This article was published in the May 2007 edition of Independent Clauses Magazine (IndependentClauses.com).
Grinding Tapes Gives Back:
How Jason Rozen Built a Stand-Out Label (and Lost a Kidney)
By CJ Macklin
The relationship between an artist and his or her record label is historically one of give and take. In an unhealthy relationship, the artist gives heart and soul into the music and the record label takes the artist for all he or she is worth. But in that rare occasion where the record label cares for and nurtures the artist, true beauty can be made.
Then there’s the case of Grinding Tapes Recording Company founder Jason Rozen and artist Elijah Wyman. Their case is so unique that it takes the artist/label relationship to a whole new level.
Wyman and Rozen met around five years ago, before Wyman was playing music solo. Rozen had seen him around but it wasn’t until a bet that they became friends.
“He was challenging people to a videogame,” Rozen said. If the challenger beat Wyman, Wyman would give him or her a free copy of his band’s CD. If Wyman won, the challenger would have to go around the mall for an hour and advertise Wyman’s band Good for Life. Rozen challenged and, of course, lost. After an hour of plugging Wyman’s band, a friendship grew.
Grinding Tapes began in September 2005.
“It was just a few months after I had graduated college,” Rozen explains.
Wyman played Rozen some rough mixes of his solo music and explained that his record label wasn’t going to put out a vinyl version of his CD. Rozen said he would pay for the vinyl processing, and Wyman could pay him back as he sold copies. Thus, a record label was born.
“Since then, we’ve added three new artists to our roster,” Rozen said. “My number one priority is good music.”
Grinding Tapes is not, however, a typical record label. If one of Rozen’s bands is playing a show within two hours of his house, he goes – every time.
“I think Jason is the only person who’s been to every one of my CD release shows,” Wyman said.
Another anomaly is Rozen’s approach to funds. Wyman said that everything cycles at Grinding Tapes, and a lot of the money made gets donated to charity.
“He doesn’t make any money. He just really cares about the music,” Wyman said.
Rozen said he does it because he loves what he’s doing.
“I treat them as I would some of my favorite artists,” Rozen said.
As if all this wasn’t enough, it’s what Rozen is willing to do outside of the record label that truly shows how much he cares for his artists.
In 2006, Wyman was diagnosed with a kidney disease. While his disease fits the M.O. of other kidney diseases, it is also unique.
“They don’t really know how it started,” Wyman said. “The end result is my kidneys are more or less not working anymore.”
Wyman first discovered he had the disease when he went to a doctor for some vision trouble he was having. He took a blood pressure test and found out that his blood pressure was dangerously high. The doctors reported that they didn’t know what was causing the problem, but at such a high level Wyman would only have 6 months to live. It wasn’t until a few days later that they discovered the problem with his kidneys.
“If I didn’t do anything, I would die a really gross death,” Wyman said.
Because the kidneys get rid of waste, if he didn’t do anything, he would eventually turn yellow and die from the poisonous waste building up in his body.
Ultimately his blood pressure reset, but only due to medication to lower his blood pressure. Now, it was too low. On top of this, other medication he was taking caused horrible side effects. He got crazy acne and put on a lot of weight in his legs.
“I gained 20 lbs of fluid in my legs,” he said.
The fluid would come out of his feet, and he couldn’t even fit into his shoes. After the medication fiasco was fixed, Wyman got a lot better and is no longer in pain. Yet the original problem of his kidneys was still there.
Suddenly, Wyman had a lot of restrictions on his diet. He couldn’t eat a lot of sodium and he had to stay away from potassium. In typical Rozen fashion, the night Wyman came back from the hospital, Jason and his girlfriend brought Wyman a bunch of groceries he could eat.
“Jason is just really a great guy,” Wyman said, and added that he often donates blood and gives to non-profit organizations.
But groceries were not the only thing Rozen would offer to help Wyman. In an act so selfless it is the embodiment of the human spirit, Jason Rozen offered one of his own kidneys to his friend Elijah Wyman.
“I wasn’t even thinking in terms of the record label,” Rozen said. “If I could give up one of my kidneys and still live a normal life, there’s not much of a decision to make there.”
This offer soon began to materialize. They both had the same blood type, and they were young and healthy. They found out that Rozen is a close match. At that point, it wasn’t even certain that Wyman would need a new kidney, but after some time, it became clear he would.
“It was pretty much a natural reaction for me,” Rozen said.
Some testing is still required to make sure Rozen is healthy enough to give his kidney to Wyman, and the surgery date is not set in stone yet. It could happen as early as a month or two, but because Wyman is not in an immediate need for a kidney, they have a little bit of flexibility.
“It’s just frustrating trying to live your life around a mystery date,” Wyman said.
Whenever the surgery does occur, neither man will be slowed down for too long. Rozen will have a recovery period of two to four weeks, while Wyman’s recovery will be a little bit longer.
Rozen’s extreme generosity is not lost on Wyman.
“He actually gives without actually expecting anything in return,” Wyman said.
While some record companies take a lot from the artist and give back little, the owner of Grinding Tapes Recording Company is quite literally giving pieces of himself to his artists.