2015 February SXSWorld


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1 6 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M he headlines convey the broad strokes—Burger Records, the Fullerton, California juggernaut, is surely the music industry's wildest, strangest success story in recent memory. The truth between the lines, mean- while, reveals a heartwarming underdog ethos. One that expresses a fearless, any- thing-goes policy in discovering punk-rock unknowns, a knack for reviving long-lost chapters in rock and roll history and a his- tory of releasing, of all things, cassette tapes. This ethos is played out by label owners who give their 24/7 all, while wearing many hats and sleeping in their record shop. "It's Sean and I being crazy," Burger co- founder Lee Rickard tidily surmises. "And being passionate and dedicated to this cause. You know, helping our friends." "Our built-in philosophy," adds partner Sean Bohrman, "besides being free spirited and trying not to think too much, is that we're really eclectic, and our interests vary drastically. There's not a certain, specific genre that Burger caters to; therefore, we're friends with all kinds and sorts of people and bands. We're bringing people together." Burger Records, the label, has been in motion since 2007, when Bohrman's power-pop band, Thee Makeout Party!, was searching options for releasing its debut album, Play Pretend. They soon hit on the novel concept of reviving a long-dormant medium, cassette tapes, and the rest—thousands of lim- ited-edition releases, including some 300 in 2013 alone—is history. The cassette version of Play Pretend appeared in 2008, and tapes by super- indie groups like The Go (White Stripe Jack White's first band), Audacity and Traditional Fools fol- lowed. Those established Burger's stylistic baseline—trash punk and noise pop streaked with bubblegum spirit— along with a reputation as an entity eager to take chances. After all, it doesn't get much more punk rock than to give up a cushy day job and hinge your new "career" on releasing $6 cassettes on unknown bands in an age of streaming and download. "We were able to start working on Burger full-time," relates Bohrman, "and that's when things really started taking off. We don't have personal lives. It's just Burger Records all the time." "We're workaholics," adds Rickard. "We're trying to keep up with this thing that's kinda rolling faster than we can run." While the resurrection of cassettes has raised some eyebrows, it is hard to argue with the results. "When we started Burger," explains Bohrman, "that [cassettes] was the whole thing, but there was a weird response. There was some backlash on punk message boards. Some people still don't get it. But it's obviously working because we've sold over 300,000 cassettes in the last seven years, across 800 titles." The Burger aesthetic flies in the face of modern-style economic theory—as seen in the big corporations, or decaying major labels. In fact, the demographic is that there is no demographic. "We put out music from the '60s, to two minutes ago," enthuses Bohrman. Many pop stripes, crossing decades of garage/indie/psych history, meet up with bands discovered only yesterday, under the Burger umbrella: trash poet John Wesley Coleman; silky soul singer Curtis Harding; Austin punk unknowns the Vomettes; teen- pop sensations Cherry Glazerr. In some cases, Burger proffers a sturdy early step to greater fame—Los Angeles rockers together PANGEA recently signed with Harvest Records, and King Tuff, whose 2008 cult hit Was Dead, reissued by Burger, hit Billboard's "Heatseekers" charts last summer. "The reason why we've snowballed," Rickard told a reporter recently, "is because it is affordable. It's not going to break the bank and eventually we will make our money Burger Records Has Bands and Fans Saying "Well Done!" by Luke Torn T B u r g e r Re co r d s m a s te rm i n d s S e a n B o h rm a n ( L) a n d Le e Ricka r d a n d a t t h e B u r g e r Re co r d s s to re in Ful le r to n , C a l ifo rni a P E T E R T R A N "When we started Burger," explains Bohrman, "that [cassettes] was the whole thing, but there was a weird response.…But it's obviously working because we've sold over 300,000 cassettes in the last seven years, across 800 titles."

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