Sunday, December 11, 2011

Inside the Burger Bubble: A Q&A with Burger Records

            Recently, I found myself on the 91 Freeway, exiting State College Blvd. in Fullerton, heading over the train tracks, and turning left into an unassuming strip of small businesses amidst a neighborhood of industrial companies.  The only signs of Burger Records were a modest red and white light box sign attached to the building above the entrance, and a few bins of dollar records placed out front to entice potential customers.  But once I swung the glass-paneled door open, I was greeted by the lingering scent of Nag Champa incense, the glow of green walls the color of grass in the Springtime, a premium tune being emitted via vinyl from speakers in the back, and an eclectic mix of records and music oddities that had been discovered on Craigslist, at swap meets, or the local non-profit retail shop.  Owners and operators Sean Bohrman, Lee Rickard, Brian Flores and Bobby May greeted and invited me to the stock room in the way back filled with VHS tapes, record back-stock, posters, cassette tapes, crates, chests, bookshelves, tables, and couches to tell me about how the business began before the doors of the establishment officially opened two years ago, and what it means to truly be in the ‘Burger Bubble.’

Before Burger Records even existed, did all four of you already know each other?

Lee Rickard: Yeah.  We’ve been doing the label about five years.  It all started with mine and Sean’s old band Thee Makeout Party!, and Brian (Flores) used to have a record store called Third Eye Records.  He was a fan of our music, and he actually chipped in and paid for half of Burger recording number one, but he had his own label at the time called Yellow Sun Records.

Bohrman: I met Lee back in high school back in ’98.

Rickard: We became friends around Halloween time of ’98 at Koo’s Cafe and he was making fun of my long hair.  Then he started taking me to the movie theater.  I never really watched movies, so I finally started entering pop culture.  I grew up on a horse stable in Anaheim called Rancho Del Rios Stables that was established in 1970.  My mom helped run it for 30 or so years.  That’s where I kind of learned how to run a family business, and a lot of that stuff transferred to Burger.  We’re still working out the kinks.

That’s always a constant part of business I suppose?  When did you decide it was time to start the shop here, and why did you choose Fullerton?

Bohrman: Well I grew up in Anaheim.

Rickard: We met in East Anaheim.  We went to Katella High School.

Bohrman: Then later we had Thee Makeout Party!, and we started playing with this band called Audacity, who were from around here and are really good.  That’s how we met Bobby.

Bobby May: I’m from Fullerton, and Audacity is from Fullerton, and we all went to Fullerton High School.

Rickard: But when we truly bonded with Bobby, we were driving back from Brea’s Best and we saw Bobby walking by his lonesome…

Bohrman: …just down the street and we were like, ‘Hey we know that guy, pull over.’  And so we turned around and then we picked him up.  Then we went to like three shows that night.  It was a crazy night.

Rickard: We played a show sponsored by Vice and Colt 45.  Then we went to another party, and another party at the end too.  It was a hectic night.

Music and partying basically brought you guys together?

Rickard: Yeah, and same with Brian.  He had his record store where we used to buy all of our records.

Bohrman: I worked right next to there for years.  I was a graphic designer and on my lunch breaks I would go there and look at records.  We would trade music and we had a lot in common.

So Brian, you’re a little bit of the ringleader over here then?

Brian Flores: I went to like all of Thee Makeout Party! shows.

Bohrman: We took him on tour across the country.

Rickard: Multiple times.

Flores: We had been hanging out for a while before we opened the record store.

Bohrman: I was working at the magazine, and I was going to go on tour with Makeout Party, and my work wasn’t going to let me go, like they had two times before, because the economy went bad.  Then I decided I’m just going to quit after working there for four and a half years.  If I had saved another half a year, I would have gotten like $10,000 matched for my 401k, but I didn’t.  I just cashed out my 401k and got $7,000, and opened the store with Brian when we got back from tour.  It’s been going really well.
(L-R) Bobby May, Sean Bohrman, Lee Noise Rickard, Brian Flores
Photo by Olivia Hemaratanatorn
No regrets?

Bohrman: No.  At the time, I would drive around and just start to think about things, and I’d think, ‘What am I doing?’

Rickard: Well the beginning process with all the paperwork and the political aspect…

Bohrman: It’s the worst.

There are quite a lot of hoops to jump through.  Has the ‘bad economy’ affected your business at all?

Bohrman: It hasn’t really affected us as a store because people continue to buy music.  Last year around Fall ‘10 was our slowest time that we’ve had in the last two years.  This year hasn’t slowed down, which is good.

Rickard: Art thrives in times of desperation.  That’s what fuels the fire for the freaks.  And there’s a handful of people that buy nearly everything we put out, and that keeps us floating and it encourages us to put more and more out.  So everyday we’re doing layouts and every week we’re putting out new releases.  The ball is rolling, as they say.

For a band or an artist, their success seems to depend on if the vessel is genuine.  It seems like you have an excellent vessel floating here.

Rickard: We try to stay positive, and just seeing things and believing they can happen.  It’s easy to go, ‘Well that’s tough, and that’s gonna be hard, and that’s not gonna happen for this many reasons.’  It’s like, it can happen, and if you already believe that, then you can get your partners to believe that.  Then everyone believes who are on the same wavelength, like your friends and family.  You believe, and then it just blows up.  As long as it’s positive, and you’re doing good and helping other people, it will come back to you ten-fold.

So you started the label before you opened the store?

Rickard: The store has been open for two years, and the label has been around for a handful of years.  Before the label, we were writing Burger Productions on our artwork. As far as legitimizing over the last two years, the store has been a front for our religion.  People from all over the world come here, it’s pretty cool stuff.

Brian, you had your record store Third Eye Records.  How long have you been in the industry?

Flores: I’ve been in the music industry since I was about 17 years old.  I worked for Tower Records up north in San Francisco.  My goal always was to work for a major record label in artistic development.  I interned for two years before opening my own store, and then I finally did it.  So I was doing that sort of work up north, developing bands was what I wanted to do, but I found out the industry was what I hated, and everything started collapsing and there were mergers and stuff.  My job was not secure at all, so I freaked out.

Is that when you decided to start your own business?

Flores: It took a little while, but I knew even if I wasn’t working at a record store, I’d be volunteering at a record store.  I just had to be around it.

I definitely understand the need to have music around all the time.

Rickard: It’s a ritual; it’s spiritual.  When you listen to a record, in ten or 15 minutes, you’re going to have to flip it over.  In between, you have time to read every detail and look into every nuance.

We’ve lost that aspect as we’ve moved into a digital age?  When you have a computer with thousands of songs on it, you can hit the space bar to play, just let it run, and you don’t have to think about it that much.

Rickard: If you have a computer and a space bar.  But when you live in space and the world is your bar, you just go with the flow and it’s easier for us to make friends with all the rock and roll bands that are playing.

Flores: Burger Space (laughs).

With vinyl, it’s necessary to stay connected—you have to flip the record and have more of a relationship with it.

Rickard: Exactly.  It’s more up front in your mind, and it’s not something like a CD where you can listen to it while you’re driving.

Sean, what are you drawing over there?  You’re a lefty, eh?

Bohrman: Yep, just doodles.
Tell me more about the label. I would ask whom you’re working with, but there is a long list of artist names.

Rickard: We have done over 150 some odd releases thus far.

Bohrman: We’re adding new stuff everyday.  There’s so much good music happening right now that we’re just trying to keep up with it.

What do you think about the majors?

Rickard: We just do our own thing.  If you can push a record and believe in it.  The majors really believe in it, but…

May: Jive, Arista, and J Records all went under yesterday.  They all collapsed under into RCA and they got rid of them.

Rickard: That just shows the foundation of those labels.  They lose so much when they blow up and they turn into something that has no soul behind it.  We’re thriving because we believe in something, that’s not just our imagination, but all of our imaginations, including the bands and our friends.  It turns into a bigger thing.  It’s not that manipulated.

I wonder if those guys at the majors wake up and feel the obsession like you guys do?

Flores: It’s about business and numbers.

Rickard: We’re passionate about it.  Our numbers may be small, but they have grown.  We want every tape to get in the right hands.  It’s not about collecting money all the time, it’s more like, ‘You need to hear this.’  If it triggers something, then we just want to spread the gospel of rock and roll because we believe in the music.

I think you guys would be doing that even if you didn’t have a record store.

Rickard: Sean and I would go to the swap meets early in the morning on the weekends, and dig through records.  We would buy great records over and over again.  If you find a great record for a $1, you’re going to buy it and give it to your friend and tell them, ‘This will change your life.’  It’s a good feeling and that’s what the store is basically.  It started with our own collections, and then turning our friends onto it.

Community seems to be a big thing for you guys, and I notice you put on shows here at the shop, and also get the locals involved with label production as well.

Rickard: When we had a band, we would do whatever it took to make shit happen.  There’s a handful of people that do shows at their house, and touring bands come through and they are down to make shit happen.  We’re down too.  People come through and say that nothing else is popping up, and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you can play the store.’  It’s a big deal to some, and a big deal to give that outlet.  All of the neighborhood is doing awesome too.  They want to hear the bands.  Feeding People, Cosmonauts, Cum Stain, Audacity, Death Hymn—there’s too many bands in the neighborhood to even remember.

How do bands usually contact you guys? Or is it you reaching out to them?

Rickard: Occasionally we do reach out to bands—shit that we’re super horny for.  We’ll send vibes, and that’s how we got to work with some of the bigger artists like Milk ‘n’ Cookies.  A lot of friends from the community have turned us on to stuff after a while.  Touring got us in touch with a lot of people too.

Bohrman: We hear about bands sometimes through friends.  Every once in a while, we’ll get a demo or something from a band.  We get demos all the time, but every once in a while, we’ll get one that’s really good.

Rickard: We want to know that people, and if we want it to be like a friendly family-based thing, it’s not like we’re just trying to get the big dogs to make it look legit.  We know what it is.  It’s organic, and we’re really into those records at the time.  We get obsessed.  We’re freaks, or whatever you want to call it.  We’ll listen to records over and over again for however many days, weeks, months, or years. It’s all the bands that make Burger.  We just love them so much that we give them an outlet.  If they want to make a tape, we’re stoked.  Like The Go, was a favorite band of ours and now we’re putting out their box-set.  They’re like, ‘You like us?  You really really like us?  We’ll will you do this?’ and we’re like, ‘Yes.’  So we’re doing a five-tape box set that should be out for the holidays.

Most bands don’t exactly get ‘the treatment’ when they’re on the road playing venues and meeting people.

Rockard:  Yeah, touring in America at $5 a gallon for gas.  We did it for years.  We’ve always been like the outsiders or like the freaks, or the socially awkward people, and we have our moments of being personable, but it’s taken a lot for us to come out of our shells.  It’s nice when people say, ‘We like what you do.’  There’s a handful of kids, the same names, who are buying every release on our list.  We give them whatever we can, we want to turn people on.

What do you guys have in mind for the future?  Seems like you’re on a good path so far…

Rickard: Yeah, until the world ends next year (laughs).  We live in the moment, and we definitely feed off of energy.  Earlier, one of the dudes from Tyrannis was here.  We’re feeding off people who are doing art and layout and putting out tapes.  Kyle from Audacity called me a vibe-sucker.

Bohrman:  Vibe-vampire, or something like that.

Rickard: But it’s true.  It’s like we feed off of these energies.  People I’m excited to see, I’ll start freaking out and bouncing off of the walls.
What would you say an average day here at the shop is like?  Are all of you here every single day?

Rickard: No.

Flores: I’m here five days a week.

May: Five or six.

Bohrman: I’m here everyday.  I have nowhere else to go.

Rickard: That’s my excuse too.

Bohrman: But this is where I want to be.

Rickard: We created this.  We eat and breathe it.  It’s always on the brain.  And it’s great that we’re not working for someone else anymore.  Average day entails—you really want to know this shit?

I do.

Bohrman: I wake up and I go to the bank, and the post-office.

Rickard: For mail-order, we send stuff every couple of days.  In the entry-way of the store, there’s usually a couple packages to go worldwide.

Brian I feel like you’re the record organizer.  Every time I’ve come in here, you’re always pricing a stack of records.

Rickard: He’s the pricer.  He’s had so much experience, in the stores, and he knows the value of records.  Sometimes I’m like, ‘Really Brian?  This is gonna sell for this much money?’  And he’s always like, ‘Yeah.’

Borhman: Lee would be like, ‘Why is he pricing it so high? It’s just going to sit there!’  Then like two hours later, somebody will come by and buy it.  He’s knows what he’s doing.

Flores: There’s a lot to it.  It takes Lee to motivate us a lot of the time; back here in the stock room especially.  If he wasn’t around, we’d be in tons of filth.

Rickard: We have so many movies and records, and we’re trying to get Burger Video off of the ground, so we need to alphabetize.  We’ve started alphabetizing this side, and this side there’s a trunk full that you can’t even see.  We want to turn our love for creepy movies into something that the community can enjoy.

So what’s the rest of a normal day like?

Rickard: Sean usually puts out new orders and new arrivals around midnight.  If that happens, when you get in the store at 11am the next day, there will be a stack of orders.  Sean likes to go get coffee and cookies, and feed off of that.  Then we’ll do layout design, mail order, business orders, and talk to bands—groundwork trying to make shit happen.

Are you guys all working on the computer usually?

Rickard: I’m retarded on the computer.

Borhman: Bobby does a little work on the computer.  Brian and Lee don’t have email or a computer.

Rickard: So we kinda have an idea of what Sean’s going through being the main computer guy, but we have no idea.

Borhman: I can write anything I want about them on the Internet and they’ll never know.

When you’re doing Burger computer work, what are you normally shuffling through?

Borhman: Through the releases we have coming up.  Through business.  I make a list of things to do everyday.  This is my new book.  (Shows a clean, detailed, numbered list written in caps inside of his lined notebook).  This is the new one.  I don’t know, it’s all just random stuff.  Some people contacted us about licensing Tomorrow’s Tulips.  New merch.  Hyping shows, buttons, and new releases.

You seem quite organized.

Rickard: He is right there (in the notebook).  But sometimes he leaves his personal stuff at the cash register.

Borhman: I can’t pay attention.  Burger is all I think about and the only thing I do anything about.  So when it comes to my personal upkeep, or anything relating to myself, it gets lost in the dust.

Rickard: This is our temple, this is our church.

Hopefully people will show respect to the spot so it doesn’t go anywhere.

Rickard:  This is what we want—to share with you and help everyone.  Some people lose grip on that reality.  We’re in the Burger bubble full-time.  This is it.  Sean will be over there doing layouts, I’ll be moving things around and getting tapes out for the week.

Do you design the art for the tapes Sean?

Borhman: Not all of it, but a lot of it.

Rickard: He has to fit the artwork to a tape format.  So if they send us stuff, every tape is different from the original album itself.  It’s not credited, but Sean’s doing layout, and we’re designing things together.

You worked at a magazine before Burger?

Borhman:  I did.  I graduated college in 2004, and then I got the job.

Rickard: I found the job in the paper for him as a graphic designer, and he found a job for me as a costume character.  I ended up being Lady Liberty on the corner for a few months during tax season, and then he ended up getting a job for a few years.

Looks like you’re definitely an artist.

Borhman: It’s mainly just doodles.  I’m not an artist.

Rickard: Hearts and flowers, and I draw on every package.  We’re getting positive feedback.  We put love into everything.  There’s blood, sweat, tears, hair—lord knows what else.

That comes for free.

Rickard: It’s all free.  We take pride in everything we do.  All the tapes are hand-numbered during the first pressing.  We’re assembling, we’re manufacturing, we’re designing—we’re so involved with it.  It’s about the subtle things, and it comes through.  When you are putting that much effort into them, you need to number them so people know—this is hard and look at what we went through to prove to you what we did for this limited amount of tapes.  It’s a lot of effort and energy.

It’s cool that you have a whole team to help out here at Burger.

Richard: Yeah, doing it alone can be daunting.  If I’m by myself, putting a bunch of tapes together, I could choose to create a machine for myself.  But the other way, your friends come, drink a couple beers, and then next thing you know, you just put together a thousand tapes because you’re just hanging out and partying.  Everyone that helps gets the free merch.  Ultimately, you get to feel a part of the music.

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