Burger Records is the independent record label that has prided itself on helping new and lesser-known bands get their foot in the door of the music industry. Founded by two musicians themselves, Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard formerly of the band Thee Makeout Party, both Bohrman and Rickard brought the perspective and insight from one aisle of the industry and record labels to other side; they went from creating the albums to helping others do the same.
As the independent record label prepares to take their Burger-A-Go-Go concert on the road, making it a tour for the first time since its inception in 2013, they continue to keep the lineup entirely of female bands. Although this concept is not new, it is unique.
Bohrman himself stated how he grew up and remembered the Lilith Fair concert tours, tours that were started by singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan in the 90’s in response to concert promoters that would not book consecutive female acts.
The Lilith Fair shows ran until 1999, being revived for a few years in 2010 before ending for good. It was this point that Bohrman and Burger Records continued with the torch and began Burger-A-GoGo, the next concert festival that featured solely bands consisting of only or being led by women.
While Bohrman states the festival has no political motivations, in today’s day and age it is difficult not to find a political undercurrent with these shows. In an era of Women’s marches and constant Hollywood scandals that are bringing to light the decades of misogyny in the entertainment industry, an all female concert/tour is turning some heads.
Burger Records has always been about the underrepresented artists in the music industry. Bohrman explained how a majority of the albums that they put out tend to be debut albums because they help the unknown artists get some attention in the spotlight.
Recently they opened a subsidiary called Weiner Records. Weiner Records is for bands and artists to pay to have their albums made and promoted by Burger Records. They’ve seen bands from around the world using the resource that is Weiner Records; bands from countries such as Iran, Belarus, and Mexico have put out their albums through Weiner Records.
Burger Records was founded in 2007, with the record store opening a couple years after that in 2009. They are based out of Fullerton, California.
Antonio Villasenor-Baca: The first time the Burger-A-GoGo Tour started was in 2013 correct?
Sean Bohrman: That was the Burger-A-GoGo Festival; where it was a two-day festival we did in Southern California. This is the first Burger-A-GoGo Tour that we’re doing.
AVB: What was the idea behind doing this festival?
SB: At the time there weren’t any festivals with all women lineups. We grew up in the age of Lillith Fair in the 90’s and there wasn’t anything equivalent to that happening at the moment and we had at the time, awesome girl bands on our record label so we were like, let’s do this. And then we did and it got a lot of good press and the shows went really and everybody had a good time and we decided to take the show on the road.
AVB: And what’s the difference between this festival and ‘Burgerama?’
SB: Burgerama is just all of our bands. This one is female centric. That’s the biggest difference and maybe the only difference.
AVB: How do you go about inviting bands to participate in this event?
SB: We wanted to make like a rockin’ night, and a dreamy night, so we booked all of our favorite girl rock-n-roll bands and all of our favorite girl psychedelic, pop rock bands and luckily all of their schedules worked out and we were able to get them together for a show. That was the hardest part, getting everybody’s schedules in sync.
AVB: Burger Records just got a little political, endorsing Bernie Sanders. What do you hope to accomplish with this tour? Is there an added goal that the tour has now?
SB: No, no political motivations. We just want to have a good time, and hope everybody at the shows have a good time, and the bands have a good time. It’s mostly just about having a good time. You can make that political in today’s day and age, because nobody’s having a good time anymore but no there’s nothing political motivating it. We just want to have fun.
AVB: Are there any memories that mean more to you or stand out to you from this event?
SB: In the past Burger-A-GoGo’s that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get really big bands and bands just starting out, and helping start careers through these shows, so that’s one of the coolest things- just getting people to listen to the bands and turning more people on to the music. But I don’t have one really good memory, but the shows we’ve done in the past have been really really fun and lots of [people] have shown up and it’s been awesome so I expect it to be awesome on the road as well.
AVB: And now focusing on Burger Records, what made you want to start a label?
SB: It actually started off as a record label. We started the label in 2007. I was working in an office job and I was going to go on tour with my band and my job wasn’t going to let me go so I quit my job and I cashed out my 401k and started Burger Records, the record store with my friend Brian [Flores] in 2009 and that was two years after we had been doing the label. And the only reason I did, was because you only live once and I wanted to do something I always wanted to do, and the time seemed right, even though the economy had gone really bad, but we know records. If we know anything, we know records. So I was pretty confident we’d do well. And we have. It’s been almost nine years that the shop has been open.
AVB: How would you describe Burger Records? Its size, its mission, its genre?
SB: I see Burger Records as something alternative, and definitely do-it-yourself. Our operation is extremely small. There’s only a handful working on it and we create the illusion that it’s something a lot bigger than it is on the Internet with what we do because people are like ‘how are these couple people doing all this stuff?’ And it’s because this is our life, and it’s our legacy and I’m a workaholic. All I do is work. You know, if you put your mind to something, and you work on something every single day with all of your heart and all of your head, and blood, sweat, and tears, something is going to happen. So something happened. And I’ve been doing stuff like this my whole life. When I was young, I wrote adventure books, and made zines, and made comic books. But they’re just for myself and this was the first thing that I’ve done that has caught on and become a worldwide thing, which is pretty crazy.
AVB: How do you keep this work from stagnating? How do you prevent it from becoming work and how do you keep it fun and something that you love?
SB: Well trying to keep the business out of it, has been part of the reason why it’s been fun. But he more you grow, the more business is pushed on you. And that sucks, that’s my least favorite part of everything, is contracts, and businesses, and money, and all of that stuff. I just want to put out bands and turn people onto music. And it makes it complicated, as things get bigger. I wish it didn’t, but that’s the way of the world.
AVB: Are there any specific things you do though? Like do you still go to a lot of concerts?
SB: Oh yeah! I’m listening to new music all day, everyday. We’re going to shows. We’re booking tours. There’s always something going on. That’s why it never gets stagnant. We’ve always got something in the works, somewhere around the world. I haven’t been bored in ten years, so that says something. There’s always something to do. There’s never a time where it lags enough to where I can just play videogames or just do something that I would like to do. But this is our legacy and that is what we’re going to be remembered for when we’re dead, or at least one of the things we will be. So it’s important. That’s our place in music history and the history of rock-n-roll is the most important part of why we do this and why we work so hard.
AVB: What have you been listening to outside of the label, any albums or artists?
SB: I mean we have a record store so we’re always listening to old records and new stuff we have coming in. This record just came in, called Willow. It’s from 1972. It’s really really good. I like it a lot, so I’ve been listening to that. It’s all over the place.
AVB: So how do you traverse between listening and discovering between these smaller bands and independent bands as compared to artists on larger labels?
SB: It’s a lot easier to sell records of bands that people already know. That’s why people poach our bands. I’m all about discovering new music and turning on to new music. Not just music from today, but music from the 60’s. I love discovering stuff people haven’t heard yet, and then showing that to people. I would say like 75% of all our records are debut albums or debut tapes. And that’s important to me, because hat’s why we do it and what we love. If we wanted to be a record label that just put out bands that were already popular, it would be a lot easier but I don’t think it would be as rewarding.
AVB: What are some of your favorite experiences thus far in terms of helping these bands get on the map, or get their foot in the door?
SB: Some of my proudest, are the Garden. I discovered them, they came in to our shop. They went on to become really big and popular and they’re still some of the nicest people on earth so I’m really prod of them. I mean there are so many bands. Audacity, the first band we put out other than our own band. They’ll always hold a special place in my heart. We put out some classic psychedelic records, some classic rock-n-roll records, some punk records, and some records that I think will stand the test of time. Also, the thing I like most is being part of the web of music. You know, everything is connected in music in someway, by producers, or people who’ve played on different records, or influenced by other records. So being part of that web and connecting all of these thousand-some-odd bands that we have on our label. A lot of them have nothing to do with each other except that they’re on Burger Records. I love being that one strand, connecting Masta Ace to Cumstain.
AVB: How does it feel going from being a musician on one side and then on the label?
SB: Um, you know I just really like playing music. I miss it. Getting up and going on stage but I’m not that great at guitar; Lee [Rickard] was never that great at bass. We were always like the cheerleaders of the band while Dan and Alex were actual musicians and were really good at their instruments, so that was the one thing that it showed; that you can’t just be a really good musician and have a successful. You need a cheerleader on your band, who’s going to hype you up and work to make the band better. That was a big thing I learned. It is different being on the other side, but it gives me perspective, and when I’m working with bands, and bands present albums to labels, it’s not just another record. Sometimes I sit and think about this. This is somebody’s heart and soul. It’s months and sometimes years of work that they’re presenting and sometimes it’s very personal. It’s hard to tell somebody, ‘this isn’t really my thing,’ when they want you to like so much and they’ve worked so hard on it. That’s a really hard part of doing al this. Because you don’t want to knock somebody and say ‘your song sucks.’ You want to inspire someone to keep going because that’s how you do it. I mean we’ve had so many bands on our label that started out where I didn’t really like it. Or not on our label but a band that would present something to us, and we’d say it’s not really our thing and then a couple years down the line they send another one. They’ve been writing songs for two years and they’ve learned how to do it and then they make it on the label. It’s just like Burger; if you keep doing something, working at it, something is going to happen. If you’re not a songwriter right now, if you work at writing songs and try and practice, you’ll do it. Some bands write their first song and it’s a hit and they can’t write any songs after that, which is an interesting thing. Some people just have a song in them that they’ve got to get out.
AVB: From the perspective of a record label owner, how do you interpret the vinyl boom?
SB: For us it never went away. We’ve always been listening to records and tapes our whole life. But it happened at just the right time when we opened our store. The vinyl boom happened. It’s made making records a lot harder because there’s so many people making records and there’s not enough record pressing plants, so that’s gotten a lot harder and a lot more expensive since the vinyl boom. But it’s been good for our record store, it’s been good for selling records. I think it might’ve happened a little too early because in the next ten years, the people who are going to be passing away and their collections are going to be moving on to record stores, are people from the 60’s and 70’s and the 50’s and the beginning of rock-n-roll. So I think you’re going to start seeing a lot more crazy records appearing in the wild then has been in the past because people who’ve been passing away are people who lived in the 40’s and 50’s and rock-n-roll hadn’t happened yet. They’re record collections are usually not that great. I think it’s going to get bigger though, for sure, at least for used record stores and stuff.
AVB: And how do you manage [the vinyl pressing plants becoming so crowded?] How does that impact you and how do you navigate through that?
SB: You just have to make it earlier. Like we’re making our records six months in advance now. Like if I don’t get all my materials in six months in advance, we’re not going to have the record in on time. SO you just have to keep going back and putting your orders in earlier. When we started, two months was the turnaround for LP’s. And we could LP’s for fourteen bucks and still make money. Now we have to sell our LP’s for twenty bucks to make a profit and it’s just gotten really crowded.
AVB: What’s the appeal of vinyl to you? Why do you think it came back with the current generation so much?
SB: I’ve always just liked collecting vinyl. For me, it’s finding new music and stuff. For records you could find cheap records and new music, find all kinds of interesting looking records you’ve never heard for two bucks. So we spent years, Lee and I, going to flea markets, and record conventions, and just buying all kinds of stuff, going home, doing our research, and learning about this stuff. Then reading acid archives and reading record collector dreams and just studying music and that’s how we were able to transition into a record store because we’re fucking record nerds. Big time. And that’s how we pay ourselves. The label doesn’t make enough to support ourselves. All the money goes right back into the label so we support ourselves through used records, and finding records and selling them for more than what we bought them for.
AVB: How did the name Burger Records come about? And can you tell me about Weiner Records?
SB: Yeah, we have a subsidiary called Weiner Records, where anybody can make a tape on that label. They pay for it and then we promote it under the Weiner Record banner.
AVB: How did you get the idea to do that?
SB: Because we got so many demos, that I felt bad not responding to them. It’s funny how many bands think ‘we need a record label to be a band. We need a manager to be a band,’ when they don’t really do, they can do it themselves. So people need a record label, especially international bands that are looking to be heard in [the U.S.]. That was the one thing that Weiner surprised me with; the amount of international bands that we’ve put out. We’ve done over 500 releases through Weiner and bands al over the world from Iran and Belarus, and all over Europe and Mexico, and Chile, everywhere. It’s been awesome. It’s one of our only money making ventures. Bands get something out of it, the bands get their money back, and everybody wins. And it’s turned us on to a lot of bands that have made the jump from Weiner Records to Burger Records as well. But we came up with Burger Records, Lee came up with it, because we love burgers and when we were starting our record label we thought, you know, the Beatles have Apple Records, and the Beach Boys have Brother Records, we have Burger Records. That was how it started and how we came up with the name.
– By Antonio Villasenor-Baca