Anyone who reads this humble blog knows how much I love The Schizophonics. I’ve been stalking them for since seeing them play with El Vez at Bar PInk in 2013, and last spring they played our twelfth Save Music in Chinatown benefit matinee. Like most music lovers, after buying the San Diego band’s amazing 10″ EP, I got to wondering what the oddly named and previously unknown record label was all about. Where did Pig Baby come from? What other cool bands are on its roster? That mystery was solved when The Schizos played the Redwood in July. There was Pig Baby’s main man Jeff Byrd, wearing a Swami Records T-shirt, saying hi, and turning me on to his next few releases including the aptly named “invincible blues” of Sir Coyler and Liquid Sky-era new wave of Light FM.
Plenty of somewhat sane people form bands out of their love for rock ‘n’ roll but what sort of lunatic dives embraces the headaches of starting a label? Here’s Jeff.
As a fan of music, what are some of your favorite labels of all time and what do you dig about them?
There are so many, and it’s not just the labels but the people that run them. In short, some of my favorites are Billy and Miriam of Norton Records, who have uncovered and dusted off some pretty amazing rock ‘n’ roll discoveries as well as put out some really odd and off-the-wall music. Pioneers like Greg Shaw of Bomp! for records and the zine. Where would underground music be without that guy? Long Gone John of Sympathy–the sheer volume of great records he put out by himself, out of his house is remarkable. I’ve always admired Jeff and Ian from Discord for their integrity and the way they do things. Growing up a punk rock kid in Chicago, Touch and Go and Wax Trax were also huge in my early life. Of course, all the classics like Chess and Stax. I still try and go to one or two record swaps a month, and love discovering new music. Doing that on the computer doesn’t do it for me. It seems so stale.
How did Pig Baby come to be? Why the pig? Why the baby?
After telling me more than ten times, my friend Kevin got me to see The Schizophonics out at Pappy and Harriet’s in the desert about two years ago. I have been going to punk and underground shows since 1982 but I was totally blown away. Pat Beers is one of the best front men I have ever seen in my life. Watching that guy really inspired me and made me feel excited about rock ‘n’ roll. We became friends and, seven months later, they played my annual barbecue. I think they are a really important band and I really wanted to help them. After a dozen beers, I asked them if they wanted to make a record. That’s all it was going to be: just to put out one record and help them.
A few weeks later, I was having lunch with Deke Dickerson and telling him about doing the record. He said, “Any time you are in a position to contribute to the arts, I think that’s really important.” He said it with so much conviction, a light went off in my head and I thought, “I’m going to start a record label.” I knew I didn’t want to do it by myself because that would be no fun, so I asked my pal Kevin if he wanted to do the shipping and admin. His wife Emily is really talented with graphics and computers, too, and they seemed like a great team to partner up with. Then Kevin and I were having a meeting with Lety from the Schizos about putting out their record, and I was really impressed with her no BS attitude and her business hustle. I knew she’d be a great asset for the label and her husband Pat is super creative, so we all got together, had a meeting, shared some ideas, and Pig Baby was off and running.
As for the name, I used to enter barbecue competitions and I have this little creepy doll dressed as a pig that became my team’s mascot. Pat Beers was doing the artwork for the Schizo record, called me, and asked, “Do you have a name for the record label? I need to put it on the record.” I didn’t have a clue. I looked around my den and the creepy little pig baby was looking right at me. I said, “How about Pig Baby?” That’s how it went down. It happened that fast.
Your bands are from all over the place! What do they have in common and how have you met them?
It has all happened really organically. I was at my friend Laura’s wedding, ran into an old friend Josiah, and he’s in this really cool, kind of new wavy pop band Light FM. I asked him if he wanted to do a 7″ and he said sure. That was the second record. I asked my friend Chris up in Seattle, who has some experience with press and radio, to help me with writing the Schizo press release. He’s in Sir Coyler, he sent me some his stuff, and we all loved it. That’s how the third record came about. I met Steven El Rey at a Rosalyns show. He also plays with the Little Richards, Pat and Lety’s band with El Vez, and he came up to my house and played me some of his jams and that’s how that record came about. The Schizos played a festival in Orlando and Lety called me, raving about this band the Woolly Bushmen. She said, “They’re amazing live and we gotta get ’em on the label.” Thus, record number five.
My good friend Gary from Deadbolt said he and Harley would be up for reissuing some of their classic ’90s records on vinyl, so I called their old label Cargo and we’re making it happen. That’s going to be a fun project since those records were only put out on CD. We’re also talking about putting out some new stuff by them.
We kind of have a system where we all vote yes or no on a band. I figure there’s safety in numbers and, if we all like it, we’ll go for it. We don’t care about genre as much as we care about good songs. Yesterday, I signed a band from Chicago called the Flesh Panthers that I’m really excited about. They were on my friend’s Tall Pat record label.
Now that there are so many Pig Baby bands, will there be tours or a fest or something?
Yeah! The Schizos and Woolly Bushmen are both great live bands, so it makes sense for them to tour together. They’ll be doing an eleven-date West Coast tour in January that’s already booked and then hit the East Coast in the spring. I’d like to have those two bands tour the world together. People would leave feeling they got their money’s worth! Lety and I were also talking about doing a festival at some point in Pasadena or San Diego, but that probably won’t happen for a while.
This is a real labor of love! Do you have an entrepreneurial background and business sense that you are suppressing to release cool music?
No, not really. We are all huge music fans and we are learning as we move along. The other day, I told Lety, “We are building the plane and flying it at the same time. Let’s hope we don’t crash it!” I’m a tenth-grade dropout who has just worked my ass off all my entire life. I work hard and try to figure shit out as I go along, I have built a couple companies that I am proud of and I really enjoy taking ideas from nothing and turning them into something.
Pig Baby will probably be my last hurrah. We have made a few mistakes, but it’s to be expected. I’m hoping to give it a good 10 years and then turn over the company to the other four partners when I hit 60. The music business is so crazy and uncertain at this point in history, so who knows? If we stop making records that means we ran out of money and are broke, ha ha. But we definitely want to put out quality over quantity. Sound is extremely important to me, so we have teamed up with Dave Gardner over at Infrasonic mastering. He has done such a great job of mastering and cutting all our records to vinyl. When people pay money for a Pig Baby record we want to make sure they are getting a great product.
Any other news we need to know about?
Actually, last Friday I was talking to my friend John Reis from Rocket from the Crypt. I have this this crazy idea where he and Deke Dickerson make a record together, kind of like a modern-day version of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry’s Two Great Guitars. Their styles are so different but hugely influential to so many guitar players. I think it would be a great record if we could pull it off, and definitely a dream-come-true for me because they are two of my all-time favorite modern-day rock ‘n’ roll warriors. After about four tequilas, I built up the nerve to ask John and he said yes. Then I texted at Deke at 2 a.m. and he said yes. Let’s see if we can get them together and make it a reality.
We are also going to start working on the second Schizophonics and Woolly Bushmen records, which will both be on Pig Baby. I’m flying to Orlando the first week of October to start listening to some Woolly demos and the Schizos are gonna do a recording session in Spain when they are on tour. (The Schizos are headed to Europe for a month to tour their first full length, Land of the Living, which just came out on Sympathy for the Record Industry).
The Flesh Panthers are also gonna start recording. They have one song that’s done and it’s really amazing. I can’t wait for people to hear it. We have a lot of other irons in the fire and 2018 is gonna be action packed. Also, we just singed a one-year exclusive worldwide distribution deal and it’s great to know our records will be in stores all over the globe soon.
Hopefully, Pig Baby will also be able to contribute to your Save Music in Chinatown project, as well, Martin. I just wanna say all of us at the label think that is such a great thing that you do for the kids and if there’s anything Pig Baby can do to help just let us know. Maybe once we are more established, we can get some bands together, make compilations, and donate all the funds. I think that would be really awesome!