By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
If you haven't heard of Beautamous Loaf International, a Dallas record label that specializes in dishwater-dirty trip-hop and ambient sound collages, you're not alone. Beautamous Loaf seems less like an indie record label and more like an exercise in proving just how underground something can be without ceasing to exist. With the bands on the label's roster--Prison Rape Scenes, Jethro Tilton, Sphota, Sanguinaria, and Pantheon 23--appearing live so sporadically, they could be mistaken for a group of Mob informants, and only a handful of releases to its credit, it brings up the question: If a label releases an experimental trip-hop album and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?
The answer is irrelevant, because nobody involved with the label seems to care either way. Three of the label's four core members live in Dallas, and all three realized a long time ago that their day jobs were real jobs; making music takes a back seat to making rent. The trio--Sphota's Phillip Walker, Prison Rape Scenes' Trent Straughan, and Joel Zoch (who, in addition to handling production and mixing for all of the bands, is a member of PRS, Jethro Tilton, Sphota, and Pantheon 23)--make records when they can, release them when there's enough money, and never fret about whether or not the Dallas music scene will accept them. They just assume it won't, and move on.
"I think one of our main objectives about getting this stuff out is to not worry about Dallas at all," Straughan says. "I think one of the understood formulas for this to work is to get it as far from Dallas as we possibly can. It seems like the farther we get from Dallas, the better the response is. I think people would like it, but it would have to go up north and then go through the appropriate marketing departments at MTV, and if it was to go through that and people here were told to like it, then it would be appreciated here."
The bands on the label aren't exactly begging to be appreciated. You don't do things like name a band Prison Rape Scenes or title an album Buttocks Spread to the Sky and expect people to come running with open Walkmans and fistfuls of cash. Nothing may be shocking anymore, but there are still some things that are annoying.
"If we were concerned about that, we would have named ourselves Pearl Jam," Zoch says. "There are a million bands in Dallas, and a lot of 'em are much more palatable than us." No kidding.
Another reason the label has remained anonymous is that the public really hasn't had a chance to hear any of its bands. Club shows by any of the bands are rare, occurring about as often as a change in seasons, with occasional performances in ambient tents at raves and parties. Zoch, Walker, and Straughan don't know how to classify their respective bands' sounds; they don't expect a typical Deep Ellum audience to figure it our either.
"You can't classify [our music] as industrial, and you can't really play it in a dance club, because it's more down-tempo," Walker says. "We get a good response whenever we do something at a rave or a party where they have a different sound system for more ambient stuff."
Continuing Walker's point, Zoch says, "As far as walking into the Galaxy Club and playing a gig, if we can get 100 people to show up, it's amazing. We don't play out a lot because we don't seek it out. Whenever we play, it's because people approach us."
Even with Beautamous Loaf's scattered release schedule and the bands' infrequent shows, the label has found a few supporters, including the Vas Deferens Organization and the now-defunct Buzzmonger fanzine. For the most part, though, the label is its own self-contained scene: Walker, Zoch, and Straughan--and Sanguinaria's Neil Poska, who lives in Colorado--are the musicians, the label owners, and the fans. It's a situation that figures to endure as long as the label does, as none of them talks about an actual scene developing around Beautamous Loaf. They are making plans to have their records appear in more stores around the country, but other than that, they seem resigned to live in a vacuum. All three of them are sure that they would have more of an audience if they lived somewhere else, and they're just as sure that they'll never move.
"Can anyone here move away from Dallas?" Straughan asks, as the other two shake their heads no and sip their drinks.
"We're so hooked in," Walker says. "We have a lot of good connections and a lot of good resources around here. It'd be really difficult to move away from that."
"I think we'd be broke in a month if we felt like we had to live off the music," Straughan continues. "I think the best advice for anyone who wants to continue to make their kind of music is to find a day job that isn't too bad."
So far, Walker, Zoch, and Straughan have spent more money than they've made, plowing every cent back into the label.