Gearhead Magazine, Gearhead Records, All things Gearhead!

Raising the banner of muscle car, guitar crushing, garage rock is the enigma known as Gearhead. Pioneering a movement unheard of until the magazine baring the same name was first published in May 1993, Michael LaVella created, masterminded and gave birth to a rebel child that would soon takeover his life. Says LaVella from his office in Oakland, CA, “When I first started, I had no idea Scandinavian rock would be so big – or that they were so into muscle cars, hot rod racing and loud guitars.”

Relocating to the bay area from Pittsburgh, PA, where he played bass in the renowned punk band Half Life (, LaVella worked for a number of record stores and distributors. It was when his interest in Hot Rods and Guitar-fueled Rock merged that he created Gearhead magazine. Designed as an outlet for his personal vision, Gearhead was a statement of Pop Art and American culture – so much so that it will be featured in the Smithsonian. “I knew all about selling and marketing records,” says LaVella. “But publishing a magazine was totally different. I spent two years meticulously figuring out how I was going to market the magazine. I decided to include a 45 with each issue which not only exposed people to the bands we wrote about but also guaranteed full value of the magazine when it was returned.”

In 1995 LaVella was invited to work for poster artist Frank Kozik who was in the early stages of launching Man’s Ruin Records. The successful partnership led to Kozik offering LaVella office space to publish the magazine and proved exceptionally beneficial to both. “We worked in the same office but had completely separate and unrelated business,” says LaVella. “However, we both enjoyed the association and helped each other out a lot.”

Scandinavian rock and roll was making its way west and Gearhead was first to hoist the flag in the US. With international distribution of the magazine, the fertile soil of Scandinavia was exposed and the magazines popularity exploded, though it was published only twice a year. Over the next five years the magazine became legendary eventually printing 10,000 copies worldwide. “We shipped over 600 copies of the last issue to one store in Sweden, ” says LaVella still amazed.

There was now a meeting place for people of like musical taste. LaVella focused solely on the sub-genre building band relations and spreading the word which including the release of a 45rpm 7” split with each issue. Bands featured included Gas Huffer, Supercharger, The Fastbacks, The Meices, The Melvins, Cosmic Psychos, Rocket From The Crypt and The Hellacopters. In 1999 LaVella took his contacts and decided to launch his own record label. Pulling heavily for his Scandinavian stable he signed and/or licensed Puffball, Demons and Sweden’s leading export The Hellacopters. But it was The Hives that brought fame and fortune to the struggling label. “When I first saw them (The Hives) I knew they were going to be huge,” says LaVella. “I just had to get the rest of the world to notice.”

In the wake of the 2001 Scandinavian tidal wave that hit our shores, The Hives became the next “big thing” eventually over-powering the Strokes and the Vines to become last summers top contender. The success of The Hives was sweet. “We licensed the rights to release ‘Barley Legal’ at a time when everyone was passing on them.” says LaVella. “When they started to take off. Time Warner stepped in with their BIG checkbook and turned on the ‘fame’ switch. There was no escaping The Hives after that.” Seeing one of his bands ‘make it’ gave LaVella a new stroke of confidence as well as spending cash to focus on American bands that held their own against their brothers across the pond.

Another key ingredient to the Gearhead success was LaVella combining talents with distribution wiz-kid Michelle Haunold. Having worked for a large West coast distribution warehouse, Haunold brought years of experience to move Gearhead into the mainstream. Recently it was her unique ability to move projects into the right hands that landed Gearhead their distribution through US mogul Koch Records.

“When Mike approached me about starting a label together in 1999 I was anxious and thrilled at the same time,” says Haunold. “We official launched Gearhead in January of 2000, so it’s been very rewarding to see it doing so well after only 3 1/2 years.” During Haunold tenure she has seen the current swing of Scandinavian rockers blaze a new trail. “We have had the Demons over for three national US tours and they are starting to make real headway,” she says. “We sign bands that want to work as hard as we do – put in the time and tour a lot.”

Currently Gearhead are pushing three US bands, The Riverboat Gamblers, The Dragons, and Turbo A.C.’s and one Norwegian band, Mensen. “These bands aren’t afraid to tour,” says Haunold. “In fact they are on the road all the time and that really helps getting their name out there and selling their CDs. The Turbo A.C.’s are one of those bands that live on the road.” To help you get a taste for what Gearhead has to offer you can read our review of each of their current titles below. Also check out their recent compilation called “Smash Up Derby.”


With the launch of Gearhead Records, LaVella compiled all the singles that had been released through the magazine over the years into one compilation disc called “Runnin’ On Fumes.” The success of that CD inspired another compilation “Gearfest” which is a live sampler of the bands that participate in the labels European festival of the same name. This year the festival moves from three venues to six taking in a number of countries and bringing together a melting pot of fans, bands and good old fashioned rock and roll. The current compilation “Smash Up Derby” is an excellent source for listening to samplings of the, New Bomb Turks, The Donnas, The Flaming Sideburns, The Pattern, Demons, Mensen, Red Planet, The Dragons, The Hypnomen, NRA, The Nads, The Pinkz, Hard Feelings, The Sewergrooves, The Demonics, and The Maggots. It is a rock solid collection of some of their finest moments and unreleased cuts plus bonus tracks that really are a bonus - unreleased cuts from New Bomb Turks ("And She Said Yes") and "Demons" ("You Don't Want My Name") that are totally unavailable anywhere else. Great full color 4 panel foldout booklet too - and all for only FIVE BUCKS!

Oslo City

Mensen (the Norwegian word for menstruation) are one of the few remaining Scandinavian bands Gearhead has retained on their new release roster. Following last years “Delusions Of Grandeur” the 3/4 female outfit return with “Oslo City” their long awaited follow up. The mixture of Runaways hooks mixed with punked up attitude give the record its fundamental fury. Keeping the guitars front and center Mary Currie and Christine Sixteen chug through their best fully amped assault while drummer Power Plingis and rock’s luckiest male bassist, Rambling Roy, nail it down with a punishing bottom end. “One Minute Away,” “Piece Of My Heart” and “Start Over Again” saunter up a Ramones-like back-alley charm – catchy melodies and dirty rock. The progression comes with the riff friendliness of “One Way Street” the acoustic tinged “Bosnia” and the deafening “Twenty One.” Even when they are reaching outside a staple diet of power-chords as with the finesse of “The Hard Way” and the bass heavy “The Night Before The Morning After” Mensen prove they can hold their own. Easily grouped in the same classification as regional heavyweights Turbonegro, Gluecifer and Hellacopters, Oslo’s own set a pace few can match.

Something To Crow About

Like a surprise punch to the solar plexus, “Let’s Eat” the first cut off “Something To Crow About” will leave you winded – problem is, you won’t be able to catch your breath till the record ends 30-minutes later. Possibly the best live punk band in the world, The Riverboat Gamblers have been described as a “thermonuclear rock & roll blowtorch.” The Denton Texas quintet have literally exploded out of their home state with a keg full of punk/garage rock that is the meat and potatoes of their brand of rock ‘n roll. Blistering guitar, screeching vocals and nasty choruses (that are so catchy it’s absolutely a sin) brand this opus into the inner recess of your mind. 13 songs in under half an hour mean The Riverboat Gamblers deliver a lean and mean set that goes right for the throat. Standout tracks include “Rattle The Bones,” the freight train chug of “Hey! Hey! Hey!’ and the supersonic “Ice Water.” Never taking themselves too serious, the bands sense of humor polishes songs like “Dead From The Neck Up” (Better get a checkup/I think your dead from the neck up), the dark comedy of “Last To Know” (Your suicide note is poorly wrote/…Your suicide note’s illegible) and the best opening line on the record “Let the party flow and let the fuses blow and let the party begin” (Sparks & Shots). The power ballad (of sorts)“Lottie Mae” closes out the record retuning the band to a whiskey-soaked irreverent country swagger. Absolutely perfect!


Listening to “Automatic” you’d never know these guy were from the heart of New York City. First track in “Mafioso” takes the trio’s knack for punk riffs and mixes in a country/rockabilly edge. Guitarist Kevin Cole’s gets a meaty tone out of Les Paul standard that boasts a Supersucker flair with overall dexterity and a ring of harmonics. “Nightmare” and the disc’s title track dice up the songs with musical odds and sods, alarm clocks, acoustic variations and thundering bass lines courtesy of Michael Dolan. The rapid-fire drumming of Kevin Prunty keeps each song racing from start to finish and stitches together a series of catchy beats as in “Perfect Crime,” the heart-pounding “Collision Course” and the ripping “Way Of The Devil.” Big hooks, titanic delivery and high-octane rock and roll seem to be their daily diet as the three-piece plow through “The Future,” “Substance,” and “Denied.” “Apache” with its instrumental overtone, come to us straight from a late night western and not only gives the record atmosphere but a slight breather. The frantic nature of the record is clarified in the supersonic speed of “Face Of Disaster” while their ode to Turbonegro can not be denied in “Desperate.” Excellent anyway you slice it.

Sin Salvation

Eating junk food and dancing with the devil can yield the perfect combination of hyped-up vintage rock. Bathed in a wall of feedback “Sin Salvation” gets right to the point with breakneck twin guitars and foot stomping madness delivered by bassist Steve Rodriguez and drummer Jarrod Lucas. A major touring force, this San Diego quartet take songs like “Dirty Bomb,” “Money Or Your Life” and “Kiss Me (‘Cause Life’s Obscene)” to their frantic extreme. Ken Horne and Mario Escovedo’s guitar exchange is what gives the record its rattlesnake bite; where the searing leads end, the shrill of feedback begins. “Chosen One” and “Self Destruction” rise to the top of the heap using pure guts to carry it to the next level. Escovedo’s vocals do the songs justice when his attitude seeps in with sting and passion as felt in “Claire” and the groove of “Tragedy.” If you need comparisons try the Hellacopter-inspired “Ignition LZ” or the Nomads-tinged “Sad Vacation” for pure satisfaction. Straight from their press release, “The Dragons have truly produced an LP that is 100% killer. 11 tracks of loud guitars, leather pants, whiskey, cigarettes, and broken hearts... sin and rockin' redemption all in one place.”

Gearhead Records