By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
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By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
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It’s now the weekend, and painting has been replaced by partying—the Burger family’s natural element. Rickard is celebrating his 26th birthday at a friend’s house in Anaheim, along with a few dozen buddies spread inside and out. Even though Rickard is in his mid-20s, the night feels like an old-fashioned high-school party, with a mostly younger crowd and bands playing loudly in the house. Among cardboard cut-outs of C-3P0 and Chewbacca, there’s a sign posted: “We believe in the two party system: one party a week is not enough!”
The caliber of the bands, though, is considerably better than your average high-school party: Thee Makeout Party and Audacity. Both bands play a lot of house parties, especially Audacity, who have a hard time finding ideal venues in Orange County given their youthful fan base and lack of all-ages venues.
Thee Makeout Party are always a treat live, with bassist Rickard adding intentionally corny jokes between tunes and the band delivering high-energy versions of breezy, ’60s-inspired power pop such as “Run Kitty Run” and “2 Ez to Luv 2,” both of which are on their first full-length, 2008’s Play Pretend. Appropriately enough, tonight’s set starts with “My Birthday Suit.” Bohrman plays rhythm guitar; the lineup’s completed by lead singer/guitarist Dan Bush and drummer Alex Nowicki.
The songs fit with the rest of the band’s aesthetic: playful (lyrics include, “I want to show a present to the girl that loves me so/how do you like me in my birthday suit?”), but with enough substance not to be written off as a novelty. Like Audacity, Thee Makeout Party started as a high-school band.
Kyle Kapow, owner of then-Orange County-based label Kapow Records, recalls when he first heard the group. “I saw early Thee Makeout Party play at Koo’s Cafe,” Kapow says, referring to the long-gone Santa Ana venue owned by Dennis Lluy, who now operates the Yost Theater. “I just remember Dan destroying his drum set and Lee bouncing around. It was just a total mess. It was a total fucking mess.”
Despite this inauspicious introduction, Kapow ended up putting out a 7-inch of Thee Makeout Party’s catchy, raucous “Wreckless Epic” in 2005.
“Thee Makeout Party in their previous incarnation was a punk band, essentially,” Kapow says. “But Lee couldn’t stop talking about the Raspberries, and they wanted to go in a power-pop direction. They wanted to do something different from all the other bands around the area. I didn’t really need to hear their music to want to do it.”
Musically, Devon Williams sees Thee Makeout Party as the kind of kindred spirits he has been looking for all of his life. “I’ve never really felt like I had friends that I shared music tastes with,” he says. “I could talk about music with them forever.”
Despite the attention Bohrman and Rickard have given to the label and now the store, Thee Makeout Party have remained active. Just this year, they opened for bona-fide indie-rock superstars the Black Keys at the Glass House in Pomona and blog-adored Norwegian pop sensation Ida Maria at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa. Rickard says that the band are working on their first “waltz” and recently released a cassette (naturally) with seven new songs.
“We’ve been doing this band for about 10 years or whatever, so we meet a lot of people,” Rickard says. “A lot of good records are coming out right now, so it definitely makes it easy for us to spread the gospel.”
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Bohrman is the business brain of the Burger guys, though that’s not saying much.
“He’s got a computer and a cell phone; I don’t,” Rickard says, a revelation that makes sense coming from him, a guy who seems to exist gleefully out of time—he works part-time at Anaheim boarding stable/equestrian center Rancho Del Rio, for instance. “I’m afraid of commitment, responsibility.”
Bohrman took a business class to prepare for the record store, though he didn’t learn much. “It was kind of just ‘no duh’ stuff, like, ‘Be honest and don’t rip people off,’” he says.
Instead, he’s taking cues from friends who’ve succeeded in similar situations, powered only by inspiration. “There’s a guy in Yorktown, Pennsylvania, named Rob Burrito, and he’s our friend,” Bohrman says. “He sold burritos out of his house. Cops would come by on the weekends and buy them, and everyone would come by and buy these burritos. And he started a store, and he came out here and sampled all of the salsas and how it’s done.
“He’s the most go-for-it, can-do person I’ve ever met. He’s doing it all himself. He was like, ‘I’m not gonna work for anyone anymore,’ and now he owns two stores.”