There’s something inherently punk rock about doughnuts. An ideal punk song is short, memorable, and energetic; a doughnut is quickly devoured, flavorful, and imparts plenty of energy along the way. Culturally speaking, there’s certainly been some overlap between the two. The Los Angeles shop Donut Friend offers doughnuts named in tribute to a host of iconic punk and punk-adjacent bands, including Fudgegazi, X-Ray Speculoos, and Bacon 182. (Its owner having roots in that scene probably doesn’t hurt.) And in the mid-1990s, a hardcore band from Umea, Sweden cut out the metaphorical middleman and dubbed themselves Doughnuts, releasing several albums and touring the U.S. along the way. And now Voodoo Doughnut, the Portland mainstay, is starting their own record label. They’re already put out music from cult garage band Dead Moon and iconic Portland punks Poison Idea.
A record label might not sound like a natural fit for a doughnut shop, but it’s also not quite as left-field a move as it first appears. Instead, it comes from the same blend of community and eccentricity that’s led to their impressively left-field comfort food. Before his days making and selling doughnuts, co-founder Tres Shannon operated Portland venue the X-Ray Cafe, an all-ages space, from 1990 to 1994–in fact, its location was on the same block as Voodoo Doughnut’s first location, not far from the Burnside Bridge. “We like rock and roll,” Shannon said. “It made sense to have a music label. But running a record label in 2017 is very complicated.”
Since starting in 2003 in Portland, Voodoo has expanded over the years to locations in Denver, Eugene, Austin, and Taipei City. They’ve also explored collaborations with like-minded organizations, including the brewery Rogue Ales. The record label began with a collection of seven inches featuring bands playing doughnut-inspired songs. The first of these was “It Ain’t No Cupcake (Workin’ at Voodoo Doughnut),” in which a local fixture nicknamed Posterboy, who hung posters for shows that Shannon booked and worked as a janitor (oftentimes sans clothing) in the early days of Voodoo Doughnut, ranted over a sinuous funk track written by Dan Eccles, best known for his work in the alt-country band Richmond Fontaine.
As Shannon recalled, Posterboy was fond of uttering bizarre sayings, one of which gave the song its title. Eccles was inspired, and the result was the song that gave rise to the singles collection that gave rise to the label. “That’s literally the reason why we started the label, because of ‘It ain’t no cupcake working at voodoo doughnut,’” Shannon said. “I think he meant to say ‘It ain’t no picnic,’ but that’s what makes it great.”
Several of the label’s releases have come as a result of recordings made during Shannon’s time at the X-Ray Cafe, including albums by standout Northwestern bands like Crackerbash, Hazel, and the Dandy Warhols. For Shannon, the label has also given him a way to renew his ties with old acquaintances. “It’s fun to reconnect with a lot of these people who we met at a club in 1992, and talking to them in 2016 about releasing a recording that was made 20 years ago,” he said.
Voodoo Doughnut Recordings released a pair of live albums from Dead Moon, a storied garage-punk band that formed in 1986 and disbanded in 2006, though founding couple Fred and Toody Cole continue to make music together. In 2015, Voodoo Doughnut released Live At Satyricon, and this year will bring What A Way To See The Old Girl Go, a 1994 live recording from the X-Ray Cafe. The two live albums, Shannon said, offer different sides of the band. “We thought the Satyricon album had a little more punch to it than the last night at the X-Ray,” he recalled. He referred to the latter recording as “a little more melancholy. There are songs on there that they don’t generally play.”
The label’s relationship with Dead Moon led to their most recent signing: the trio Top Down, whose first full-length, Rough Roads, will be released in March. Dead Moon singer/guitarist Fred Cole recorded the first EP from Top Down and brought them to Voodoo Doughnut’s attention; a seven inch followed in mid-2016. The new album hits plenty of the same notes as Dead Moon: a blend between the scrappy and the anthemic, hard-hitting rhythms, and a stripped-down, primal sound. At its best, it’s hypnotic stuff.
Here, too, there’s a connection to Shannon’s past work booking venues: drummer Fiona Campbell plays in multiple bands, including the Chain and the Gang, the current project of longtime Washington, DC punk provocateur Ian Svenonius. “I like that Fiona, the drummer, plays with Ian Svenonius, who’s one of my favorite lead singers in the whole world,” said Shannon. “Nation of Ulysses played the X-Ray, The Make-Up played the X-Ray, Cupid Car Club played the X-Ray.”
It’s another sign that longevity in anything creative can bring its own rewards and summon up unlikely connections. That’s as true for punk rock as it is for creative breakfast pastries. So while distinctive doughnuts and punk vinyl aren’t necessarily the most natural fit, they’re not exactly ill-matched, either. And what better fuel for air-drumming, slam-dancing, or stage-diving than that most distinctly hand-held of foods?