Thursday, November 4, 2010
Frontier Records founder Lisa Fancher is with TVD all week as we celebrate the label’s 3oth Anniversary.
KNOW YOUR PRODUCT… NO, YOU'RE PRODUCT!
It took about a year or so to get it together but I finally released the Flyboys EP in March 1980. When I called them with the good news they told me they already broke up… Alright! DOA! Bob Say from Jem and Moby Disc took some but no enough—50 count boxes filled my parent's garage. My glorious career as a mogul never got out of the gate, I worked at Bomp! when Suzy needed me and also at Vinyl Fetish on Melrose.
Our customers were legendary at VF, punks, goths, whatever you call Thick Pigeon-heads, celebs such as John Belushi , Jonathan Demme and not yet celebrities llike Matt Groening too. Once I waited on Bono and Larry from U2: both of them were both lovely and Bono asked lots of questions about L.A. bands and what records we were selling lots of. I acted like I didn't know who they were, one of the earmarks of a VF employee (or boss) was that we were way too cool for school. When Bono said he'd put me on their guest list +1 for their 11/81 Hollywood Palladium show, he actually did it!
Thin White Rope - photo by Greg Allen
Later down the line it was lucky I bought so many rare punk 45s and import 12" at VH, they've long been saving my kiester when I was financially strapped. Which was most of the time after 1991… That was where I first heard Salvation Army's "Mind Gardens" 45, I tracked them down via Rodney B and begged Michael Quercio to be on Frontier. We had the most incredible in-stores, even for Frontier releases such as Salvation Army and Christian Death. I love me a conflict of interest especially when it's sanctioned by my bosses, Henry Peck and Joseph Brooks.
I was on a decent little roll having released GROUP SEX, the Adolescents "blue" album, TSOL's DANCE WITH ME, China White DANGERZONE and Christian Death's ONLY THEATRE OF PAIN and Suicidal Tendencies' debut. I told the lion share to various indie distributors (none of which are extant) but I also drove 50 count boxes of LPs from Rhino in Westwood to Zed Records in Long Beach in my sweet '76 Pinto.
Sometimes, oftentimes, I sold collectible records at the Orange Country record fair, at Gilman Street in Berkeley and Pasadena City College. I was sick of working seven days a week so I decided to cut the cord selling rare records and make Frontier my only gig in1985 selling only, I hoped, NOT hard-to-find records. It was fun to talk to hear that story of how a collector scored a Beatles' butcher cover for .05 cents but it was time to move on.
Graham Hatch actually approached me and told me I needed to hire an employee. He used to work at Greenworld and suggested we get some interns because interns work for free! I never heard of such a thing. Genius. He put up a notice at CSUN and it dragged in bffs Betty Fresh and Dougee Fresh (no, those are not their real names) who would do whatever tasks we required perfectly but giggled amongst themselves the entire time. Other interns slept the whole time or called SST for promos or tried to Xerox their fanzines when we weren't looking. It's an imperfect system. True story— Betty still works here (with some interruptions as she became an almost PhD at UCLA) and there is NO WAY I could have dragged this label around this long without her. She is my rock, there's no easier way to say it. It would be nice if I knew how to do something but I suppose it's too late for these kind of regrets now.
Graham came along post-punk Frontier, even post-Paisley Underground when we were trying to break Naked Prey, the Pontiac Brothers and Thin White Rope. I never really had to do any heavy lifting in the hardcore phase as everyone was clamoring for those records even before they came out. Suddenly we were spending a fortune placing ads in fanzines and sending zillions of promos to college radio. The more we spent, the less copies we seemed to sell.
In the early days I tried to release as few records as possible for max impact but in the late '80s we had to have many more releases in order to afford the office in North Hollywood and the handful of employees. And then I sent Graham to NJ to head the east coast office… We always had a great roster of guitar-based bands (always hated keyboards with rare exceptions) but the more we spent on promotion, the less copies we seemed to sell. Somewhere along the way the critics and DJs that used to say "Wow, do we get to keep these" were like "Who are you guys again?"
LPs and cassettes gave way to CD-mania, fortunately we were still buoyant because all previous releases were hastily remastered for CD. Even though I personally hated CDs and refused to buy them way past the point at which it was adorable, I wasn't crying about selling people records they already owned for even more money!
The best and most overwhelming era was when we were working the aforementioned TWR, P Bros, Naked Prey, Young Fresh Fellows, EIEIO, Dharma Bums, Flying Color and AMC. Many distributors had folded and stiffed me over the first several years and but it was an epidemic by the late '80s. JEM, Sounds Good and Greenworld went down in rapid succession burned me for well over $100K, we had to scale back in a major way.
Bob Buziak actually offered us a major label deal while helming RCA but his forward-thinking regime was shown the door, but not before we got a very decent push for Thin White Rope's SACK FULL OF SILVER. Even though we were purged as well, BMG picked up the label for a pressing and distribution (P&D) deal. Too small for them, fail. Then we went to Ryko in 1993, great people wrong fit. I signed the fantastic Flop from Seattle, the perfect hybrid of punk and pop songwriting genius. Also discovered Portland's Heatmiser with two great songwriters, Neil Gust and Elliott Smith. Walked hand in hand with Flop into a Sony deal. Was left at the altar by Heatmiser and was badly damaged psychologically. Pretty much didn't want to work with new bands after that though I gave it one last bash with the Shame Idols from Alabama.
Betty Fresh and Lisa - photo by Carole Pixler
To keep the label alive whatsoever, I licensed the top sellers to Epitaph in 1996 but quickly found I couldn't pay anyone (or even myself) with the punk classics somewhere else. It was a relief when my Jill of all trades, Betty Fresh, went to UCLA and publicist John Troutman returned home to Seattle. And I got me a day job for the first time since about 1983… Me and Lynyrd Skynyrd, working for MCA. Yeah!
Discovering ARE YOU EXPERIENCED was monumental and Jimi was there at low tide too. I should say Hendrix' music, he was quite dead when I found myself writing advertising copy in the Creative Department at MCA Records in 1998. My 17-year-old Honda Prelude died on the way to my job interview with a true advertising genius named Jonas Livingstone—damn right I took that job. His higher-ups wanted Jonas out so they made his life hell on a daily basis. Jonas called me into his office, half-mad like Colonel Kurtz and demand that I give him 400 variations on an 12-word headline for something like the upcoming EXPERIENCE HENDRIX best of. I never learned more in 13 1/2 years of school more than I did from him in a few short months. But force him out they did and because I was Jonas' ally—not because of my work-- they fired me in 1999 when MCA "merged" with Polygram and they had to shed bodies. When security ushered me out, I felt like the luckiest person on earth… like I caught the last helicopter out of Saigon when it fell.
Posted by Jon at 2:12 PM