Burger Records

Everybody’s Listening:
Burger Records’ Dynamo DIY

There’s no Guinness World Record listing to quantify releases by a single record label – not yet, at least. But Burger Records might be the imprint to change that.

“We’re on release 410 right now and we started five years ago,” says Sean Bohrman, co-founder of the Fullerton, California label.

Depending on Bohrman’s rules for counting, that number could already be much higher. He could have been including planned releases, or he could have meant already available works. He’s the one who brought up the record-setting subject – and that was weeks before announcing a tape-a-day release schedule for the entire month of January.

That’s right, tapes. Some are debut full-lengths, like that of Pookie and the Poodlez, a side-project of Nobunny’s Jason Testasecca; others are reissues on cassette, like Television Personalities’ 1995 album I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod. Contemporary albums originally only available on vinyl are also subject to the Burger treatment. They put out their own vinyl EPs and LPs, too. A sampling of their range: Chuck Prophet, Dwight Twilley, The Quick, Ty Segall, King Tuff, Davila 666 and Nick Nicely.

Burger’s hand in the garage and punk scene doesn’t stop there, either. Like Goner in Memphis, Burger is also a record store. And they host shows, too. Unlike Goner, however, Burger events aren’t restricted to hometown venues. The Burger stamp is ubiquitous all over the country. Label buds likely handle most of the city-centric responsibilities, but it’s almost like Sean Bohrman and company are omnipresent. And they’re not confined only to garage and punk – folk-pop, psych, power pop and other alternative sounds are fair game as well. After about seven years of relentless productivity, it’s beginning to feel like Burger is everywhere.

What makes Burger’s ubiquitousness especially impressive – and sort of hilarious – is that the dudes behind the buns are self-proclaimed stoners.

“Yeah, we’re the most productive stoners ever,” Bohrman affirms. “We smoke a lot of weed, but we’re working at all times.”

Not everybody fits the lethargic pot-smoker stereotype, of course. But, by definition, it is a downer drug. It’s not known to encourage a workaholic mentality. Somehow Bohrman and the gang aren’t slowed by the mellow, though.

In fact, in the weeks between the assignment of this story and its publishing, Burger has hosted a slew of shows, announced the tape-a-day plan, nearly finalized the lineup for a two-stage, two-day fest in March (Burgerama) and guested on a radio show. That’s on top of efforts already in motion, like running the record store, online shop and dropping weekly episodes of Burger TV.  These guys move fast.

Momentum has been a motif for Burger Records since the start. Bohrman met Lee “Noise” Rickard (pictured here, loading boxes of records) at a show while still in high school. The pair started a band, Thee Makeout Party!, soon after. The forming of Burger followed close behind.

“The first thing we released on Burger was Thee Makeout Party 7-inch. And we released it because nobody else wanted to, so we did it,” Bohrman recalls. “And then there was this band Audacity from around [Fullerton] that was really, really good, and we loved them. They were still in high school. We did a split 7-inch with them on this other record label and at the meeting for that, I was like, ‘Hey, Burger should do your LP,’ and we just went from there. We recorded the LP in a couple days and that was our first LP. Then we released the Resonars, then started doing cassettes with the Go, Traditional Fools and Apache – those were the first three cassettes that weren’t Audacity or Makeout Party. And then we started just snowballing from there. We’ve released 350-some-odd bands on cassette – and counting.”

Bohrman is pretty succinct in recounting Burger’s start, and he appropriately leaves it open-ended. All that happened around 2007, and the record store debuted in 2009 with the help of Bohrman’s buddy Brian Flores.

Bohrman fails to mention, however, the many other (and quite varied) arms of Burger. One extension of note: Burger also functions somewhat as a charity. They’re issuing benefit comps more and more regularly – an effort that started with sponsoring a kid named Katenge Mdudzi Mufuzi by way of Children International.

“It was through the Nobunny Raw Romance cassette, which was our first big release that we put out,” Bohrman explains. “We charged an extra dollar for the 500 cassettes we released and we sold out in a week and a half. We were able to raise Katenge’s family’s income by 50 percent for two years off of that week and a half of selling cassettes.”

Last summer when they found a stray, struggling cat on the freeway, a compilation cassette was quickly assembled to raise funds for its much-needed medical attention.

“We saved this wiener dog who needed a growth removed from her belly,” he adds. “We sold out in less than a day – The Weiner Dog Comp. We sold 300 copies. That was 71 bands over two tapes of unreleased songs, like Thee Oh Sees and King Tuff and a bunch of other bands.”

They just reissued a Nolan Strong and the Diablos tribute, originally released via The Wind and Norton Records, to aid the latter imprint in recovering from Hurricane Sandy’s financially devastating impact on its New York headquarters. It features Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, Reigning Sound, Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Mark Sultan and others covering various favorites from the Detroit R&B group’s ‘50s and ‘60s-era catalog.

And all the while, they’ve continued contributing to Katenge’s well-being.

“We’ve been supporting him for the last four or five years now,” Bohrman confirms. “He’s part of the family now, and we support him and his family.”

It’s not just the charitable endeavors fueling the warm-and-fuzzy-in-your-heart feeling Burger exudes. Every aspect of their operation’s got some genuine goodness to it – even the way they manufacture their tapes.

“We put together every single tape ourselves,” Bohrman says. “But the duplication is done at M2 Communications in Pasadena. It’s this guy’s family business. He’s like our fifth Beatle, kind of. He turns around the tapes so quickly. We usually put in our order on Sunday and by Thursday or Friday we’re picking up our tapes. With all the other people who make cassettes – big companies that make cassettes – you’re going to wait 45 days to two months to get one cassette. Without his being able to turn around cassettes so quickly…we wouldn’t be where we are today without him, definitely.”

It appears Burger is DIY down to its very core. All the best attributes of that ethic are accounted for. Creativity is clearly of importance: The cassette-centric idea in the digital era is certainly one-of-a-kind. Effort isn’t lacking, obviously. (They held a 24-hour sale for New Year’s Eve – as in, they kept the physical store open the whole time, hosting bands and inviting everyone to shop and hang out.) The small-scale feel is obviously there, and it’s remained intact despite the accumulation of successes – and the extra output necessary as a result.

“I’m at the center of [Burger Records] because Lee and Brian don’t have email addresses. They don’t use the Internet at all, or the computers or anything,” Bohrman laughs. “So I’m usually at the center of everything, getting everything together, business type stuff, taxes. And I design all the tapes and stuff as well. Everything you see on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr – that’s all me.”

It’s so small-scale, in fact, that it’s quite personal: Bohrman still lists his cell phone number on every single release. He tells me over the phone that he’s gotten used to getting weird calls at odd hours with an implied shrug, as if it’s never been a bother, but rather somewhat humorous.

One of the most fruitful, lasting outcomes of that DIY ethic, however, is the community it fosters. Burger was by no means the first – or the last – label to cater to the garage and punk scene, but it can’t be denied that it has helped spread and maintain this recent, fresh wave.

“I like to make connections between bands,” Bohrman says, “and with Burger we’re connecting a whole bunch of bands [that otherwise] would never know each other personally or hear each other’s music. But through Burger, everybody’s listening. And we’re not strictly one type of genre. We like all kinds of music. So does the rest of the world – so we cater to everybody.”

Earning a place in the list of Guinness World Records is an effort that’s been repeatedly exploited by corporations for publicity (they even have a corporate section of the website now), but aren’t many of its record-holders DIY-minded individuals? So doesn’t Burger naturally belong in the mix? Alright, I’m reaching. But just imagine the shindig Burger could throw in celebration…