From Clear Channel’s free-speech asphyxiation to the pro-war trumpeting of 3 Doors Down, the face of contemporary rock that the public too often sees is one of archconservativism — so much so that it’s easy to get the idea that linear jingoism is the current sound track for the kids in America. It’s not, of course. The outer edges of rock ’n’ roll are where the fun is, where it always was. And every once in a while, an artist from rock’s outer boroughs will crack the code and crash the convention.
This is how I conceive of Adrian’s Bulb Records — party crashers and documentarians of the best sonic outbursts from rock’s flyover areas. Started in 1993 by Ann Arborite Peter S. Larson and his then-bandmate Jim Magas (who no longer is involved with the label), Bulb has just made it to its 10th birthday. The label has survived as a shining example of what was once great about indie labels — iconoclastic, daring, going for broke while you’re broke, and making do while aiming high.
Over the course of 10 years, more than 100 releases (“not even counting CD-Rs,” says Larson) and three locations, Bulb has shown stick-to-itiveness galore. Hell, take a look at the artists the label has given the listening world: pop-metalist Andrew WK, New Orleans inventor-cum-electro-boogie man Quintron, stripped-down rock heroines the Demolition Dollrods, feral sound sculpturists Wolf Eyes and Larson’s own fist-in-the-air rock duo, 25 Suaves.
The Bulb family album also includes great lost area bands like retardo garage punks the Monarchs — who featured Flying Bomb label honcho Andy Claydon — as well as legendary hit-and-run disguise rockers Pterodactyls and Prehensile Monkey Tailed Skink, a rock band so wonderfully demented that they have to be seen and heard to be believed.
So what the fuck? Let’s learn a little more about Bulb by chatting virtually with the best authority on the subject. Ladies and germs, the earnest and jocular Peter S. Larson:
Metro Times: Why did you start Bulb?
Peter S. Larson: I had plans to release records by both the bands I was in at the time. It made sense to put a fake label on them to tie them together. The whole thing was a sham, there would be two records and no one made any plans beyond that. One thing led to another, and more records came out as I discovered how easy it was … or so I thought.
Metro Times: What is a successful Bulb record?
Larson: A successful Bulb record is a good record. They are all successful. While I understand that your question baits answers about finances and cash, Bulb success is measured in many different ways. Am I happy with it? Is the band happy with it? Are there a few folks out there who are happy with it? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then that is a successful Bulb record.
Metro Times: Has Andrew WK’s celebrity brought any more attention to Bulb?
Larson: Ironically, no. There is much attention focused on his records, but I don’t think that people buy records for labels these days.
Metro Times: Is Bulb a “noise” label? What is Bulb’s aesthetic?
Larson: No. Bulb is not in any way a “noise” label. Generally, people who stick this category on [us] have never heard anything on my label. How many noise records have I actually put out? I can count five. I have put out noise records, rock records, jazz records, hippie records, garage records — hell, I even put out a ska record once! Bulb’s aesthetic is honesty. I put out honest records. Bulb artists are for real, no bullshit, no posturing. They do what they do because that is what they are. … Insincerity has no reward and certainly has no place in the Bulb roster.
Metro Times: What is it about noisy-avant-weirdo-skronky rock that appeals to you?
Larson: It doesn’t. In fact I think most of it is total bullshit. I don’t put Bulb records in this category. I really never ever think about genre at all. In fact, I hate the concept. Most weirdo records that come out these days aren’t very interesting if you ask me.
Metro Times: To what do you credit the fact that the label’s lasted 10 years?
Larson: I come from an incredibly fucked-up background. My deceased father was an obsessive research scientist who would work 25 hours a day, my mother would speak with spirits and ghosts and my stepfather was a raging alcoholic and general loose nut. In addition, I grew up in the poorest state of the union, Mississippi, and was one of the few people in my graduating class who could actually read. I always told myself that I could never give in to it, that I just had to keep going so that I wouldn’t drown in it, that if I just kept working hard that I could rise above it.
Metro Times: Does it bother you that mainstream audiences will likely never hear the music you’re releasing?
Larson: No, I don’t think they’d get most of it. Certainly, it bums me out when I go into a mall store and see records by my fellow independent labels and not my own, but that’s purely a business thing and I have to remind myself that these labels will probably go belly-up. … I am bummed that more people don’t get the chance to know my label ’cause this stuff doesn’t get written up in the music press ’cause I don’t spend thousands of dollars on advertising and hours on the phone talking up publicity reps. I would like to, but there just isn’t enough hours in the day nor [the] cash base to do it.
Metro Times: I’ve heard the avant underground described as insular and “invite only.”
Larson: Totally true. The avant underground is a community of people who have a hard time making friends, so they have created a safety net of e-mail lists and alliances that they can all be accepted and successful in. I hate this concept. Personally, I want to play in as many places as possible for as many people as possible and I don’t like the idea of being trapped in a particular group of people who don’t want to let anyone else in. Bulb is not like this. Bulb is open to anyone.
Metro Times: What does rock ’n’ roll mean to you?
Metro Times: What advantage does being based in a small town like Adrian offer?
Larson: It rules. I have a garden and bunnies jumping around my yard.
Bulb’s 10-year birthday bash is this Friday and Saturday at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit), with performances by Andrew WK, Wolf Eyes, Quintron, the Demolition Dollrods and other surprises. For information, call 313-833-9700.Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]