Interview by Paul D Houston
Burger Records is a Fullerton, California based record label, featuring a huge roster of interesting, wild, fun, strange and fierce rock n roll bands and musicians. Started in 2007/08 by two friends Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, with a 7” record from their own band, Thee Makeout Party, Burger Records was born. When they followed that 7" record up with a cassette tape by the band, AUDACITY, something began to happen. Burger Records then made a succession of other cassettes from other underground bands and people really began to take notice. Who was this small record label making all these cassettes? Cassettes were a dead medium!
Eventually, Burger Records caught the eye of notable bands and musicians like The Dwarves, Dale Crover of the Melvins, The Dandy Warhols, Redd Kross, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Smoking Trees, Traumahelikopter & Tobin Sprout, among many others and heir name was made. Cassette tapes were a real thing once more.
Following up their labels success, Lee and Sean along with friend, Brian Flores, opened a retail shop in the Fullerton, California area in 2009, also called Burger Records. When it comes to underground, outsider, weird or indie styles of music, I doubt you can find a cooler shop in the area. They stock an enormous amount of records, tapes, cds and other weird stuff. From the hard to find, to the hip and the modern. And the cassette tape collection is like no other!
Success breeds emulation, and now almost all modern indie and punk rock bands want their album on a cassette tape. Every small record label knows what I am talking about. When I started, Rock Hand Records, I thought it was madness to do eps or albums on cassette tape, but I quickly found out, the demand is there. When large scale music distributors like, for example, Amplified Distribution has started selling them again, it means it’s a thing. Cassettes are relatively cheap to produce and the retro style of package/product is an obvious attraction for the modern non-mainstream kind of music collector.
The charm of a cassette tape is it’s affordability first and foremost, but that charm has a flip side, their fragility. Tapes, back in the day were notorious for being eaten by your tape player at some point, it was just a matter of time. If you couldn’t repair the thing, which we always tried, sometimes succeeding, mostly failing, you bought another one. Fortunately, even today, cassettes are still a relative bargain, despite their niche collectability. Most of Burger Records cassettes are being sold for $7 or less. That’s cheaper than your average digital album price on Apple Music or Bandcamp, nowadays.
Anyway, as the head of a small record label myself, I am wondering if Burger Records can point out to me, how exactly they became such a nice success story, considering the types of music they release? Was there a secret to it all? Was it a marketing or promotion angle which prompted their success? Was it a look, was it the location or was it simply working with the right bands and musicians at the right point in time and doing their due diligence and putting in a lot of hard work?
Hi Sean, thank you for doing this interview. First of all, why “Burger” Records? Why that name?
Because we love hamburgers!
Was there a plan in the beginning for the label? Did you know what you were doing?
We started out just putting out our band Thee Makeout Party! And then put out our favorite local band, Audacity, and it kind of snowballed from there! We didn't know what we were doing at all, we still don't, haha!
Was it an obvious point where you went from, start up record label to successful record label?
No, we do so much that there's no time to appreciate the past, so I just work every day all day and this is what's happened. When I quit my day job to start the record store, that was a big moment and then 3 years after the store opened I didn't have to be in the front all day so I started working on Burger the label all the time. We're still super poor so not successful in that sense, but creating something that will be remembered after we die is pretty cool!
What’s the day to day life for you now? Explain to me your typical day, if you would, as far as the label side of things goes?
I wake up at 10am or so and start working on the computer. I work all day until 4am and then go to bed and do it all over again. Each night I can't wait to fall asleep so I can wake up and keep working. I've been on this schedule for years and years now. I'm a workaholic and a control freak so this is my perfect life haha!
What made you decide to open a retail record store up, in association with the label?
I was working as an art director at a boating and fishing magazine and the economy had gone bad in 2009. They weren't going to let me tour again with our band and I thought about my life and what I want to be doing vs being stuck in a cubicle and I cashed out my 401k, quit my job and opened the store. My mom cried and said I was making a mistake but it was the best decision I ever made. Sometimes, I hate being the boss but the freedom associated with this job is worth it.
How separate or intertwined are the label and the retail store? Does one supersede the other as far as priorities?
They are two different businesses but definitely intertwined. I do the label mostly, I just have to make sure the bills and workers are paid for the record store. I don't work the front that much anymore but I still do sometimes. I love working on the label because it started from nothing and it's still growing so making that happen is exciting!
What are the qualities or types of things you look for when bringing in a band or musician under the Burger Records masthead?
The main thing (other than being a really good band) is that they're nice people. Working with assholes isn't worth the trouble.
So, why cassettes?
No one else was making tapes when we started, so one night when we were on tour and we had our own album on cassette, I thought, why aren't we doing all of these albums by our friends that we love on tape? I sent out emails to Apache, The Go and Traditional Fools that night - each of them said yes and that's how we got the ball rolling!
I own an older model Subaru Forester car and it came with a tape player, but when I bought the car, I had just months earlier decided to get rid of my huge tape collection. I had hundreds of cassettes, original and my own mix tapes, etc. I feel like a total fool for throwing all those out now. I only held onto about 12 cassettes, largely for sentimental value. So when I first got my car, I listened to the same 12 tapes over and over and rediscovered the joy of listening to a cassette tape. The sound is really unique. While not being the most user friendly, as compared to digital tracks, its something special. I still don’t have a home stereo with a tape player yet though. Did you keep your old tape players from the 80’s or did you purchase new ones once you knew the cassette tape idea was a full go for the label?
We always had tape players in our car and van so we never stopped listening to tapes. When I was in high school, a live tape of The Mummies got stuck in my car and I listened to only that for over a year. My volume was also stuck on full blast so the only way I could adjust the volume was with the treble and bass and the results were negligible, haha.
Are there tape players being made now, that you would recommend?
We made our own tape player called the Burger Buddy - we've almost sold 2000 of them!
Do you work with a distributor?
Yep, Redeye is our distributor - we've been using them for about 6 years now, it's a good symbiotic relationship but you do give up a certain amount of control which sometimes causes me to have a hissy fit, haha!
A lot of bands want to just sign to a label and sit back and wait for the rewards to come in, what does Burger Records require of the bands, once they sign with you?
We don't usually sign bands (unless the band really insists) so as hard as the band works will be as hard as we work. If they're gonna sit back and do nothing I'll do the same. If they're going to hustle hard, I'll be right there with them :-)
645 S. State College Blvd. #A Fullerton, CA 92831 U.S.A. Open every day from 11am-9pm