Interview: Russ Hallauer Of Ghostmeat Records

A Brief History of Ghostmeat Records

Jon Steltenpohl, Consumable Online, September 1999

From R.E.M. to the B-52's to the countless other musicians who followed in their footsteps, Athens, Ga., has been one of the college towns that acts as a magnet and a breeding ground for bands. So, when you hail from Athens, and you play music... well, you've got some big shoes to fill. Russ Hallauer and Ghostmeat Records have been adding to the Athens legacy since 1994. 5 years and 29 releases since their first 7 inch, it is Ghostmeat's 5th Anniversary year, and they've done pretty well.

Not that he planned it way. Hallauer didn't come to Athens as an R.E.M. wannabe. Instead, fate led him there when his wife got accepted to graduate school at the University of Georgia. "When I started Ghostmeat," says Hallauer, "I had no idea I was starting a label. There was no business plan, no strategy, no money. It wasn't until about two years in, when I started releasing full-lengths by other bands, that I realized I was running a label."

In retrospect, Hallauer seems to view it as inevitable. "Going to high school near [Washington] D.C. at the time Fugazi came about can be directly linked to Ghostmeat's creation," recalls Hallauer. "To me, musicians that can do business for themselves are far more appealing than musicians that are dependent on some bureaucracy."

The Internet has played a part of that for Ghostmeat. Their website and monthly e-mail newsletters have gotten them beyond Athens to a national audience. "Email is wonderful," comments Hallauer. "It may be more impersonal than the telephone, but for what I do, it's very efficient and much cheaper. Our web site at has generated a pretty fair amount of mail order business for us." Web savvy seems to come naturally to Hallauer. Even from the early days, Ghostmeat has had a web presence, and now the site contains tons of pictures and sound files and other great information.

But, without good music to back it up, Ghostmeat the label would be nothing. Fortunately, Hallauer is both a musician and a fan. As a member of Sunbrain, Hallauer began by releasing two singles in the classic indie/punk tradition by putting down a track or two, finding someone else with a track of their own, and scraping together enough money for a seven inch vinyl single. After that came a few of Ghostmeat's trademark compilation CD's, and full length releases by bands like Drip and Tony Tidwell and the Scalded Dogs. While the early releases were more on the punk side, releasing 9 compilations in 5 years means you're bound to catch just about every style. For the full length releases, the focus has been on punk, southern rock, and alternative.

Out of the Way is the most recent Tony Tidwell and the Scalded Dogs album, and it is a gem that is typical of Ghostmeat's offerings. This is an album that, 4 years ago, could have been pimped by the majors as a "No Depression" band. But, if you ask Hallauer if that label applies, he says, "I guess people consider Tidwell part of that scene, [but] we don't consider him anything but rock 'n' roll. He plays rock 'n' roll and he's from the south." It's a description which is entirely on the mark. Out of the Way covers all sorts of bases, from southern rock to country with the pop ethic of Elvis Costello tossed in for good measure.

Really, all the things people truly love about American rock are embodied by Tidwell and his band. The title track is a reserved, reflective, and regretful portrait of a youthful summer that avoids miring itself in any sort of self pity. On other tracks, you're treated to a lap steel guitar backing acoustic guitars with minimal percussion where Tidwell's vocals croon and tear. "Hand like a Foot" feels like a Van Morrison song with its loping beat and Tidwell's soulful vocals.

Of Tidwell, Hallauer remarks, "I met him when I was in college [at Clemson]. At that time, the music there was pretty pathetic. All the bands catered to the students with shitty covers, so to find the good stuff, you had to look to the locals. Tidwell and bands like 6 String Drag all came out of the high school there outside of Clemson. He's been a great friend and collaborator ever since."

Friends and collaborators are common within the Ghostmeat family. Tidwell's association with Jennifer Goree led her to the label, and members of Ghostmeat's bands have always seemed to be a bit incestual. Somewhere along the line, Sunbrain disbanded, and in its wake came Hallauer's current band The Lures, which includes members of another Ghostmeat band, Drip, and a new solo album by Sunbrain's former lead vocalist David Dondero.

Dondero's release, ... The Pity Party, is a classic example of modern slacker folk. It sounds like a cross between the Violent Femmes and a bootleg of Beck demo tapes. The lyrics are loose and, at times, barely beyond stream of consciousness. The album is a rough diary of a cross country trip through bus stations and small towns, and his topics range from broken love to conspiracy theorists to the various dialects of the different regions of the United States of America. Like the biggest ball of twine, Carhenge, or the picture in the liner notes of Dondero on a dinosaur sculpture outside of a Mini Mart and Econolodge, ... The Pity Party is slightly bizarre but instantly comforting -- and entirely American.

As for Hallauer's own band, The Lures, their first full length release, When I Was Broken, actually marks a departure from the Ghostmeat stable. Being released on the Ten 23 label is simply a matter of civility, since, as Hallauer puts it, "it's hard to be a guitar player in a band and also be the guy who runs the label. Band members have creative expectations of guitar players and business expectations of labels," he explains. "When those expectations land on the same person, things get complicated."

When I Was Broken is an album that sounds like all of the other Ghostmeat albums funneled into one. Like Tony Tidwell, it's a nearly perfect album. It's definitely got a little punk and a little southern rock hidden in the background, but at its core, is a nucleus of classic alternative pop music. This is the stuff college folks drooled over in the early '80s when bands like R.E.M. were being roundly ignored by virtually every commercial music source in the country.

Today, groups like the Goo Goo Dolls and Buffalo Tom are about the only ones who still get the sound right, and The Lures follow that tradition as well. "Million" is one of those great, slow, depressing alternative love songs that's driven by a twinkling guitar line, a slow loping bass, and simple harmonies. It is full and melodic. The lyrics are painful and touching. "Ordinary" shares the same simplicity with a slow 3/4 waltz. "Goner" is probably the stand out single of the album, and is featured on mp3 at Lead singer Jason Slatton's touching and soft vocals soar above the nice, grinding guitars.

Of the album, Hallauer comments, "I've been excited about The Lures debut record since this time last year when we finished it. It has been since 1996 that a band I was in had a full-length release out there. It is really rewarding that Ghostmeat can help out friends who make music I love, but I definitely missed releasing my own music."

True to his word, The Lures have plans to get back into the studio this fall. Their second album is going to be recorded in December with David Barbe, who is the ex-Sugar bassist and producer of Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo. Barbe's resume couldn't be more fitting to The Lures sound. Given their impressive debut on When I Was Broken, the sophomore effort of The Lures can only be described as highly anticipated.

At the same time, there's no rest for his work with Ghostmeat. When asked about the future of the label, Hallauer replies, "I don't know. I've been very fortunate to have a tight circle of musicians around me for the last five years... we're just going one day at a time. Clay, drummer for The Lures and Drip, is releasing a solo album on the label this winter..." In other words, while Hallauer won't have much free time this winter, we can look forward to more releases from this great independent label.

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