Tom Hazelmyer’s notorious indie record label, Amphetamine Reptile, and “The Color of Noise”

By on July 11, 2019

Eric Robel’s The Color of Noise (2015) is about the notorious midwest-based influential indie record label Amphetamine Reptile Records, home to punk, underground, noise, and sludge rock bands of note and the art movement that accompanied it all.

The film’s central focus is on the label’s head honcho, Tom Hazelmyer (a.k.a. Haze XXL), a former Marine, printmaker, firearms enthusiast and the man who made it all happen.

This feature length documentary film is now streaming in our Punk Docs & Concert Films section on Night Flight Plus.

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In 2014, Baltimore born & raised documentary director Eric Robel told Vice News that uncovering Hazelmyer’s lesser-known story was a big draw for making the film (financed via a kickass Kickstarter campaign).

Robel said that when he discussed the project with a few colleagues and friends, they were enthusiastic because they, like Robel, were fans of the bands who’d released music on Amphetamine Reptile (AmRep for short). But, they told Robel they didn’t know who Hazelmyer was.

“When I mentioned Tom’s name, it was like, ‘Who’s Tom?’ Thus, I knew I had a story there, and the idea of combining a personal story with these huge influential musicians and poster artists was a obvious winning combination.”

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Hazelmyer — described by our friends at Dangerous Minds as being “colorfully cranky” — created Amphetamine Reptile in 1986, self-releasing a limited run of two hundred 7-inch singles by his band Halo of Flies.

Hazelmyer had hoped that their single would end up getting them signed to a “real” record label, but what ended up happening was that AmRep attracted lots of other noise-rock bands in what turned out to be an untapped niche.

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Hazelmyer — who was still stationed in Washington State at the time (near Seattle, we believe) — began running his label out of the hand grenade crate he kept under his bunk.

Over the next decade, AmRep — Hazelmyer eventually moved the label back to his hometown of Minneapolis, MN — achieved an almost cult-like status for being adventurous and daring.

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Hazelmyer’s AmRep put out hundreds of releases by bands like the Melvins, the Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney, Helmet, Helios Creed, Unsane, Boss Hog, Today is the Day, the Cows, God Bullies, the Thrown Ups, Tar, Lubricated Goat, King Snake Roost, Hammerhead, Cop Shoot Cop, and dozens of other groundbreaking ’90s noise rockers.

Many of their releases are now out-of-print, unfortunately, but you can probably track down copies through eBay and record collectors.

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You can see filmed performances by some of these AmRep bands, however, in Dope, Guns & F*cking Up Your Video Deck, Vol. 1, which is streaming in our Behind the Scenes: Docs That Define A Culture section on Night Flight Plus.

This compendium also features interstitial comedy bits by comedian Rich Kronfeld as “Dr. Sphincter,” who also appears in The Color of Noise.

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Dr. Sphincter (Rich Kronfeld), from The Color Of Noise (photo by Daniel Corrigan)

The Color of Noise features interviews with many AmRep band members, and also with other record label honchos, people like Long Gone John (Sympathy for the Record Industry) and Jello Biafra (Alternative Tentacles).

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Read more about The Color of Noise and Tom Hazelmyer below.

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In this excellent 2005 online interview we found, Tom Hazelmyer says he was always interested in graphics:

“Pretty much always was interested in the graphics. It was one of the key elements that drew me to Punk Rock in the first place. I was every bit as enamored of the graphics of say Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols or Danzig with the Misfits as I was the music itself. I loved how a Chrome record had such a distinctive look that seemingly matched the vibe laid down in the grooves.”

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“Folks have to realize that the opposite was true in the mainstream at the time. Go look at a Toto LP cover and realize that the graphics in the music world at the time were as dismal as the music they were pumping out. So when you saw something as stunning as early Gang of Four graphics or early hardcore it was a one-two punch combo.”

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In its prime, AmRep also had relationships with companies like Zippo lighters and publishing giant Feral House:

“FlameRite came out of my collecting old ’50s advertising Zippos since I was a teenager and wanting to make my own. When we did make an Amphetamine Reptile one, we could not keep ‘em in stock. From there we took it one step further and decided to make the Zippos that would have us salivating if we walked into a store. So I hit up artists I’d been involved with through the label like Coop & Kozik, and started the ball rolling.”

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“The Scorched Art book through Feral House [Scorched Art: The Incendiary Aesthetic of FlameRite Zippos] was from having been friends with Adam [Parfrey] for some years. He headed up the S.W.A.T. Release on AmRep years before. I really wanted to do an art-based book and he was the obvious choice.”

Coop, Kozik and Chris Mars are also interviewed in The Color of Noise, along with other noteworthy artists, including Shepard Fairey, Derek Hess and Ed Fotheringham.

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Amphetamine Reptile ceased releasing music by new artists at the end of the ’90s, but the label wasn’t completely deactivated, and Hazelmyer still occasionally releases material by some of its older acts (like King Buzzo).

The Color of Noise premiered in Nashville, TN, in conjunction with an exhibit of Hazelmyer’s linocuts.

Watch The Color of Noise on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.