This is one take on Megaphone Records and its history - on the innards and surroundings of its roots and branches. On Jason Willett as its informal-but-essential skeleton. On its ceaseless, impactful, and exhilarating ricochet. Nobody can really explain it - how such disparate forces could have congealed and commingled for so long based on such marginal and marginalized mutual creative obsessions. There are numbers of years and myriad relationships (both cause-and-effect/afflict and personal) involved, but the sheer fact of the matter is that it's all immaterial when viewed in the face of such a gargantuan outpouring and overspill of what, both in itself and in the intricate refinements therein/thereunder, can only be described as the psychospiritual, and certainly artistic, equivalent of lava. Controversially, the first phase of things really began where it ended - with Jad Fair, leader of Half Japanese and the bearer of far too many titles, all deserved, in the world of music press. Jason, an unwitting young iconoclast from Frederick, Maryland, fell into a falling-apart Half Japanese in 1990 and saved the day, enlisting a flock of fresh players from across the world to keep the band alive, and subsequently embarking on a European tour with little-or-less warning. The collective boon of this series of actions was numinous in purpose - it gave Half Japanese a renewed structural integrity, and it led Jason, whose musical vision had tended toward both the isolated and the electronic, into a career in rock music (although what rock music did to Jason is way-small potatoes when viewed in comparison to what Jason ended up doing to rock music). This convolution soon begot a local, and more consistently viable, ensemble - The Pleasant Livers. A couple of Frederick allies and seriously amazing Baltimore weirdos Fred Collins (vocals - described by me as "a cross between Bill Cosby and an auctioneer on PCP") and John Dierker (saxophone, organ - described by everyone has having enough musical and personal verve for this solar system and easily another) initially comprised this always-ramshackle crew, but it was clear from the outset that the Livers were a Baltimore band (but not in terms of keeping in step with prevailing Baltimore musical clichés - more in the litany of anti-cultural infatuations that they embraced by way of both the cumbersome-but-manic engagement of their music and the kinetic synergy of their stage show). From this springboard was formed The Recordings (with Dierker, Baltimore Neoist John Berndt, and [later] the hypertensive, pulverizing, graphically squirming lunacy of Bob Wagner on drums) whose bent was similar to the Pleasant Livers only in its tenacious mischief (otherwise, the music operated purely on hinges, levers, and skilled interactive prescience). Happening concurrently was the inception of two of Jason's visions - Megaphone Music and Megaphone Records. Megaphone Records was borne of Jason's idealism alone. Nothing but idealism could have brought to fruition a scenario so ridiculous as Jason the Businessman. And there you have it. Megaphone's first releases seemed to indicate a degree of austerity, even a coldness, in basic direction. No matter, though - the more learned, "noble" breed of experimentation that hallmarked Megaphone's first releases (especially those bookended by The Work's Slow Crimes and See) provided the perfect backdrop for the explosion of propulsively careless irreverence that would later ensue. That, and they actually sold decently. Megaphone Music, opened in the fall of 1990, was a heaven/haven for experimental music of all ilk (all priced very cheaply, mind you), stationed in the most unlikely of places - above an irascibly administered antique store in downtown Frederick. Megaphone brought many forward-looking and adventuresome musical acts to a blasé Frederick that never deserved any of them (what follows is only a smattering of them - Dog Faced Hermans, God Is My Co-Pilot, Boredoms, Happy New Year, No Safety, Hasil Adkins, and Jac Berrocal). Endlessly misunderstood, Megaphone Music starved in isolation for the next three years, but not before wielding its import in some awfully significant places. Two punk-rock high-schoolers - a senior (Andrew Barranca - bass, vocals, sax - theatrically and hilariously possessed) and a freshman (me, Benb - drums, vocals, organ - referred to in the third person), both truant and snot-nosed - took serious notice of Megaphone's beaconesque existence, and dutifully spent what ought (not) to have been schooldays in Jason's store. Andrew and Benb had formed a band (Slamhound) that fell in with, and got recorded by, Jason. Then, Benb and Jason formed a band (The Jaunties - founded in utter nihilistic abandon, but with excruciating optimistic and catchy leanings). Then Jason and Andrew formed a band (The Dentures - bombastic, squalid, somehow exotic, and grotesquely indulgent), but not before Jason, Andrew, and Benb had formed a band (The Attitude Robots - every ounce of it a dysfunctional amphetamine stomachache snarl). Jason closed up shop and moved to Baltimore at this point. If anything was to change everything, this was the thing. He set up his new studio/venue - right next to his bed - in Fred's basement. Here, freed of the (gigantic) hassles intrinsic to running a record store, Jason facilitated an incalculable upsurge in recording and playing. And two new key bands burst into existence with shocking immediacy. Fresh from the dissolution of the Recordings, Bob Wagner slipped inconspicuously into the immediate fold as frontman of the Can Openers (he would become conspicuous in an awful hurry). And, from some excellent underbelly of Baltimore's (always fledgling, always failing) film/art world thing came Martha Colburn, who (with Jason) gave us all The Dramatics, who (singularly) has given the world incredible visual/artistic stimulation via film, and who shared (with Jason) what I refer to as The Great Megaphone Romance. With all of these elements aligned as they were, Fred's basement grew into an epicenter of an awesome proliferation of ideas and songs and all ilk of deafening amusement. All of it was fortuitously captured on rapidly deteriorating reels of 8-track tape that Jason had acquired at very little cost from a former telephone-company employee and sometime-country-music deejay. The intensity of work in the studio ostensibly precluded much forward motion with Megaphone Records (which was up to about a dozen releases at that point), while the music being made in the studio - that which occupied so much time, energy, and resources - had no avenue for release (with the exception of the Jaunties' first album, recorded in 1993 and out on RRR the next year). Opinions might vary if ever it was a subject worthy of conjecture, but I remember that it was Martha's Big Idea - pressing limited editions of CDs by the nexus of forming/formed bands and regaling them with all sorts of individualized artwork-type things, taking at least some cue or another from Caroliner et. al. The label was to be a subsidiary of Megaphone; so they (we?) called it Megaphone Limited. Around the time of The Dramatics' first record release in late Summer 1994 (MEGA LTD 001), Jason moved into Martha's 5,000 square-foot, heatless, lead-laden, barely inhabitable warehouse in very-downtown Baltimore. The stage was set at last for full, unfettered musical whatsoever to take place at any hour of the day, whether getting insect carcasses from fly paper stuck in hair (as happened to me on many occasions), bleeding upon instruments (as happened to everybody, strangely enough, at some point), or pissing into toilets full of water frozen solid (ditto last parenthetical clause). Martha made her films there, and it was not long before the music and the film merged in the most fantastical ways. Converse to the almost-eternally-prevailing artistic trend that dictates disappointment or retraction from a basis of promise, Megaphone delivered endlessly with no promise given (and certainly not ever solicited). The bands grew, exploded, imploded, heaved, stomped, flitted, retched, writhed, and careened through an evolution sufficiently accelerated and effortless as to appear invisible to anyone outside of the progressively insular bubble of Megaphone Limited people. Everything that everybody made within the confines of that studio for nearly four years continued to expand in both breadth and depth - collectively learning to stand with integrity in its edges whilst pushing and finessing its boundaries. This was pure and transcendent art, followed by a throng of exclamation points, backed up to a point way beyond any claims of itself with potent, terrifying authenticity. Among best friends, no less! Records, records, records. Songs - too many of them, almost. Ideas. Absolute fearlessness. And here it was - a movement of actual cultural significance, despite the efforts of those involved to deny its status as such. Fantastic players were imported to perform and/or to record (Dirty Three, Metamkine, Spaceheads, Mick Hobbs, Ruins, Jac Berrocal, Caroline Kraabel, John Edwards, Mike Evans, Ron Anderson, 99 Hooker, James Chance, Dawson - again, just a fraction), some repeatedly (Jad Fair, who would go on to record well over 1,500 songs with Jason in a full-throttle monopoly of the studio at the warehouse). In the meantime, Martha's films grew in direct accordance with the music, and - this is key - her discipline in self-promotion garnered her a notoriety that Megaphone could've shared, but didn't due to its own lack of said discipline. So, while artistic advances continued on nearly all fronts, subtle-but-fundamental changes were underway. The increasing insularity mentioned earlier began to assume stringent undertones. Things started suddenly to seem a bit desperate, a bit scary in a netherworldly way The unspoken balance between life and art - that which must be maintained in order to lend either any real cogency - was submerged in a good-natured-but-self-destructive hyperextension of personal resources. To do all that for the sake of a vision denotes extraordinary conviction, but it also punches holes in the sky to invite some terrifying black vastness to permeate every molecule of everything or something. It's painful. It's difficult indeed to say what happened without touching in some way upon too-personal-for-you-the-reader relationship stuff, because that's what it was on every level. I guess that, in short, the plot was lost, both within and between people. The bottom fell out. Ugly - not at all hateful, but spinning, uncontrollable and exhausted, into some elusive stratosphere. Impossibly tragic. Here now, it seems simpler and feels considerably less agonizing than it seemed and felt then. Megaphone's present is the product of both circuitous and substantial reinvention. I don't know much of anything about it, but I bet that it's stupendous, especially if it's fueled by the same flared-nostril intent and celestial intention, and love as what was. At the end of everything, it will be seen that this music was made with and by love. As you wash the fly carcasses out of your hair, feel the love. Thank you.
(written by benb gallaher)