It is dinner time at the Burger Records bunker, the back-room living quarters that founders Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard fashioned behind their record store in south Fullerton. Peanut butter on whole wheat and a bag of Cuties mandarins are spread out on the coffee table next to tomorrow's outgoing mail, yellow envelopes full of cassette tapes. This is crunch time for the Burger boys, who are four weeks out from the biggest Burgerama yet.
“We are malnourished and sleep-deprived,” says Rickard, leaning back in a folding chair in the office next to his bed, a couch nestled in the back corner of the space. It isn't so much the festival that is putting Rickard and Bohrman through the paces at the moment as it is coordinating Burger's presence at South By Southwest (SXSW). Anyone who has ever tried to coordinate anything at that annual conference in Austin, Texas, knows it is a logistical shit show. It is hard enough for one band to be in the right time and right place during that week; this year, Burger is coordinating 77 bands there.
There is the “Love at First Bite” showcase at the Whip In, done in conjunction with LA's Lolipop Records. Then there is a pool party at the Pearl Street Co-Op (and from the looks of Burger's Instagram feed, it was more of a super-fun-looking around-the-pool party), as well as the Wienermania showcase at Spider House Cafe. Such details as making sure bands have the necessary backline equipment to play their set, or that the venue has enough Porta Potties to accommodate the crowds, lead to 16-, 17-, 18-hour days for Rickard and Bohrman.
Scheduling Burgerama the weekend after SXSW has, from the first Bugaloo festival six years ago, been a deliberate and strategic move. Every indie band worth its mettle comes from around the globe to play in Austin; give them another festival date a week later and a day's drive away, and it becomes a question of why the hell not? And Burgerama has grown to the point at which it's now a bigger deal for a lot of bands than SXSW.
Last year, it got kind of hairy when Burgerama sold out on the first day tickets went on sale, and the guys had to scramble to expand the event onto the grounds of the Observatory, as well as procure the stage elements and the necessary permits that went along with that move. “That made this year a lot easier,” Rickard says.
For 2015, the guys have everything nailed down a month before the festival, save a few DJ time slots and the décor. When lights and balloons sit at the top of your to-do list for a two-day, 30-plus-band outdoor/indoor festival, that is a sign of proficiency. Don't get the wrong idea, though; there is absolutely no laurels-resting of any kind until the show is over. “It's not a party-time hangout or anything like that,” Bohrman explains. “These bands, they don't know anyone from the venue, but if they see me or Lee, it's, 'I need this,' 'I need this.' Then you have to find people who can make it happen.”
“We should get walkie-talkies this year,” Rickard chimes in.
“That'd be sick!”
After a while, a boyish enthusiasm permeates every subject we touch on, an endearing byproduct for two guys who have lassoed their passion into a burgeoning career. Bohrman tells of being in sixth grade and heavy into Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and then seeing them a couple of years ago at the Observatory. They knocked his socks off. “Best show I have ever seen there,” he says.
“Same thing with Weezer,” adds Rickard. “We still think of them as Blue Album, Pinkerton-era Weezer.”
You can tell the guys are geeking out a little over their scrappy, DIY-cassette-based Burger Records boasting a Coachella headliner on this year's Burgerama roster. Maybe it's un-Burger-like for the guys to talk about expanding beyond their shoestring lifestyle and organic DIY scale, but their sights point decidedly upward. Rickard and Bohrman are creeping into their mid-thirties, so it's natural to think about their career. And they do see Burgerama outgrowing the Observatory in the foreseeable future. “We've already talked about doing it
somewhere else,” Rickard says.
“Natural growth is inevitable. I would love to have a really scenic fest somewhere–a Big Sur campout, a Burger-man freak show in the desert.”
The desire for growth extends to the record label as well. “I really want to make an old-school hit, like back in the day,” Rickard says. “That would change things; we would learn a lot, and it would test us to the max.” What Nirvana was for Sub Pop immediately comes to mind. “My dream is for the Burger sound to be the now sound.”
Burgerama 4, featuring Weezer, Fidlar, Gang of Four, Madlib, Black Lips, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Black Angels and many more, at the Observaory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Sat.-Sun., noon. Two-day pass, $90; one-day pass, $47.50. All ages.