Burger Records came and conquered our little city of Cologne back on September 8 for Burger Invasion! It was a night full of talented artists, a wide range of genres, and good company— it is safe to say Burger made a statement of being an exciting label full of amazing music. Gebäude 9 set up two different stages where some German bands played on the smaller stage next to the bar for cozy sets, and the others played in the bigger room so their loud sounds had enough space to hit each listener. Since Burger Records is a label that started near my hometown, I was really looking forward to this night. So I organized some interviews with Los Angeles’s 60s sounding rock ’n roll band, L.A. Witch and another interview with founders of Burger Records, Sean and Lee!
I am really inspired by Burger Records because they are a label that includes any type of music and any type of person— they are a big ol’ family with arms wide open to anyone that wants to join. We had an inspiring chat about following your passions, and talked and the ins and outs of how the guys got Burger going.
Savannah: What inspired you guys to create Burger Invasion?
Lee: Our plot to take over the world slowly, one country at a time.
Sean: That’s how it started: invading.
We got hit up by Timo who does a bunch of cool shows in Hamburg and he works with the official music industry of Hamburg, so it seemed like he knew what he was doing. We just got an email one day, and he was like ‘Hey do you want to do these shows?’ And we were like ‘Uhhhh, yeah we will do it.’
Lee: He’s a mover and a shaker.
Also, Hamburg it’s a no-brainer: burger … Ham”burg.”
Sean: Haha yeah! It was always something.
Lee: Then from there, we got to add Cologne, and we are going to DJ in Berlin. Yeah, it’s fun times!
Savannah: Have you heard of any bands in Germany that could be potential Burger family peeps?
We were talking about it on the way, and that we didn’t know a lot of bands from Germany. So this will be our time to be introduced to a bunch.
Lee: By next year, we will have a whole bunch of them.
Sean: Every time we do these trips to different countries, we always get turned on to new bands.
Lee: We will make friends that will turn us on slowly.
Savannah: Do you have any advice to people wanting to start their own DIY label?
Lee: Do it for the love of the game and for being passionate about something. Don’t get in to the record biz to make money because it’s really really hard to survive. We just put everything back into the label for ten years, so that’s why it seems like a crazy thing, but we put it all back into the label.
Sean: Yeah, you have to dedicate yourself 100% to whatever you’re doing. You kind of have to stop doing things you like.
Lee: You sacrifice a lot of personal things. For us, we lived in the store, we worked 24/7 basically and a lot of friendships were, sadly to say, neglected. Because of that, our friends don’t call us all the time for things. Then we’re like “Oh yeah what’s going on!?” They just assume you’re busy.
Sean: You have to make a lot of sacrifices in your personal life, in your monetary life, and everything in your entire life is sacrificed. But I mean, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to just start a record label and have fun, you can just put out a couple of friend’s bands and it will be cool. That’s how it started for us – it wasn’t always like “Oh my god, I’m working 24 hours a day on this giant thing.” It started out as “Hey, he put in 100 bucks, I put in 100 bucks, we put out our tape, then we put out our band’s 7 inch.”
Lee: It was just natural from the way our band was working at the time. For us to move forward, somebody had to take the risk financially whether it was Sean, or myself. We were figuring out a way to buy tape because if we don’t do it, it’s not going to happen. So someone has to see and just fork it over and figure it out. We’ve always been those guys to move ahead with it.
Sean: And we worked regular jobs (office jobs) but when we quit those jobs, that’s when Burger really started growing because then we could dedicate all of our time to it. And eventually, it is what you do. You wake up and you start working on Burger. It’s not like something you actively have to think “Oh yeah, I gotta go work on Burger now!” It’s like you wake up, and it’s like: Burger Records.
Lee: We have ideas at all times- eat, dream and sleep all of it. It’s all together, really.
Savannah: So when did that BOOM happen though?
Sean: It happened about a year after we quit our jobs. We dedicated ourselves to Burger. It was growing then, but when we started the record store it’s not like Burger was a global thing.
Lee: I feel like there was, to an extent, someone again in the 2012 garage rock, underground genre that had a boom – where like Ty Segall is on TV and stuff like that. Ty is from the neighborhood, from your town, and he used to come to our shows with our old band, Thee Makeout Party. Eventually we played shows with The Traditional Fools, they are one of our favorite bands.
Sean: They are one of the first releases that we did on the set.
Lee: We got to see his career grow from being a neighborhood kid from Orange County, in the early 2000s when we were all in bands and stuff, and he had a drive and an energy about him. He was always putting bands together and creating. You see it now in what he’s done in 10 years— it’s quite an accomplishment. So hats off to him— love and respect to him and everything. But it’s neat to see it – watching our friends’ careers grow and blossom into really neat record catalogues.
Savannah: So when you guys became popular, was it because you knew people?
Lee: Well with Ty because we had a band for almost 10 years, so we knew a lot of bands that knew people that knew people. We discovered the King Tuff record and that turned into one of our friends being a childhood friend of King Tuff. So we got his number, Sean called him, interrupted one of his practices and said we could tape this awesome album! And that was one of the first tapes that we got the license from a person we didn’t know. We love the music so much— we try to be friends with everyone.
Sean: Then eventually bands started hitting us up. I remember Jacuzzi Boys was one of the first bands to hit us up within our first year/year and a half. And I was like “Oh, woah I actually know this band! I’ve heard them before!”
Lee: Because of Nobunny and King Tuff, it put us on the radar of a lot of folks— like the Jacuzzi Boys and Thee Oh Sees. I remember being at trailer space, and Michelle said ‘Hey! Meet John Dweyer.’ And she was just running out of the car and she put us together.
Savannah: Everything intertwines eventually, it’s crazy.
Sean: Yeah, it’s a really small world.
Lee: Rock n’ roll is a very incestuous family. And rock ’n roll is sex, drugs, rock ’n roll — it’s a taboo real world that we live in.
Savannah: Are there any particular music scenes or cities, at the moment, that people should look out for?
Sean: Anywhere you go, any country, if you really look you’re going to find something. We are doing the Burger World Series where we find underground bands from different countries and release them on cassette. We’ve done Israel, Mexico and France and Japan. In all of these places, there is really interesting scenes going on that nobody’s heard.
Lee: Luckily, we have friends that are hipping us to their favorite bands, and then we are digging and finding ours as well.
Sean: That’s part of running a record label: discovering new bands. If you look at our catalogue, I would say 70% are debut albums and things nobody’s ever heard. And its hard operating that way because you’re constantly introducing new bands to people, and maybe overwhelming them with the amount of new bands that you’re trying to turn them onto. At the same time, we’re excited about stuff and we want to put it out. We are trying to slow down, which is our goal.
Lee: It’s taken years. Ultimately, we are trying not to go bankrupt. We are trying to get out of debt.
Sean: It’s expensive making records.
Savannah: Damn, I could imagine!
Lee: It adds up! If you look at the catalogue, you could see that we invest all and everything that we have into it.
Sean: Everything back into Burger.
Lee: But you should try it! You’re saying for any entrepreneur, just invest. Put as much as you can into it and see what happens. If you feel like there isn’t a buzz or something in three years, then maybe try something else. If you put everything you have into something, in three years time you should feel like you know what the right move is. Follow your heart and all of your instincts.
Savannah: Have you guys been working with other record labels lately?
Sean: All the time. Since the beginning, we’ve always worked with other record labels. Doing tapes, at the beginning, a lot of record labels had no interest in making tapes. So when we wanted to make a tape of a record they put out, it really wasn’t a problem. But there is little money to be made, so now a lot of labels are making their own tapes and stuff— so it’s changed in that way.
Lee: We work with Lollipop Records a lot and Gnar Tapes. We have a store with them in Cyprus Park called GnarBurger— they are doing amazing things over there. They’ve got their own studio and they all have solo projects too! They are doing great stuff. Hopefully we’ll be doing some stuff with Third Man Records soon.
Sean: We also work with Frontier Records a lot— we reissued a lot of punk classic stuff. A lot of record labels.
Lee: We want to be a family thing and be all-inclusive. I was never trying to start a clique, or something like that. It was always a bigger, tribal mentality.
Savannah: That’s what I love about you guys, it’s probably my favorite part about Burger.
Lee: We want to be friendly, colorful and inviting.
Savannah: I think that’s the good thing about Cologne as well. Everyone is like this here.
Lee: Just keep doing what you’re inspired to do/what you feel like doing. As long as you feel like doing something that keeps you busy and out of trouble, then you’re on the right path.