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March 29, 2004

{     Interview : Bop Tart Records     }    

Crown Dozen has a special relationship to Lindsey Allen Baker, CEO of BopTart records. He's our brother. Not genetically, or in any way due to the culture of inbreeding West Virginia is so often accused of fostering, but rather Lindsey is our brother in a philosophic sense, a spiritual sense. A good-music-enjoying, exploitation-film-loving, pop-culture-addicted brother, who we miss a lot since he moved out to Seattle, Washington to bolster the growth of his record label Bop Tart Records. It was a pleasure to sit down and rap with L.A.B. about projects past and projects future, as well as the all-too-real present.

What made you decide to start your own record label?
I Dj'd in college radio for 9 years and talked to lots of record labels, and thought that it was something I could do. It was a lot harder than I thought, but an ex-girlfriend and I had talked about doing this, and when she and I broke up I decided to do it out of spite. I talked to her recently and I told her that she was my muse in love and in hate.

I started with my boy Joey, and Action Driver Records, but when he moved away I decided to start my own thing with Bop Tart.

How hard is it?
It's been really hard, every time I think I've got it down to a science something comes up. It's good in that it keeps me occupied, but it seems like there's always something new that I have to learn.

I know you've worked hard to create a brand, and to get the BopTart name out there for people to see. Are you feeling like that is happening, after a few years of putting your heart into it?
I think the band's names are getting out there a lot more, which is most important. It's been hard to get the label name out there, because a lot of that's based on my tastes, and on the music I've selected. My tastes are really sporadic, so it's hard to push the brand over the bands.

When I tell people "Bop Tart records" they don't know what I'm talking about, but when I mention the Lights, Darcy or the Turn-ons, people have heard of them or have heard the cd.

You've also been very selective with the artists whose material you've released. Can you talk about that a little bit.
I think I've done a really good job of getting bands that kind of do their own thing, and are into promoting themselves too. For me, it's really about the quality of the music and the quality of the live show. All of the bands have worked really hard to get their name out there, whether putting out special editions to stir-up interest or being a shameless self-promoter like Darcy, they do a lot of the work.

I understand The Turn-ons have a song from Love Ruined Us on a video game soundtrack for the X-box (Project Gotham Racing 2).
I believe the song is "So Damn Queen

It was kind of a weird deal, one of those weird Seattle things. Somebody from KEXP was playing the album a lot, and Microsoft was asking KEXP for stuff, and this album just got passed around.

Is there an audio cd soundtrack?
There is, and allegedly they give Bop Tart a mention.

Do you see yourself getting any exposure due to this?
I definitely think there's some exposure- that was kind of the main thing they offered us in doing this since we didn't get paid to have the song in the game. I don't necessarily think the target audience for this game is our demographic, but I think maybe we'll get somebody turned on to it.

Two of the bands on your label have won spots playing the SxSW music festival. Of all the bands in Seattle, only two are are voted by the readers of The Stranger to go each year, so you seem to have a bit of a Midas touch. What are your thoughts on the festival, and on the live performances of these bands?
I think it has a lot to do with the gumption of the bands on the label. They both worked really hard to get votes. I think it also says a lot about the quality of the bands, they were up against some really tough competition. The Lights kind of excel live, so I think it's good for people to see them in both settings- on the album and live. They've got so much personality, and they're pretty handsome boys. I first heard them opening up for the Turn-ons and they were devastating, and then when I heard what Erik Blood did with the recording I was blown away again.

You were at South by Southwest this year with The Lights. Any "Indie Kids Gone Wild" stories you want to tell us about the festival?
My friend got me into this invitation only MSN party. The weirdest thing was I'm watching GrandMasterFlash on stage and he's playing LL Cool J's "Radio". He's ten feet away from me. Then, five feet away from me, Matt Pinfield and Deborah (Stone Cold Steve Austin's wife from the WWE) are just getting down, dancing their asses off. I thought my head was going to explode.

Also at that show, a little piece of me died. GrandMasterFlash was going into his "Hey-Ho" thing, and he'd already thanked MSN a couple times, but then he started asking the audience "When I say Hey, you say MSN"-- "hey, MSN" "hey, MSN". The crowd actually booed him, which prompted a really involved speech about how he wasn't part of the festival, and he just wanted to give props to the people that brought him there. So eventually the crowd gave in and mumbled along, what are you going to do, it's GrandMasterFlash up there. But I'm thinking "The Polyphonic Spree were there, and the Raveonettes were there, and they're not part of the festival proper, but they didn't feel the need to write any songs about MSN."

How did you get hooked up with Dame Darcy? Tell me about the recordings she sent you. Any humorous anecdotes?
I read her comic on word.com, that old website that got shut down, but I didn't have any of her Meatcake comics. My first CMJ, I was a sophomore in college, this is many years ago, and we stopped in Baltimore on the way there and I picked up a bunch of Meatcake. I was reeling from how good they were, and I decided I would try to meet her while in NYC.

When we got to the sign in, I recognized one of the members of Darcy's band, she pointed me to the girl who produced their album, who eventually gave me Darcy's address but didn't give me her phone number.

I didn't really know what to do, but I finally showed up at her building and realized I couldn't get in because there was no buzzer, so I was leaving her a note and this woman was coming home, and I asked if she would go up to Darcy's apartment and ask her to come down. She told me to just go in and go up there myself, so I did.

I was all nervous and my voice was shaking when I knocked on the door, but she was really sweet and had read my notes, so she invited me in. We had a tea party.

When I started the label, I talked to her about doing something because I know she had recorded some music before, and because I wanted to work with her.

She had an idea for the album that eventually became Greatest Hits, and she sent us all these tapes of her recordings, and some really rough notes. It was hard to decipher what she wanted for the album, and a lot of this stuff was taped back when she was a kid, as young as like 8 years old, so I have to give a big shout out to Russ Fox who sorted through all those tapes, called Darcy and played bits for her over the phone so she could identify them and ultimately took something that was recorded on various boom-boxes and tape recorders and made it sound decent. We owe a lot to Russ for that, a whole lot.

Do you plan to continue to work with The Lights?

Yeah. We're "in talks" to do the next album. I hope to continue to work with every band currently on the label again. They all totally blow me away, and I'd like to work with all of them again if at all possible. I'm so proud of all of them.

What's on deck for BopTart? Any new projects you want to discuss?

I want to continue working with Erik Blood, (producer/member of the Turn-ons and producer of The Lights album) If I'm Russel Simmons (of Bop Tart) he's my Rick Rubin. But I'm the one getting into Buddhism lately, so maybe I'm a bit more like Rubin. I promise not to grow a hideous beard though.

I'm also hoping to work with some of the bands from 555 records, I think they don't get near the credit they deserve, it's one of the best labels out there. It should be one of the biggest labels going with the quality of their bands.

Outside of BopTart releases, what are you listening to right now?
Bad Dream, Fancy Dress (and other El records bands)
Clouddead
ESG (for the past year and a half non-stop)
Ernest Tubb and Redd Foley
Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Franz Ferdinand
Keren Ann

Any Seattle bands to look out for?
IQU
Library Science
The Cripples
Erik Blood and Phil Picken's group Sloasians

As CEO of your own label, what are some of the weirdest things you've run into?
I've had some weird contacts with people looking for a job or looking to get signed. This guy who was a session guitarist for a bunch of crappy arena rock bands sent me his resume and it was just a treasure trove of hilarious broken English, really over-the-top assertions about himself and his abilities and a brilliant photo of him in purple pants, leather chaps and a cowboy hat.

Then I had this 11 year-old girl who basically told me I was going to sign her to the label and put out her albums because she was going to be this huge pop star. I asked her for a demo, out of politeness, and she didn't have one- she was convinced that her career was going to start on the strength of her will alone. I tried to let her know how the whole process of promoting yourself works, but I think she was way beyond it.

One of those moments of poetic justice- back several years ago when I was a college radio station dj, I had to deal with all these label promotions guys, and there was this one guy, Lenny LaSalandra, working for Interscope who was just on my ass all the time. He would call and demand that I play things, and he got really pushy and accused me of not playing the promos he had sent. It got to the point where I just avoided him until something I really wanted to play came out on Interscope, then I'd have to call him up and be subject to his harassment all over again. When I was down at South by Southwest recently, I was talking to a bunch of people, meeting and greeting, etc. This guy comes up to me and starts talking about how he had lost his job, and when I told him that I owned a label, he gave me his card and asked me for a job. I just took the card, but noticed later that it was Lenny LaSalandra himself who had just pandered to me for employment.

There's also been lots of crazy Seattle shit that's happened, outside of just what goes on with the label.

I went to a Mac seminar the other day. I just got this Power Book, and Mac has this program called Garage Band, and they had a free workshop set up for anyone who wants to come down and learn it from them. I show up and it's just me and a guy from the Supersuckers geeking out to this software for an hour. A guy from Soundgarden was supposed to be there too, but he never showed up.

Also on the Soundgarden tip- there's this shoe-shine guy I see in my neighborhood a lot, and the other day this girl was like- "You know who that is right? I see this guy every day, I'm pretty sure he's just the shoe-shine guy. She says, "That's the Spoonman. So, every where you go around here you just have to expect to be confronted with the "rock legends" of Seattle, there's really no avoiding it, you know, legends like Spoonman!

I know it's hard living in a town whose legacy to hip-hop is Sir-Mix-A-Lot, but do you ever see yourself doing a hip-hop release? I know you're a fan from back in the day, and though I know the label is not really headed in that direction, I still have to ask.
At some point. The label is just my taste, so I could definitely see myself getting into something like that. It's one of my biggest loves in the world.

Since you're such a TV junkie, why don't you pick your favorite current show, and tell us a little bit about it and why anyone reading should check it out.
America's Next Top Model

I haven't seen the last one, and I'm avoiding calls and not reading e-mails from certain people because I don't want to know who won. I'm rooting for Yoanna!

Ask yourself one question I haven't.
I wanted to talk about my feelings on the differences between living in West Virginia and Seattle, outside of the whole grunge thing.

Having just visited here before I moved, I was under the impression that I was coming into this city full of people who are really into hearing something different- and some of them are, but it's just as hard to find a person open to new music here as it is in WV. They are all already plugged into their various cliques and groups, and they only listen to certain really good radio stations without ever wanting to venture outside of that scene. It's very pigeonholed.

That was one of the cool things about WV and one of the things that I miss is that everybody kind of found out about things on their own, especially before it was so easy to do with the internet. Everybody brought their own thing and had their own tastes.

There's this club here called The Cha Cha and it's so funny to go there because it's these very hollow beautiful people dressed up like nerds. It's like a geeky drag show.

It's easy to diss WV, but it's just as hard to find somebody into something original here, or anywhere. I think that's important for people to know.

A brief review of the BopTart discography:

001 The Turn-ons - Love Ruined Us
Bridging the gap between the glammy 70's rock that inspired them, and the sound of the more current rock bands they call peers, this EP sums up where The Turn-ons have been and where they are going. The title track, also the first track on the disc, may prove to be the most infectious song the band will ever record. "So Damn Queen" is also a standout in terms of toe-tapping goodness, and embodies the androgynous sexiness that is the core of the band's look and feel. Love Ruined Us received some pretty intense critical praise, and helped further establish the band amidst the flock of burgeoning rock groups in the Pacific Northwest.

002 Dame Darcy - Greatest Hits
Whether you call it Victorian bluegrass or Appalachian goth-pop, there's something deliciously conflicted and strange about Darcy's music. Best known for her underground comic Meatcake, Darcy has been performing music since she was but a wee lass and Greatest Hits collects some of her finest work (a mixture of covers, original material and traditional folk pieces) from age 8 to the present. This is the very definition of "outsider music" and the sense of alienation and the utter morbidity of these works leave no doubt as to the sincerity of the performer behind them. Not that this is all weepy gloom, some of the songs on this album will force you to dance along (�Chicken" and "Grandma's Feather Bed") and others will actually lift you from the dark mountain hollow and make your heart yodel along to the blissful sound (both versions of "Ode to Joy"). Darcy even included a limited edition print which BopTart is sending out with the first couple of hundred orders, as if 74 minutes of madness distilled into music weren't enough incentive.

003 The Lights - Beautiful Bird
Perhaps the most accomplished work in the BopTart catalogue, The Lights turn out an album that is every bit as good as anything you've heard lately, and better than most of the shit you love. "Victims of the Pleasure of the Sense of Hearing" is my pick for best rock song of last year, and "Trapped Like a Trap Inside a Trap" gets the vote for most pointedly humorous. The weird pedigree of this band gives them a sound that's a little left of convention, and instead of coming off like any number of the garagey-yet-oh-so-serious-art-rock clones that are flooding the market these days, The Lights have carved out their own space entirely. Imagine a bit of vocal Southern grit, blowing like a tumbleweed through a noisy modern guitar-scape. Yeah it's not supposed to be there, but it just makes you pay that much more attention to what's going on. And when the vocals slide into a smooth and even delivery, it's the melody that jangles through like boot-spur stomps on hard clay. I am told that their live show is even more devastating. I cannot imagine such a thing.

    » BopTart Records


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