By Patrick Prince
If you’ve ever wondered if Record Store Day is musically inclusive, the 2014 edition of the event — coming to a record store near you on April 19 — should put any of your fears to rest.
The event ambassador is a renowned rapper (Chuck D). The literal poster boy is an iconic bassist, composer and influential jazz musician (Jaco Pastorius) who died tragically and ridiculously young.
As for the music? The lengthy list of limited editions, exclusives and special releases ranging from The Allman Brothers’ “Selections from ‘Play All Night: Live At The Beacon Theatre 1992’” LP to Frank Zappa’s single reissue, “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” (1974 single-edit) b/w “Down in De Dew” (previously unreleased 1973 alternative mix) pretty much speak for themselves.
(Record Store Day has posted “The List” on its U.S. website. You also can click on the following links to check out official Record Store Day websites for other countries: United Kingdom; Germany; Belgium; Netherlands; Canada; France; Mexico and Italy.)
Goldmine touched base with record store day organizer and knight Michael Kurtz— no, we’re not kidding about the whole knighthood thing — for the scoop on this year’s event.
GOLDMINE: Give us a 2014 status report. How’s Record Store Day doing since its incarnation?
MICHAEL KURTZ: We started Record Store Day with about 10 releases and Metallica doing a big event at Rasputin Records (in San Francisco). Seven years later, we are experiencing massive growth, both here in the USA and worldwide. Hundreds of artists are expected to join in with either releases or events at the stores. We expect that the labels will ship about $12 million in RSD releases to approximately 2,000 record stores around the world. It’s been both exciting and gratifying to be a part of this phenomenon.
GM: Record Store Day has officially named Public Enemy frontman
Chuck D as this year’s ambassador. Why was he chosen, and what does he bring to the April 19 celebration?
MK: Eric Levin was the first to mention Chuck D as a possible candidate. Eric runs a record store called Criminal Records in Atlanta. He’s one of the founders of Record Store Day, and he also runs a coalition of independent record stores called AIMS. Early on in Record Store Day, Chuck D came to one of Eric’s stores to celebrate and support us. The speech he made was just fantastic and gave all of us a lot of strength to keep going. We never forgot the speech, so when the opportunity came up to have Chuck D be our ambassador, we jumped at it. Beyond the impact of his art, I think what Chuck D brings to RSD is an authentic and active voice for supporting community record stores.
GM: Who has been your favorite RSD ambassador so far? Do you even have a favorite? What do you expect of each one?
MK: I liked all of them for different reasons. Jesse Hughes, with the Eagles of Death Metal, pretty much launched the idea, so he’ll always be No. 1. Queen of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme’s video that he made to launch his ambassadorship was Orson Welles-like in its genius. Having Ozzy Osbourne be our ambassador was really cool, but he’s Ozzy, so it was very unpredictable. Iggy Pop was probably my personal favorite, as he is truly one of us and just seems to be a part of our lives. Just a couple of days ago, I spoke with Stooges guitarist James Williamson, who’s working on a project that he’s hoping to launch on Record Store Day and then go beyond. Jack White is probably the most well known of all of our ambassadors, as he’s not only a great artist, but he is really involved in producing and manufacturing records. He’s like the Howard Hughes of rock and roll.
GM: Are there any notable RSD guest band performances/in-stores this year at record stores you think fans SHOULD NOT miss out on?
MK: The artist appearances are an important, ephemeral and magical part of Record Store Day. I typically don’t know who is doing what until mere weeks or even days before they occur. Last year, I was knighted in France for my work on Record Store Day. This year I am getting personally involved with The Doors’ John Densmore on Record Store Day in France. His new book, “The Doors: Unhinged,” was originally launched on Record Store Day last year, and this year it has been translated into French, so John and I are traveling to France to do special events to celebrate Record Store Day, which they call Disquaire Day. The plan is to hit record stores in Lyon, Marseille, and Paris. So if you’re in France, come and hang out with us.
GM: Can you talk a little bit about the Adapter Prize? What it means, how it came about, and how it developed into an exciting thing. Did you tie it in with RSD?
MK: The Adapter Prize is an ongoing work of love. The idea originally came from Tim Baker. Tim runs a small chain of independently owned stores in Toronto called Sunrise. Tim thought that record stores should have their own voice heard as to what they thought was noteworthy. Tim suggested creating a prize presented by record stores to artists and labels. So we decided to have the prizes picked by the people who work at record stores so they are simply a reflection of what the majority of record store folks love. The reason that it is tied to Record Store Day is simply because we’ve developed a relationship with the approximately 1,500 record stores in the USA and Canada and can easily organize and communicate with them. Right now we are putting the finishing touches on the prizes themselves. They will be handmade 45 adapters made from steel bronze and brass. Each one is inscribed with the winner’s info and year. We’re hoping to get them to the winners before, or on, RSD. Like everything we do, we put a lot of love into these.
GM: The band Tame Impala won Record of the Year for this prize. Talk a bit about them. Why is the band so special?
MK: This is simply my personal opinion, but I think that every once in a while, a band comes along that kind of defines the moment. In the case of Tame Impala, they gave us “Lonerism,” a really satisfying album that kind of speaks to a lot of people and where they are in life. The fact that their song “Elephant” became such a big hit and was heard everywhere was really cool. My understanding is that they are releasing a live album just for record stores on Record Store Day. We could not be more excited.
GM: And GZA’s Liquid Swords “Chess Box” won best Record Store Day release for the Adapter Prize. How do you feel that’s a special piece, and what can compete with it for this year’s RSD?
MK: This is the category that I am personally excited about, as it is meant to acknowledge the creativity that often goes into RSD releases and the unexpected things that occur. In this case, the combination of Wu Tang’s GZA’s love for chess was blended with the relaunch of their classic “Liquid Swords” release. The end result was a really cool box set created by Traffic Entertainment that included the popular album “Liquid Sword” with an actual chess set. It was pure genius.
There are also certain artists that personally get involved and use RSD to express their art in amazingly creative ways. The Flaming Lips are probably the most famous for this, and we are hoping that our Adapter Prize will inspire and encourage more creativity. Beyond the artist involvement I am really excited about what labels like Rhino and Traffic Entertainment are doing. The energy and creativity that they are putting into their releases is mind boggling.
GM: What other special releases should buyers/collectors look for?
MK: I guess it will come down to what artists you are a fan of. There are a lot of collectors into bands like The Doors, The Grateful Dead, The Flaming Lips, Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, David Bowie, Neil Young. I think all of these folks will be happy with RSD this year.
GM: Is there a release that is bound to sell out right away? Which releases should buyers stand in line for?
MK: We publish the manufactured quantity of RSD releases on our site so folks can see what is available. I’m guessing that the smaller quantity of titles by some of the biggest name artists will go fairly quickly, as they always do. There are some other archival things that are happening that are exceptional. Omnivore Records has unearthed a previously unreleased Hank Williams live broadcast performance that they are issuing on vinyl. Don Was is issuing reproductions of the very first two Blue Note releases in a limited quantity just for Record Store Day as a way to kick off their Blue Note 75th Anniversary celebration. The last Nirvana single, that was canceled when Kurt died, is finally going to see the light of day on RSD, too. There are really a lot of treasures in this year’s offerings.
GM: What is your personal favorite RSD release this year, and why?
MK: My No. 1 personal favorite is Omnivore’s release of the Jaco Pastorius album “The Criteria Sessions… Modern American Music. Period.” I was first turned on to Jaco when I worked at School Kids Records and we began carrying the Weather Report album “Black Market.” I bought it, took it home and was completely blown away. I loved the entire band, but Jaco was something beyond that. He was a force of nature. As luck would have it, I heard that Metallica’s bassist Robert Trujillo was working on a film about Jaco’s life and remembered that I actually had an 8mm film I had made of Jaco performing in concert on their Birdland tour. It was in my closet and almost forgotten! Anyway, I’d met Robert when Metallica launched RSD at Rasputin Records in San Francisco and reached out to offer the film to him. One thing led to another, and now Omnivore is releasing Jaco’s original demo, recorded in his early 20s — before he was signed to a label — for this Record Store Day release. I’ve heard it, and it is fantastic. Robert is putting the finishing touches on the Jaco film, and it will be our official RSD film for 2014. Another personal favorite is the Cake box set that is coming out. Michael Bunnell, one of the founders of Record Store Day, also runs a distribution company called ThinkIndie, and they are making it possible for this limited-edition box-set to be offered to the stores. It’s got all of Cake’s albums on vinyl, plus a live album that has never been released before. I love Cake, so I’m pretty excited about this one.
GM: Warner Bros. Vinyl has really taken off as a big partnership with RSD. Explain how that relationship developed and what it means for RSD as a whole.
MK: When the idea first came up to do Record Store Day, I made the rounds to talk to labels about supporting it. Warner Bros was the first one to really get it, and they were the ones who helped me ask Metallica to join the cause. They were also the first one to create a significant number of releases for RSD, with Metallica, R.E.M and a few others. Even with all of the changes at the label, their support has remained fairly constant. Working with them made me realize that the idea that artists don’t need a label is pure hokum. To get quality music completed and presented to fans properly actually takes a massive team of talented people. And to pull RSD together each year, it requires that record stores be allowed to work directly with the label and, in some cases, the artist. Warner Bros allows Record Store Day to do that. There would be no Record Store Day, and no relaunch of the vinyl format, without Warner Bros. Records. That is a fact. This is why they have our vinyl page on www.recordstoreday.com.
GM: One part of Record Store Day is that each participating store has “goodies” to hand out — something from the store — when new records are bought. Is this something you suggested, or did it take on a life of its own?
MK: We initially modeled Record Store Day after the indie comic-book store event called “Free Comic Day.” The idea was that comic book fans would be invited to come celebrate the culture of the local comic book store, and they would also be able to get some cool free comics. We applied this idea to record store culture and provide all kinds of cool free stuff to the core stores who fully engage on Record Store Day.
GM: I often go to Red Scroll Records in Wallingford, Conn., for RSD, and they give out all kinds of goodies — mostly stuff custom-made, like buttons, magnets, and, of course, their own T-shirts. Buyers love it. This is a good thing, because it makes people actually go to the store rather than buy the RSD releases on eBay.
MK: We don’t require stores to do this, but we encourage it. In true independent fashion, many stores actually create their own local free goodies, too. These can be everything from coffee and cookies to pizza to posters to tickets to local shows. It’s awesome to see the creativity people apply to the day, and it’s great to see how record store owners express their love and appreciation for their customers now that they’ve been given the opportunity to do it.
GM: And there is always the complaint that RSD items will end up on eBay that very same morning, for three times the price. It kind of defeats the purpose of what Record Store Day is about — going to the actual store — but there’s really nothing you can do about that.
MK: We were quite distressed when we first discovered this phenomenon. I and Carrie Colliton — my main partner in putting RSD together — actually lost a lot of sleep over this. In the end, I sat down with a calculator and tallied up the number of RSD releases that went out and compared it to the number that ended up on eBay and realized that it is actually a very, very small number. For example, there were over 400 RSD releases last year, and the average release was for about 2,000 pieces. That’s 800,000 pieces that were shipped out to the stores. At the time I looked, there were less than 1,000 RSD items online for sale. Now, I understand that it is distressing when someone sees a Dave Matthews album being sold by an eBbay flipper, but these guys are actually in the minority. The vast majority of RSD releases go home to a fan who loves them. That said, once someone buys a record, it is their property, and they can do what they want. The positive side of this dark side is that RSD has restored the value to music in a significant way. Prior to RSD launching, the value of music was sinking to an all-time low. Now, you can see that if the right amount of love and passion is put into the release of a record, it can have tremendous value. Jack White understands this. Wayne Coyne understands this.
GM: Is Record Store Day trying harder to cater to the specific needs of each independent record store? The one complaint I hear every year, is that a record store owner didn’t get enough of the genre the store specializes in. How can record store owners order more of what they need?
MK: Record Store Day wouldn’t work if we tried to do it as a big commercial venture. It’s main strength is in the excitement and fun we create by encouraging the record stores to do their own celebrations, with the added excitement created by the special pieces. Frankly, the organizers of RSD, and the artists and labels that support it, aren’t doing this to make a lot of money off these pieces. We are all working together to create something fun and exciting. I think the vast majority of stores understand this, and it’s why the event continues to get bigger and bigger each year. It is done out of a love of music, not because we are selling units.
GM: I went into one record store recently and all used CDs were five bucks, no matter what the artist. I couldn’t help but think how far, hard and fast the CD format has fallen.
MK: Everything is cyclical. Right now, the CD is taken for granted. But as the cable companies consolidate and their hold on our access to the Internet grows, I expect the value of owning your own digital copy of a record, with all of the packaging that the artist intended, will grow. It seems inconceivable right now, but that was exactly what happened with vinyl records. When we first started talking about making 7-inch records for RSD, most people just laughed. It was that definite that there was absolutely no value in the format. Now, CDs haven’t fallen to this low yet, but I’m just saying that everything changes. The CD is awesome for what it is, and there will always be a place for it.
GM: This doesn’t count CD box sets. It seems that is what is saving the format. Is there a CD or CD box set you like for RSD? Can CDs have a more important role in RSD in the future?
MK: We’ve actually had some good success with RSD CDs in the past. Mumford & Sons’ “Live At Bull Moose” and Imagine Dragons’ “Live at Independent Records” all sold out. We are doing a “Jake Bugg Live at Silver Platters” release on CD, too. I think there are others, as well. I expect there will be a lot more in the future. And, CD box sets may be a part of this.
GM: Lastly, what are expectations/goals for this year’s Record Store Day? What is the high-water mark the RSD staff is hoping for?
MK: Record Store Day relaunched the vinyl business seven years ago. There is no doubt about that. Our job on the business side of things is to now help our partners grow and make it possible for them to plan for future growth. One of the problems right now is that labels are dependent on Soundscan to let them know what is selling, but, through no fault of Soundscan, the vast majority of independently owned stores do not report their sales to them. They just don’t. We’re encouraging labels to realize that in this decade, vinyl is now sold one way to the stores. This means the sale needs to be registered when the vinyl is shipped from the distributor to the store. This simple change would enable accurate sales reporting, but it requires that everyone understand that the world has changed completely since the days when Billboard used to call stores to ask for sales numbers, and we all had fun telling them that Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” was a top seller. Now, we all need good information. When this happens, RSD’s true explosion in sales and its impact on our culture will be accurately reflected. That is a goal that we’d like to reach. GM