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."

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain