By Susan Sliwicki
Paolo Campana has had a life-long love affair with vinyl records. His mantra? “Music saves my life, vinyl records save my brain … ”
So, it’s no surprise that Campana is director of a new feature-length documentary, “Vinylmania,” which celebrates the musical format. Even the film’s Kickstarter campaign, launched to fund a special-edition DVD of the film, pays homage to the format: “33in45.” The campaign wraps up Nov. 10, 2011. To donate to the cause, visit http://kck.st/oaRyTc.
“There’s a lot of heart in this film,” Campana said. “Please share in helping it see the light of day on DVD.”
The DVD will featured a cover sleeve designed exclusively for the film by Winston Smith (Dead Kennedys, Green Day record sleeve artist), who stars in the film. For more information about “Vinylmania,” visit its Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/vinylmania or check out its Web site at http://www.vinylmaniafilm.com/.
Goldmine: What do you do for a living?
Paolo Campana: I’m a filmmaker and a DJ, as well. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent most of my time working on “Vinylmania,” my first feature-length documentary. It’s been great because I’ve got to mix both my passions, film and music, together! When I DJ I play exotic, lounge and Latin music from the ’50s up until today. I play in all kinds of clubs, bars and parties.
GM: What attracted you to do a documentary about vinyl records?
PC: When I was a child, my mother would wake me up with an old Mozart vinyl. It played every morning. I stood for hours looking at the black surface turn on my mother’s turntable. I would get lost in space. We talk about kids and their imagination, but these records would just take me into another universe. I took pleasure in watching the record spin, fixing my eyes on the microgrooves until they were close to watering, a habit that still accompanies me today in my adult life.
My love of vinyl started to get me thinking about a story for a fiction film involving records. Suddenly, I realized the reality I had in front of me was much more interesting. I was frequently DJ-ing and continually visiting record stores and clubs and there was this moment when it just hit me, “Oh, there you are!” It was a couple of years before Nick Hornby released his novel “High Fidelity.” I wanted to know more about what it was about vinyl records that made it such a cultural phenomenon, so I decided to make a documentary.
GM: What did you learn about vinyl records that surprised you the most during the course of making of “Vinylmania”?
PC: Behind every vinyl record, every cover, every song, every groove, there is always a personal story that can be shared. When I was in Prague, I met people that, at the end of the ’60s, were arrested just because they had a Frank Zappa or a Rolling Stones record … Vinyl records hold a locker of memories. I’d always been aware of my own locker, but, wow, was I blown away by others!
GM: What do you, personally, love most about vinyl records? Why?
PC: The sound? The cover? The shape? Even the smell? I don’t know exactly what it is that I love most about vinyl records … They activate a whole world of senses. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re looking for a record for years and then you find it, you touch it, you look at it, and it’s pure and simple devotion. You can finally taste the music, hear its deep, crackling sound. I think the most important thing with records is that you get to live the absolute physical experience of music.
GM: What annoys you (or what do you wish that you could change) about vinyl records?
PC: How much they cost! That was the hardest thing about filming “Vinylmania.” We filmed in seven different countries, and just when you thought you couldn’t spend any more on records, a rare piece would fall into your hands. I’m just joking; the fact that prices can reach hundreds and thousands of dollars for a single record just reiterates how precious they are, and you can’t mess with that. The truth is, I wouldn’t change a thing. There are problems that come with vinyl; they’re heavy and can get scratched relatively easily, but just like with people, you accept them faults and all. Just because they have failings doesn’t mean you stop loving them, and, actually, more often than not, their failings become the thing you love most. I probably annoy them as much as they annoy me, if not more.
GM: Where do you weigh in on other formats — CDs, 24-karat gold CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, MP3s? How do they compare to vinyl?
PC: Depending upon the situation, all formats can be handy. I’ve got CDs and MP3s, and sometimes I use them precisely because of the situation I find myself in, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. Digital bothers me because of the sound. For me, vinyl is absolutely the best format for listening to recorded music. Not a string of ones and zeros, vinyl is pure analog, just like real life. I like cassettes and 8-tracks, but I don’t use them, though they are just beautiful objects. 24-karat gold CDs or similar? For my ears, vinyl is still superior.
GM: How long has this documentary been in the making? What has been the best part of working on this “Vinylmania?”
PC: I began to work on this idea more then 10 years ago when nobody talked vinyl. During these years, I wrote and rewrote the project, fighting to find producers interested in it. There was this obscure moment when they would say, “Vinyl records? They are just a nostalgia … too niche.” Finally, five or six years later, vinyl was back in the tabloids because of increased sales, and finally I found money to make my film.
The best part of working on “Vinylmania” was definitely during shooting. Having the possibility to fly out of Italy where I live and meet people I’d dreamed of meeting for years was surreal. In Japan, for example, near Tokyo, after years of e-mailing, I finally met the producer of the laser turntable, a 70-year-old quiet and simple man. What emotion! After we finished filming in his lab, we went to drink a couple of beers in a pub, in secret from his wife. It was four in the afternoon, and we didn’t even mention records!
GM: What’s the first record you ever bought?
PC: With my own pocket money … I remember the “Video Killed the Radio Star” single by The Buggles. I was 8. I bought my first album when I was 12 … the “Flash Gordon” original soundtrack by Queen — not really because of the band, but because I really liked soundtracks.
GM: Do you collect records? If so, how big is your collection? What artists/themes dominate it?
PC: I do collect records, but not in a “traditional way.” I like originals, but I don’t mind if I don’t find them. I had approximately 3,500 records, a little wall in my room. For years it was dominated by trip-hop, exotic and lounge music, Latin bossa boogaloo and post-punk and new wave, the music of my generation. The last one dominates again in my collection.
GM: What’s your favorite record format (33-1/3, 45, 78) and why?
PC: For a long time I preferred the 33; now I’m rediscovering the 45. They are compact and more practical for gigging. I’m also really surprised about the quantity of good music you can find on 78 and how many people like dee-jaying with them … maybe it’s the future?
GM: If money and availability were not factors, which record would you most want to enjoy in your collection?
PC: A classic one: “The Velvet Underground And Nico” (Andy Warhol) by Velvet Underground, the original press with the banana sticker.
GM: What are your passions/hobbies besides vinyl records?
PC: Concerts, dancing in a club … cooking for someone else while listening to a good record with a good glass of wine from Piemonte, Italy, where I’m from.
GM: What records are currently on your want list? How long have you been seeking them?
PC: The first album of the Associates and X-straordinare by Gina X Performance, a German woman who made electronic music in the ’80s … simple things, but hard to find with a good price. I’ve been looking for them for over two years at the flea markets.
GM: What differences can you detect between music played back on vinyl records (sound “warmer”) vs. the same music played via CD or MP3?
PC: Vinyl’s sound makes me relaxed. It’s a more peaceful experience and definitely warmer than those frosty zeros and ones, no doubt! The digital sound penetrates my ears too much. It’s too sharp. The first time I played a CD at home, I got a huge headache. Vinyl is a natural sound, analog that conforms to our analog ears! MP3 is … no comment. I couldn’t use an iPod for more than 10 or 15 minutes … I prefer listening to the radio … analog radio!
GM: Do you think vinyl’s resurgence is here to stay? Why or why not?
PC: Yes, I think so. I think vinyl is here to stay for many years to come. We need it to. Human beings need it to. Definitely my generation will keep buying vinyl, because it’s linked to our memories, but I think today’s generation, the young people, the teenagers, will help vinyl stick around more than anyone. After all, they’re the ones principally responsible for today’s vinyl resurgence. Maybe it’s because they want a concrete experience in front of a world that is going dematerialize. Maybe it’s because they finally want to be part of the physical experience of music, too! Either way it’s today’s youth more than anyone who have brought vinyl back into vogue today.
GM: What’s your favorite cover art/picture sleeve of all time?
PC: Wow, the toughest question! My favourite record sleeve is… there are too many … I think Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures” cover design by Peter Saville. For years, the small white and stylized graphic that represents a pulsar death on a black field was a big mystery to me. It really touched. So obscure, introspective … this coldness … This cover made me really feel the music. I bought the LP at 15 in 1983.