I guess any thoughts of starting a record label began when I worked at Georgia Tech's radio station, WREK. When I first started working at WREK, my musical education was comprised of Top 40 with a small knowledge of the "unimaginative" Atlanta music scene. The longer that I worked at WREK, the more I felt that my tastes in music had changed or should I say "evolved." WREK exposed me to music I had never heard before, or ever knew existed for that matter. I never before fully appreciated the wide spectrum of music that was available to me - I was mostly spoonfed by commercial radio. In Macon, where I was raised, I would have really had to search the public libraries for anything that WREK plays today (and probably no public library has the extensive library that WREK boasts today). Even today, WREK continues to teach me and broaden my perspectives.
I started working at WREK in 1990. I hosted a weekly show "WREKless Behavior" in which local musicians, writers, etc. would guest-dj for an hour. During this time period, I also began managing local bands. I think the first band that I managed may have been Bad Egg Salad or Train Black. I wasn't a very good manager - I was enrolled in school full-time, worked a part-time job, and worked at WREK as General Manager. But I was trying and that was probably more than other so-called "managers" were doing. Then I met this wonderful band BOB and fell in love with their music. I also met several friends in the music scene. One of those friends, David T. Lindsay, had his own record label, Worry Bird (probably the only legitimate independent label in Atlanta at that time. Both Bad Egg Salad and Train Black were on David's label). David influenced me to start my own label and pretty much taught me all I know about the music business.
As my senior year at Georgia Tech arrived, I started to wonder about my future role in the Atlanta music scene. I really wanted to start up the label and I was constantly looking for bands to put on that label. David called me up one night and invited me to go with him a tape release party for a band named Flap. The band was comprised of 2 acoustic guitars which were amped. I was amazed with the music that came out of this band. They sounded much louder and more complicated than their line-up. I had never heard anything like them. I decided that they would be the first band on my label. I named my label "Half Baked Records" after a quote in the book, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead was David's favorite book; he talked of it often. I finally got my hands on it, read it, and it became a staple of my philosophy at that time.
It wasn't until December 1992 that I was financially able to release any records on my label. Flap's 7-inch, "The Brotherload" b/w "The Bruised Molecule" was released on December 6, 1992 with a party at Tortilla's Restaurant, the same place I first saw them play. It was also at Tortilla's that a friend John (aka Elephant Gerald, DJ Gnossis) gave me a tape of a band that he was in called Toenut. One listen and I knew I had found band #2. Toenut was thinking about breaking up at the time, but had second thoughts when I offered to put out their record on my label. Plus, they worshipped Flap and wanted to be on the same label with them. Toenut's record "Heyward" b/w "Information" was released on March 13, 1993. We started their record release party with a party at my old house and then moved over to their practice space for the show. Their practice space was hilarious. They shared it with a gymnastics school and a club which we believed to be satan worshippers (this so-called club was finally evicted from the space for spray-painting satanic symbols on the walls of the space). It began snowing that night and turned into a blizzard the next day. Through all the crazy weather, Toenut was still anxious to get their records in the local record stores with over a foot of snow on the ground (a rare occurrence for Georgia). Both Flap and Toenut are amazing. They both have this incredible stage presence with tons of energy and wit. Both groups are true performers and incredible fun to watch.
Well, after releasing two 7-inch records, I was ready for the CD format. Flap had just added a drummer to their 2 acoustic guitar setup. I was not impressed at first, but the more they worked at it, the better and better it got. They recorded the record here in Atlanta with Neil Fried producing. The first time I heard the record I was blown away. I sent the tape to the pressing plant (Denon) for mastering. Denon was constantly calling me telling me that they were hearing static and things that probably were not supposed to be there. I'd go back and listen to my tape and then call Flap and sure enough it was supposed to be there. The same with the promotional stuff like photos. Even the photo shop called me saying that the picture I picked out for their promotional photo was blurry and they were sure I didn't want that. I had to tell them "Yep, that's the one we want." They thought we were crazy. But that's how you operated when you worked with Flap. Then we had a mishap with the printing. Flap got Flournoy Holmes (he did the Allman Bro.'s "Eat a Peach" Album cover) to do the printing layout. Flournoy said he was giving me a break on the price - the layout (just the layout, not including the printing which was extra) ended up costing more than the pressing. Well, the day before the release of the CD, the pressing plant called to tell me that they had not received the printing. I called Flournoy - he was out of town. But, I found the printing - his roommate told me it was sitting on his front porch. Andy in Flap and I were about to embark on what he called fondly as "The Cannonball Run." We drove the printing to Denon in Madison and then picked it up the next day, the day of the release party. It was an insane two days, but it was all worth it when I saw Andy's face the first time he saw the CD. Flap's CD Pal was released on August 20, 1993 with a party at the Grooveyard. Toenut opened.
In October of '93, BOB, who was finally getting the band together after losing a member, released "Atomic Cafe" b/w "Free and Clear " & "I don't mind" on my label. About this time, I had already been working with BOB for two years. I really had nothing to do with the release of this record. BOB did everything themselves. I was basically cut out of it. You can imagine my dismay when I call them up to arrange to get the master and they tell me that they had already sent it to the pressing plant and that I owed them $700. They didn't even call me to get a copy of the Half Baked logo, they cut it off Flap's record and pasted it on their's. I was hurt, but I could understand why they did it that way. I had pretty much been ignoring them because I was working with Flap and Toenut at the time. All my energies at the time went into my label, and not them. But nonetheless, I tried to put this aside because I was proud of the progress BOB had made, and they did it without me. With the release of this record and the addition of their new bass player, they were really starting to get the recognition that they deserved. Rich is an incredible songwriter; and BOB was truly one of the best bands that I had ever heard. What kept them back, maybe bad luck, I will never know.
BOB's first CD was the next release for the label. The catalog number for this record was supposed to be HBR005, but the boys wanted to be HBR007 for the James Bond connection, so I humored them. The stress of putting this record out was tremendous and it really tested the strength of my relationship with BOB. They were never the kind of band that was managable. If anybody was managing anybody for three years, it was them managing me. While working on the CD, I decided to call it quits as their manager. A lot of bad feelings ensued between us including a lot of blaming etc., including them telling me "you were never our manager to begin with." But somehow, this record came together and I wasn't the one to get it there. The CD was recorded at several different places which I thought might be the fault of the record, but actually it turned out to be the strength of the record. It was filled with variety; it was never boring to listen to. Complex Organism Blues was released on March 26, 1994 with a party at the Point. Flap opened. It was at this party, Eric (drummer for BOB) injured his back forcing him to quit playing for 6 months. This was devastating to BOB since they had tours planned to support their record. Even though the band did not play out, the record continued to sell intown. I really didn't hear the record until a few weeks before it was released. The release of the record was not exciting for me since I had heard most of these songs since the beginning of my days with BOB. However, it wasn't until much later that I realized just how incredible the record was and how much it meant to me.
Through Toenut, I met this wonderful band from Columbia, SC called One3Four. They were also a high energy band. They were incredibly entertaining - all over the stage, jumping around, knocking each other down, - it was hilarious. My friend Ted Selke who owned Third Eye Records (Seely, Gold Sparkle Band) was going to put out One3Four's record. While they were in the studio, One3Four and Ted had a disagreement about the production of the record. One3Four called me from a payphone across the street from the studio and asked if I would put out the record. Of course, I said yes. Apparently, Ted would not compromise with One3Four and they had no other option except to walk-out. I told them I really didn't want to know the details of the whole situation. A 7-inch with "Too Much Jolt" b/w "The Reverser" was released April 13, 1994 with a party at Dottie's here in Atlanta. They toured all over the place, peddling their record wherever they went. This was my first record to sell out.
Well, in the spring of '94, Flap called me from Chicago wanting off the label to pursue other opportunities and better distribution. Apparently, they had found someone else in Chicago to put out their records. I just hated the way they told me. They called me collect; they had borrowed my van to make the trip (which I had bought so they could go on tour); and then they had the nerve to ask me when they were getting royalties for there record (it had not even come close to breaking even). I kept asking myself - "why can't you wait 'til you get home to tell me this shit?" I was pretty angry, but relieved, so I let them go. Toenut really had no intentions of putting out another record on Half Baked. They were shopping for a bigger record company even before their first record was released. I was disappointed at first with being abandoned by my flagship bands, but I wanted them to go on to better things and that they did. For months, I went through a deep depression thinking the whole time that I didn't do a good enough job with my label, distribution, promotion, etc. and that's why everything was falling apart. But BOB was intent on staying with me and that was the most reassuring thing I had to hold onto. God knows what I would have done without their support. So with all the holes in the roster, I went out looking for some new bands.
Next came a band from Athens called Slumberjack. I was introduced to them through another Athens band Hayride. Athens had become almost an haven for me during this time period - I like to call this the Athens era. At the time, I was living in a huge house in Atlanta with three other musician-types. I had a day (9-5) job as they all had a night life. I found myself not being able to sleep during the night and going straight to bed when I got home from work. Even now that I live alone (one of the few luxuries I refuse to give up), I still have problems getting to sleep at night. On weekends, to escape from my difficult home life, I would go to Athens on the weekends and stay with Hayride. They always had an open-invitation for me to sleep on their couch. I would hang out with them during the day and we'd go eat together at the Taco Stand or the Mean Bean. At night, we'd go to shows at the Atomic Music Hall or the 40 Watt. I'd always try to buy them drinks for letting stay with them but they would refuse, saying they loved having me around. Athens had a great scene then - Hayride, Harvey Milk, Jack-o-nuts, Magneto, Slumberjack, Asa Nisi Masa, and a little-known band called Olivia Tremor Control. Chris, the guitarist and singer in Slumberjack lived with Hayride. I had seen Slumberjack play many times before I signed them at a club I worked at called Somber Reptile. They totally rocked! They were also very loud (They would pass out cotton balls to the audience at their shows). I released their 3-song 7-inch entitled High Heat June 22, 1994 with a party at the Atomic Music Hall in Athens. Slumberjack was probably one the most accessible bands on my label. I wasn't crazy about this band like I was about the other bands on my label, but I liked them a lot. Slumberjack broke up shortly after the release of their record. Their intentions were good, however, they just could not get their shit together.
At my birthday party at the Somber Reptile in the summer of '94, I ran into Mitch and Danette of Pineal Ventana. I had known Mitch for a really long time. He was the frontman of King Kill 33, an Atlanta scene legend. King Kill was really entertaining. Mitch would run around the stage, make these contorted faces while rest of the band was pretty much to themselves in the background. They played songs about conspiracy theories - JFK assination, the moon landing, etc. The band had broken up that previous summer, but Mitch formed a new band called Pineal Ventana with his girlfriend Danette on vocals. They played their first show with BOB at a WREK party. They went on to put out their own single with really disturbing artwork in the Spring of '94. It was one of my most favorite records that year. At first they performed mostly improvisations, but as time went on, they found there sound and really impressed me. I decided to ask them if to join my label at my birthday party. They agreed and I was elated. A four-song 7-inch entitled Philosopher Stone was released on Halloween of '94 with a party at the Clermont Lounge. BOB opened. It was BOB's big comeback show - they hadn't played since their CD release. I was a proud label owner for the first time in a while.
Around the fall of '94, BOB, Pineal Ventana, Tweezer, and Suzybeat all approached me about doing a theme record together. I said cool! We would get together at the El Azteca Mexican Restaurant on Ponce de Leon (affectionately nicknamed the "Punk-rock ass-kicker" for their incredibly strong margaritas) and talk about the record. We were a motley crowd, infamously known by the wait staff. We would flip tortillas across the table at each other (with salsa on them). This would make a huge mess, annoying the wait staff and the customers. The first couple of meetings, we got absolutely nothing done but drunkenness. The taking of the promotional photos was quite fun. We took a ton of us in front of the El Azteca when an ambulance had just pulled up in front. We all could never agree on a theme or artwork. In fact, I think some of the bands are still pissed at one another because of the artwork. It took until March of '95 to actually get a record pressed. The theme was about four different crimes: a bank robbery (Suzybeat), serial murder (Tweezer), child molestation (Pineal Ventana), and Vietnam War crimes (BOB). The release party was held for the 4-song 7-inch entitled Quadruple Felonyat Dottie's on March 8, 1995. We then booked a 2-day tour to North Carolina with everyone except Suzybeat participating. Our first stop was Wilmington, NC at the Bourgeois Pig. Pineal Ventana had this huge bag of popcorn and threw it on BOB during their set. It was hilarious. Our next stop was the Turtle Club in Greensboro. The club did little or no publicity and plus it was spring break - no one showed. We didn't let that bring us down. We had our own show. Everyone was drunker than hell. We found a Barney doll in the parking lot, ripped its insides and voice box out, and would wear it on our heads during the show. The voice box was also found singing in many songs. Travis of Pineal Ventana also subbed in for Timmy of Tweezer during Tweezer's set and no one noticed. It was one of the funniest times that I can remember about my label. A few weeks later I went with BOB on tour to Florida, New Orleans and Texas. I loved touring with my bands; it was something I didn't get to do that much since I had a full time job.
In the summer of '94, my friend Brendan who worked at WREK had a a party with Pineal Ventana and Clobber playing. Allan in Clobber was also had worked at WREK. Brendan and Allan used to do the punk rock show called "The Good the Bad and the Ugly". They were hilarious when they were on the air. I rarely ever missed their shows. One day, Allan and Brendan had a disagreement about the show and I, as General Manager of WREK, was forced to intervene. I sided with Brendan and Allan took it personally. In fact, he didn't speak to me until I saw him at Clobber's first show at the Somber Reptile with Jawbreaker at the Somber Reptile in the Winter of '94. I just dropped by the Somber to check out Jawbreaker; I didn't even know Clobber were playing. They blew me away. I went away from the show dying to see them again. I finally got that chance at Brendan's party. After the party, I went up to Allan and asked him to be on my label. And to my surprise he said okay. I was so excited. I adored Clobber. They had this incredible energy. Allan would jump up and down, all over the stage, occasionally knocking a mic stand down. At the end of the show, he would either jump into the crowd, jump back into the drum kit, or smash his guitar. That energy would rub off, I would end up jumping up and down at their shows. However, it was also that energy that got them thrown out of clubs. It wasn't until almost a year later, that their 3-song 7-inch with "Get Smart" b/w "New Year" and "Crazy"was released at Dottie's at May 6, 1995.
Around the same time that I was working on the Clobber 7-inch, my friends from Athens Harvey Milk, had called. They told me that they had some material left over from a studio session and wanted me to put it out for them. I was honored. Harvey Milk was very popular in Athens and Chicago. Steve Albini had worked with Harvey Milk several times. Their sound was based on a very dark and heavy guitar and bass sound much like the Melvin's sound but more variable. About the time that I put this record out they were really working with their sound incorporating string arrangements into some of them. Less than a week after the release of the Clobber 7-inch, Harvey Milk's 3-song 7-inch entitled I don't know how to live my life at a party on May 12, 1995 at Dottie's in Atlanta. Little did I know that 7-inch records were really falling out of popularity. Clobber and Harvey Milk's records would be the last 7-inch records I would put out on my label.
In the summer of '95, I began working on organizing a independent label festival for Atlanta. It was the idea of a friend of mine. I brought the idea to my best friend, Kelly Stocks, who booked and promoted shows at Dottie's. Dottie's was like Cheers for me. I'd walk in and instantly feel at home. I'd help Kelly book every once in awhile and help at the bar occasionally. When Kelly first started booking Dottie's, it was basically a red-neck hangout. She started having shows on Sundays - all of a sudden, Dottie's was the place to hang-out. Then she started booking Wednesdays, and then every night. Kelly had always had the Midas touch with every club she worked at. Kelly decided to let me have free-run of Dottie's for the four day festival - the first four days of July, thus appropriately billed as the "Atlanta Indie-pendence Festival." There were several independent labels at the time in Atlanta and the scene was at one of the best peaks in a while. We started the festival out with a night devoted to Alien Records with Tweezer, the El Camino's and Spider Virus on the bill. It was an insane night. I remember being knocked down a few times as I walked to bar for another 50 cent beer. We set up a little booth to sell records in corner and that was my headquarters. The next night we featured Third Eye Records and Colossal Records with Gold Sparkle Band and DQE on the bill. It was definitely one of the best nights especially because it was a sans rock night. The third of July, Long Play Records was featured with Smoke and Big Fish Ensemble supplying the entertainment. The owner of Long Play, Steve Pilon, was my neighbor at one time. We would joke around that we lived in a label commune since Alien, Long Play, and Half Baked Records were all located about 500 feet of each other. It again was another successful night, everyone getting drunk and having an extremely good time. The final day of the festival, July 4th, featured my label. It was also my 27th birthday and probably one of the best days of my life. The show started out with a band I had just recently signed called 8. 8 did mostly atmospheric, industrial, and instrumental type stuff. There were no songs; everything was done improv. They started just before the sun started to set. It was really somber at first and provided nice warm-up and background sounds for the night. After 8, Dottie pulled me outside for a firework display. She had bought fireworks and had them going off at the same time as Underground Atlanta's and the Braves game. She also gave me a watermelon full of melon balls soaked in 151 (Someone stole it off my table). She also had some contest where she made me raffle off Olympic clothes (I hated that part). After 8, Pineal Ventana was just getting to the club. They had been on the road for days and had just driven from Texas. They looked exhausted, but played an excellent set. In between sets, Kelly gave me a birthday cake and Dottie gave me a gold Dottie's cowboy boot pendant. Clobber was up next. They totally tore the place down. The last time they played at Dottie's, all these little punkers were in town for another show and showed up to see Clobber. They tore the urinal off the wall in the men's restroom, but Dottie didn't care, she made lots of money that night. Clobber had been thrown out of clubs for much less. Allan would have probably had no place to play in Atlanta if it wasn't for Dottie's. We'd often joke that we'd probably had to burn Dottie's to the ground to get thrown out. BOB had to go up next, which was difficult since Clobber had just performed one of their best shows in a while. BOB played an excellent show and I was dancing around having a great time. I didn't want the night to end. It was the proudest day ever for my bands and my label. I realized I had found the perfect roster of bands.
Ten days later, Pineal Ventana's CD Living Soil was released at the Midtown Music Hall. PV had been working really hard, touring around constantly and making contacts. They were very determined. I couldn't have asked for a better band on my label. PV was well known in town for their bizarre stage antics. In fact, their shows were the topic of the day among the Atlanta scene. At one show at Dottie's,