By Patrick Prince
The following is Goldmine’s annual interview with Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz (it’s become a Goldmine tradition by now!). Michael gave us an inside look into Record Store Day 2018 and shares his feelings on last year’s 10-year anniversary celebration.
GOLDMINE: Record Store Day is now one year removed from its 10-year anniversary. What memories have you taken away from last year’s big celebration?
Michael Kurtz: I remember first seeing the St. Vincent’s Record Store Day Ambassador video, laughing and thinking it was genius. I still do. I remember taking my two-and-a-half-year-old twins to Rough Trade to experience Record Store Day for the first time. The kids loved it, we had a blast, and I was able to score the Bowie “promos” album and a few other cool Record Store Day releases. I remember going to a recording studio to meet Richard Hell and listening to the playback of the first album as it was being remastered. We talked about how the Voidoids recorded the first album at Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios and how Richard felt about those early takes. I remember reading the article in Billboard magazine saying that Record Store Day had blown past all previous records of the most vinyl sold in one day. It was a great year.
GM: Big news for this year: The first Led Zeppelin release of Record Store Day (previously unheard studio mixes of “Rock And Roll” and “Friends”). Are you surprised it’s taken this long? This release should be a popular one, marking the band’s 50th anniversary.
MK: I actually met Robert Plant the year we had done our second Record Store Day. It was restaurant week here in NYC so it was possible to go to a fantastic restaurant on the cheap. Robert ended up sitting next to my wife and I and he was energized and we talked about his Strange Sensation albums and how confused he was with the state of radio at the time. I couldn’t help it and made the pitch that he do something for Record Store Day. Robert said he was into it and to reach out to his manager Bill Curbishley. I tried but couldn’t get any traction, I don’t think the timing was right. Later, Robert released the More Roar RSD release and Jimmy Page released a Record Store Day release but for Europe only. I’ve asked Rhino about the possibility of doing a Led Zeppelin Record Store Day piece but nothing gelled. I couldn’t be more excited this year’s Led Zeppelin release.
GM: Page is a big vinyl record lover, too. Hopefully, there will be more Zep releases in years to come.
MK: I hope so, too, but I’ve learned to just be patient. We’re talking about one of the great rock musicians of all time, with a real esthetic. Record Store Day has taught me that sometimes the smartest thing I can do is just get out of the way and just let greatness happen.
GM: In the past, big names in the music industry like Elton John have come out to express their appreciation for Record Store Day and their love for the vinyl record format. Are you having more and more famous musical artists reach out to support Record Store Day?
MK: It always happens every year but it’s organic and not something we try and push. Artists truly love record stores and they like to talk about them and the experience of going to them.
GM: Run the Jewels are 2018’s ambassador. Why were they chosen and why did you think they would make a good RSD ambassador?
MK: For me, Run The Jewels are one of the greatest relatively new bands of our time. The first time I listened to their albums it took me back to earlier days of listening to The Clash albums for the first time. Run the Jewels are that innovative, relevant and exciting. I recently saw a U.K. concert poster and it was for a show featuring Jack White, Iggy Pop, Queens of the Stone Age and Run the Jewels. All of them Record Store Day Ambassadors. Kismet. I think that Run The Jewels are great RSD ambassadors because they make great music and are authentic and inspired.
GM: Did last year’s ambassador, St. Vincent, live up to the task?
MK: The task is always different. St. Vincent launched Record Store Day like no artist before her. She made an incredibly funny video for Funny Or Die that took the event to a whole new group of people. Then she brought the community together by sending most of the iconic record stores across the country a bottle of her wine in advance of the launch, followed by funny videos that were made for specific stores. On Record Store Day itself, she came to Rough Trade in New York City and kicked off the event in person. She is a great artist, a real human being and brought everyone together. It was nice.
GM: Are there any record store events — in-stores/performances — that stood out from last year?
MK: The one that really stands out for me was having Dawes perform at Fingerprints in Long Beach, CA to celebrate the release of their Record Store Day live album, We’re All Gonna Live. I’m a big Dawes fan and they worked with us on a partnership with Small Business Saturday so that fans could buy the double vinyl album for a cost around 15 bucks. It was really a lot of fun and made a lot of fans happy.
GM: Vinyl records continue to sell. I think it’s safe to say to the detractors that it’s not a fad. Agree?
MK: Vinyl sales topped a billion dollars at the end of last year. No, I don’t think it’s a fad.
GM: However, turntable sales have been down from last year. Any thoughts on that?
MK: My understanding is that turntable sales have risen something like 400 percent in the past few years. It’s impossible to sustain that kind of explosive growth, so for them to fall back 5 percent last year seems normal. There are still a lot of turntables being sold every day.
GM: Each RSD, there are usually more U.K. releases than U.S. releases. Is there a feeling that the U.K. is a little more enthusiastic on a whole about music collecting?
MK: No, we actually try and keep the total number of releases down here in the U.S because the stores say they start to struggle if they go much above 400 titles. In the U.K., they pretty much include every Record Store Day release that is presented to them. We just have a different approach here in the U.S. but it doesn’t have anything to do with music collecting.
GM: Obviously RSD is not just about vinyl. It’s about the record store and other formats that they carry. You’ve had more CDs, box sets and cassettes as years go by. Is there one non-vinyl release you think should be mentioned for this year?
MK: The vast majority of Record Store Day releases this year are on vinyl but there are a few titles that are on CD. The Dr. Octagon Record Store Day instrumentals record, the Yung Wu record made by The Feelies, with percussionist Dave Weckerman singing, and the John Carter Cash RSD release, all come to mind. Wu-Tang Clan’s cassette, too.
GM: The Metallica cassette tape and the McCartney cassette from past RSDs were both pretty popular.
MK: It’s ironic that you mention these two as there would be no Record Store Day without Metallica and Paul McCartney. McCartney was the first major artist to send us an email saying he supported what we were doing and Metallica launched Record Store Day with their event at Rasputin’s in San Francisco. And, yes, the cassettes from both were very popular.
GM: Are you surprised by the level of interest in collecting cassette tapes?
MK: Not really, people collect all kinds of things. I’m not a cassette person but even I have a sealed copy of John Lennon’s “Imagine” on cassette that I’ve had since I was kid.
GM: Not sure there will ever be a “resurgence” like the vinyl record format though.
MK: I don’t think so. They only seem to really work if the cassette is something fans really, really want.
GM: Will there ever be an 8-track release for Record Store Day? That might sound funny to some but there are those who would love that — even if it’s only a collectible that will never be played.
MK: I would love it if there were, but probably not. Personally, I’d like to have Lou Reed’s album Coney Island Baby on 8-track.
GM: Any (2018) standout for package design or well-designed vinyl?
MK: I love it when the artists number their Record Store Day releases. I try to explain that this is what authenticates a Record Store Day release. Some artists do it, some can’t, but I wish they all could be done that way. I’d be remiss too if I didn’t mention The Rolling Stone’s Their Satanic Majesties Request with the original lenticular cover, on a special edition colored vinyl. That Stones’ album represents one of the high points in the ‘60s for creative packaging.
GM: Which release got the best overall feedback last year?
MK: The Bowie “promo” release was the one that really blew everyone’s minds.
GM: And for those who don’t know: Record Store Day started a vinyl club last year. Maybe you can tell the readers a little about it and its releases this year.
MK: This is an evolving project and we’re constantly tweaking it. We did RSD Vinyl Club releases this past year with Jim James, The Doors and Television. The idea is to get more essential records into the stores as a way to support them. Sometimes they are new albums and sometimes they are classic albums.
GM: Was the special Jimi Hendrix exclusive 7-inch released this year part of that club?
MK: No, Record Store Day pretty much always work with the Hendrix estate to do special 7-inch singles made for record stores with each of their new projects. Earlier this year, Record Store Day was invited to come hear tracks from Both Sides of the Sky. Eddie Kramer and Jimi’s sister Janie came out and played the music and took questions. After that we began working with Legacy on this 7-inch — it’s the third, and last, in this RSD series. It was limited to about 4,000 copies.
GM: Lastly, as you have now moved past your 10-year anniversary of Record Store Day, any new goals you’d like to accomplish in 2018?
MK: We launched our first Record Store Day Summer Camp event in New Orleans last year. It’s meant to be mainly a gathering of indie record store owners to discuss what we need to do to be better record stores. We had about 200 show up and had a blast meeting with all kinds of other inspired business people, from turntable companies, to record labels, to distribution companies. We’re putting our next New Orleans Summer Camp event together now and it’s slated for August. Beyond that, I just want to stay positive, keep working to make things better, try to help other people achieve their dreams… the usual stuff.