Burger Records: A Wonderful Way to Live

For me, and many people like me, the 365 days that comprise a calendar year are more than just a tidy representation of a brief period of life. Those 365 days mark a period of music discovery, filled with disappointments, surprises, and, if we’re lucky, one or two completely life-altering revelations.

If discovering a new artist is great, even better is discovering an entire record label of exciting new artists. It happens for me with increasing reliability: In the past few years, my musical world has grown dramatically, to now include Type, Preservation, Modern Love, Editions Mego, Blackest Ever Black, Touch, Hospital Productions, and the Pan labels, among others. If you know these fine music curators, you’ll sense that my recent listening has leaned toward the electronic, ambient, noise, and experimental genres. But music discovery is funny: For the most part, it manages to avoid cycles, lines, waves, and all other methods for tracing a coherent course.

Better than that, music discovery usually presents an accurate reflection of one’s most important self. I take it as no coincidence that I discovered Fullerton, California’s Burger Records in 2013—the same year that I: 1. Moved in with my girlfriend, and 2. Started playing music again.

In fact, it makes perfect sense.

Burger Records is not an audiophile label, far from it. There is nothing exclusive about Burger. If it means getting a tape released in time for a touring act, Burger Records will happily sacrifice high-fidelity sound for high-quality content—no questions asked, no doubt about it. There’s no one genre that Burger seems most attracted to: browsing their titles, you’re as likely to hear noise as you are to hear folk. Running through all Burger releases, however, is an unmistakable sense of freedom, true happiness, and a warm, youthful vibe. This, again, makes perfect sense, when you get to know the label’s founder, Sean Bohrman.

As summer cooled into fall, I had the chance to interview Bohrman over email. I asked him about Burger Records, following dreams, and the future of the record industry. Bohrman talked about discovering music, taking control of life, and injecting one’s work with heart.

SM: You founded the Burger Records label in 2007. I’ve read that you don’t sign bands, per se, but instead allow the bands to keep complete control over their music. Is that true? Why have you decided to do things that way? How do you stay in business?

Sean Bohrman: We don't really sign bands—we're not interested in that side of things—but we are moving in that direction. (Or being dragged!) We make our money by selling records and tapes and discovering new bands that people will love!

SM: Stereophile magazine is dedicated to high-fidelity playback gear and high-resolution music formats. Most Burger releases are on cassette—a format considered by many to be outdated and sonically compromised. Many of our readers may have some difficulty appreciating the allure of cassettes. Why have you chosen the cassette format for your releases? What are the benefits/advantages of releasing music on cassette?

SB: The benefits with cassettes are the less-than-a-week turnaround time, so we're able to accommodate bands going on tour that need merch to sell. Also, it's cheap, so pretty much anyone can afford a cassette giving them more opportunity to try out new bands and discover new sounds! Plus, it's portable analog sound and if you master it correctly it can sound really, really good! Let us show you how!

SM: Who is the typical Burger Records customer?

SB: We have 12-year-old customers who buy everything and we have 50-year-old mothers who are buying all of our releases! Music is a universal thing and if you treat it with love, and respect its history, you'll get all sorts of people paying attention!

"Music is a universal thing and if you treat it with love, and respect its history, you'll get all sorts of people paying attention!"

SM: You opened the Burger Records store in 2009. I’ve read that, when your previous job as an art director for a boating magazine prevented you from going on tour with your band, Thee Makeout Party, you quit your job, eventually cashed out your 401K, and opened the shop. That’s amazing! It seems like such an enormous risk. Were you scared? Did you know that things would work out so well, or were you just content to give it a shot and see how things went?

SB: I was scared and excited to be taking control of my life and my future. I believed in Burger so much that I had a feeling it would work, but nothing is guaranteed, so it was definitely a risk. (I scared my mom more than anyone!) But even if it failed, I would be proud of myself for at least trying and working toward a dream I believe in.

SM: I haven’t been able to make it to the shop, but I would love to check it out sometime. Please tell me a bit about it. Do you sell new and used material? How do you choose titles to sell?

SB: We sell used and new vinyl and cassettes, all genres appreciated, so we try and cater to the music buying community rather than one specific genre. We choose titles we can sell so we can stay in business! And we sell tons of local bands and touring bands coming through town, ’cause Burger supports the community!

"We want people to listen to this music by any means necessary. If that means on their iPod or computer, then we'll be there!"

SM: Though most Burger releases are on cassette, Burger Records can now be found digitally, on iTunes and other digital music services. Why did you decide to make your releases available digitally?

SB: Because we want people to listen to this music by any means necessary. If that means on their iPod or computer, then we'll be there!

SM: What do you see for the future of music distribution? Will cassettes reach the popularity currently enjoyed by LP? Will we continue to see analog options and higher-resolution digital options? Will the CD ultimately die?

SB: No, cassettes will never reach the popularity of LPs, but they'll always have their place! Just like CDs and MP3s will always have their place. Like I said, we operate on the basis of listening to music by any means necessary, so if we gotta hook up our iPod, we'll do that! If we have to throw in a tape or a CD or an LP, we'll do that, too!

SM: What do you see for the future of the music industry?

SB: I can see the major labels reviving their old "independent" labels in a bid to compete with the ever-changing music industry and failings of their own big labels. The only thing is, the people working for them are still just working a job like the guy at Del Taco—they wanna make some money and go home. (This is obviously not the case for everyone, but there are a lot of people like this.) So there's no heart or passion or want to get the music heard and out. Plus there's so many cooks in the kitchen that if you do inject some heart into something, it's gotta go through so many heartless people that by the time it reaches the audience, it's a shell of what it was trying to say. That's just me ranting, though!

SM: How do you most often listen to music at home? How do you listen while on the road? What audio equipment do you use at home, and on the road?

SB: I listen to music every day, all day! We own a record store, so from 11am to 9pm there's always something on the stereo. At home, it's probably a 50/50 split between tapes and LPs. (Sometimes I listen to CDs, but not often.) And, if I'm working at my computer, I'll listen to songs online, too. We have a tape player in our van, so that's what we're blasting most of the time. I like to listen to the radio too, so I'm all up on that ish!

"We didn't plan any of this. We've fallen ass-backwards into every single thing we've done. It's a wonderful way to live because you're always being surprised!"

SM: Burger seems to have grown into a strong brand, with the label, record store, Burgerama tour, events, and merchandise. Was it a conscious decision to build a brand?

SB: No, we didn't plan any of this. We've fallen ass-backwards into every single thing we've done. It's a wonderful way to live because you're always being surprised!

***

Burger Records is located at 645 S. State College Boulevard, in Fullerton, CA. Wanna hear some good ish? A few of my favorite releases from Burger Records include The Memories’ Love is the Law, the self-titled albums from Habibi and Summer Twins, and La Luz’s brilliant It’s Alive—all available now, on LP and cassette.

And here’s a short documentary by Jack Sample, starring Sean Bohrman and his partners, Lee Rickard and Brian Flores, telling the Burger story:

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COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

Some great stuff here, even going back to Suicidal Tendencies' Institutionalized ("All I wanted was a Pepsi...."). The way the sound clips are presented in a scroll list is very convenient.

deckeda's picture

... seems to be a recent interest of yours, Stephen, based on the above recommendations. I'm a sucker for that as well, at times. And now thanks to you I've just ordered La Luz's It's Alive on vinyl from Hardly Art's site (http://www.hardlyart.com/shop/laluz.html)

Stephen Mejias's picture

... seems to be a recent interest of yours, Stephen, based on the above recommendations.

Not so much recent as recurrent.

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