THE FRONTIER SAGA
Frontier Records was founded in 1980 by Lisa Fancher. It was one of the first independent labels to document the nascent hard-core punk rock scene of Los Angeles before branching out into other scenes and sounds such as the so-called “Paisley Underground” and (always) guitar-based bands such as Thin White Rope, The Young Fresh Fellows and Heatmiser. After learning the indie label ropes from her mentors Greg and Suzy Shaw at Bomp! Records, Fancher first hit the jackpot with the release of Group Sex by the Circle Jerks (it should be noted that very first Frontier release was the self-titled EP by the Flyboys). The success of Group Sex set the label up for iconic punk releases by the Adolescents, TSOL, China White and Suicidal Tendencies (whose defining anthem “Institutionalized” made its appearance here). Also of note from this era was the discovery of the ultimate Goth band, Christian Death, and the release of its masterpiece, Only Theatre of Pain. The importance of these albums cannot be overstated. It’s hard to imagine the future worldwide success of the Offspring, Green Day or Blink 182 without them!
Frontier Records took a turn for the Technicolor in the mid-’80s with such bands as the Salvation Army and the Long Ryders. The Salvation Army’s psychedelic pop may have been perplexing to punk purists, but their genius was more than welcome to the label’s musical expansion. A name change to Three O’Clock and two more Frontier releases (Baroque Hoedown and Sixteen Tambourines) were followed by the boys moving on to what they thought were going to be bigger things…. The Long Ryders can take credit for kick-starting the alt.country scene a good ten years ahead of the pack (not intentionally, of course). By 1986, the Frontier staff had their hands full with Thin White Rope, Naked Prey, the Pontiac Brothers, EIEIO, Flying Color and American Music Club. All of them were ahead of their time and/or critical darlings, but only AMC survived long enough to see a measurable degree of financial success (if that’s what success is measured by). The Pontiac Brothers took the Stones/Faces ball and moved it onto their own court, writing retro-without-becoming-clothes-horse parodies. If they’d lasted a couple years longer, the world would have been their oyster….
Of Thin White Rope, not enough superlatives can be said. Truly one of the greatest guitar bands that ever made ears ring, they disbanded in 1992 after a show in Ghent, Belgium which was recorded and released as The One That Got Away.
The first Frontier band to come from the mighty Pacific Northwest was Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows. They’ve defied description for over two decades, covering just about every conceivable musical style, and succeeding admirably at it. From the sublime to the silly, their earnestness burrows its way into the most cynical of souls. Bare Naked Ladies: we think you should be paying tithes to the Young Fresh Fellows! Following YFF’s auspicious lead came Portland’s Dharma Bums, a rockin’ little band with a huge heart and a monster sound to match. Portland’s Heatmiser’s distinctive brand of groove-oriented punk rock has won them a slavish following and reams of press praise for their two albums (Dead Air and Cop & Speeder) and interim EP (Yellow No.5). Elliott Smith’s critically lauded solo career before his tragic and untimely death ensures continuing interest in these three emo-core classics. Among the last of our new bands (versus vintage reissues) were Birmingham, AL’s Shame Idols, perfectly complemented by Seattle’s Flop. Both featured brilliant pop/punk songwriters in, respectively, Tim Boykin and Rusty Willoughby, but it was a case of the exact right bands at the wrong time.
Never at a loss for recognizing talent, the keen ears at Frontier have found some out-of-print classics demanding re-release. It began with the former Smoke 7 junque-rock icon, Born Innocent by Redd Kross, soon followed by Dangerhouse Volumes 1 and 2, which include most of the crucial 45 tracks (X, Avengers, Weirdos, Black Randy et al) issued by the legendary L.A. punk label. The world fell over and died when Frontier released the Weirdos’ debut LP, Condor, followed by Weird World: Volume 1, a sort of greatest hits from L.A.’s mightiest original punk band. Ten years after Thin White Rope’s demise, Guy Kyser made the world a better place by recording a new record with his wife and new bandmates. Mummydogs impelled rock critics to reach for ever longer and more complex descriptors when “god-like genius” really says it all. 2003 was definitely the year of the Weirdos as Frontier coaxed a second volume of Weird World from the band. Sorry, the Weirdos only release records every 12 years!
The Frontier label came full circle in March 2005, celebrating its 25-year anniversary with the release of an album of mostly previously unreleased Adolescents material: “The Complete Demos 1980-1986″ on CD and colored vinyl, of course (with a special numbered limited edition of the LP with a slightly different cover)! Continuing to be the miners of vintage Orange County punk, a compilation LP from Eddie & the Subtitles featuring the mighty “American Society” was released in 2008. It took nearly 10 years but The Middle Class’ crucial “Out of Vogue” compilation was released at the end of 2008. We don’t care what any documentaries or books say— Middle Class were the first American hardcore band! So there! One never knows when a limited edition 45 will sneak out like the Flyboy’s “Crayon World,” Eddie and the Subtitles’ “American Society” or a virtually identical to the original “Out of Vogue” EP by Middle Class.
Frontier has always been a vinyl-oriented label and we consider the limited edition colored vinyl LP our calling card—we dare you, just try keeping up with the colors! Now we find ourselves in 2010— Frontier’s 30th anniversary. Besides a digitally remastered “Only Theatre of Pain” and a return to Rozz Williams’ original artwork with additional Edward C. Colver photos. We also plan to reissue Dangerhouse’s “other” LP—YES LA—in the near future. Many other delightful surprises are in store but we don’t want to jinx them before the ink is dry. Hint, one of them is vintage punk and the LP has been out of print for at least a couple of decades. From the very start, Frontier’s strategy was to cultivate a small, focused roster of bands, creating releases that remain timeless classics because they stand the test of time on their musical merits, not their trendiness. The bond of trust we’ve created with Frontier’s lifeblood–the indie record buyer, record store, magazine, and left of the dial radio station–have kept us afloat all these many years, and that’s never going to change no matter how many years go by. Here’s to us, and cheers to you!