I'M IN FULLERTON, California, where highways and industry meet college suburbs. It's fertile ground for raffish, DIY rock, located between the cracks.
The corner of this otherwise nondescript strip mall is ground zero for everything Burger—a record shop, label, and community. Inside, the walls are painted lime green and are covered in memorabilia, both Burger-related and beyond. Everything is bright, cheesy, and far out, something like an open-armed, cross-eyed, toxic sock hop. I enter the office to meet founders Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard.
Immediately they wonder: Do I wanna get high?
On the coffee table are three jars. "This one," Rickard says, holding it up, "came from Rikky at Gnar Tapes." Considering the relations between Burger and Portland's own Gnar Tapes, helmed by Rikky (AKA Erik Gage of White Fang and the Memories), it seems like the one.
Indeed, Burger and Gnar share a lot. Both labels primarily release cassettes. Both do so in small batches, and enjoy similar audiences, philosophies, and goals. And both are learning as they go, running their businesses the way they want and having a ball doing it—living the punk-rock dream by way of the 21st century.
But the two labels diverge. While Gnar is invested in making their own music as well as putting out that of others, Bohrman and Rickard at Burger largely shelved their musical ambitions to feed the greater business. "Burger takes up all of our time," Bohrman says. "We do all the things involved in being in a band except playing."
Those duties include PR, along with booking and managing predominantly all-ages shows, tours, and festivals; the two-day Burger Boogaloo in Oakland this summer, for instance, boasted Jonathan Richman and attendance in the thousands. There are branded products, like Burger swim trunks and a tape-shaped bar of soap. There are weekly webisodes of Burger TV, as well as countless other ideas in the pipeline. In 2012, Burger released 100-odd tapes. In 2013, they hope to double that, adding to a catalog that grows more and more respectable by the day, including King Tuff, Ty Segall, Nobunny, La Sera, and Portland acts like the Mean Jeans, Boom!, White Fang, and Guantanamo Baywatch.
Currently, Burger is preparing for the Burgerama Caravan of Stars, a cross-country tour that includes the Growlers and some of Burger's juiciest young patties:
• After years as an LA party favorite, Together Pangea—formerly just Pangea—are poised to pop. The band blasts sketchy, insecure, modern-nihilist vibes in the most inclusive way possible: by putting hooks first. Frontman William Keegan might be a nasally, skittering mess, but above all he values a catchy chorus. And surrounded by a band of party animals, fun pervades. Their 2011 album Living Dummy is full of hits that will be difficult to duplicate. For Burger, however, Together Pangea are a bittersweet success, the first from their roster to be poached by a major label (Harvest Records).
• Cosmonauts dig repetition, drones, and straight thumping in the order of Spacemen 3—but they also know how to wait for the payoff. When the changes chime, they're sweeter for it. They demonstrate impressive restraint, even though Cosmonauts appear, at times, twisted enough to commit murder and not even know it.
• Gap Dream, AKA Gabe Fulvimar, is the unofficial Burger mascot. He lives and records in a storage unit behind the shop. His homemade, washing pop tunes are indelible, and the future looks bright. (Toward the end of my interview with Bohrman and Rickard, Fulvimar appears almost on cue, carrying amps into the now-closed shop, preparing to practice for the next day's Cassette Store Day in-store show.)