There's a very special moment in a musical career that happens only to the luckiest and generally most righteous people–the kind of thing that confirms not only that you've arrived, but that you're headed to even better places in the future. This is called the Bill Murray moment, because it's when Bill Murray, arbiter of the everlasting spirit of rock & roll, comes to your show. And at his Saturday night SXSW show with 73 extremely amplified bands and thousands of panting denim-jacketed teenage freaks at his side, Burger's Sean Bohrman had his Bill Murray moment.
Just seconds before L.A. legends Paul Collins and Peter Case started a set of finely machined power pop–with plenty of power, and plenty of pop hooks, too–Murray stepped before a tent bursting with delirious fans and delivered a statement that should well propel this homegrown sound-slash-movement-slash-generation-defining record label into immortality: “Welcome to Burger Heaven, everybody.”
“I pictured heaven as a lot less work,” says Bohrman the next day, just after Cosmonauts drummer Jenn Agnew finishes a custom make-up job for a rock & roll drag show Bohrman's about to attend. (“I look like a '90s cheerleader,” says Bohrman. Then someone interrupts our interview to tell him he looks hot. “Apparently I clean up pretty well as a girl!”) “But it's awesome that everything we've been working for has paid off. Burger takes up every second of my life–when I sleep is the only time I get to relax.”
In just about two-and-a-half years, Bohrman and Burger boys Lee Rickard and Brian Flores have turned their corner of a Fullerton strip mall into something of a cultural flashpoint. At first, they met with affectionate disbelief–the week they started in October 2009, this very paper asked, “Opening a record store full of vinyl and cassettes? In this economy?” And a month later during an NPR roundtable on the future of the record label, Mac McCaughan of Superchunk and the Arcade Fire's Merge Records had to stop the conversation at the first mention of Burger to ask, “Is this made up or real?”
All too real, of course–and this was before Burger would go on to … let's see, curate a compilation for Vice, deploy their transcontinental Caravan of Stars tour, expand their dominance of SXSW from one record store to five simultaneous stages, pretty much singlehandedly revive the cassette as a medium for music … and that's before they got Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana on Burger. Oh–haven't heard? Dave Grohl asked Burger to do a cassette comp to go with a documentary on the famed Sound City Studios. So all the epochal bands who recorded there? “They're on Burger now!” says Bohrman.
“We still do everything the same as when we started,” he continues. “But people's perceptions of who we are, especially at SXSW–the business people come up to us because they see our buttons everywhere and are like, 'So who's your PR? Can I talk to your A&R guy?' I just imagine what they think we are–because what we really are is me sitting at a laptop and Lee running around throwing our ideas. It just works!”
This weekend's Burgerama–not to be confused with Burgermania, the Burger Boogaloo, the Burger Basher and other pogo-til-you-puke all-dayers–deploys the most colossal roster of Burger-friendly acts since the Murrified SXSW show. Second billed is Wavves, whose drummer Jacob Cooper admires what he calls the “family vibe”: “It's more about the music and the party vibe, as opposed to making a lot of money.”
In fact, even though Burger is just on the cusp of poking into the mainstream, says Bohrman–which to him means working with people even grandma knows, like pending Burger signees Tenacious D–what he loves most about being a Burger boy is when the long day of running the store and the label is done and they're sitting around delirious listening to demos from Burger hopefuls: “We'll be listening and super into it and then be like, 'Oh my God! There's a number here! Let's call 'em right now!' Surprising people at 3 AM–that's my favorite part. 'Hey! You're a Burger band now!”
“We don't have any ceiling for it,” he continues. “That's kept us doing bigger and bigger things. It's been a dream come true. And it'll work out–I believe it'll work out, so there's no way it won't!”
Burgerama with Off!, Wavves, Strange Boys, White Fence, King Tuff and many more at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. Sat., 5 pm. $15-$25. All ages. observatoryoc.com.
- The Burger Guys are Opening a Record Store Full of Vinyl and Cassettes. In This Economy?
- Burger Records Curates VICE Sampler, Becomes More Famous