JAMES MORELOS IS NOT just another pesky indie rock aesthete with a record label. He's also a hubristic musical know-it-all with an endearing laugh, kind eyes, and a near-perfect history of wisely chosen releases to his credit. To name a few: Pedro the Lion, Damien Jurado, T. W. Walsh, and Blessed Light, as well as the new, first release from the Vogue--which, if the ear is aptly attuned, has been much anticipated locally. This string of small-scale successes is attributable to a bunch of bands with a great deal of talent, and of course, to a label owner with unfailing confidence in his own good taste.

Morelos decided to start his own label in November of 1997, during his third "frustrating" year of work as a publicist for a label he requests not be named. "I was learning about the business. What to do and not do, but most importantly, how to do it right. I had all these friends at Sub Pop and other labels similar to the one I was at, and though it was all indie, we were basically dealing with major-label bullshit, as in ridiculous contracts and overspending, which only ends up hurting the bands. It basically boils down to a bunch of people with a whole bunch of money and bad taste in music." He rolls his eyes.

When asked what bad taste is specifically, Morelos searches for an acceptable answer. "Well, I can't just straight-up say 'any taste that's different from mine,' even though that's what I mean when I say it." Morelos hasn't released a single record he doesn't genuinely enjoy. His self-indulgence is perhaps no recipe for record sales, but his integrity is an obvious counterbalance to his ambition. The records he releases--minimally produced but full-sounding, visually simplistic, and slick--are manifestations of both. Morelos' favorite word could well be "aesthetic"; though no count was kept, he used it approximately 34 times in 20 or so minutes. "I'm about what I really like to listen to and consider beautiful. That's what gets me high. That's why I put out records."

Morelos' highs come from no specific genre, though he is interested in putting out records by artists who share his musical philosophy: "No waste or excess. We spend exactly enough money and energy to make the right record." When asked whom he would have on his dream label, he names Cat Power, Arab Strap, and Destiny's Child.

Destiny's Child?

"First of all, Beyancé is 19 years old. Youth is inspiring to me. And I love pop music. The songwriting's amazing; the production's amazing. What I love most about music is melody. And Destiny's Child is just so fucking melodic and badass. And besides, black women are better than everyone else." Could he really see Destiny's Child and Cat Power together on a record label? "It's not feasible, I admit. But I would like to see underground music incorporate some of the entertainment value of commercial artists and move away from thin production." But how does waste-free, inexpensive production ever equal big production? "It's not about inexpensive. It's about working within your means. It's like with Pedro the Lion, the first record we ever put out--we just set out to do it right, but knew that it could be done simply. They were a tiny band out of nowhere. Dave [of Pedro] was like 20 years old. He recorded the album himself on a budget of like $2,000, and I put it out. It sold 15,000 copies and showed up on Spin's top 10 underground-records list that year. It boils down to the quality of the music. A really great, well-produced record, with just enough marketing and promotion, is all we needed. It certainly didn't take a full-page color ad in Alternative Press."

He believes that, financially, Made in Mexico is doing "phenomenally," because it supports itself. "It's sure as hell tight at times, but I get to keep putting out great records." And that's the philosophy Morelos used when he came up with the name of his label. "Besides the fact that I'm keepin' it real, straight out of East L.A.?" He laughs. "I like the idea of a product, a quality product, and a product that you might assume is poor quality because it's made in Mexico...." He trails off momentarily. "It's the idea of making something out of nothing. I'm a working-class, Hispanic homosexual, and I've never considered myself unfortunate or an underdog. I'm sometimes frustrated with a lot of those upper-class punk kids involved in underground music who are lazy, because I know that if I had access to their resources, I could do that much more."