On Ten Years With Exotic Fever Records

It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been ten years since that unusual summer day when Exotic Fever records first came into my life. I have told this story before, once, to great comedic effect and that’s good. Everyone likes to be funny and so, like an aging comic, doing the College Orientation Circuit on my way down to the bottom, I will quickly rehash that fateful day here, permanently and forever, on the Internets.

I emerged off the red line at Brookland, a stop I had never been to before. I am not sure why I decided to take the metro on this particular day, as a drive would have been quicker, and offered me a more immediate escape had I needed one. But never the less, there I was in a new part of DC, by the train tracks and desperately looking for an address that hardly existed. When I finally stumbled upon the domicile advertised on the flier I had in my pocket (this was the days before cell phones, internets, GPS and all that pesky crap you kids have forced upon crusty fucks like me), I could hardly believe what I had gotten myself into. What lay before me, at the bottom of some  hill was a single structure, a quasi-converted shop garage surrounded by junk.

Timidly, I walked down the hill in search of any familiar face to validate my arrival, the address and the wanting fact that I might still be on planet earth. I quickly found Bonnie Schlegel, guitarist and singer for Bald Rapunzel, the treasure of my adventure for the day. She was unloading a mini-van of her instrument and still managed to give me an energetic and welcoming, hello. We chatted briefly while she unpacked her weighty possessions and at some point, awkwardly I am sure, I left he to her devices. I almost quite literally ran into a lanky man with long hair, well-worn clothes and a lot of tattoo’s. The tattoo’s were unlike I had ever seen and I engaged him on conversation. He stated that he had them done overseas while he was on tour. I asked him what band he was in and he said, “The Spirit Caravan. My names Wino”.

HOLY SHIT. Okay, look I had only ever heard of Wino at this point from Henry Rollins book “Get in the Van” and a dozen interviews with Joe Lally going on and on and on and on about this band called The Obsessed. But I knew, looking into those wise, but road worn and intoxicant ravaged eyes, that I was in the presence of a legend. Wino was nice as shit and talked a good deal about the artist and The Spirit Caravan and Joe Lally, who I had mentioned like a buffoon (I was 23 at the time if we do the math and such as it is my character to be a shy awkward punk kid it was my manner then as well). I’ve met quite a few musicians who are well-respected and legendary to guys that are more famous and more successful than they are. Most of those dudes are pricks. Wino was really humble and nice and actually had a conversation with me that wasn’t one-sided or filled with some false ego. I’ve never run into him since then, but he left a lasting impression on me.

Suddenly, from somewhere in the beyond someone yelled something akin to “Fight” and a group of people rushed towards the shouted voice. Following suit, we emerged down the final hill. At the base, in front of the train tracks that ran directly adjacent to the garage-house, was a patch of mud and two very large men squaring up, both with shit eating grins on their faces. These two hefty boys thus proceeded to engage in the art of Greco-Roman style wrasslin’, in a mud pit, next to train tracks, next to a garage. It was by far the most thing I had ever seen in my entire life and did not, in any way, shape or form reassure me that this was the right place to be. I came to see bands play and then go home.

Eventually, Bald Rapunzel played. They were breathless. To hear Bonnie Schlegel sing is to be blessed by the angels. If you have not had the pleasure, and as she has not played to an audience in ten years I suspect you have not, ensure that you do so. You will not, as they say, regret it. Accompanying Ms. Schlegel is a lady who would effectively change my life many many many times over the next ten years. My dear friend Katy Otto set upon her drum set like a happy child who has found something sinister and wicked and is so pleased by this discovery she can’t help but light up with a smile. It is a face I have seen at least a hundred times and it never feels less than it did on that day. I was taken in completely. And, have not been unleashed since.

After their set, Bonnie set upon me (and I like to pretend in this moment that I was the only person that ever had this happen too, even though I witnessed her do this to about three dozen others after me) with a CD in her hand. Ah yes, my Kryptonite even to this day. With an abundant amount of enthusiasm and smiles of sheer adulation Bonnie gave her pitch. She had started the record label, called Exotic Fever records, it was meant to be sexy and she had put out a CD by her friend Clark’s band the Halo Project and she was going around telling everyone she knew about it and how she was really proud of it and how she loved the music and would I like to buy one. And really, how could I have said no to Bonnie in that moment? She could have told me to go wrestle the two fat guys in the mud by myself and I would have.

It is now ten years since that fateful day and I have had many experiences with Exotic Fever. I helped Katy run the web site for a few years (after much loving help from our friend April) and was privy to new bands, new people and generally give a tiny bit back to DIY music and culture. I became, in a way, a bit of a defacto historian on the label, the remnants of that web site still sleeping on a hard drive in my basement as I type this. I got to participate in a few Exotic Fever fests, playing with so many wonderful people, in no particular order, Pash, Mass Movement of the Moth, Liza Kate, Kathy Cahsel, des_ark, Rachel Jacobs, Sean McArdle and so many more. Two years ago Katy was even kind enough to invite me to play one of these shows at the Black Cat in Washington DC. A small, insignificant moment for some, but for me it was one of those once in a lifetime moments.

As Exotic Fever turns ten, it becomes important to me for a different reason. Regular readers of this FLOG will no doubt recall my memorial to our dear friend Clark Sabine. The same Clark whom I have since learned convinced Bonnie to start Exotic Fever records to put out that CD by the Halo Project. It is in this way that Clark continues to contribute to the world, even though his body and being are no longer with us. People always claim that they are filled with the spirit of those that have passed or that the memory of the dead is still here. I find that shit unnerving, because often it’s not true, the memories are doctored, and the contributions are not tangible. This is not the case with Clark. His spirit is still here, it is very much alive and well, and it courses through Exotic Fever records. He planted that seed in Bonnie Schlegel, who took it and nurtured it and grew it and then handed it over to Katy Otto who has turned over the soil with love and hard work and helped along the way by great people like April Harris, Sara Klemm and Kathy Cahsel and kept that seed alive. And while this sounds like it may all be too much when talking about a label, a label whom I have barely touched on, whose significance has barely been touched upon, it is all true. This is not just a place where commerce is exchanged for product. It’s a place where friends and people and ideas and music gather and are shared into the world. Exotic Fever is a community, the only tangible community I have ever felt apart of. That’s fucking important and that’s what Clark gave to us.

So when I say to the women (and it has been so many great women that I feel selfish grandeur  even mentioning my own small role in all of this) thank you so much for everything you have given me. and thank you for growing Clark’s seed into a mighty tree that has branched out and done so much good, I mean so much more. Exotic Fever, you are beautiful. May you be well and serve the future and be nurtured by it.

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