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Burger Records isn’t just a catchy, quirky name. It’s a way of life, matching the unpretentious nature of the label and the individuals involved—though Rickard invokes some pretty lofty company. “The Beatles had Apple, the Beach Boys had Brother, the Turtles had Blimp, and Thee Makeout Party have Burger.”
But it wasn’t Thee Makeout Party that inspired Bohrman and Rickard to start the label. It was Audacity, a rowdy, lo-fi punk band from Fullerton whose members were still in high school when they met the guys.
“We heard Audacity and played with them a couple of times, and I really loved their songs,” Bohrman says. Thee Makeout Party recorded a split 7-inch with Audacity in early 2008, and the success of that release snowballed into Burger Records becoming what it is today, releasing vinyl and tapes by buzzworthy artists from across the country. “Music has been our life. I started a record label so I could be around it all the time, and I wanted to show music how awesome it can be.”
The label has developed a reputation in discriminating music circles for its growing catalog of sugary, eccentric power pop and audacious garage rock, extolling a carefree message of love, music and DIY attitude. Eschewing CDs, a format increasingly obsolete with each passing iTunes purchase, Burger does the music industry one better by focusing on a medium even more quaintly anachronistic: cassette tapes, produced in limited runs and hand-lettered by Rickard. It’s a decision that not only reflects their endearingly off-kilter aesthetic, but it has also allowed them to work with high-profile artists whose digital and CD releases are handled by bigger, more traditional labels, since, quite simply, record labels don’t care about cassette tapes.
“Suddenly, every cool band could be on their label because no one else is making cassettes,” says Brian Hermosillo of the Bay Area’s the Fevers, who released a 12-inch with Burger, The Lonely Sailor Sessions, under the moniker Fever B.
Genre-fusing, LA-based singer/songwriter Devon Williams released his solo album, Carefree, through conventional means on noted Brooklyn label Ba Da Bing (home to international indie stars Beirut, Sons & Daughters, and Hawksley Workman) but worked with Burger to put it out on cassette. “If I didn’t have someone to put out my records, Sean would do it, and that makes me feel totally safe,” Williams says. “Sean seems like he was just born to put out records.”
Williams credits his association with Burger for boosting his profile, even if it was pretty lofty to begin with—he has played with acclaimed folk-pop quartet Lavender Diamond and fronted punk band Osker from 1998 to 2002. “I know that there’s kids in Anaheim or even in LA that wouldn’t normally listen to my music, but have because I have a tape on Burger.”
Putting out cassettes isn’t just a goofy gimmick for Burger. The trio are legitimately convinced of the format’s strengths, something that’s rare given how little respect tapes have gotten over the years. Plenty of hipsters extol the virtues of vinyl, but what have cassettes really added to music history?
“They’re cheap, the quality is good, and they last for a long time,” Rickard says. Burger’s tapes are also colorful, much like those bright-green walls. “You can toss them around, and they hang out,” he adds, speaking of their durability. “And they’re fun and pocket-sized. Anything you can put in your pocket is pretty neat.”
Burger doesn’t limit itself solely to cassettes—though it has released tapes from esoteric acts such as Ty Segall, King Tuff and Nobunny. It also works with LPs and 7-inches and has, on rare occasions, released (gasp!) CDs, including Audacity’s Power Drowning and That Evil Drone by the Resonars. “We took the vinyl and put it on a compact disc,” as Burger’s MySpace puts it.
“Sean will probably do this until he dies, if he can,” says Cameron Crowe, bassist for Audacity. “He’s not going to want to do anything else.”
Like Williams, Audacity have benefited from the exposure gained from their work with Burger. They recently signed with LA label PPM, whose roster includes scene mainstays Mika Miko, No Age and Abe Vigoda.
Burger is now at a place where bands actively seek it out, sending demos. Some of them are even good. One such discovery is Milwaukee band Jail, whom Burger is currently working with on a release.
“They sent us their demo, and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I had a dream about it,” Bohrman says. “I listened to it, then I went to sleep and had a dream that I met them and told them how much I liked their music. So I was like, ‘I should put this out.’”