This week we have a special guest digger contributing to “B-Sides in the Bins!” Brett Tieman is the bass and guitarist for a four-piece band out of Brooklyn called The Mugs whose music can be described as coming from the same sonic place as and often draws comparisons to college rock bands like REM, The Smiths, and The Stone Roses. Brett contacted me before the Mugs departed on their first US Tour asking for advice on Midwestern record stores to visit. Brett sent me a copy of their first full-length album Paper Scissors Rock in 2005 on their own SkinnyFat Records. It’s been a part of my regular rotation of CD’s since I got it and it is a good change of pace from the regular diet of indie rock. The Mugs are going back into the studio shortly to record the follow up. Visit their MySpace page to sample songs from Paper Scissors Rock.
Special Coorespondent Brett, The Mugs (of Brooklyn, NY)
In July, the four of us Mugs decided that after four years of playing almost solely inside NYC, it was time to treat ourselves to a little tour of the States. Since we all juggle the band with our day jobs, we were only able to allot 3 weeks (9/28-10/22) for the journey. And, since we are our own label, we had minimal resources to commit to the project (ie: no booking agent, no publicist). While Ryan (drums) set about booking the tour (it took a month to set 15 dates), I decided to surf the web and find some folks along our path to invite out to the shows. After perusing (literally) hundreds of indie rock blogs touting the next big thing (though I do love live show writeups), I came across Mike’s account of his shopping trip to Spaceboy Music in Philadelphia. I loved it. Being a record junky myself, it was a very enjoyable read; something I understood and could relate to. I spend my hard-earned dollars on very few things: rent, food, booze, my wife, the band, and records. Despite the fact that I was (am) broke, I knew these things would not change on the trip so I decided to take inspiration from Mike and organize a record store tour along side the serious business of delivering rock and roll.
Basically, I gave myself a $100 music budget for the tour. This fit well with my shopping style; I typically hit bargain bins. Random vinyl is so cheap it worked out pretty well. You can get a vague sense of my tastes here. I have a pretty large rock collection on disc so I’m not necessarily a strict jazz head- I just find that jazz is more fun to buy on record. I definitely make my selections based on the cover art.
Stop #1 – Bart’s CD Cellar & Record Shop (Boulder, CO)
This is the perfect college/small town shop. Great inventory. It’s located in the heart of Boulder’s shopping commons. The ground floor is predominately CD’s. I scanned their ample selection and the prices (~$14.99 for new though I think they had cheaper used discs) and decided to head directly upstairs to the vinyl “attic.”
It was early on a Wednesday so it was just me and the clerk. As I picked through their very excellent and well-organized selection (there is a photo in the link above), he lazily played some Zappa on the house stereo. I spent an hour sifting through the different sections (they have a very large and intriguing soundtrack section), sampled a few tracks on the test turntables, and picked up the following:
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing
McCoy Tyner – Atlantis
Dollar Brand – Capetown Fringe [#3, I buy this record every time I see a copy]
Dollar Brand – Memories
Donald Byrd & 125th St. NYC – Donald Byrd & 125th St. NYC
Last minute decision: Since this was the first stop, I put back B-52’s self-titled debut and Eddy Grant’s Killer on the Rampage to keep costs below $30.
Hindsight: After visiting a few more stores, I realized that they had a very reasonably-priced reggae section. I find most record stores really inflate their reggae prices. Should have put back the Donald Byrd album; not so good despite it being a collaboration with Isaac Hayes.
AMEX? Yes. This place is all convenience.
Stop #2 Amoeba (Haight/Ashbury – San Fran, CA)
This is a pretty famous store so I won’t describe it in too much detail. I spent about an hour and half combing through trying to find the right combination of selection and value.
Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts (conducted by Lalo Schifrin)
Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining (CD)
Gary Burton/Steve Swallow – Hello Hotel
Gary Burton – A Genuine Tong
Leonard Feather Presents Encyclopedia of Jazz on Records Vol. 1 (20’s) & 2 (30’s)
George Lewis – Memorial Album
Last minute decision: I opted against getting the entire Dire Straits collection on vinyl despite it being one of the few record shopping missions with which I began the tour. I guess I expected their albums to be cheaper.
Hindsight: The Burton albums were definitely inspired by the artwork and album titles. They’re solid, but probably won’t get too much playing time at home. The Jazz Suite, however, is a great Sunday morning record. I saw it a few times at the other stores I visited, and it always seems to be cheap. Recommended.
AMEX? No. Probably for the best.
Stop #3 – Bop Street Records (Ballard – Seattle, WA)
This place is a trip. I found it on a blog (forget which) and knew I had to visit. Why? Radiohead dubbed it the greatest record store on the planet. One of the features to the place is the wall of fame on which noteworthy patrons sign their names. Thom Yorke wrote “My credit card got ill here.” Colin wrote “Radiohead got very dirty here.” So, is it the greatest record store on the planet? It very well might be: it’s huge and has a massive selection (over 700,000 records). We asked, Dave, the owner if he organized it himself. He laughed and said that he has about 3-4 people whose job it is to put everything in its right place.
Ryan’s father Joe used our gigs as an excuse to visit Seattle. He is a garrulous lover of rock and immediately engaged Dave in conversation. I missed the majority of the conversation, but I heard a lot of laughter. Apparently after they covered a mutual love for classic rock, Joe informed Dave that we were in a band. I’m generally shy about that fact in record stores, but I’m glad Joe was there to break the ice. Long story short, Dave eventually turned off ‘Eat a Peach’ and began playing our album over the store. He had it nice and loud too. I think I would describe the experience of hearing our music blasting at an international record mecca as “fucking awesome.” It went well. He decided to check out our show later that night at Sunset Tavern which was a very short walk from the store. Oh yeah, we got to sign the wall (but not next to Radiohead).
Meanwhile, before he played our album: I had a hard time shopping at Bop Street because of the sheer volume of choices. In record shopping, I don’t do well so many options. My eyes started to glaze over and my credit card started tapping on my shoulder: DON’T DO IT. I only had $50 left in my budget and a week of tour to go. After a time-foldingly short hour, I took my stack of records and decided to find out how much I was about to spend (none of the records have price tags). Dave flipped through the selection while providing assessments and commentary. Bop Street is not the cheapest store. Deflated by the appraisal, I retreated to the listening booth to sharpen up the selections. After separating the wheat from the chafe, I proceeded to check out fairly exhausted from searching. This is great home-town record store, but a difficult one to pass through. I could easily spend a full day rifling through the bins and shelves. When I returned to the check out, Dave observed good naturedly that I “put back the expensive ones.”
I paid and went to the basement to check on Ryan. The basement is just ridiculous (photo in the links above). Ryan had a huge stack picked out. The moral: the more you buy at Bop Street, the better the per record value. Dave will definitely discount bulk purchases. In fact, I should mention he gave me Bohannon for free since it’s not a very coveted or rare record.
Now, onto the best part: Dave came to the show and hung out all night practically since one of his employees played a few bands after us in the excellent Iceage Cobra. He enjoyed our set well enough and was very kind and congratulatory. He even bought me a drink. But the best part, and one of the highlights of the whole tour, he went back to the store and returned bearing gifts for Ryan and myself: two records (“the expensive ones”) which we had opted against at the last minute: a mint Grateful Dead Europe ’72 (one of my top 10 favorites) for Ryan and a mint Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. I was absolutely floored and had my faith in the benevolence of mankind restored. Such a simple, but grand gesture.
Bohannon – Too Hot to Hold
Upchurch & Tennyson – Upchurch/Tennyson
Phil Woods & his European Rhythm Machine – Live at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival
Charles Tolliver (w/Gary Bartz, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Joe Chambers) – Paper Man
Total: $40 (all vinyl)
Bonus: Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
Last minute decision:Returning Exile on Main Street
Hindsight: Ballard kicks ass. Seattle kicks ass. KEXP kicks ass. Bop Street Records kicks ass. Sunset Tavern kicks ass. Dave kicks ass. Exile on Main Street kicks ass. Touring kicks ass.
AMEX? No (thank god).
Stop #4 – Jazz Mart (Chicago, IL)
Chicago was the last stop on our tour so I was feeling pretty broke when we rolled into town. We did have a full day off so I felt compelled to hit up at least one store. I went with Mike’s suggestion and set out for Jazz Mart. It’s a nice, large well-organized store. Since I was questing for vinyl, I skipped through the pricier CD section. Ryan’s budget was a little more resilient so he set about perusing the discs. Their vinyl section is interesting: They have a decent-sized used record section and a large new vinyl reissue section (organized both by label and by artist). Brand new factory-sealed jazz vinyl reissues are great, but they didn’t fit my $10 budget. I was pretty shopped out after the 3 weeks, so I was fine digging up some randoms in the used bin. Meanwhile, Ryan kept chiming in and how amazing the selection is. So:
Joanne Brackeen – Snooze
Claude Goaty w/Gerard Calvi – Chansons de Paris
The Buddy Tate Celebrity Club Orchestra – Unbroken
Total: $10 (all vinyl)
Last minute decision: Deciding the get a drink at the pub we passed on the way to the store.
Hindsight: Jazz Mart advertises itself as the world’s largest jazz & blues store and delivers (though I didn’t see hardly any blues on vinyl). It is a great resource for people looking to fill in the gaps in their collections. Nice vibe, clean, friendly place. Good recommendation by Mike.
AMEX? Not sure. I tendered genuine US currency.
So, start a band, go on tour, support the independent record stores of America. Hope you enjoyed.