Why They Do It: A Chat With Some Of Those Who Run Indie Record Stores

17 April 2012 | 2:31 pm | Chris Yates

Chris Yates chats to some very different stores about why they think people are returning to the beloved format ahead of Record Store Day.

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Chris Yates chats to some very different stores about why they think people are returning to the beloved format ahead of Record Store Day.

When Tim Brennan moved his humble shop Tym Guitars to a bigger store in Fortitude Valley 18 months ago, he decided to indulge a lifelong dream of also making it a record store. The way he stocked the store might seem heartbreaking – he used his own personal record collection to kick things off.

Tym Guitars

Tym Guitars

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“We were selling records in the other shop, but I was just trying to help local unsigned bands to sell their products on consignment, but then when I moved into the other shop I had so much room, I thought, well I've always wanted a record shop, here's my chance! I actually put my entire collection in for sale which kinda hurt a bit at the time. It was a pretty huge collection, I'd been buying records forever and then with the money from that I would start buying new records with the aim of only selling new records once the bulk of that second hand stuff had gone.

“I actually got Luke and James from Violent Soho to come around and take them all to put in the shop. James was like, 'Man, are you sure you don't wanna look through this?' but I knew if I started looking through it I would start taking stuff out and all the good stuff's gonna come out and then there's no point to this. I actually got Scott from Rocking Horse Records [Scott Myers, one of Brisbane's longest serving record store legends and an expert on all things vinyl] to price most of it for us, and yeah, there was some pretty crazy stuff in there.

“I'd never run a record shop before, so I decided that I would just buy records that I would want to buy. I did the same thing with the guitar shop, I started the kind of guitar shop I would want to go to. People regularly tell me and Geordie [Stafford, the typically surly man behind the counter] that it's the best record shop in Brisbane. Now we have over a thousand titles, and I've got over three-hundred new titles coming in for Record Store Day, and there's some fucking crazy shit in there. Some stuff I've been after for a long time.

“I've started buying records for myself since then. I'm buying new records as we get them in – I've restarted the record collection. I think it's actually worked out great. I had so much stuff I was never gonna listen to again, like any record collection, probably sixty percent of it. Because nearly everything I owned that I didn't actually import myself was an Australian pressing, and the Australian pressings in the '90s and 2000s were just shithouse compared to everybody else. The sound quality was just atrocious.

“All of this new stuff is like 180 gram, remastered with a download code and all the original artwork. It's like, I'm buying my old records back cheaper, and better quality then when I bought them the first time round. I don't know when it was, but at some point they realised that it was gonna be nutties that wanted to buy a physical thing, so there was no point doing a half-arsed job of it.

“Most of the stuff that was put out in the '90s or 2000s was mastered for CD and then just pressed on vinyl. During that period they weren't even mastering for vinyl, and now it's all being remastered specifically for vinyl.

“My classic example is I never owned [The Jesus And Mary Chain album] Psychocandy on vinyl. I bought it on cassette when it came out because I didn't have a record player then, and when it came out on CD I bought that, but I never owned a vinyl copy. I bought myself one of the remastered records when it got re-released and I put it on the record player and I couldn't believe it! Holy fuck, it was nothing like the album that I had heard. It was literally like hearing a brand new record, it was nuts. I never realised what a rock'n'roll record it was, and this was a record I knew inside out and had listened to thousands of times. I think people are realising this, and if they're gonna spend money, they don't wanna just download a bunch of ones and zeros. People want something tangible.”

Tym Guitars also sports two practice rooms for bands and a fully operational studio that is now up and running. Tym has also become the primary venue for bands to play in-store appearances in Brisbane. Brennan is still overwhelmed when it comes to a recent performance by Future Of The Left in his store.

“Man, Future Of The Left Blew my mind! I'm standing in my shop watching Future Of The Left play Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues! It was like a dream come true. We had Omar from At The Drive-In and Mars Volta, we've had Lou Barlow [from Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr] play twice.

“At the moment, the record store side of the business is one of the things keeping us going,” Brennan continues. “Retail [for guitars] is down the gurgler. I mean for guitars we're competing with ebay and other places where you can buy this stuff and it can be cheaper. People seem to think we have a great selection of records, and we're selling them.”

For Record Store Day Tym Guitars has a massive party planned. Sydney's Dumbshot and Melbourne's Margins will be joining Brisbane legends Turnpike, No Anchor and Violent Soho for what's going to be a ridiculously fun party. 

“It's my dream line-up!” he laughs. “I don't even have to go to gigs anymore I just get them to play in my shop.”

Jeb Taylor set up Music Farmers in Wollongong in 2004, but closed down for two years before opening up again at the start of 2011 as the punters' interest in vinyl started picking up again.

Music Farmers

Music Farmers

“Pretty much 80 percent of what we sell is on vinyl now,” says Taylor. “We have a very small shelf of CDs which is mostly local CDs and friends' labels and things like that. We have an online store still as well which is consistent – it ticks over but it's not huge. It's a good little add-on for the business.

In another example of combining multiple business ideas, Music Farmers is part of a large warehouse space which is used as both a gallery and a venue for artists to perform in-store appearances. The gallery space is currently hosting an exhibition of works by Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman and it's not just bands from the 'Gong that the venue has hosted. The stage was recently graced by Bonnie Prince Billy as he stopped over on his Australian tour. He bought records by Woollen Kits and Royal Headache while he was there.

“He had a day off on his Australian tour and it was just the right place at the right time. Lots of people came to the place for the first time and people came in from out of Wollongong to see it. We let the word out to people we thought might be interested and tried to tell the right people instead of everyone and it worked out really well with the right number of people there.

“I've always wanted to have my own record store since I've been going to record stores myself as a teenager. When it started it wasn't really intentional. It started in a small little space just down the road from where we are now, and I've always booked venues and looked after bands, and at the time we leased a space which was really just for that. It had a shop front so we just started selling stuff from friends' labels and stuff we had an association with, just a really small selection. After about six months we started buying stock and it just sort of grew organically into a store from there.

After trying out Record Store Day for the first time last year and having a massive time of it, Jeb and Music Farmers have booked local bands Obscura Hall, Reactionary, Rhys Scoular, The Butcher Boys, The Merchants and the awesomely named Wollongong for a free all ages gig and BBQ which is sure to draw the dedicated punters in for the day.

Warwick Vere started Rocking Horse Records in Brisbane 36 years ago. He still owns and runs the store after all these years in its many different incarnations and locations. Despite coming dangerously close to closing the doors last year after the triple whammy of devastating floods, explosion in downloading and GFC, the stars aligned and Brisbane's record buying community got behind the Brisbane institution and its legacy lives on.

“We had three or four bands play for Record Store Day last year and we're doing the same thing again this year. It's a fun day and we get lots of people coming in and hanging around and enjoying the vibe. This year we're hoping to clean up the downstairs area and do it down there.”

Downstairs at Rocking Horse was always a great meeting point for anyone into their beats, with an eclectic range of electronic music and hip hop, and experts happy to point you in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is one area of the store that hasn't survived.

“Serato was what killed the dance stuff stone dead,” Warwick says of the digital software that allows DJs to mix their electronic files on a traditional turntable. “We couldn't afford to man it unfortunately. It was such a shame because it just had such a great vibe down there, but we're hoping to recreate that on Saturday!”

Performing live in the downstairs Rocking Horse Dungeon will be Blank Realm, Rattlehead and Jungle Giants.

Record Paradise in St Kilda, Melbourne started life much differently. Current owners Renae Maxwell and Paul Allen took over a business that has been running since 1955.

Record Paradise

Record Paradise

“Warren Warburton is his name,” she says of the previous owner. “He was a stodgy character [laughs]. He was a bitter, twisted sadist and I don't think he'll mind you printing that. It would be hard to prove defamation because it's a pretty accurate description! He loved his records and had this amazing archive of vinyl – probably about 50,000 records.”

Warburton only sold the shop when he knew he found people who shared his passion, and when his age made it physically too difficult to maintain the collection.

“He got to about 85 years old, and he didn't want the shop to close, he wanted to pass it on to people who would keep it as a record store. After vetting people he chose Paul and I, which was an honour, but I feel very responsible about keeping it alive.”

Paul holds down a day job as a hairdresser, and Renae says that these days, that job is basically subsidising the store and helping to keep it open. Despite this, she says they are reluctant to diversify the business into incorporating other elements, in fear that it may dilute what Record Paradise is all about, but she's also realistic about their options.

“We're forty years old and this is our life now. We'll do everything possible to keep it alive. If it comes to it we could incorporate the hair-cutting, that's something we are having to think about for next year. Then Paul can be here in the shop as well, but it does water it down and changes the emphasis of what we're about.

“Record Store Day allows us to bring a whole bunch of capital in for one day which helps us out over quieter times. We're going crazy with it this year. We've got live bands – The Bowers, Money For Rope and Even playing, as well as a secret band all playing out the back in the carpark. We've got a license for the day so we're selling beers and a Record Store Daydream cocktail. We're doing a seven inch lucky dip for a gold coin donation as well as having new vinyl from the bands that are playing. One other thing we're doing which we're very excited about, we're live streaming our shop for one hour via the internet. We're gonna get some coverage of the shop as well as broadcasting the secret band from 4pm to 5pm.”

Renae says that the new resurgence in locally produced vinyl has been vital for Record Paradise's survival.

“Bands like The Twerps have created almost a false economy around their releases. They're very desirable, they do them in very limited numbers and sell them to their fans who want to have the actual object. They're selling stuff out at gigs so they become a commodity before they even hit the shops a lot of the time. They're playing with this fascination [of vinyl] but they're also tapping into real communities of people that want to experience a band live and want to have a physical product to take home, and vinyl is the best object to do that with. Taking a CD home just doesn't have the same resonance.

“We are a mainly vinyl store, we got lots of seven inches from local groups. Labels like R.I.P. Society who have released bands like Woollen Kits, Royal Headache, Dick Diver and The Twerps albums all on vinyl has been amazing for our shop and for vinyl culture and local culture itself.”

When a very young Nic Warnock first moved from Cairns in Far North Queensland to Penrith, he thought he had made a terrible mistake. A chance wandering into the local record shop Repressed Records changed all that.

Repressed Records

Repressed Records

“I was like, man this place sucks! I didn't understand Penrith or know anyone in the whole state. I found Repressed Records and they had The Stooges and Richard Hell and some really interesting stuff and I was like, maybe there is some hope for this place. I was seventeen but I looked about fourteen, and Chris Sammut the boss was really confused because I had a Stooges Funhouse t-shirt. I was going into the shop every two weeks or so buying a couple of things and it was really exciting for me because I never even had a local record shop in Cairns, it was all HMVs and things.”

Eventually a part-time job came up and the rest is history, Nic has been working at Repressed ever since. Now based in a prominent high street location in Sydney's Inner West, Repressed has become a vital part of the local rock and roll scene. The store doubles as the unofficial headquarters for Nic's label, the aforementioned R.I.P. Society, which has built up an incredible Australian and International reputation for fostering some of the country's most exciting new bands.

“I started the label about three years ago, I was playing in a pretty different version of the band Circle Pit. The first even inch Total Waste was recorded and all these people that were apparently interested in releasing it were flaking out on them so I was like, I'll do it. It was a bit of a slow burner because people weren't really used to the system of doing DIY independent releases, and it actually being able to be a featured item in a record store. There were all these quite rigid structures for even independent record stores. So R.I.P. Society started out of that, it was basically a necessity. I saw all these great bands that no one in the established music industry was willing to touch in Australia and release them in a way that I as a fan or the bands would find appealing.”

Nic says this is as simple as releasing seven inch records, which no one was really doing very much of.

“They would have seen this as impractical or redundant which it's not. It's the perfect way to hear the first songs of a rock and roll band – it's the perfect introduction. No one was willing to that and it was just such an obvious gap for me.”

“There was just this mentality that records wouldn't sell if they didn't tick these boxes, like if it wasn't played on triple j or there wasn't a write up about it in The Australian then they wouldn't treat it as a proper release. It's quite a shame because in my very biased opinion, the circle around the stuff I've released is one of the most exciting and happening circles of music in Australia at the moment.”

He's not just talking himself up, and the success of the aforementioned bands R.I.P Society have released is overwhelming proof. But how important to the label's success has been having the base of Repressed Records to operate from?

“It's pivotal,” he says with conviction. “I don't think the record label would exist if it wasn't for Repressed. I just think having that musical hub of a record store is kind of like a visual summary of what's gone on. It also helps link new releases into the lineage of what's happened in the past. I feel that all of the records are in the tradition of old Australian rock and roll and punk and worldwide DIY activity. I feel it's a continuation of that tradition of independent rock and roll. It gives it a little bit of context. I'm sure that for labels like Bedroom Suck in Brisbane who I kinda see as like a brother label, I'm sure that they would agree that Repressed Records is a pretty pivotal part of their existence.”

Repressed have an amazing collection of releases for Record Store Day, as well as discounts and specials on the day. Nic will be launching some records on the day which obviously mean a great deal to him on a personal level.

“Brendan Annersley who ran a record label in Brisbane called Negative Guestlist passed away a few months ago. Between his girlfriend and myself and a couple of other people have taken on the task of making sure all the records he had planned get released. There's been some hurdles but the first three will be in for Record Store Day. It feels really good to be able to it because I respected him and his vision so much and his record label was very important to the shop. His zine was like a gateway to the whole world of what is happening now for a bunch of people who had maybe fallen out of the loop you know? Like older guys who would have gone and seen Feedtime or Lubricated Goat – he was there in to what was going on now in the tradition of that underground rock'n'roll.”

Record Store Day takes place Saturday 21 April. We'll have features with record stores and their owners from around the country in the lead-up to Saturday.