Without doubt, it’s pretty much every music-loving kids’ dream to run a record label, own a record store, organise gigs for your favourite bands, let alone huge festivals featuring all of your favourite bands. But for Lee Rickard and Sean Borhman, who started Burger Records back in 2007, what started out as an avenue in which to release their own band Thee Makeout Party’s material independently, has grown into a reality of such a dream. We at The Lamb spoke with Lee Rickard, who recently visited Australia for the annual Bigsound music conference, along with following Burger-signed-Aussie-born power pop group Wax Witches on their recent Australian tour.
Based in Fullerton, California, (part of Orange County in Southern California), Burger Records is based out of a pretty unique store frontage. “It’s 1200 square foot brick and mortar record shop. The walls are painted ‘hop frog’ green, we have two kitty cats wandering around and it usually smells of reefer,” says Lee, when describing the store to the unaware. The store itself is co-owned by Brian Flores, who already knew plenty about running a record store (previously of Third Eye Records). The label was established by Sean and Lee in 2007, with the shop opening with Brian’s help in 2009. In the seven years since then, they have put out 700 physical releases, many of which you can find in the shop or online, or at your favourite local record store.
So what is the Burger sound? With an incredible roster of bands that have released music on Burger, mostly based in the States but also spreading overseas, there is always a growing number of bands with a diverse variety of sounds. But if it was up to Lee, a great place to start would be releases from King Tuff (Was Dead, first released in 2008, reissued in 2013 on vinyl), Gap Dream (Self titled, 2012) or Audacity (Mellow Cruisers, 2012) to get a pretty good idea of the material that Burger is supporting. Along with digital and physical releases (on CD and vinyl LP), Sean and Lee have played a huge part in the revival of everyone’s favourite DIY format, the humble cassette tape. “It helps that tapes are affordable to make and purchase. They’re a great way to be exposed to new music with a low financial risk on taking a chance on something new, as well.” Sporting the slogan “Everyone’s a Wiener!”, Burger Records cassette offshoot Wiener Records’ first release was NYC via Brisbane, ex-Bleeding Knees Club’s Alex Wall and his new band Wax Witches with the album From Hell. Wiener and their followers loved is so much, Burger are now releasing their new album Centre of Your Universe on all formats. Just about anyone can get a tape designed, pressed, mastered and distributed by Wiener!
If the guys weren’t busy enough with the label, the store or listening to the huge number of bands that get tapes made via Wiener, they are constantly putting on shows around the O.C. area, in the store and organising festivals, pulling all the Burger big names to headline their festivals. This year alone has seen them organise Burgerama, Burger Boogaloo, Burger-A-Go-Go, Burger Mania (SXSW showcase), The Burger Revue and The Burger Oasis, all with lineups to make any “Burger head”, music loving kid from around the world want to quit their day job and buy a ticket for the next plane to California.
However, we have been pretty lucky here in Australia to have been witness to some of the Burger alumni’s greatest bands here on our own shores. Just recently, Tomorrow’s Tulips, Gap Dream and Wax Witches, as well as Burger Idol himself King Tuff, Nobunny, Personal And The Pizzas, Shannon and The Clams, Thee Oh Sees, Hunx and His Punx, Jeff The Brotherhood, King Khan, and soon to hit our shores again, Black Lips and Ty Segall. On the flipside, while Lee was here for the Bigsound conference, he was also impressed by some of the homegrown talent being showcased over the weekend. “My favourites were King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Step-Panther, Reptiles, D.D. Dumbo and Wax Witches, of course!” Maybe we will be seeing these names on future Burger releases, or at one of the upcoming Burger festivals? As Lee and Sean have the opportunity to be the real taste-makers and curators for great music that is being released and supported, and for the bands who spend countless hours on the road, it is without doubt that they have one of the most influential and rewarding jobs in the music world.
With such and impressive catalogue of bands, releases and events throughout the seven years of Burger, there was surely a driving mentality behind it all. “Self-belief and not wanting to work for anyone but ourselves again, due to the restraints of working many uncreative, soul crushing, menial jobs growing up. We take pride in discovery and love releasing amazing debut albums by unknown artists.” For Lee and Sean, it’s really a way of life, not just a job. Sean even made himself a space to live in the loft above the shop! Their great friend Gabe Fulvimar even lives on a couch in their storage shed out the back, where he also recorded his latest album Shine Your Light. “Burger on the brain 24/7 and rock’n’roll everyday.” For these guys, it was never about making millions, or having fancy lifestyles. It’s about promoting bands that they really like, not what someone told them to like. They have said in previous interviews that success for them, is measured by being able to choose whatever you want to eat. But really, who else wouldn’t want to be their own boss, release and promote your favourite bands, go on tour with them, or have them all come to your home town to play a festival? Dreams do come true. On that note, I’m off to book my flights to California for the next Burger festival. See you there!