By Mischa Decter
Tom Hazelmyer, known to his fans as Haze XXL, is the founder of legendary noise rock/bizarro punk label Amphetamine Reptile Records (AmRep). While putting out records by revered sub popular bands like Helmet, The Melvins, Lubricated Goat, and Thee Headcoats, Haze XXL’s art and gig posters helped define the cultural footprint laid down by an underground of mid-Western weirdos. A documentary about Haze XXL titled The Color of Noise had its Canadian premiere at the Park Theatre on July 18 as part of No List Records’ ‘Summer of UGH’ concert series.
Stylus: You were a US Marine. By choice? What was that like?
Haze XXL: Yes, by choice. The draft was over for years by the time I signed up. It was everything you’d imagine it to be, bullshit pain in the ass and all. The boredom made me focus on the arts I’d been pursuing before (music/painting), and getting stationed nearby Seattle in 1983 – 1987 was an incredible stroke of luck and a life changer because of the friends I made there. I still think some of the skill sets I picked up there trump college any day.
Stylus: Why did you start AmRep? Were there any other small labels putting out noise rock bands in the late 80s?
Haze XXL: The label started as a vanity project simply to release records by my own band, Halo Of Flies. Then friends like Steve Turner (Mudhoney) and John Bigley (U-Men) asked me to do releases for them. I enjoyed it so much that it was the obvious next step. Labels I admired that did releases from proto-noise bands were there, and I admired them immensely; Gerard Cosloy’s tenure at Dutch East India Trading was legendary. Touch and Go out of Detroit/Chicago was also tearing it up. I would have killed to be on either of those labels at the time.
Stylus: How would you describe the early AmRep bands?
Haze XXL: In some ways what a lot of the bands were doing was exploring past the confines of early 80s hardcore, by mixing in various outside strains and influences. For a lot of us weaned on early punk and hardcore, we were simply trying to continue to push into further extremes and find new sounds to express the same raw power. My tastes ran to the extremes of wanting and loving music that could level you, regardless of what background it was coming from.
Stylus: Explain the importance of music and visual arts’ symbiotic relationship.
Haze XXL: The event flier/poster certainly had a heyday in the psychedelic era, and had continued on as a means to promote the underground that never really went away. It was reinvented with the first wave of punk (NYC & UK versions), and morphed into prominence with hardcore and the advent of cheap xeroxing, all the while helping visually define these genres. A lot of the main folks involved with late 80s/early 90s ‘resurgence’ (myself included) cut our teeth on low rent show fliers. The addition of ballistic design and silk screening reared back up after dying off in the 60s. It added a stunning visual clue to the weirdness that was occurring in small bars/clubs across the country at the time.
Stylus: How did the popularization of grunge music affect AmRep?
Haze XXL: Initially we weren’t considered part of it, as we were thought to be something else by the same British press that put grunge on the map. Due to geographic placement alone, as all the bands were friends and allies with Mudhoney, The Melvins, etc, we occupied the same space, time and influences. In hindsight, that was for the best as it gave all the bands more time to explore and create outside of confining definitions artificially created by the press. In the end it did catch up to us though, in that the post Nirvana feeding frenzy brought them to our doorstep, as well as they pursued our bands like Helmet, Boss Hog, Surgery, etc. I still love the stories of a certain Cows member that would maniacally giggle and tear up the business cards of major label scouts right in front of them the moment they were handed off.
Stylus: Who would be on the AmRep roster if the label had been founded in 2015?
Haze XXL: Too many to mention I think, and I would hate to leave anyone off. Whores, Die Nerven, Miami Dolphins, Mrs., The Blind Shake, Gay Witch Abortion, Seashores, Les Butcherettes, Total Control and half a dozen other great Aussie bands at the moment, and so many more.
Stylus: What is BASH?
Haze XXL: BASH is just the identifier we’ve come to use for our mini-festival, albeit glorified backyard BBQ, we throw here on occasion in Minneapolis. It’s not structured enough to go annually, and far too much work to do it frequently. But it’s a convergence of my bar (Grumpy’s), music, art, and the label (as we always do special releases just for the event). It’s become a thing people travel to from across the globe, as word has gotten out how fun and unique it is. I talked to folks from France, Ireland, Canada, the UK, as well as from across the country last Saturday! Keeping it small and manageable has kept it being more like a backyard party. No $10 waters, $15 beers or $20 burgers, and no varied levels of VIP areas . . . well, there’s still the same disgusting porta-potties baking in the sun.
If you’re into AmRep, you might like Metal Mondays (Monday nights from midnight – 3 a.m.), 99 Balloons (Tuesdays from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.), or Raunch Radio (airing Tuesday nights from midnight – 1 a.m.) on CKUW.