Locals Only is an occasional feature wherein we focus on a label which specializes in regional reissues. The music of a specific town or area means the world to those who live there, but frequently doesn’t make it to the public at large. These labels are trying to bring unheard albums to a wider audience, and for that, we salute them.
Founded in 2003, Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut has become an icon for touring musicians looking to load up on carbs. Noted for odd combinations, and outre flavors, the brand has expanded to multiple locations in Portland, as well as one in Denver, Austin and a recently-opened deluxe shop in Los Angeles’ Universal City Walk.
It was from City Walk that we spoke with the company’s co-founder, Tres Shannon, about the other arm of Voodoo Doughnut. While the name obviously implies a dedication to fried dough, the moniker also serves as a record label. In addition to multiple seven-inches featuring songs all about their food namesake, the label — Voodoo Doughnut Recordings, founded in 2013 — has begun branching out into releasing live recordings of notable Northwestern musical acts.
The next installment of that series, titled Tales from the Grease Trap, is volume six, and features the underground rock ‘n’ roll of the legendary Dead Moon. What A Way To See The Old Girl Go was the final show at Portland’s XRAY Cafe, and the 1994 board recording is amazing. For the debut installment of a series looking at regional reissue labels, we spoke with Shannon about the label, Portland’s music scene, and more.
Modern Vinyl: What led to a doughnut shop putting out vinyl records?
Tres Shannon: I used to to own the XRAY Cafe in Portland, from ’90 to ’94. It was an all-ages club that was super cool. Nirvana never played there, but Bikini Kill did, and Hole did — Green Day did, before they broke — and tons and tons of local bands. We recorded a bunch of them, because we used to try to put out a cassette of the week that was the “best of,” but it ended up being too hard to do.
But, we recorded a bunch of these bands — not very well, but the best we could do in 1992 or whatever. So, I have that archive, and we’ve just digitized it all, and tried to figure out what to do with it. Cat Daddy is my business partner with the doughnut shop, and we both like music and stuff, so it was just a pretty silly idea: “Let’s start a doughnut-based record label!”
What we did at first wasn’t about the archival stuff as much, but we put out a box set of 45s. All super cool, colored vinyl, and all of the songs were about doughnuts. Thirteen 45s that come in a pink box, and that was kind of the idea, and suddenly we’re the only worldwide, doughnut-based recording label. When we put Poison Idea out in the box set, we were suddenly like, “Geez Louise: we’re selling a lot of this one to Europe and all this stuff. Let’s look through the archives and see if we have any Poison Idea records.”
MV: Voodoo Doughnut, even before the label, has always had a kind of attachment to music, though, right?
TS: Yeah, we’ve become this iconic brand — and I don’t know how the fuck that happened — and people are like, “Who does your advertising?” and I’m like, “Me.” I’m talking to you on a flip phone. We’re pretty low-budget, here. But as far as musicians: we’re right downtown in Portland, and there’s bars and venues all around us, so getting a dozen or two doughnuts backstage is so easy. Then, musicians are going to Seattle or San Francisco the next day, and they talk about it.
We’ve been doing that since we opened, you know? Getting doughnuts to Fleetwood Mac or whatever? That happened. Stuff like that just blows me away. I don’t even know who gets our doughnuts at some point. We love getting doughnuts to underground bands and Fleetwood Mac bands, and everybody in between.
MV: I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a post from a band on Twitter or Facebook that said something along the lines of, “We’re playing Portland tonight. Bring us Voodoo Doughnut and we’ll put you on the list.”
TS: And that’s why everybody knows about us.
MV: Is the releasing records like — well, Starbucks did it, and we have better coffee?
TS: Well, Starbucks did it on like a whole other scale. And I read somewhere that, like, Waffle House put out music — and Cracker Barrel — so, I think maybe we’re copying them more than Starbucks. We just didn’t think about that at the time, until somebody pointed it out, and then we were like, “Oh. Okay.”
But, originally, the idea of having all the songs about doughnuts was kind of a funny, ha-ha, sort of idea. But, people don’t buy 45s anymore, and we have this great box set, but it’s $88, and I’ve got like, 150 of those lying around — but they’re really good! If you’re a record enthusiast, there’s a little bit of everything. It’s all over the map. Poison Idea, Ian Karmel, and a bunch of local punk rock bands, because that’s who I know, mostly, all doing songs like “Doughnut Case.” Everything’s about a doughnut. It’s hilarious, because we’re busy running a doughnut shop, not a doughnut record label, but I hope that people will eventually notice and catch on.
MV: What was interesting, digging through the Voodoo Doughnut Recordings archives, was that it’s kind of like an insane amount of releases in such a short period of time, and such a wide swathe of formats and genres.
TS: Yeah, we’ve put out something like 30 records. There’s 57 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, who’s our street musician guy around town named Elvis, and so we put out his greatest hits. Christmas singles, Smegma live at the XRAY, comedians live on 45 like Ian Karmel … yeah, it’s all over the map.
MV: Tell me more about this Dead Moon release you have coming.
TS: The funny thing is that no one knows about the record label. That’s the crazy thing: we’ve got this little record label, and there’s such a wide variety of releases, but even locally, nobody really remembers it. We’re Voodoo Doughnut, but people kind of forget about the record label.
I’m a huge Dead Moon fan. I could go on and on and on about them, but we have them also recorded at the Satyricon, which was another Portland Club, and that one’s out already. It was actually recorded by the same guy who did the one at XRAY Cafe. Dead Moon’s actually our biggest seller. I’ve seen Dead Moon probably a hundred times, at least. I’ve toured with them a few times, and they’re just the nicest people, athough Andrew Loomis is, sadly, no longer with us. He passed last year.
This last night of the XRAY was such a good show. It sounds great, and it was mastered well, and it’s just an awesome record. It definitely captures Dead Moon at the height of their dudgeoning superstardom.
MV: You say those recordings were done as best you could, but that Dead Moon record sounds amazing.
TS: Yeah, a lot of that was because our guy who recorded stuff did a pretty good job. We weren’t like, mic’ing the drums or anything, because we didn’t realize we were making this recording for posterity, putting it out 22 years later on record. Don Fury, the guy who does all the mastering, is kind of the genius of mastering these things. Look him up.
Dean Fletcher, God bless him, is the one who recorded stuff, and he did capture them. The whole project — getting it digitized, getting it released, and all that — I’m glad we put out the Satyricon one first, because at the time, we were like, “It’s a little more rockin’.” Although, that’s not entirely accurate, because Dead Moon always rocks. It was just kind of a different vibe, so it’s cool to follow that up with this XRAY one.
Like I said: I’ve seen Dead Moon a hundred times, and there’s a lot of songs on [What A Way To See The Old Girl Go] that they don’t really do a lot. Songs like “Castaway” — they did ’em that night, as like, a specialty or something. Listening to it, it’s really good. Fred Cole is just a treasure — this grizzled rock ‘n’ roll guy — and Toody is great. It’s just so great. Just to be able to put out a record from my friends and have it sound so good? It’s really exciting. It’s so fucking good, and people should buy it, and fall in love with it.
The sixth installment of Voodoo Doughnut’s “Songs from the Grease Trap” series is Dead Moon’s “What A Way To See The Old Girl Go.” It’s available from Voodoo Doughnut Recordings on Friday, April 21.