“I could explain it, but…I can’t explain it.”
Scotty Hagen has just gotten home on a Saturday night, settling into his chair inside his apartment — a.k.a. the headquarters for his modest, albeit rather industrious, local music distribution label, Bellyache Records.
This is the first night in as long as he can remember where he can actually watch TV without grasping a tape gun. There’s no records to ship, no printers to follow up with, no packages to seal — at least, not until next month. This, after what has been Mr. Hagen’s busiest year, with 14 releases, several well-attended local concerts under the Bellyache banner, and a steadily-filling calendar of commitments for the new year.
He’s catching his breath tonight because in the morning he has to open up the store he manages, UHF Records in Royal Oak. Truly, this Ferndalian eats, sleeps, and breathes music (of course, he’s also a lifelong musician, and longtime bassist for local metal-pop outfit The Grande Nationals).
“I just…love music,” says Hagen. “I enjoy making records, I enjoy that whole process. I enjoy the satisfaction of bringing music to people.”
After six solid years running Bellyache, Hagen’s sold “literally thousands” of records, a stat that would likely stagger his younger self: the punk-rocking metal maven high school grad day-jobbing through chain stores like Camelot Music. Not only does Hagen now manage an independent vinyl record store, he’s become the premiere local distributor for the latest recordings of Ferndale’s increasingly active scene of bands and musicians.
These developments would also likely stagger the Hagen circa 2005, back when he was wearing rubber gloves and a hairnet in his kitchen, baking chocolate bars.
Bellyache Records began as the Bellyache Candy Shoppe. His friend, Michelle Moore, who worked in promotions, shared his nostalgia for old-timey candy shoppes. “Really, we just wanted to go to the All Candy Expo in Chicago, but you had to run your own business to be eligible, so…we started up our own vintage candy shop.”
Both Moore and Hagen, at that point, were well connected in the local music scene, so it figured that curating a compilation album from bands like The Hentchmen, ￼The Muggs, The Gore Gore Girls and many more, seemed an ideal way to kickstart the Candy Company, so to speak.
“Well, obviously we had to give this project its own imprint label at that time, so we just called it Bellyache Records,” Hagen explained.
The company grew modestly through 2007. Hagen then decided to experiment with this new label of theirs and release a 7” single (on a 45rpm record) for The Gore Gore Girls. That led to a Grande Nationals LP and another compilation: a Halloween-themed double LP mix of spooky dance party ditties created exclusively for Bellyache by 30 distinctive local bands.
Eventually, bands started coming to Hagen (as opposed to vice-versa), to put something out for them. In the summer of 2008, the vinyl started outselling the candy bars; Bellyache released a double LP of demos and rarities for renowned rock group The Go. “That’s when I realized,” said Hagen, “that this is working!”
Hagen almost considers that summer to be Bellyache’s defining moment, but he can’t resist special regard for the respective concerts celebrating the releases of his first two compilation CDs (2006’s Sweet Sounds of Detroit Vol. 1 and 2007’s Ghoul’s Delight).
The label’s launchpad was fortified by scene camaraderie — from pop bands to punks, from metal-lovers to synth-centric electronica composers. Hagen was humbled by the enthusiastic response he got early on, not just from bands submitting their songs but from the large crowds attending his label’s release shows.
At a recent Duenseday Music Showcase (hosted monthly by local rockers Duende at the Loving Touch), Hagen stopped in and realized he was surrounded by his clientele, several of them separated by respective bands or solo projects. “I don’t know if they all realized that, by this extension, we’ve all worked together. My common link used to be that I was a musician, but I’ve enjoyed the new role, that I have a hand in getting their music out to people.”
And that speaks to the vinyl fanatic in Hagen. “When I buy a record, I like the full package.” That’s why you get lots of extra treats with Bellyache Records, like a theatrical playbill inserted into Duende’s Murder Doesn’t Hide The Truth or a Halloween mask in Slasher Dave’s Spookhouse LP.
And it’s not just bands: artists are also enthusiastic contributors to the Bellyache catalog, with talented illustrators and graphic artists like Annette Barbara (Duende cover), Mike Ross (Pewter Cub cover) and Jason Abraham Smith (Oscillating Fan Club cover) all contributing original work.
Set aside all the sensational music, Hagen says he revels at looking back at “this discography and seeing all this fantastic artwork.”
Bellyache’s homespun MO extends to the pressed wax itself, as Hagen has nothing but the best things to say about Detroit-based Archer Records, a specialty plant for pressing, mastering, and plating vinyl records.
Not surprisingly, Hagen’s schedule is already filling up. He said he hopes someday to re-release past material from the Muggs and maybe even a film soundtrack. He’s currently talking to Ryan Roxie, Alice Cooper’s guitarist, for a possible solo release. Local garage punkers Caveman Woodman will have new material out soon, as well as thematic instrumental synth-based outfit Voya3r.
“It’s fun to have this great blend of bands,” says Hagen, “from indie-rock like Bars Of Gold to pop with Betty Cooper, or something harder like Nice Hooves or something groovier like The Muggs.”
It all comes back to Hagen’s apartment. His living room carpet often flooded with plastic sleeves and boxes, packing up his product (i.e., Ferndale band’s latest and greatest) to ship in the morning. “It’s flattering,” says Hagen, “that these bands come to me. We want to keep it local and I’m going to do the best I can for them.
“If this can be a platform or a stepping stone for a band to something bigger, or if you just want to get your record out to people, I’m here for you.”
For more information on Bellyache Records visit bellyacherecords.bandcamp.com
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