Tom Rothrock says he first heard Beck in LA’s Jabberjaw coffeehouse in 1991, and immediately approached him with a weird idea: giving folk music a hip-hop twist. “He got really excited,” Rothrock recalls, “He said, ‘You think you could f*ck my stuff up?’”
It wasn’t long before the fruit from that meeting, anointed slacker anthem “Loser,” began pumping through radios and TVs everywhere, propelling Rothrock’s brand new Bong Load Custom Records to sudden, unexpected notoriety. “In less than 18 months we went from, ‘I’m gonna press some records,’ to ‘Loser’ charting,” he says.
Bong Load went on to release three of Beck’s best-known albums, a pair of Elliiott Smith full-lengths and a slew of other works from artists like Kyuss, Richard Thompson, L7 and Eels. The label’s last vinyl pressing went out in 2000, Rothrock says, and its final CDs were issued in 2007, leaving digital files as the lone ongoing method of buying into the Bong Load catalog.
Beginning today, however, Bong Load rides in physical form once again. To celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary, Rothrock has relaunched the label, newly relocated to Las Vegas. At his side: longtime friend and Vegas music scene veteran Michael Stratton, Bong Load’s new label manager and A&R director.
“For years, Michael had been saying, You should do something in Las Vegas—buy a house and do something here,” Rothrock says. “Now’s the time.”
Bong Load’s second phase begins with a rollout of seven titles, most available for order or pre-order right now. They are:
• Reissues of two Beck classics, 1994’s Mellow Gold and 1996’s Odelay, each limited to 2,016 colored, 180-gram vinyl pieces. Available now ($35 apiece).
• Reissues of Elliott Smith’s final two (non-posthumous) LPs: 1998’s XO and 2000’s Figure 8, each limited to 2,016 colored, 180-gram vinyl pieces. Available now ($35 apiece).
• A reissue of Masters of Reality’s lauded 2001 album, Deep in the Hole, a slab from the SoCal desert-rock scene that also spawned Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, limited to 1,016 colored, 180-gram vinyl pieces and available on vinyl for the first time in the U.S. (Dutch pressings run from $60-$110 on Discogs.com). Available for limited pre-order on August 26 (price TBD).
• The Killers’ second album, 2006’s Sam’s Town, pressed on LP for the first time in 10 years and limited to 5,016 180-gram vinyl pieces (featuring two bonus tracks). Available for limited pre-order now ($45).
• Killers bassist Mark Stoermer’s new solo album, Dark Arts, limited to 516 colored, 180-gram vinyl pieces. Available August 12 ($28).
“Bong Load has real cache with music fans, and the idea is to stick to our high-quality, low-quantity philosophy,” says Stratton, who first met Rothrock when the latter co-produced Stratton’s Vegas-based rock band, 12-Volt Sex, in the late 1990s. “Tom came into town last year, and we went Super-Kart racing with his daughter. Within a week we had a very specific business plan for Bong Load.”
That plan calls for the label’s records to be sold in fewer than 30 handpicked independent brick-and-mortar shops across the U.S. (overseas sales will be handled separately), and online through Bongloadrecords.com. Las Vegas’ 11th Street Records will spearhead fulfillment, both to individuals and retailers. ““We’re a small, independent business that wants to support other independent businesses,” Stratton says.
By limiting their pressings to roughly 500-5,000 per title, Rothrock and Stratton explain, they can control quality in a way many labels cannot. “If you’re pumping out 25,000, 30,000 per pressing, how much time can be spent on the audio? Not much,” Rothrock says. “Listening to one test pressing, we caught an error that went all the way back to mastering. We went back and mastered it again to fix it.”
Once Bong Load re-establishes itself primarily through reissues, the label intends to begin issuing new music by rising acts, with 11th Street Records’ in-house studio a natural recording partner. What will Bong Load look for? “A band just has to write kickass songs and play great shows,” Stratton says.
Adds Rothrock: “We’re looking for stuff that’s unique. The giant labels take great comfort in familiarity. We like to be surprised.”