San Antonio’s latest local label, Bedlamb Records, began with a bag of scavenged quarters.
“It was at one of our Grackle Mondays,” explains Erik Sanden of Buttercup, the de-facto heads of Bedlamb, which Sanden describes as less like a traditional label than “a collaborative or some communist group … a brotherhood … a book club.” “We had no consideration of recording an album at that time, we were all about the live show. But `James` Wilton comes up with a bag of quarters and puts it on the stage. He says, ‘I want you to use this to record an album.’ It was about $110 in quarters … and it was clear that he dug that shit out of a wishing well … the coins were all copperized.”
Inspired by this petty theft, the guys in Buttercup (Sanden, Joe Reyes, Odie, and at that time drummer Jamie Roadman, who recently left the band and hasn’t yet been permanently replaced) raided their bank accounts for an additional $200 or so, and their debut album, Sick Yellow Flower, was born. The album was the first released under the Bedlamb imprint. The exact date of the rusty-coin investment is forgotten, but it clearly happened before 2005, when the album dropped, or as Bedlamb member (“signee” seems like the wrong terminology, considering Sanden says all label contracts amount to at this point is a handshake profit-sharing agreement) Marcus Rubio dates it: “I think I was 14 then. It was definitely a couple of years before my mom started driving me out to see you guys.”
Rubio, 21 now, is finally past the point of being described as a “child prodigy,” but Sanden and co. have been playing music since Rubio wore diapers. Ditto Jackson Albracht, frontman for another Bedlamb band, Cartographers. Most of the Bedlamb crew (which also includes Reyes and Sanden’s side project, Demitasse, and Blowing Trees’ Chris Madden) in fact, are young enough to have been fathered by Buttercup, and we’re talking biology here, not musical influence.
But Reyes — Buttercup guitarist and producer of most Bedlamb releases (manager Rose Baca calls him the label’s “common denominator”) — insists that the age gap between his band and the others isn’t as important as their shared musical sensibility. As appreciators of ornate, independent-minded pop music in a city more interested in metal, hardcore, and other no-frills rock styles, Reyes said, the Bedlamb bands were fated to come together. “A lot of roots music is popular in San Antonio,” Reyes says. “At one time, we were probably the only band in town with an Elliott Smith cover in our set. I think Jackson and Marcus probably responded to that.”
Reyes records Bedlamb albums under a set of restrictions he calls a “vow of chastity,” which stipulates that studio embellishments like Auto-Tune and click tracks are forbidden, and his early version of Pro Tools software must never be upgraded.
Considering that Bedlamb has been releasing homebrewed albums since 2005 — and as recently as last year when Buttercup’s The Weather Here, Marcus Rubio’s Oceanic Tremors, and the self-titled Cartographers debut all dropped — calling Saturday’s Bedlamb showcase at White Rabbit a “label launch party” seems incorrect, or maybe even disingenuous, but Sanden explains they’ve just recently realized the Bedlamb name is more than just a literal label, an excuse to slap a sleepy sheep logo on a CD cover, and that everybody might benefit from presenting a more unified front.
“I think we finally figured out that we are a collective team,” he says. Watching the other bands on Bedlamb’s roster perform recently, Sanden says, “I was like a mother hen, blooming with pride. I thought, man, everybody here is so talented. This could be an artistic explosion.”
But if Sanden’s swelling maternal bosom leads you to believe Bedlamb signals Buttercup is retiring to an executive, elder-statesman role, think again.
“Fuck no,” Sanden says. “Now we just have to work harder to compete with these guys.”
Next up for Bedlamb as it becomes the real deal: promoting a label compilation album, featuring previously unreleased tracks from the bands and available for sale at the launch party; making all the label releases available for digital distribution; and “touring, touring, touring” with a “rolling circus of performers.”
Also, a membership drive. Though the Bedlamb scene seems incestuous, with bands sharing members and instruments (see “Swell maps,” July 29, 2009, for a rough idea of the musical multitasking going on), Reyes recording most releases, and former Current art director (and drummer for Rubio’s Gospel Choir of Pillows) Chuck Kerr designing most album art, Sanden insists the label isn’t a closed-circle clique. They’re currently looking to recruit an as-yet-unnamed local band, considering releasing solo work from the well-diver extraordinaire, Wilton, and always interested in adding new bands to the lineup.
But, “they have to work,” Sanden stipulates. “They have to have a job.”
Right now, there’s no real money to be made, unless you’re willing to swim for it.
“Ultimately, we’re just one more string of spaghetti, thrown up against the wall to see if it sticks,” Reyes says. “If someone would offer to buy our label for pretty much any amount, we would sell out immediately.” •