A record label that promotes being kind to other people, repudiates lying and acting shitty, calls up its “clients” to praise them with exclamations of love and friendship, and specializes in the disregarded (yet steadily rejuvenating) cassette-tape format. Yes, such a freak of nature does exist; freakS, rather, as Burger Records’ Sean Bohrman and Lee “Noise” Rickard (Thee Makeout Party) have seen their once-fledgling label grow to a bulging “caravan” of psyche/punk/garage-pop bands, from Detroit’s The Go / Conspiracy Of Owls to Atlanta’s Black Lips to Tucson’s Nobunny to, most recently, the veteran pop/rock singer songwriter Dwight Twilley.
What started in 2006 between TMP and close psyche-punk comrades Audacity as early 7-inch collaborations soon became a Fullerton-based record shop (now aided by Brian Flores, who ran Third Eye Records) and the now-cassette/-vinyl/-film-stacked headquarters for their operation. This pair of musicphiles, who started as high school punk pranksters via a song-less, almost-music-less band called The Noise, honed their songwriting sensibilities and pop tastes via 10 years in Thee Makeout Party. Now, after years of record collecting and a long-maintained resolution to be beholden only to themselves, they’re significantly furthering the erosion of the “old” music biz via their community-center manner of forging friendship through collaboration. Rickard just returned from their first (girl-group inspired) “Caravan of Stars” tour. Meanwhile, TMT caught up with Sean Behrman to discuss he and Lee Noise’s attractive enthusiasm, the “cassette tape” angel brought on to accommodate non-nostalgic kids of Orange County, and how he wants to tell as many people about the bands on his label as possible.
How’s everything going with Burger?
Everything’s going great. The label’s going really well, the store’s going really well. I work from the time I wake up to about 3 or 4 in the morning, when I usually go to bed. I’m working on the store, working on art, working on shows and tours, all the mail order stuff what we get off the site and doing wholesale orders from all over the world. And, we’ve put out, like, 50 or 60 tapes in the last two years, so it’s just lots and lots of work. Luckily there are lots of people involved so it’s going well.
So there’s more pitching in these days, beyond you, Lee and Brian?
Well, we’re the main people behind it but people are helping, people are excited about it and that makes us excited. It’s all about being excited and wanting to do what you’re doing — because once you don’t want to do it, then it’s over. Luckily, we’re not even close to that yet.
“At the end he said, ‘I hope this all works,’ and I yelled, ‘No. Hopefully is not an option, we’re gonna make this work and it’s gonna be fucking awesome.’ “
I imagine a lot of people, or the press really, come to you with varying inquiries and remarks upon your unique specialization in cassettes, jumping on the quirkiness…
Well, the reason people like Pitchfork — or the L.A. Times is coming next weekend for movie night — [and] everybody is jumping on the cassette-revival bandwagon is because as soon as one bigger newspaper told the story, everybody else around the country started calling. It’s funny how things work, how the public media can be manipulated. I’m interested in the behind-the-scenes things of music; like in pop music and how things can be made to entice a certain group of people to buy a certain thing or to have them subscribe to something or believe something. It’s something I like to think about.
After the initial press-angling, now it’s seeming clearer that Burger’s about more than cassettes…
Cassette tapes are what made burger what it is today. We put out LPs when we can. All the people ask what I think about cassettes. Like, as a novelty. And, of course they’re a novelty now, to people who experienced the whole cassette thing in the 80s, but the kids today who have old cars with cassette players, for them it’s just a different format to listen to. It’s not any kind of nostalgia for them; it’s just something to listen to music on. I just feel like tapes get a bad rap. Some people really hate them but I think they’re a viable format to listen to music on, so why not listen to it?
So what is Burger about, now?
It isn’t even about vinyl or cassettes, it’s about creating. Burger — it’s out of my hands and it’s out of Lee’s hands; it started as a little snowball that we were pushing and pushing and it just got bigger and bigger and now it’s just zooming down the hill and we’re all trying to run to keep up with it. Burger isn’t about the tapes; that’s what gets people to come to Burger, but once you’re there, we want them to be our friends or we want them to feel they’re included in Burger as much as anyone else. We don’t want bands to feel like we’re the record label and they’re the band; we want it to be like: Hey, I love you, you’re my friend, I just want to tell people that you just made this awesome music and I want to tell as many people as I can. That’s the whole thing behind Burger.
Can you tell more about the Anaheim/Fullerton music community and what it was like starting up that record store out there?
There’s lots of kids around Fullerton and Orange County that are excited and want to help. There’s this community feel, which is what we’re trying to do, is trying to make the whole community feel included. When people come to our shop they can hang out and all that stuff. Our regular day is, I wake up (I sleep at the shop) and I wake up on the couch and put some music on, then open the shop at 11 and I usually work until 9pm. I listen to some music, watch some movies, then while we’re doing that I’m also on the computer, I’m on the computer probably like 17 hours a day just emailing and designing and keeping up with records and data entry. Lee and Brian don’t really know how to work a computer, so I’m the one that’s left to do that.
Describe the store to us.
The store is big, 1,350 sq feet, with a show room in front where we’ve got thousands and thousands of records and tapes. There’s a little living room set up in the back of the shopping area, where there’s some couches and TVs so we can hang out and in the back is the warehouse where we keep all our extra records and vhs tapes.
Here in my Detroit suburb, we’ve seen four of the six most reliable record stores close. What’s it like out there in Fullerton, or what was it like starting a new record store (a record store with cassettes) up in this hectic economy?
In Orange County there’s some punk record stores and that’s… about… it. There’s nobody who’s doing the psyche thing. And, we don’t sleep during the weekends because we wake up at 5 in the morning to go to the swap meets to buy records. We’re always on the hunt for records and that’s one reason we’re still in business. We know what people want to buy and we know a lot about music and we just keep an eye out and I dunno, I just, me and Brian and Lee have just a lot of luck when we’re out finding stuff.
Heading out to swap meets, building up through that first year, what was it like?
The reason we started this was because, Thee Makeout Party was going to go on a tour and I worked previously for 4-and-a-half years as an art director for a boating-and-fishing magazine and they let me go on tour twice with Makeout Party. They’d let me leave for a month, but, since the economy was bad they weren’t gonna let me go on this last one. So I said fine, I quit, cashed out my 401K, and I got the store and it was a good deal. But, there was definitely times I was driving around, I would just feel like: ‘Sean, what are you doing? You’re throwing your life away.’ But, I would muffle those voices with marijuana and I’d keep on going.
I imagine those voices were probably pretty scary, or intense to hear.
Oh, I know. The voices in my head are very intense.
So, you mentioned you booked some tours yourself for Makeout Party, so that cut out a manager, and you didn’t have a label to deal with…
No, we never had any of that. That was part of Thee Makeout Party’s thing; we didn’t want to sign any contracts and we wanted to be beholden to ourselves. That’s like my motto in life: If I’m making all the decisions and something goes wrong it’s my fault.
It just seems indicative of the ever-accelerating DIY thing, a heartening antibody against the disease of the greeds and evils of the old music business. From your perspective, does the music business even exist anymore in its originally perceived state?
We have the internet, so the music business doesn’t really need to exist. The music business was about getting your music out to as many people as possible, but now if you know what you’re doing and you have the right bands and music and you’re 100-percent behind what you’re doing and you have other people that are equally excited, then you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t even matter, not even with music. My entire life I’ve been working on things and making zines and making comic books and from when I was writing books as a little kid, doing things myself is just something I’ve done my whole life and getting people to do their own thing with me is equally awesome.
So, Nobunny, Black Lips, King Tough: How did you find these bands or how did they find you? How did some of these collaborative releases come together?
Thee Makeout Party toured a lot and we got to play with lots of the bands. When we like a band we get totally nerdy and geeky about it and we’ll get in their face and call them and be like superfans, I guess. So we started with Thee Make out Party, doing a couple of our 7-inches, and then I was driving around thinking, “Man, Audacity rules, we need to put out that LP”… And this was before we even started the label — it was just something we felt we needed to do. And we did it. We started contacting all our favorite bands we knew and they were like: Yeah, cassettes, why not? It really took off when we did the Raw Romance tape, we sold 500 in a week and a half, for Nobunny.
“It’s funny how things work, how the public media can be manipulated. I’m interested in the behind-the-scenes things of music; like in pop music and how things can be made to entice a certain group of people to buy a certain thing or to have them subscribe to something or believe something.”
What’s the reaction from labels, or what is your interaction like, between Burger and some of these other bands’ respective labels?
We press the tapes and we do our thing with them, that’s what the labels expect us to do I think, they’re doing it so we can push the tape and people will be turned on to the LP or CD on the bigger label. In an interview with the guy from Sub Pop, somebody asked him, are they going to start putting out cassettes again? Because, of course they did in the 80s and 90s. But they said the time to make cassettes was about two years ago — when it would’ve been a fun novelty — but now they’re not interested in pressing cassettes. Which is good for us; we are interested. We can make money off of them and by working with these bigger labels it’s increasing the exposure for Burger and by increasing the exposure for Burger we’re increasing the exposure for all the other bands on Burger. We put out bands we like that nobody knows about so people will know about them, then we put out bands like Black Lips who have way more fans than Burger does, so that now, once we put out their tape, all their people will know what Burger is and it just grows and grows…
So this stated building around local attention, with Audacity and Devon Williams but grew nationally… eventually, what was it like having contacts from across the continent? Or what were some reactions or reasons people first worked with you, or maybe what have your band relationships been like?
There’s this band, Mmoss, who sent us their tape in the mail and we put it on and really fell in love with it. It’s super good psychedelic pop music. It was like 3 AM where they were and we immediately called them on the phone from the number on the tape and we were like: We love it, we love you; we probably called them 2-3 times that day. We’re enthusiastic about this stuff and when people hear our enthusiasm, they think: Oh, these guys are funny or weird or something… Dwight Twilley has an A&R guy and I was talking to him about things, how to publicize. I felt like a real professional during that conversation. I felt I knew what I was talking about. At the end he said, “I hope this all works,” and I yelled, “No. Hopefully-is not an option, we’re gonna make this work and it’s gonna be fucking awesome.”
And with that, gaining of confidence and spreading of contacts, any reflections upon the last 2 years of development?
I get to hang out with King Tough, like, he’s my friend now. It’s just about making connections with people. It’s all about how you treat people, I guess. You just need to be kind to people, you need to not lie to people. Christianity is weird and wrong in some ways but as far as the ethics that they teach you, as far as being right and being kind and true to people, I totally agree with that. If you do that, everyone else around you will treat you good and good things will happen to you, and if you act shitty and you’re a shitty person then shitty things are gonna happen to you.
And future plans? Future releases?
Conspiracy of Owls LP is coming out, it’s already out but the glow-in-the-dark covers are gonna be here soon. That album is fucking killer. The Mmoss LP is gonna come out in the fall. Dwight Twilley LP out in September, Raw Romance is being pressed on vinyl and CD. And in addition to that, there’s like 20 other tapes being made right now.