MUSIC “You know how the Ramones made a bunch of people wanna start their own band?” I half-assed agree, not fully knowing the background of what sounds like legend, but it’s obvious Sean Bohrman is about to go into a story. “I want Burger to be the Ramones of record labels.”
Bohrman, along with Lee Rickard, founded Burger Records in 2007. Despite a clear DIY aesthetic, their vision has flourished into a mini empire, with their business model quickly allowing Bohrman and store co-owner, Brian Flores, to provide a Mecca of sorts, or cassette lover’s dream, in the form of a brick and mortar shop that opened in Orange County’s Fullerton, Calif. in ’09.
The label and store are separate businesses (they started out by pressing vinyl), but Bohrman says that cassettes are now the backbone of both endeavors. It’s what sells the most and what keeps them afloat. Never one to rest it seems, he tells me the label has enough “on the grill” to release three cassettes a week for the rest of ’13. I wonder how this is all possible and what fuels those who cater to the resurgence of cassette culture.
Somehow, they had the wherewithal to release a tape a day for the month of January, showcasing acts who’ve made their mark in the Bay Area such as Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, Swiftumz, and Nobunny, but were able to expand the parameters of geography and time with a re-release by ’60s British psych-prog band, Nirvana.
“I came up with that idea December 31 at midnight. As soon as you put it out there to the universe, it’s happening whether you like it or not.” He’s talking about the half-cooked idea of a tape blowout sale and using social media to reach their audience.
Full of near Oprah-like levels of positivity, Bohrman and the Burger crew are riding high off of a South by Southwest showcase (Burgermania), a series of 60 same-day Burger Revolution shows (mostly in the US and Canada), and the fairly-recent inception of BRGRTV, a “rejuvenating” roughly 10 to 15 minute weekly music video series showcasing Burger bands, weirdo clips, and general high-on high jinks. It’s another branding technique that Bohrman says allows them to connect with fans and sets them apart from the others.
“You think of Sean and Lee. Other labels have no personality. They pay people to post on Facebook. It’s super important for us to talk to our fans. It’s our life, whereas it’s a job for others.” He critiques that approach as “faceless and robotic,” but offers more insight on how he manipulates social media even by calculating on a global scale.
“Everything on the Internet is pretty much me. I’m not thinking about me at my computer. I think about people all over the world. In Japan, what time are they waking up? What time is it in Europe? It’s a thought process.” It’s that type of hands on hyper-consciousness that translates into how Burger books shows and how they treat it like the art of constructing a mixed tape. “I like turning people on to music,” he says.
BURGERAMA II AND BACK
I hardly ever sweat. I’ve remained bone dry trying yoga before and have cut a rug on San Francisco dance floors, even wearing multiple layers, and managed to keep my cool. But this was Southern California — Santa Ana, to be exact, and there I was, packed in the Observatory’s Constellation Room to see Shannon and the Clams’ live set at Burgerama II. Two days worth of sold-out shows, roughly 40 bands — including the Spits, Fuzz, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and the Black Lips, all put on by Burger Records.
Standing with only two people between me and the stage, I wiped the sweat running profusely from my brow. As popular as they are, the Clams played the smaller of two stages. Though there were complaints (including from the band) about the lack of air, it seemed like everyone wanted to be in this small, stuffy room.
“Take it off!” exclaimed some girls, directing their desires towards the group’s guitarist, Cody Blanchard, who was wearing his signature gold, sequined bow-tie and suspenders. The fervor was apparent. Fanaticism and Burger fever were in the air.
Charging the stage to steal a kiss from a favorite star would almost be as commonplace as crowd surfing over the weekend, especially with Hunx and His Punx and the Black Lips in the lineup. Boys and girls of all ages simply couldn’t contain their lust. After all, it was spring break.
During the Clams’ set a greasy, long-haired guy from the audience pulled a sleaze-ball move when he rushed the stage, turned towards Shannon and planted one on her. She was clearly caught off guard by the violator and gave him a hefty shove that sent him flying, as if in slow motion, over my head. I looked up to see a sick mix of fear and excitement in his eyes. There were plenty of other weird moments throughout the weekend, but that’s one that particularly stood out.
I ran into Shannon Shaw in the surreal outdoor backstage area, where Ariel Pink could be seen milling about with the likes of Natural Child (oddly enough, I recognized their newest member, Benny, from being my shuffleboard partner in NOLA during Mardi Gras a few years back). If that wasn’t distracting enough, burgers were being flipped the entire time.
When I caught up with Shaw, she had just gone on as a Punkette bassist and was about to go on with the Clams. So we only spoke briefly, but she touched on something important and even dropped the phrase, “Burger culture.”
Whether or not you agree with Burger’s levels of innovation (some may argue that cassette tapes, like records, are just the next wave of nostalgia), it is undeniably popular. Others have brought up even harsher charges of the label not properly crediting or licensing music it re-issues from other labels. Bohrman addressed this by saying that early on they did run into some conflict because they would only get permission from the band. But after “smashing more than a few toes,” they now get full permission from everyone involved. He added they didn’t know any better and assumed musicians and songwriters owned their music.
Still, there’s something that resonates about the format of the cassette tape that Bohrman and the San Francisco Mixtape Society agree upon. “You spend time nurturing a cassette,” he says. Playlists are “fun and easy to listen to, but there’s no feeling, heart, or accomplishment.”
Burgerama II was an accomplishment and should be considered another successful mix from the guy who throws out thoughts like, “Britney Spears is pretty punk if you think about it. I’d love to put a tape out by her. If I can sit there, I feel confident that I can change your mind. I guarantee I can change your mind.”