t take life for granted; you only get one shot,” are his departing words.

Gaudry’s living proof of someone who hasn’t.

Headline Records

7706 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Est. 1995

Phone: (323) 655 2125

Contact: john@headlinerecords.com 

Links

http://www.headlinerecords.com/

https://www.instagram.com/headlinerecords

Editor's Note* - This interview was conducted before the current
conditions began to develop due to the coronavirus COVID-19. 
Please call or email for current information about store hours, etc.
Shop online when appropriate and stay safe out there. 
Thank you for reading and keeping it punk.

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