My first San Francisco show was at Thrillhouse Records in early 2011. I went with the fabulous Martin and then-MRR coordinators Layla and Mariam. The place was magic from first sight—a record store front and a show space in the back. They also do shows in the basement! The place instantly feels like home and has that gritty DIY punk spirit oozing from the walls. I talked to Fred to get an update on our favorite local, all-ages San Francisco record store/sometimes show space…
When did Thrillhouse happen?
Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by “happen.” We found the building in August of 2006. It was a complete wreck—super gross and moldy, the electricity was fucked, broken pipes, you name it. We bartered with the landlord to give us two months’ rent for free so we could fix the place up into a livable condition. He was very firm on renting the place out “as is” (i.e., he didn’t want to lift a finger). After a month and a half we fixed most of the problems and built rooms in the place. At that point we moved in, and started to get to work on opening the record store, which opened in January of 2007. Then we went to work fixing up the basement and started throwing shows there around March of 2007.
How long did you talk about it before it became a reality?
Actually not all that long. In the fall of 2005 I started my masters program for History at San Francisco State University. Up until then, my plan had always been to go as far as possible in school. I had been talking about PhD programs with my professors. My ambition was to teach on the college level and write (but I was gonna publish a lot of my stuff in zine form, thought that would be really cool). Anyway during my second semester I got really burnt out. The workload was insane, I couldn’t catch up, I was constantly stressed to the limit. And in addition to all of that, school was basically forcing me to drop out of punk. I didn’t have time to go to shows, find new records, or even read an issue of MRR (oh, the horror). I felt like I either needed to drop out of school, or make peace with dropping out of punk. Be a punk or be an academic. I choose to be a punk. But, I told myself that if I was going to drop out of school that I need to actually do something big. Make it worth it. I was already in crazy workaholic mode. So when the idea of Thrillhouse came to me, I started working on it right away. About six months later I was signing a lease.
Where did the name come from?
Okay, yes, it is a Simpsons reference, but here’s why… I really wanted the name to have the word “house” in it because, in addition to being a record store or whatever, it was my home. It was the house me and my friends lived in. So there were some ideas like “Flophouse Records” or “Madhouse Records”—shit like that. But while watching a Simpsons episode, there was a scene where Milhouse called himself “Thrillhouse.” I suggested it as a joke to my friends and they all thought it was cool. And what really won me over about the name was that it was extremely original. One-of-a-kind kinda names. There’s a million places called “the Babylon” or “the Fort,” but nobody calls anything “Thrillhouse.”
All these rich people are flooding our town. All the degenerates are getting priced out, but at least we’re still here keeping things dirty and gross, keeping San Francisco a place that’s still punk.
Can you explain how Thrillhouse works?
Basically it’s an all volunteer, not-for-profit record store. It’s open every day from noon to 8 p.m. It’s mostly punk, but with some other stuff that falls into punk’s orbit. Like we carry STOOGES records and VELVET UNDERGROUND, shit like that. We have a lot of used records that are a long ways away from punk, but we focus all our new music buying to mostly punk records. For the longest time we were just trying to get ourselves out of debt. It was a slow road, so all our money went into that and fixing up things around the store, the house and the show space. Not to mention buying more and more records. So the whole “not-for-profit” thing was almost like a joke, cause it was like, “What profit?” But now we’re actually there, and it’s getting time to decide what we’ll do with the profit. Probably try to expand our operations, put out more records, build a community screen-printing workshop in the basement, stuff like that. Maybe even get a pinball machine for the shop. I don’t know what we’ll do…
You mean, no one is paid?
Nope, no one. Not me, not nobody. All the money that comes in is reinvested into making the space better. Maybe putting out some records, and other cool stuff for the community. Sometimes I think I’m an idiot for having poured in hundreds or even thousands of hours into a project that hasn’t given me a penny in return, but when I sit back and think about it, I’m real glad I’ve done it. ‘Cause in the past seven years since we’ve opened, San Francisco has gone through an enormous change. All these rich people are flooding our town, and the old dirty spots are closing and being replaced with these clean, slick, posh boutiques and restaurants. All the degenerates are getting priced out of town and moving to Oakland and elsewhere. San Francisco is becoming a different place. But at least we’re still here keeping things dirty and gross—a stain on the city—and having a spot the degenerates feel welcome in, keeping San Francisco a place that’s still punk.
Who has volunteered the longest?
Aside from myself, that would be Wade Driver. He’s held down his Tuesday shift from almost the beginning. I think he started working that shift only a few months after we first opened. He’s an awesome dude. Plays in the band APOGEE SOUND CLUB right now but in the past he’s played in 50 MILLION, THE HICKOIDS, CORDUROY, J CHURCH, THE REACTION, OFF THE PIGS…the list goes on, too many to name.
How do you volunteer?
Just talk to me. A lot of people will just walk in and ask about volunteering, or they’ll see me at a show and mention they wanna grab a shift. Others can email us — our email address is on our website at thrillhouserecords.com. We don’t do Facebook or anything.
How can you afford to keep your record prices so fair?
That’s just from being an all volunteer spot. There’s no one at the end of the line trying to make a buck off this place. So because of that we look at our pricing and think, “What’s the least we can charge for this and be okay?” Whereas most businesses would instead think, “What’s the most I can charge for this and still be okay?” It’s just a different mentality and because of that our prices are waaaaaay cheaper than any other record store in Bay Area or elsewhere.
Has Thrillhouse changed as the demographics of San Francisco change?
Thrillhouse hasn’t changed but the city has definitely changed around us. Like I said before, everything is richer and cleaner. I guess we may have gotten dirtier. Perhaps smellier.
Do you still do monthly shows?
No, not at the moment. We’re taking a break. When we first started we did weekly shows, and it was awesome, but a really draining, physically and psychologically. After a bit, we got some attention from the police so we cooled it off and started doing monthly shows. About two months ago we were contacted by the San Francisco Entertainment Commission saying we didn’t have the proper permits to have live shows, so we’re taking some time off and trying to figure out our next step. But to be honest I don’t mind taking off just a little bit of time. I’ve been cleaning up random puke and dealing with passed out strangers for the last seven years. It’s okay to take a few months off and let other folks deal with that for a minute.
What was the last show at Thrillhouse?
SOURPATCH, KITTEN FOREVER and CRABAPPLE played last July. Haven’t had one since.
What was the first show at Thrillhouse?
Well, it turned out to be HEY GIRL, LES INCOMPETENTS, FENCE FIGHTER and CHIN UP MERIWETHER, but it was supposed to be SEX VID. Everything was all set for the show, but then on the morning of the show, I went downstairs only to find the entire basement flooded in sewage. Our sewage pipe broke and every time someone flushed the toilet, it sent all the mess onto our basement floor. I spent the entire day with a plumber figuring out how to drain the basement, fixing the pipe and then cleaning the place up. I think we bought about ten gallons of bleach and poured it over every inch down there. That night while all my friends were rocking out to SEX VID at some house in the Mission, I was picking up human turds with a shovel. Definitely one of the grossest day of my life.
What percentage of door money goes to the bands who play?
All of it. Every penny goes to the bands. And since we don’t turn anybody away for lack of funds, there are generally a lot of pennies at the bottom of our money box. Our policy has always been that every show is “pay what you can” with $5 as the suggested price. But we’re also not over idealistic (stupid) about the reality. We all know there’s always gonna be a pile of oogles at every show who pretend like they don’t have any money, even though they are walking in with a 12 pack. Generally, when I’ve worked door I’ll say, “Okay, I totally believe you don’t have any money, but if you wanna just open up your wallet and show me that there’s no money in there, I’ll let you in for free.” Nine out of ten times they’ll change their story and say, “Well, I do have money, but I need it for other stuff,” etc., etc. It’ll take some talking, but you can usually get some dollars from them for the band. Although when we have a band from overseas I’ll take a more extreme approach. In that case the show will either cost (a) $5 or (b) a lock of your hair. And I’ll sit at the door with a pair of scissors and I’ll say, “Oh, you don’t have any money for the band from Japan? That’s totally cool..lemme just take a chunk out of your hair and we’ll be square.” Almost every time they’ll somehow come up with $5. But there’s definitely been plenty of crusty kids who are totally okay loosing some hair to get in for free. Only once did a skinhead show up to one of these shows claiming to be without money. I had to think fast so I said, “Okay it $5 or…uh…a sleeve off your shirt!”
Any future plans?
Yeah, we’re gonna release another By Any Means comp tape. We did one for 2013 and planning another for 2014. The idea behind the tape is to make a comp tape of Bay Area bands who are active and doing cool stuff right now. So if someone from out of town (or whatever) is curious about what’s going on in the Bay right now, they can check out the tape and have a pretty good idea. But there’s also this thing where the Bay Area punk scene is massive. There’s so many punks, so many bands, and so many different scenes out here, that you won’t even know about great bands that are outside of your scene. Like, you’ll have heard the band name, but not know what they sound like. So for this tape, we try to collect a lot of different bands from different scenes, and put ‘em all together.
Aside from that, we’re trying to put together a screen printing workshop in the basement that will be free and available to everyone, with help available to first time users. The idea being that we can have a place where bands can come in and make shirts or posters or whatever. But really anyone that has any kind of project is more than welcome. We have also been talking with Lydia over at MRR about having punk movie nights on the regular. There’s a few records we might be putting out, and there’s a bunch of other stuff we have down the pipes, but it’s still just in the “talking about it” phase.
How can we help support Thrillhouse?
Just by coming in and hanging out. Stop by when your band is in town or whatever. And if you don’t live in the Bay Area, and you’re not planning on visiting any time soon, maybe just spraypaint “Thrillhouse Rules” somewhere in your town. Bathrooms and sides of buildings are great, but pretty much any flat surface will do.
Go visit Thrillhouse Record at 3422 Mission Street in San Francisco… Keeping SF punk!