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Thick Syrup’s music flows at anniversary shows

By Sean Clancy

This article was published May 9, 2013 at 3:04 a.m.

Thick Syrup Seventh Annual Anniversary Shows

For eight years, Little Rock based Thick Syrup Records has done its share to make sure that at least a corner of the music world remains fiercely weird, loud, perplexing and fun.

Releasing albums from a stable of underground luminaries such as Jad and David Fair of Half Japanese, ex-Velvet Monkey and Gumball founder Don Fleming, twisted Appalachian folk project Book of Amy, garage kings the Jam Messengers, punk rockers Chrome Cranks, as well as Arkansas-based artists like Ezra Lbs, Jerry Colburn, The See, Bloodless Cooties, Bryan Frazier and more, Thick Syrup has helped blaze a proudly twisted musical path all from the humble confines of central Arkansas.

“I sucked at playing music, so I decided to start a label and help get the music I like out there,” says Thick Syrup owner Travis McElroy.

And for the seventh year, McElroy is throwing a rockin’ bash to celebrate Thick Syrup’s birth. This year’s version has enough rock for a trio of shows, including a pair of shows tonight and Friday at White Water Tavern in Little Rock and a May 18 “extravaganza” featuring Ginsu Wives, Ezra Lbs and Burnt at Maxine’s, 700 Central Ave., Hot Springs. Tickets for the 8 p.m. Maxine’s show are $5 in advance, $7 at the door.

The label actually started in 2005, McElroy says, but that first year was spent mostly getting finances together and promoting the imprint. Thick Syrup’s maiden release was 2005’s Gotta Get It Outta Here by one-man band Nathan Brown under the moniker Browningham.

“He was like the white Prince,” McElroy says. “He was this white guy with two keyboards. He was another one of those guys who was in his own world. He was living in Fort Smith and I saw him play at White Water a few times and thought he was just phenomenal. He owns a label now called The Dead Media that just releases eight tracks.”

Since that initial issue, Thick Syrup has unleashed about 60 albums that push musical boundaries and include art-damaged punk, low-fi indie rock, weirdo experimental exercises and full-on raging rawk.

“We’re definitely not in it to make money,” McElroy, 40, says. “It’s gradually changed. I wanted it to become this experimental, noise rock stuff. That’s what I really like.”

Helping run the label from the beginning was McElroy’s friend, Brian Lovell. The name Thick Syrup came from a hilariously childish and gross bet involving Lovell’s ability to keep down elaborately mixed drinks concocted by McElroy, the grandest and most twisted of which involved syrup of ipecac that Lovell somehow managed to drink and not get sick. “I could hear his stomach making noises, but he kept it down,” McElroy recalls with a chuckle of amused awe. “I think I came pretty close to killing him. The next day he couldn’t get out of bed.” In honor of Lovell’s survival and iron gut, he suggested the label be named after that thick, syrupy, nearly lethal drink.

Lovell has moved on, however, and now Kevin Rogers of Maxine’s is helping out, McElroy says.

The label received a boostin 2007 when it signed Jad Fair, who along with his brother, David, founded the influential and prolific low-fi band Half Japanese in 1974.

“I’d bought some art from him years ago,” McElroy, still a smitten fan, says. “We kept in touch and finally I just asked him if he would let us release something. He was, like, ‘OK!’ And that was pretty much it.” Thick Syrup has gone on to release or re-release several Fair projects, the latest of which is Surprising Wooden Clocks by The Whistling Joy Jumpers, a band that includes Fair and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

McElroy has gotten to collaborate with more of his idols, including Fleming, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and musician/ filmmaker David Markey (1991: The Year Punk Broke), whose album Volume Infinite hits the streets (and broadband) July 9.

It’s heady stuff, especially for an Arkansas native who lives in rural Perry County.

“We get about 30 demos a week,” he says. “And now I’m working with people I grew up listening to. It’s kinda crazy.”

Thick Syrup Seventh Annual Anniversary Shows

9:30 p.m. today: Bloodless Cooties, Hamburguesa, Ginsu Wives

10 p.m. Friday: Bryan Frazier, Ri¢hie (formerly Ghostfinger), Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth

White Water Tavern, 2500 W. Seventh St., Little Rock

Admission: $5

(501) 375-8400

whitewatertavern.com

Weekend, Pages 34 on 05/09/2013

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