SCOUT: Tell us a little bit about the Vinyl Asides project & road trip.
COOPER: That project was developed with my buddy Jonathan, who I've known forever. We were like 'We should just do something fun!" So we took a break from working and decided to do a road trip across the U.S. with the intention of playing gigs. But it felt impossible to book gigs just the two of us, so we decided to find record collectors.
We knew the first guy from the first episode, which was Oliver Wang, from a project I did about Bay Area hip hop, and he turned me on to his blog, Soul Sides. So we interviewed him, and then we were like, what if we just found record collectors? There's gotta be one in each town, regardless of how small. We'd get to a town, go to the local record store and ask, and then schedule an interview within those days we were there. It would always be word-of-mouth where we'd tell them the next town we were going to and they'd suggest someone else to interview.
SCOUT: Were there any particular collectors who stood out to you, or had especially crazy collections or stories?
COOPER: Yeah, I think everybody gravitates towards this guy, Chris King. He's just sort of mythical in a way. Chris King has this crazy 78 collection in Virginia. He curates a lot of stuff for a label called Dust to Digital. He's just such an eccentric, really smart, well-spoken individual. He's an individual in every sense of the word.
He has this record by Geeshie Wiley, it's a 78, and there are only 2 of them in existence. The NY Times did a really interesting piece breaking down the importance of it, because it's this really weird, absolutely heartbreaking record called "Last Kind Words Blues". It's like a lament, you just have to listen to it. It's absolutely heartbreaking.
Also the way he plays records is really interesting. His whole thing is trying to get the perfect sound out of that 78, because 78’s are usually destroyed, and they're not very good for sound quality, or that's what people assume. But if you listen to them in the proper room, and it's a pretty good version, it's like a live performance. You do hear the room tone of that person, and you really get a sense for the performance that I feel like is lost in a lot of music that's recorded with lots of overdubs. Not to say it's better, but it's just one person in a room with one microphone, and when it's played on the right system - like when you're with Chris King and he's putting little popsicle sticks on top of the needle to get just the right pressure - it's very weird, it's very hypnotic, it's very spiritual in a sense. And it makes you listen to music in a different way.
That's something I personally learned throughout the road trip, was just a different way of listening to music. I still do it, I put music on in the background, and it's more to have something there mood-wise. But then there's also times when you sit down and it's just you and the album and you're really listening to it. It's really hard to do nowadays.
SCOUT: As music has become more accessible, there are more options, and it’s available anytime, anywhere. What do you think we have lost, and what have we gained?
COOPER: I think music is more in the background than ever. You don't sit down or just dance to a song in your room with someone. I mean maybe you do, but I don't think it happens as much. I just hope people don't stop really listening to a song, and having an emotional connection to a song. You can do that with Spotify, or a mix tape, or something, as long as you're connecting emotionally I don't think that's a problem.
SCOUT: What do you like about vinyl?
COOPER: I like the tactility of vinyl, and it makes me listen to the whole record. When I'm on Spotify, and I use it a lot to find music, I get ADD really quick. When I buy a record, I make sure that I will listen to most of it, or I won't have it. There has to be a reason to have it.
I don't know why exactly I get really drawn toward having the original version of a certain record, but there is something nice about having an artifact that's like ‘this was pressed from that artist’. I feel more connected to it.
SCOUT: There’s so much more to vinyl and music collection than just finding and having the records. It’s such a great starting point for sharing and proliferating lost or just amazing music.
COOPER: The reason Jonathan and I picked all the people we did for Vinyl Asides was because they all had this curator aspect to their record collection. They didn't just have a record collection that they hoarded for themselves, they did something with it. Ira Padnos in Louisiana basically finds all the artists from his favorite records and puts on a concert - the Ponderosa Stomp. Nathan Salsburg runs the Alan Lomax collection, and saved a whole collection from the dumpster that he used for a box set on Tompkins Square. Plastic Crimewave uses his almost like a museum that you can come visit. Everybody did something with their collection, and there's a reason behind it.
They're keeping it alive, in a sense. I would have never heard of that music if it wasn't for those people reissuing those things. There's no way I can find that weird Panamanian 78! I’d have never heard that music.