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Photo of Manny and René of Citrus City Records by Erik Phillips

René (left) and Manny (right) of Citrus City Records.

Photo by Erik Phillips

It began with a compliment.

Outside of a cafeteria at NoVA Community College in Woodbridge, Virginia, Manny Lemus approached René Franco who was sporting a WAVVES shirt at the time.

“Hey, cool shirt,” Manny said to René. This opened a dialogue between the two and they soon found out that they were both at the same WAVVES show only days prior to meeting. As the conversation continued, Manny and René soon learned that they shared a menagerie of musical tastes.

“Growing up I never saw anyone that looked like me that listened to the same music," Manny recalls, as both Manny and René share a Latinx background.

"Any other folks would be like, ‘Oh you’re so white, you listen to indie music!' I’m just like… damn, I’m just trying to listen to some music I like. Or, you know, some white guys really make it into like, ‘Oh, you like that music? Weird!' It’s just like damn—why?”

René and Manny now run Citrus City Records together.

Manny mainly credits René for coming up with the name of their tape label. They knew they wanted something that sounded bright—something that sounded like summer. "It just sounds nice—'Citrus City'. We just stuck with that name. We just wanted to release a bunch of upbeat sunny music, so this—it’s perfect,” Manny explains.

The origin story of Citrus City Records continues as Manny states that the two of them just wanted to release music that they liked or music from their online friends in a physical format.

“A lot of the earlier releases are just music that you would expect to be on Bandcamp, but it was just really unknown artists that no label would put out because priorities were somewhere else. So we just wanted to release stuff on a physical format that wasn’t being released,” Manny explains.

Personally, I love the physicality of a good tape. Holding the little artfully designed plastic cassette in my hands is comforting in a digital age. I ask why tapes were the physical format of choice when they first created their label. Manny lets out a little laugh before answering.

“Honestly we couldn’t afford vinyl, so it was mostly a cost thing. But also we both like the simplicity and how tapes are just really accessible at the end of the day.” Although the two originally considered releasing CD’s at one point, they determined that tapes had more personality with more opportunities for creative customization.

"We just noticed that over time we really like making them really pretty and making them stand out. There's a lot of ways to customize tapes, really make them pop, and a lot of people don’t know that.” Manny then mentions, “Like I just got a package of some tapes from the label Disposable America, so I was like, 'oh sweet! I just can’t wait to see.'”

After understanding the origins of how Citrus City Records came to be, I shift the conversation towards a phrase associated with their label and depicted on previous merch.

“So I have a phrase here and I want you to tell me what this means to you. You ready?” I begin—

“Dream Pop Is Dead.”

I’m immediately met with a laugh followed by an 'oh my gosh.'

"I love dream pop just so everybody knows,” Manny states, "People think I hate dream pop cause I give it a lot of shit, which is true. But when we first started out, a lot of our releases were dream pop-esque and in that realm, but it wasn’t an intentional thing.”

Manny further expresses how Citrus City Records didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre or sound or to be dubbed as a dream pop label. And their catalog of releases proves that they aren’t exclusive to any one sound with stellar releases from McKinley Dixon, Alfred & Yung Pocket$, Combo Chimbita, and more.

“'Dream Pop Is Dead' was just a nice joke that we were always coming up with saying. That finally we’re just like, let’s just put this on the shirt and cement, like, if people want to say that we’re the people that run dream pop, or people that really know about it—I don’t know—let’s just classify it as dead. But it’s just a joke that we thought would look good on a shirt.”

And it did it look good on a shirt. Manny even mentioned potentially bringing back the infamous Dream Pop Is Dead shirts before laughing and uttering “dream pop is dead” again faintly.

While we were still on the topic of Citrus City Record's diverse catalog of releases, I ask if there are any releases that stand out. At first, the response is a bit hesitant.

"I feel like it’s weird because I look at them like, not like my kids, but I just love all of them and for different reasons,” Manny begins, but reveals that there are three that stand out for some reason or another. The first of them being Corridor from Montreal.

“Their album Supermercado is amazing. It’s just very angular pop with intricate guitar, hypnotic vocals, and really great melodies. It’s been a band I’ve been following since my junior year of high school. They’re really the first band that I’ve been a fan of for a long time that I was able to release. It stands out just because it’s a great album and a band that I never thought we would work with. So that’s one.”

The second stand out is So Sensitive by Alfred and Yung Pocket$.

“There’s so many layers to it and things that I go back and listen to that I didn’t catch. It just has that factor that something else always pops out. And they’re just a very underrated artist in Richmond if I would say so. Especially Alfred, their like finally getting the recognition they deserve in the Richmond booking circuit a lot more promoters are booking them and it’s good to see the collaborative effort that Aaron and Matt put together with a lot of the other feature artists on that release."

The third is a release wasn’t released yet at the time of the interview, but is now available. The new McKinley Dixon mixtape, The Importance of Self Belief.

"It’s a project that I think people aren’t really ready for. Anything that McKinley is working on is always something that stands out for me, even if we haven’t put it out yet. But I guess those are three that have really stood out to me in some sort of way. And there’s so many, but those are the three that come to the forefront.”

In addition to releasing tapes, Manny books shows with some legendary lineups as well. As far as the inspiration goes toward booking, Manny reveals, "At first, I was just booking for myself to be completely honest. If people are trying to come out that's great, but I’m really just trying to see this for myself."

However, Manny also noticed that certain bills weren’t coming together in the area. Manny mentions, "It had gotten to the point where a lot of bands I wanted to see or bills that I wanted to see weren’t happening. I love all the venues and promoters in town, but I think maybe because I’m a person of color I see things differently.”

After observing that some artists weren’t gaining the spotlight against bands who were regularly booked in rotation at certain shows and venues, Manny wanted to see a change.

“I just wanted to see certain things happen in venues or other house shows that weren’t happening in Richmond, so I just wanted to put them together myself.” Adding also, “I just love mixed bills. I really love mixed bills. It really hits the whole striation of the sound.”

Manny also recently toured with Crumb and describes the tour as an overall incredible experience, despite getting in a pretty horrific car accident along the way. Luckily, everyone was okay after the scary encounter.

On tour with Crumb.

Photo by Renee Bacher

Manny’s bond with Crumb is a unique one.

"They’ve become, like, I wouldn’t even say the word friends. They’ve become some really special people that are in my life and it’s been super amazing to see how fast they’re growing," Manny starts, "I had booked their first tour with Lance Bangs and that was just mainly DIY house shows and art spaces and maybe a venue here and there. But it was mostly a fun DIY tour for almost three weeks. It’s been a blessing being able to travel with someone the last two tours—the (Sandy) Alex G one in the fall and this month one.”

Manny expresses how it’s been eye opening watching how receptive people are with Crumb's music.

I got to catch one of Crumb's shows on this most recent tour and have to chime in on that notion. There’s something special about hearing the surrounding crowd uttering various compliments as they listened to Crumb for the first time.

In early March, Crumb released their “Locket” music video. Manny had a few features in this video, which lead Manny to become a bit of a niche meme in the tape community. "It’s a thing where I knew it was kinda bound to happen that maybe someone would turn it into a meme."

Image via Crafted Sounds Twitter

Crumb’s tour eventually lead them all to SXSW.

Manny recalls surreal moments like peaking on an acid trip at a backyard Omni show surrounded by a rowdy, moshing, stage-diving crowd. Manny also highlights being invited to a castle party by Vundabar after the Combo Chimbita set.

I double checked to make sure I heard that correctly, which Manny assures me I did.

“Yes, an actual castle! We go and it’s legit a huge castle. This castle is in this suburban rich neighborhood. They had, like, a moat, Becca, we were swimming in the moat for a bit.”

Between our laughter, Manny recalls more details, "I don’t know. There were just so many different bands and other musicians there. There was a bar downstairs that they were just giving away free alcohol and there were other bands playing. It was just such a thing. We were there partying until six in the morning."

Then adding lastly, “Saying it over the phone sounds so tame. I’ve left off so many things just cause I feel like my mom or somebody will see this if I share this on Facebook whenever it comes out, but it was just too much.”

The conversation then circles back to some of Manny’s various talents. One of those specific talents: being a DJ.

"I’ve been getting into DJing tapes. My friend Tim Fallon who runs Trrrash Records in Richmond was teaching me. We have a cassette showcase and we were just DJing tapes. I needed to come up with a name so I came up with DJ Resin.”

DJing originally began as a joke before it turned into something Manny really enjoys.

"I haven’t done it as much yet just cause I want to be mindful of the space I take because I know there’s a lot more serious DJs out there. I want to keep DJing, but I want to get better gear and hopefully start practicing a bit and not just half-assing things. I definitely want to keep DJing."

Manny at SXSW.

Photo by Katelyn Kibler

As we neared the end of the conversation, the dialogue shifts to where tape labels are heading towards in the future. As well as where Citrus City Records is heading.

"There’ve been a lot of opportunities for me to sell out or make this a more business related type thing. It’s not shade or knocking any bigger labels or other indie labels that run it more as a business. Because at the end of the day, a lot of these people are putting in their own personal money into it, so to each their own.

"I want people to realize, and if any people want to start a tape label or anything, you can do it. I just want tape labels to be respected and on the same playing field as bigger labels, or other labels that want to run their labels as a legit label. I just think that people in the music industry or in the other labels will see a tape label as, like, 'oh, that's a tape label. Haha, cute, they’re doing cool things,' but they really don’t take people running tape labels serious."

Manny continues, "Everyone is doing the same thing out here whether it’s making 15 tapes for a local band or 300 to 400 for like a (Sandy) Alex G type band. I would really like things to be respected. That’s why I’ve been running things the way I’ve been running them. We’ve had the opportunity to become a subsidiary to a bigger label or taking in this distribution deal, where it’s like although it would make things easier to release other things like vinyl and bigger projects, I just really want to be in control of things. I don’t want this to be a thing where I’m cashing out and making money off other people’s work.

"Like, hey, you can work with artists and put your stuff out, but I think my focus is that I just want to highlight the artist and really help them out. Whether they get signed to a bigger label or anything, we’ll always be here."

Manny then elaborates on how they are around to help out, support, and release cassette tapes of artists that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be able to do a physical release. This ties into Citrus City Record’s previous slogan, a label by friends for friends. Despite the fact they took down the saying because they didn’t want it to become a gimmicky slogan, the concept still holds true to their beliefs as a label.

Citrus City Records is a hardworking label that doesn’t feel like a traditional label. Rather, it feels like something personal that you can be a part of without even being associated with music. That inclusivity is something Manny values. Highlighting friends such as Brian Dove, who does design work and flyers, and Katie Xie, who does graphic design; Manny values friends who contribute not only on a music level and supports artistic endeavors.

Citrus City Records hopes to one day be able to incorporate a lot more people and be able to assist them too. Whether it’s exposure, art, drawings, photography, or music. With 54 releases under their belt in three years, their success so far is nothing short of impressive. And they are still going strong.

“It is very, and understandably so, easy to give up and be like, you know what? I got other stuff going on in my life and I’m just going to focus on that. Respect to anyone that does go that route because I think a lot of people think that it’s just super easy to run a label or be involved. Whether its running a blog or doing anything that requires to put a lot more effort. We see a lot more tape labels start off strong then kind of stop doing things after their third release.

I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep going and foster a good catalog of music and sounds, and keep opening up the horizons or different sounds and textures. I’m just super stoked that it’s been going and being able to work with the people we’ve been able to work with so far,” Manny pauses for a brief moment before concluding, "It’s been a big honor and blessing."

Citrus City Records is evolving in their next chapter of life as Manny moves to New York in September. They will now have branches in both Richmond, VA and New York.

René and Manny in the crowd at Gallery5 for Citrus City's 2nd Anniversary Show.

Photo by Madison Earls

With the interview coming to a close, the citrus fruit fan in me had to press a final hard hitting question on the Citrus City Records co-founder. Just what is Manny’s citrus of choice?

“Wow. I love grapefruit. I don’t eat it enough, but I’m a big sucker for getting a big ol’ grapefruit and cutting it in half and sprinkling it with some salt. Oh, I mean some sugar, not some salt. I really like mandarins. Mandarins are really yummy.”

Manny adds lastly, "And Fanta. I love me some orange Fanta. Not real, although it’s artificial. I love Fanta.”

Keep up with Citrus City Records on Facebook to stay updated with shows and events. Any new releases can be found on their Bandcamp. Lastly, follow Citrus City Records on Twitter and Instagram for more content.

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