Hot--But Not Bowled Over by Fame

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On the underground rock scene, the people who find the hottest acts can become stars almost as big as the acts themselves. Everyone in the record business likes to be associated with a winner.

When Nirvana skyrocketed in 1990 on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, the company’s Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman became known as sages of cutting-edge rock. The same with New York-based Matador and its Gerard Cosloy after Liz Phair become last year’s cause celebre in rock.

It now looks as if the latest industry stars will be Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf and Brad Lambert--the creative team behind Bongload Records.

That’s the Hollywood label that launched Beck, whose Bongload hit “Loser” has made him the hottest underground figure in rock. Beck’s debut album, which includes the original version of “Loser,” will be released Tuesday by Geffen Records’ DGC label in association with Bongload.


The team has also placed the touted group Wool with London Records and is now drawing a lot of major-label interest for another of its acts, Orange County’s Fu Manchu.

The word is that Bongload is in line for the kind of deal that Matador got, in which 50% of the company was purchased by Atlantic Records.

“Any major record company would love to have Bongload,” says Lorie Harbough, the London Records vice president of A&R; who signed Wool after hearing the band’s Bongload single and hired Rothrock and Schnapf to produce the band’s upcoming debut album. “They have a specialty and they take risks.”

Just one thing: The Bongload team isn’t looking for a deal like that.

“We’re getting approached with all kind of offers,” says Rothrock. “But what we do works because it’s independent and it needs to stay that way. We don’t need the problems the other guys have at majors.”

The three, who became friends when they worked as staff engineers at the Record Plant recording studio in L.A., founded Bongload in 1991 to work with promising new acts that had been passed over by the majors. The idea was to find and develop bands and then pass them on to major labels when they’re ready.

“When all the dust settles (from Beck), we’ll probably go back to doing what we do best--making seven-inch singles and serving as a promotional vehicle for these bands,” says Lambert. “I think our 15 minutes of fame is getting down to about 14:45, and hopefully the exposure won’t hurt us.”