Peek-A-Boo! Austin record label takes off

The Daily Texan
May 1, 1997

By Jenny Lee

Do you know anyone so organized they make daily "things to do" lists, sometimes more than one a day? Phillip Niemeyer does, and his name is Travis Higdon, head of local independent label Peek-A-Boo Records. Niemeyer, singer of The Kiss Offs and the former Teen Titans (both bands on the Peek-A-Boo label), thinks of Higdon as friend, but also refers to him as "the boss." Niemeyer believes Higdon's personality trait is the "secret weapon" behind the record label.

The mastermind behind Peek-A-Boo agrees that one key to his label's success is his organizational skills. "Once you start doing it, there are all these tiny important details that really add up," Higdon says. "There are obvious things, like answering your mail quickly, and there's tons of boring clerical stuff. But you have to do it regularly -- balancing your books, checking your invoices, calling your distributors and asking how their stock is doing."

So what is Peek-A-Boo?

"Peek-A-Boo is an independent record label that I run out of my apartment," says Higdon as he looks around his small efficiency full of personal items, each in its proper niche. Record boxes fill the entrance space, welcoming his guests into his business and home.

The idea of starting an independent label was originally a joke between Higdon and Niemeyer.

"It turned from a little germ of 'wouldn't-that-be-cool' into something that actually happened," Niemeyer says. "It wasn't overnight, it was over several nights and months, but the idea got bigger and bigger until it was out of control."

First, Hidgon put out a single for his own garage band, The 1-4-5s, in February 1995, without any intention of putting out other records. In fact, he expected to lose his money, but the single was successful. Since he made a profit, he decided to put out another single, this time for his friends' band, Teen Titans. Soon, he was putting together a compilation of Austin bands. The compilation, Peek-A-Boo Bicycle Rodeo, is Higdon's first and only full-length album, consisting of 16 Austin bands singing songs about bicycles. Some bands included are Stretford, Lord High Fixers and Veronica.

"Travis and I thought it would be cool if a lot of bands in town who didn't normally get to put records out would organize a bunch of shows, and all the money from the shows would go to put out a compilation of all the bands. I just thought it was a cool idea, but he actually did it," Niemeyer says.

Besides putting out a full-length album and 12 singles so far, other rewarding aspects of Peek-A-Boo for Higdon have been learning how to operate a small business and how to build a web site. That skill helped Higdon get a job at Austin 360 doing entertainment reviews and web design on the Internet.

"I never would have built a web site for any other reason than promoting Peek-A-Boo. Since I wanted to promote it, I forced myself to learn HTML which also got me a good job," Higdon says. "I wouldn't have spent hours and hours every day trying to build a 'Travis Higdon' home page."

Another benefit of running Peek-A-Boo is being able to meet people in other bands he admires.

"I got to hang out with the guys from Supercharger and the Mummies when the 1-4-5s went on tour, and I met Cub and Tullycraft when they came through Austin. Also, the guy from Giant Robot and I e-mail each other which is pretty cool because I like his magazine."

Apart from the fun side of doing a label, Higdon also has to deal with the negative.

"It's frustrating when I get records sent back to me because they don't sell, when I think they're great records. The problem is people haven't heard of them. Fortunately, persistence is beginning to pay off. The stores are starting to recognize the name Peek-A-Boo and take a chance on singles they haven't heard, simply based on the quality of music in the past. I get e-mail all the time from people in other cities and countries who have just gotten turned on to a Peek-A-Boo record and end up ordering a bunch more."

Higdon enjoys his efforts for the label, because Peek-A-Boo is more of a hobby for him. He enjoys putting records out for his friends; if he was putting out records for a stranger, it would be more like work.

"It's like when you make a mix tape for somebody, you want to share a little part of you with them. That is what I want to do with Peek-A-Boo, share a little part of me with people," Higdon says. "I might not have been drawn to some of the music if they weren't my good friends, but it's hard to say. It's hard to distance myself because the bands are my friends, and I like them as people as much as for their music. I love them all and want them to all be successful."

Since Peek-A-Boo's output includes such diverse bands, the audience buying Peek-A-Boo records is diverse, too.

"I think the stuff that I've put out is very different; it seems like one crowd wouldn't like all of it. The people who like Silver Scooter might not like Teen Titans, and vice versa," Higdon says. "But I see a connection between the serious pop bands, the goofy punk bands, and even a crazy techno band like the Prima Donnas who don't fit anywhere. The connection is creative people, catchy music, and Texas."

Niemeyer would tell you that Peek-A-Boo attracts people who enjoy pop music.

"All of it is catchy music; it can run from a moodier arty pop like Drake Tungsten to silly punk like the 1-4-5s. But the central thing is that it's catchy," Niemeyer says.

Higdon's initial goal with Peek-A-Boo was to put out a few records from bands that he liked, but as he became more involved, he imagined a grander goal of representing Austin's independent music nationwide.

"There is a real niche in Austin for a label that can really support independent music," Higdon says. "I want people outside of Austin to know that there's a lot going on here, and that it's just as good as anything that's going on in the northeast or northwest. There's just no strong label here that's interested in really supporting it."

Peek-A-Boo may be making a big step towards filling that niche this fall with its first full-length LP/CD release. Silver Scooter announced their decision recently to accept the offer from Higdon despite a higher bid from a label in California.

"I'm very excited and a little nervous. I went to the bank for a loan and everything, so now I'm committed. Silver Scooter is one band I would put my neck on the line for, though. I respect them as musicians, and I trust them as people. It took a lot of guts for them to go with a label that's basically going to be cutting its teeth on their record. Hopefully we'll grow together."

Peek-A-Boo is growing, but for now Higdon is satisfied with what he has accomplished. What was once a joke between him and Niemeyer is now the 12th single on his own record label, built on his love of music and friends.