Bloat Records is like alien abduction. Any rational Earth dweller, in their heart of hearts, knows UFOs have to exist. There have been far too many credible sources who have reported seeing them to believe otherwise.
The experience of attending any number of Bloat Records-induced experiences over the years is closely akin to being taken aboard the mothership, fed copious amounts of drugs and then being voluntarily (or involuntarily) explored by all manner of probing hands, fingers, tongues and sexual organs. At the end of the experience, there is really only one question: Was it pleasant?
Not always, but at very least, to experience a Bloat Records band or recording was (and still is) always interesting. Current Bloat acts include Golden Boots, The Pork Torta, B4Skin, Bob Log III and more. On its worst day, Bloat Records, often shortened to Bloat, is a 26-year-old Tucson treasure, and on its best, well, let's get back to that later.
"I started Bloat with my friends in Mondo Guano at a shitty Chinese restaurant," Bloat founder Danny Walker says. "I also drew our logo on a napkin there, and it's been the same drawing basically all the way 'til now. We decided to start our own [record label], and make a home for the weirdest bands in town. Tucson, especially then, was host to all kinds of weird, and we showcased it in our own underground club, the Squeezy Snake Lounge."
Walker is a talented multi-instrumentalist and longtime Tucson resident who, at the time, played with Bob Reynolds (now more commonly known as Bob Log III). Reynolds explains that the label started as it continues to exist: a sort of bizarre protest to established scenes in town.
"We had a giant box of religious lectures on cassettes that we got from the Value Village," Reynolds says. "We taped over the lectures, putting our own songs and covers on each cassette, and then snuck the modified cassettes back into Value Village for like-minded people to find.
"At the time," Reynolds continues, "I lived in a house on Tyndall street that had an amazing corrugated sheet metal shed [a.k.a. the Squeezy Snake Lounge] and had some great parties in there. Any recording made in that shed with this old boom box I had sounded incredible—in a corrugated sheet metal shed kind of way. Those were the recordings on the religious lectures cassettes."
Tucson's religious cassette fans were in for a shock, albeit possibly a pleasant one if their musical tastes were somewhere between the Velvet Underground and the Butthole Surfers. Those early Mondo Guano recordings were a truly delightful display of DIY ethos with Walker on homemade percussion instruments, Reynolds developing into a worldclass Delta blues slide-guitar player, singer Nicole Pagliaro's hauntingly dark yet occasionally optimistic and always clever lyrics and Montaigne Santiago on bass (although several other people would also play bass for Mondo Guano during their active years).
"It started with Mondo Guano, and later The Napkins and then Doo Rag came, and we had a pretty great lineup of bands, which would be the beginning of things," Lucas Moseley, longtime Bloat alum, says. "[We had a] common inherent need to freak out in public. I guess we were reacting against the existing scene, which was pretty easy to do."
Moseley, who was a member of The Napkins and Hardbod, as well as The Pork Torta currently, says the Bloat bands were acting out against a growing Tucson musical institution at that time.
"I never understood [the term] 'desert rock.' It seemed so limp, but I bet those guys got laid a lot," he says.
With The Napkins and Hardbod—two of the more powerful Bloat bands, the '90s were an incredibly productive time for the label and Moseley has often been the glue to hold the decades-old label together. Then Doo Rag happened, and Mondo Guano, The Napkins and Hardbod (which all shared various members) had to take a backseat to the new duo of Reynolds and drummer Brad "Thermos Malling" Denboer.
"Doo Rag's success kind of stopped Mondo Guano and The Napkins," Moseley says. "That's when the Pork Torta was born."
Reynolds and Denboer did a number of national and European tours, supporting artists and bands such as Beck, Crash Worship, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and R.L. Burnside, before finally burning out in 1996. Denboer would later form Coin, and Reynolds became Bob Log III after Denboer left Doo Rag in the middle of a tour and Reynolds decided to carry on without him. Reynolds, though, has never strayed too far away from Bloat.
"All factors considered, I think we helped a lot of people see how much fun music can actually be," Reynolds says of Bloat's impact on Tucson before his sister, Becky "Bebe McPherson" Reynolds (Bebe & Serge, Department of Descriptive Services) chimes in:
"Ultimately, Bloat is a force in Tucson that makes Tucson more fun and strange," she says. "The dirt knows all about it. If you whisper to it in the right way, it will tell you everything."
For Walker, though, the impact of Bloat Records on the Tucson (and international) music scene is more than a point of pride—it's been a way of life, which, over the years, has also included bands like Mr. Free, Monster Pussy and Winelord. As a member of multiple Bloat bands, one of its originators and mentor to countless other Bloat artists, Walker is one of the truly special parts and unique personalities in the Tucson creative scene.
"I'm having a hard time finding new Bloat bands, everybody seems so straight now," Walker says. "I have been saving the idea of a retrospective and digging through vaults and such and re-releasing all kinds of golden oldies. There's even some stuff that's never been released. Of course, we still have active Bloat bands, but it seems like the time is right to showcase the entire timeline. So look for that in the near future."
Ultimately, one of Bloat Record's biggest supporters (and a Tucson legend in his own right) Al Perry might sum up the little label of oddities best.
"Look, there are other bands that are more popular and have even made an impact nationally and internationally," Perry says. "They put Arizona flags on their album covers and take enigmatic, dusty-looking desert photos. They attempt to convey the sparseness of the area in their music. They cop Mexicanisms. They are frauds. The Bloat artists capture the hardscrabble life of Tucson, the thrift store aesthetic, if you will. Truly, they are DIY as opposed to trust-funders. The fucked-up blues music they do is infinitely extremely the real deal and has a lot more to do with feeling rather than record contracts."