One of the things that I love more than anything — which has also helped me navigate both the boredom and borderline depression that have been the result of all the sheltering in place these last two months — is talking with other vinyl nerds. I can talk about my passion for record-collecting with non-collectors, but nothing can replace getting into it with someone else whose enthusiasm for vinyl rivals or even surpasses my own. Getting to chat with these kinds of kindred spirits is an opportunity I relish; even if the specific objects of our obsession differ, that underlying compulsion is always a common thread.
When I started writing these columns for Live From the Rock Room, I knew I wanted to include some interviews with other folks whose lives revolve around vinyl in some form or another, and I also knew that the very first person I wanted to interview was Jon Phillip. For those who don’t know him, Jon is a drummer / songwriter whose discography is a little staggering: over the last twenty years, Jon has played on records and released music with the likes of The Benjamins, Limbeck, Ben Weasel, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, Berwanger, and, most recently, his band Mini Meltdowns, which he fronts. Jon also runs a label based out of Wisconsin called Goodland Records, which has released an insane amount of cool music on vinyl. And, despite these impressive bona fides, we ironically didn’t really get around to talking about any of this during this particular interview. I guess there’s always next time!
When Jon and I sat down recently, we talked primarily about what it’s like being an avid record collector, discussed some recent purchases, and also got into some of Jon’s “white whale” records. We also reminisce a bit about how we met. It was a really fun conversation and, frankly, there were times I forgot we were doing an interview at all. It just felt like two friends getting together to talk shop.
You can watch the full interview here, and below I’ve provided some of my favorite excerpts from our conversation. I definitely want to chat with Jon again when his schedule allows because I really want to talk about the different bands he’s been in. In the meantime, though, do yourself a favor and check out his newest EP with Mini Meltdowns, Destined For Disaster, which is out now on vinyl via Goodland Records.
How We Met @ 1:36
Chris: I wanted to selfishly kind of start just by rehashing what I remember about us meeting because it’s a little bit foggy in my mind, like I remember certain instances where we crossed paths, and I don’t remember how exactly we started talking. I remember…well…like I knew I knew of Goodland because because of Archie [Powell & The Exports], so I was at least aware of you for that reason. And then we went…when I was in Mutts…we played down in Austin, and I must have been talking to you at least a little bit online because you invited us to come hang out at that barbecue place that you were throwing the showcase.
Jon: Yeah, Freedman’s.
Chris: Yeah, and I think that was…I was looking it up earlier…I think that was 2014. Archie played, I know, and Two Cow [Garage] also played. And I think that was the first time…I don’t even think I met those guys that night, but I saw them. But I just remember being really struck by how nice it was that you invited us to come hang out. You gave us…you know, you had these meal tickets and drink tickets.
Jon: Those little sandwich tickets.
Chris: Yeah, and, you know, I had talked to you in passing online, I think, and, yeah, and you hooked us up. We got to hang out. That was like the best time that we had in Austin that year, so that was a really special memory for me.
Jon: That’s awesome! Thank you. I’m glad that Goodland can extend that family branch to you guys.
Chris: Absolutely! Yeah, it honestly felt like being at somebody’s backyard party, and, you know, since we knew the Archie guys, too, it just felt very comfortable. So I remember that, and then we must have talked a little bit again online in the interim. And then I don’t know if you remember this, but I saw you play with Trapper [Schoepp & The Shades], again in Austin the following year, at Holy Mountain.
Jon: Oh, yeah!
Chris: I don’t remember where you were in the lineup. I was playing drums with a songwriter from Chicago named Xoe Wise, and she was on that same showcase.
Jon: I totally forgot about that until now, when you just said that.
Chris: So I remember seeing you in passing then, too, and maybe chatting for a minute. And for a time, I was thinking that both the Goodland party and the showcase were the same year, but I think that they were back-to-back years. But, yeah, I don’t know… I feel like our friendship has just kind of been almost like ships passing in the night, but like in a really cool way where we’d just run into each other.
Jon: Yeah, I love that. And that’s totally the music scene. It’s tightly knit, but, you know, we’re all busy touring and playing shows and doing our own thing, and we’d run into each other when we run into each other, and that usually was South By [Southwest] because we were all there.
Most Recent Vinyl Purchase @ 8:01
Chris: What is the most recent record that you have acquired, purchased, what-have-you?
Jon: Most recent acquired record would be this new Strokes record, The New Abnormal. I actually haven’t bought a new Strokes record in physical format since the very first record, so nineteen years ago. I liked Room On Fire, the second record, and I liked a little bit of Angles, but I never…the records just didn’t do it for me like that first record did. That first one, I loved. I loved that it was, like, 10 songs in 24 minutes or whatever it is, I don’t remember. It’s very short, the sound of it’s real gritty, it’s very poppy.
But then [The New Abnormal] came out, you know, like two weeks ago, and since the quarantine — I walk my dog a lot — and I actually just like on walks I just put on Spotify, so if a new record comes out, I’ll throw it on. And usually, you know, when you listen to a new record, you listen to maybe a couple songs, and you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna move on.” This, I listened to the whole thing, and then I went back to the beginning, and I listened to the first half. I listened to the first half, like, five times in a row, and it’s just so great.
And then I found out that Rick Rubin produced it, and then I also found out that it was recorded at Shangri-La which is The Band’s old studio in Malibu. Rick Rubin owns that now and kept the same name, and I guess it’s, you know, it’s a little more technically sound than it was back in the ’70s.
Chris: Do you know if that’s his main place that he records out of, or is that just like one location that he [uses]?
Jon: It is. It’s one of his main locations that he tracks at now, but then also he has this…I saw this this — I think was on Viceland, where Noisey does an episode on music every couple weeks — he mixed a Kanye West record in, like, a mobile unit that he has there. It’s like an RV that he turned into basically a mixing room.
Chris: It’s probably Yeezus, I think.
Jon: It was. I’m not the biggest Kanye fan, but I always just thought it’s really cool that [Rubin is this] eclectic guy. I can imagine him with his long beard and hair, like smoking a little weed in his bare feet, and going into his RV and mixing a record that millions of people are going to listen to. It’s just really cool.
Chris: And just being confident that, like, “This is gonna be an awesome product, even if I am mixing it in my RV.”
Jon: Totally! It’s so cool. He probably has such a cool life.
Colored Vinyl and Limited Variants @ 15:15
Chris: As a collector, probably things that are more limited are exciting to you like for most collectors, but if you had the choice, if a band put out a bunch of different variants of the same record, and they were all the same denominations, does having a color version matter to you over having black, or do you prefer black?
Jon: I actually will always prefer the more limited version. And if it’s colored, I’ll always get the colored just because I think it’s fun. And I know that audiophiles will swear by saying that black sounds better. [*Audio cuts out momentarily.*] I’ve never heard the difference, but I have $150 speakers and a $200 turntable, you know?
Chris: Yeah, the only time I feel like I can tell the difference is if…I don’t buy picture discs anymore because I feel like I’ve been burned where like there’s weird stuff happening with those, but I know that’s like a whole different thing, probably a whole different production method. But yeah, I’m the same way, too. I like, if I can get the colored version, I want that. Sometimes I’ll see bands, which I think this is actually kind of clever, that they’ll do the black being the most limited, which I think is maybe just, like, kind of to light a fire under people to buy the black version instead of just buying all the color ones, but I usually just want the color because I think it looks cool, especially depending on what it is.
Jon: It’s a lot more fun to throw it on your turntable. Yeah, so we’re the same in that capacity, I guess!
Records We Put On Frequently @ 32:15
Jon: So we were talking about a record that I spin occasionally or more than occasionally, one that’s always around. What’s that one for you, if you were to just dig in your mind for a sec?
Chris: This is gonna sound like a complaint, and it’s not. I’ve had a lot of records arriving at the house lately because I’ve been doing so much boredom shopping, so there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve been trying to cycle through, so I haven’t…I can’t think of one thing in particular, but, and I know I’ve talked to you about this before, but kind of like my default mode is a lot of, like, stoner and doom stuff, where it’s something I can just kind of put on and go about my day, and it’s the right soundtrack for me. You know, like whether it’s Sleep or Uncle Acid, or there’s a great band from Sweden, I think, called Truckfighters that I like a lot.
But yeah, I think the reason I like having that music on so much is because even though I love music and want to pay attention to it, a lot of it, that kind of stuff, I can put on and I can work and I can do other things, and I’m not distracted by what’s happening with the music. Like it’s comforting to have those big meaty riffs happening, but, you know, it’s like one riff for five minutes, so I can still, I don’t know, function. I love music so much that…
Jon: It’s kind of drone-y, to a certain point.
Chris: I kind of need that because, especially if I can’t focus entirely on the record…like, I love music enough where if I’m listening to something that’s really wild and intricate, my brain is just thinking about that, and I can’t, like, type this thing up that I have to type or whatever it is that I’m doing.
Jon: Your ADD kicks in.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, I can’t think of one thing in particular lately, but pretty much every morning when I’m getting up, I’m starting to work, I’m getting my son ready, usually it’s something in that riff-y, “Sabbath worship” kind of vein. What about for you?
Jon: So I put on this record so frequently. It’s this guy called Baby Huey.
Chris: Oh, yeah! I mean, this cover looks familiar to me. I don’t know what this record sounds like, but I’ve definitely seen this artwork.
Jon: It’s like a soul-funk thing. But it’s real uppity, and it was Baby Huey’s only record. He was called Baby Huey and the Babysitters before it was just Baby Huey, where he had a couple 45s, and he made this record. Curtom originally put it out — I don’t know if you can see the label — but that’s Curtis Mayfield’s old label, so I think he would produce things and put it under that umbrella. So Curtis Mayfield, I think, has a lot to do with this record. I don’t know if he somewhat produced it, but it was recorded in Chicago cuz, you know…you being an Illinois guy….
Dude, it’s such a good record. The playing is really outlandish, his voice is super crazy. There’s a really popular track that a lot of people sample now called “Hard Times” that’s on this. Really great drums in it, too — a lot of people loop the drums in the beginning part of the song. But, dude, he made this record, and then died at like 26 of a drug [overdose]. But, like, every time I put this on, it always sounds amazing. It always lifts me up. It’s good for chilling, too. For some reason, about maybe 9 to 10 years ago, you know, I would mostly listen to like power pop or punk, Americana — stuff like that when I’m chilling out at the house. But then, about 9 to 10 years ago, I got really into collecting soul-funk records and a lot of the stuff that was more rare.
This original record which, this is not original, those go for over $200. I’ve ran into a couple of them before, and I’m like, “Shit, I don’t have $200 to spend on this thing right now,” but I also own five different copies of this. There’s one that…so there’s that original, and then there’s like an English copy of that, and there’s like a U.S. one. There’s a couple different versions of it. But then there’s a repress — it’s maybe like 10 or 12 years ago — and there was a black one and a red one, so I bought those two when I eventually ran into them. Then those became well out of print, and then there was another repress, and then Record Store Day last year, there was a double record put out of this where it the record in its entirety like how it is, and then the second record is the record without his lyrics, so like for DJ’s to like spin it and sample it and stuff.
But, dude, I could literally talk about that record the whole episode. There’s a Mamas and Papas cover on it, “California Dreaming.”
What Jon’s Collection Looks Like @ 43:20
Chris: Something that you brought up about the Baby Huey record kind of leads into a couple questions I wanted to ask you, which was about how you would describe your record collection, like if you kind of had to sum up what you have because you’ve obviously been collecting for a lot of years. So like if you had to kind of sum up the direction that your collection has gone in, and then as a secondary question, based on your description of your five copies or four copies of the Baby Huey record, you kind of answer this, but like if you are somebody that chases multiple copies of records or like how you decide, “Well, this one I’m going to, you know, I want all of the ones, all the different versions I can find,” whereas like, “This other one, I’m fine just having the one copy.”
Jon: Oh yeah, so my collection definitely [*audio issue*] in the way that it’s like, I have hip-hop, metal, punk, hardcore, soul, funk…so it covers many genres. I’m a completist in the way of, if I like an artist a lot, I need to have every single record they’ve done. And I have a lot of records sitting in the rack where it’s just like…I have the whole Beach Boys collection essentially, you know, like all 30 of their records, and it’s like I wouldn’t even listen to maybe 12 of those records because a lot of them are from the ’80’s. They have their own charm juicer, you know. I would never talk crap about the Beach Boys because I just love them so much, but every artist that’s around for 40, 50 years — they have some bad records, you know? The ’80’s were a rough time for everybody. The ’90’s were rough for some people just because of the drug usage and stuff like that.
But it’s like more of a completist collection to where like, let’s say, you know my favorite bands are the Beatles, Beach Boys, and The Ramones, and I need to have literally every record that’s ever been released by those guys, and then my favorite, I’ll have to get the multiple copies. Like, you know, there’s the Canadian version or there’s like this Brazilian version where the artwork, you know, the songs are written in Portuguese. I just think that’s really fun to have in the collection. And you know if you’re listening to Rocket to Russia, it’s fun to not just play one copy of it [but instead to] check sounds [*audio issue*] different track listings. You know, those Beatles records have wacky track listings, like the English version has different tracks on it than the American version and vice versa.
Chris: Well, so, if I’m understanding you right, then, especially with what you said about your Beach Boys collection, are there times when you go to like — I know if you’re buying multiples of one record, maybe certain versions of that record are not gonna get played as much as others — but in terms of like “bad” records in an artist’s catalog, do you buy records knowing fully well, “There’s no way I’m ever gonna listen to this record. I’m gonna maybe listen to it once but just like having it…I just want to have it.”
Jon: That’s a great question. I used to do that a lot more, just because I wanted to be surrounded by quantity. You know, I wanted to come home to 2,000 records because I didn’t know what I was gonna want to listen to at that specific time, and then where that record would lead me to later on in the night. But that has changed where, you know, my Bruce Springsteen collection has definitely dwindled down. I used to have like 14 Bruce Springsteen records, but I don’t love them all, so I sold like 9 of them. That might be sacrilegious to say on here, too. Because I’ve actually moved three times in the last five years, and moving with records, as you know, sucks.
Chris: Yeah and it’s the thing that I’m most worried about. Like, of all of the nice things that you might have, and I’m most concerned about, like, “Make sure these stay upright! Oh no, the box is ripped! Fix it!”
Jon: Yeah, you spend this time looking for the records and your precious money. You have to protect them. They’re your babies, you know? But yeah, I’m definitely veering away from being that much of a completist, but there’s, you know, probably eight to ten artists where I have to own every record by them even if I don’t…but I used to do that with a lot more people because I wanted more quantity.
Watch the Full Interview With Jon
Honestly, the above barely scratches the surface of all the things we talked about. Jon’s anecdote about acquiring a copy of a favorite Big Star record of his which at one point belonged in the collection of Bob Stinson (deceased guitarist from The Replacements) is on its own worth the time you’ll spend watching the interview. That tidbit and the circumstances leading up to it seriously blew my mind!
And as I said earlier, I really look forward to chatting with Jon again because there’s a lot more I want to get into that we didn’t have time for in this sitting, so keep an eye out for a Part 2. In the meantime, check out Jon’s band Limbeck and their recent Live From The Rock Room session. Spoiler: It’s awesome!
As a postscript to each of my columns, I like to highlight some recent vinyl acquisitions because I’m always working to grow my collection and, frankly, part of the fun of collecting is talking about it. Here are some of my most recent scores:
Various Artists – Women of Doom (Blues Funeral Recordings / Desert Records) – Blues Funeral is a label I keep coming back to in 2020, solely because everything I’ve heard in their catalog has been killer, this compilation being a prime example. In the words of the label, “Women of Doom is a project created to highlight, recognize and celebrate the impact of female artists on all things heavy.” The concept of this comp appealed to me on several levels, and the fact that Blues Funeral was involved made me confident this would be well worth owning, and is it ever! So much great, dynamic music from all across the spectrum of the heavy underground, and my enjoyment in this record in turn led me to seek out LPs by several of the artists featured here, including Frayle and Besvärjelsen. The songs, the artwork / gatefold layout, and the vinyl itself (I was lucky enough to score one of the last green smoke variants) are all perfect. Definitely pick this one up — black vinyl copies are still available from both Blues Funeral and Desert Records.
Moonrite – Let Me Be Your God (Topsy Turvy Records) – I found out about Moonrite through an Instagram account I follow; this particular collector is interested in a lot of the same doom, stoner, and heavy psych rock that I like, so when they posted a picture of the Moonrite LP, I knew I would need to check it out. This French band is tough to sum up succinctly, but I will do my best: their self-titled debut sounds like a super occult version of The Doors — really psychedelic, organ-driven garage rock — and then the more recent Let Me Be Your God takes that earlier sound and mixes in lots of Carpenter-esque synths to create some soundscapes that would not be out of place in Stranger Things. There’s still plenty of retro psychedelia to go around, and the use of B-movie samples here is something that I love, too. All in all, a really fun, spooky record that would appeal to a broad range of listeners (provided the many references to Satan don’t scare you off lol).
Chris Pagnani, author of Wax Poetic, is a dad, husband, musician, and record nerd living in the Chicago suburbs. When he’s not archiving his record collection on Discogs, he busies himself with drinking lots of coffee, working a real job that pays the bills, playing drums in Hot Alice and No Alternative, and, it should go without saying, buying more records.
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