Free KittyBoo

Brandon Boyer looks distracted, and a little bit embarrassed, when he opens the door to his Denton apartment. "Sorry," he says sheepishly as we walk into his living room. "Iwas in the middle of a game." Boyer waves an arm toward the source of his embarrassment, a Sony PlayStation, and then quickly switches it off. He is self-conscious, because he knows that most people would consider playing video games in the middle of the day a sign of slacking. But to Boyer--founder of Denton's KittyBoo Records--playing video games is almost like listening to a demo tape. After all, the next release from his label is a single by Rodney Alan Greenblat, the co-creator of Sony's popular Parappa the Rapper game. Playing video games may be an unusual place to search for recording artists. But KittyBoo is a most unusual record label.

Boyer was inspired to start his own label after he appeared (under the name Boy Genius) on Green Light Go!, a compilation put together by the Hurst-based BottleCap Records that featured Wally Pleasant, Cub, Furry Things, and Nothing Painted Blue. Since starting KittyBoo in late 1995, the University of North Texas student, now 20 years old, has managed to assemble an eclectic roster of artists and musicians that would rival that of almost any indie label across the country, a cast of comic-book artists and children's book authors and twee popsters.

More importantly, KittyBoo's stable of artists is entirely non-local, a rare feat for even a fairly well-established local label; Last Beat Records didn't release its first record by an out-of-state band until last year's Clowns For Progress (New York City), after more than six years in business. But don't start mentioning names like Sub Pop or K or Matador in connection with KittyBoo just yet. It's too early to get excited about a label that has only released a trio of seven-inch singles since it was formed. KittyBoo could fold next month or next week, and those comparisons would be left hanging out there like a Darren Oliver curveball.

It's tempting to make those comparisons, though. KittyBoo's first three releases--a single by Austin's Poopiehead ("Rise of the Poopie People"); a split-single by lightweight popsters Bunnygrunt and Tullycraft; and the soundtrack to Free Lunch, a children's book by the husband-and-wife team of J.otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh--are all fascinating. The Free Lunch single is especially charming. It features music and narration by New York artist and musician Brian Dewan (who has recorded several solo albums for Bar/None Records, as well as designed album covers for They Might Be Giants) and sleeve artwork by Seibold, who has also done work for They Might Be Giants. It's a beautiful little record, the kind of thing you wouldn't normally expect to see on a label this small. It's also a record that wouldn't have existed at all if Boyer hadn't released it.

"I was at a bookstore and just happened across all of [Seibold's] old kid's books," Boyer says, lounging on a couch in his Denton apartment. He wears a plaid shirt, khaki pants, and that gawky, mop-top look sported by most UNT students; for a Boy Genius, he looks awfully ordinary, bless him. "I was reading one of them--I think it was Free Lunch, actually--and it had his Web page address on the back. So I e-mailed him, and said, 'I like your stuff, and I run my own record label.' I wasn't trying to do anything with him, but he wrote back right away and said that he'd really like to do a record with me, have it be the soundtrack to one of his kid's books. I was actually amazed."

Free Lunch is Boyer's most impressive achievement since starting the label, but it's also his riskiest. Kids don't use turntables anymore, and who knows how many adults will buy the soundtrack to a children's story. Boyer is more than a little concerned, since each project has funded the next one. Free Lunch, in fact, was also funded by some of Boyer's student loan money. "Maybe," he laughs.

"I did about 2,000 of them, and it cost a lot to do, because it has full-color packaging and everything," he says. "I'm not really sure exactly who I'm going to sell these to. Ideally, I'd like to see them in bookstores next to the book. But that's a whole other world that I'm not used to. I don't know how easy that'll be."

It probably won't be as easy as it was to distribute KittyBoo's second single, a split between St. Louis' Bunnygrunt and Seattle's Tullycraft. The single has been out of print almost since it was first released, thanks to both bands' surprising popularity overseas.

"There was this weird international bidding war for Bunnygrunt and Tullycraft," Boyer says, shaking his head in disbelief. "Rough Trade in Japan wanted exclusive Japanese rights to that. Parasol wanted both American and Japanese rights to it, so they were vying back and forth for a while there, which was really, really strange. Rough Trade ended up winning, so they basically took half the records right away. They even paid me upfront for them."  

KittyBoo's next planned release, the single by Rodney Alan Greenblat, is probably the label's most interesting yet. It happened in much the same way as the Free Lunch single; Boyer e-mailed the musician-artist after seeing an article about him in a video-game magazine. Just like Seibold, Greenblat replied quickly and asked about doing a record together. The result, Robot Overboard, is described by Boyer as "the Magnetic Fields creating an album for kids."

In the next year, KittyBoo plans to release full-length CDs by Australia's Stinky Fire Engine, comic-book artist Ron Rege, and one-woman-band Kitty Craft. Those future projects, along with the Greenblat and Free Lunch singles, represent Boyer's curious taste in selecting artists, a taste that so far hasn't extended to any local bands. Indeed, the label has managed to survive even though Boyer has yet to sign a metroplex act--a standard crutch for any upstart local label. However, Boyer is more concerned about making records he likes than making money. With a future release schedule that anonymous, Boyer shouldn't have to worry about getting too rich too quickly.

"I'm kind of trying to do stuff that's outside of what you'd normally expect from a little indie label," Boyer says. "It's sort of like a vanity thing almost. Like, I'm just trying to work with people that I think are really, really cool, and trying to do as big as stuff as possible."

Don't knock the Caulk
Breaking up is apparently not that hard to do, if you're a local band. After weeks of rumors circulating through Deep Ellum like drunk college students after a Dead Thing show at Dada, One Ton Records chieftain and Caulk titan Aden Holt has made it official: Caulk is no more. After seven years and three records (some good, some bad, all interesting enough to make you talk the Caulk after listening to them), the band has split up for personal and, above all, practical reasons. As Holt explains in his matter-of-fact e-mail to the Observer, drummer Joe Fulginitti--who also plays in Q and the Black Martin--has been accepted to "an elite percussion school in Los Angeles," thus ending the band. According to the note, in 1993, the band members made a "pact" and agreed that were any single member to leave the band, Caulk would "cease to exist."

Over the phone, Holt says the reason for this pact was a simple, sensible one: "We had been through six or seven drummers," he says, laughing, "and a couple of those times, it took us months and months to find somebody who could play in the odd meter. Besides, we've been around the block a few times. Marcus [Bloom] is thinking about moving to L.A. Instead of starting over, everybody is thinking about starting different things. I was sad about it for a while, but in hindsight I'm pretty juiced to write a song that's not a Caulk song." Indeed, Holt says the material he's writing now is considerably different from what showed up on Caulk's three albums (including the relatively new Imaginary Enemy)--if only because he won't be singing the new material. The band will play its final shows on September 4 at Rick's in Denton, September 11 at the Aardvark in Fort Worth, and September 26 at the Curtain Club.

Scene, heard
Hard to believe it's been just four years since the Bat Mastersons busted up--seems like just yesterday I was listening to the eight-track on my way to class. Harder still to believe they're back together nine years after playing the Starck Club, recording for Dragon Street (back when the label's roster included, ah, The Spin), getting their not-bad-for-the-Plimsouls single "Wishing Well" on KDGE-FM (back when The Edge played local music, which should tell you how long ago this was), and landing their record on the college-rock charts. But all four original members--Rex Ewing, Byron Lord, Timothy Holliday, and David DiPietro--are back in the saddle, which isn't the worst news I've heard all year. DiPietro says the band is scheduled to begin recording a new disc sometime in October, though the Bats are already playing around town (and, like, real clubs and everything). According to the band's Web site, "the new sound harbors a super-charged brand of pop, punk, and post-psychedelia derived from influences as diverse as the Teardrop Explodes, the Buzzcocks, and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd...with shards of Sonic Youth-style feedback" and on and on. I liked them just fine when they sounded like the Plimsouls. Nonetheless, The Bat Mastersons perform August 29 at the Bar of Soap...  

Jeff "chate" "cottonmouth, texas" Liles will celebrate the release of his third record, The Right to Remain Silent... with a free performance this week. It's Liles' first spoken-word-and-music disc on his own label, so named HEIRESS-aesthetic (that's the correct spelling, really), which he and girlfriend Perla Doherty (along with Bill Wisner of Bill's Records and Tapes) started after Liles was unceremoniously dropped from Virgin Records. (The second release on the label will be Brian Houser's honky-tonk masquerade Never Look Back, due at the end of September.) Joining Liles on his own album are such local notables as Q and the Black Martin, Reed Easterwood (who co-produced the disc), Shabazz 3, Buck Jones, Earl Harvin, Clay Pendergrass, Johnny Reno, and ex-New Bos guitarist Kenny Withrow. "It's a lot darker than the first two records," Liles explains. "I wanted it to be dark, like a Quentin Tarantino movie or a Martin Amis book. Hopefully people will listen to it and be scared shitless." Cottonmouth, texas (featuring Liles, ex-Course of Empire drummer Mike Jerome, designated hitter David Monsey, and others) will perform August 29 at Trees, with Legendary Crystal Chandelier and Q and the Black Martin opening.

--Robert Wilonsky

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