by Kyla Rain
A prominent name in the California music scene (or any music scene, for that matter), Burger Records is currently one of the most influential labels in independent music. Producing groups like Cherry Glazerr, The Garden, Ty Segall, HINDS, The Orwells and many more, it’s safe to say that these guys have quite the body count. We got the opportunity to sit down with Sean Bohrman, the founder of Burger, and pick his brains as to how this whole adventure all began.
All information correct as of December, 2017. (Yes, December. Sorry about that one! But I built that suspense real good, huh? Anyways, hope you enjoy!)
Can you give me a bit of background about the label?
We started it ten years ago, releasing our own band, Thee Makeout Party. Once we figured out how to do that, we started releasing our friends bands, and then friends of friends, and it grew into this whole big thing. Ten years later we’re at over 1,200 releases and tons of festivals, traveling all over the world… it’s turned into this crazy thing.
So you founded Burger Records?
Yup, me and my friend Lee Rickard.
And your band was the very first Burger Record band, correct?
Who was the second? The second band you produced other than your own?
The second was this band called Audacity. They were still in high school, and we liked playing with them because a bunch of kids went to their shows. They’re really, really good, so we asked if they wanted to put out their album on Burger. We took them into the studio in Costa Mesa and recorded their first record, Power Drowning. That was the very first record other than our own, and around the same time we put out a record with The Resonars, Bright and Dark, but I guess Audacity was the first.
How exactly did you first start the label? How did you initially find the resources?
Well I was working a day job, and so was Lee, and we both put in to release Thee Makeout Party on 7-inch and cassette, and later the first couple releases of Burger, and then it just started paying for itself, so we kept putting the money back into it. But we don’t make the records or tapes ourselves. We use outside sources for that.
What was the major inspiration for starting this up?
We had a lot of inspiration from other record labels. Rip Off Records; I collected those in high school. Record labels of the 60s; Apple Records, all sorts of… you know, the history of music and rock n roll is what inspired us. But there were a few people who helped us get started, especially Todd from Recess Records. He kind of gave us all the contacts and paved the way for Burger.
But my dad was in a few bands while I was growing up, so music was always around. I ended up meeting a bunch of kids in high school that were in bands, and me and Lee started a band to make fun of their band, called The Noise. When I went away to college, he started a real band, Thee Makeout Party. I got my degree in journalism at Humboldt State and after that I joined Makeout Party. We made a record, some singles, toured… it was great.
Can you give us some hints at future projects you’re working on?
Yeah, I’m just hoping to grow, keep things fun, not get too serious and not try to conform. We still want to be independent, and hopefully make enough money to pay the bills, stay afloat, and leave a legacy behind us. Being a part of rock n roll history, that’s what it’s all about. We started because of our love for rock n roll history, and through that we’ve become a part of it and that’s been the most gratifying aspect of Burger Records. We like turning people onto music, and that’s basically what we do.
There’s definitely some stuff coming up in the future; we’re doing Turbonegro’s new album, The Doors’ new record, this band Distractor, this Japanese band from Japan called Chai… and just tons and tons of other releases. Plus, we’re doing festivals all over the word – Spain, New York, Austin, U.K., Germany, etc.
How long has it taken to get this big? How did you guys branch out internationally?
For the first two years, Lee and I were both working full-time jobs and doing Burger in our spare time. I was an art director for this boating and fishing magazine, but they wouldn’t let me go on tour back in 2009. I’d worked really hard through school and for it to lead to working in a cubicle for the next forty years… it was really depressing to me. You only get to live once and I don’t want to feel like I was missing out on anything, just to work a job I didn’t really want to be doing. So, yeah, I quit. And I cashed out my 401K (which is your savings, your retirement), and I used all that money to open the record store.
It took about two or three years before I didn’t have to be in the store every day, and I could focus on Burger as a label full-time. That was about four years ago, and I’ve just been working nonstop. That’s how it’s really grown. A couple of years ago I was thinking about how to grow internationally, and I started putting a lot more time and work towards that and that’s how we’ve gotten into different countries. It’s just hard work. I mean, I’m a workaholic. It’s all I do, and I love what I do. I look forward to doing it every day.
What’s been one of your best experiences with Burger Records?
There are so many crazy… I mean, I guess just being able to travel the world on someone else’s dime is awesome. Seeing Japan, Germany, Chile, Colombia, Mexico… everywhere. The New Yorker quoted us as a real and relevant part of the history of rock n roll, which is pretty cool too, because that’s what we’re trying to do and they affirmed that. Also, GQ named us “The Coolest and Weediest Label of 2015,” (laughs). My parents are very christian, and I heard we were in GQ magazine – I didn’t know what it was, I just heard we were in there – so the whole family went down to the drugstore to look at this magazine and we’re all flipping through it. I get to the page and there’s a picture of Lee holding some weed, the flower of a nug of weed, and I’m like, oh my god. I had to close it and take it from my dad and say “I’m sorry, but I can’t show you guys this.” (laughs)
Can you comment on California’s surf sound? Why do you think we have this surf, punk sound that so many local musicians are currently playing?
I think it’s just what’s happening now. You know, you’re living on the West Coast and it’s kind of the sound of the West Coast right now. It changes constantly. I don’t know, I guess it’s just fun to play. It’s just a now sound. When the Beatles were popular, you had a bunch of people sounding like the Beatles. When something’s popular, you get a lot of bands that sound like that, and I think that’s awesome. Most of my favorite bands are bands trying to rip off the Beatles (laughs).
Everyone’s got a song in them. Whether it’s good or bad, I want to hear it.