Wombleton Records sells an amazing collection of rare- and not-so-rare imports–though its stated mission is to further cultural exchange between Los Angeles and Glasgow, it does all that and more carrying everything from Suzy Quattro and Zounds LP's to original pressings of Dutch freakbeat and English post-punk 45s. Wombleton's co-proprietor Ian Marshall joined us to share his thoughts on manufactured rarity, farting, and imported vinyl.
Oh, did we mention Wombleton is also where Sasha Grey buys her Throbbing Gristle records? Read on:
What RSD-only release are you most looking forward to?
I don't really place a lot of value on these sorts of limited edition releases with their built-in, completely fabricated sense of “rarity”. For me, something rare earns that designation by natural selection. Not… “let's make something rare. We'll press up a hundred and hand-number them. We could do a million identical ones, but we want this to be rare, so we'll only do a hundred. If we change our minds we could press up a few thousand more.” Like certain old baseball cards have a value because, back in the good old days, the little kids who bought them would stick them in their bicycle spokes and carry them around bent up in their back pocket. Very few cards from the golden age in nice condition actually survived- that's rare. As soon as baseball cards were ordained as “collectible” and released and marketed in numbered limited editions, the whole thing became a sham. For example, how about that highly-touted Death of Superman comic in the collectible bag caused a buying frenzy back in the 90s? None of us will live long enough to see that thing trade for any significant sum of money. You might as well sign up for the Franklin Mint and start collecting decorative plates.
How is RSD different from any other sale or in-store day at Wombleton?
Allow me to be the fifty-thousandth idiot to say that “every day is record store day at my shop”. I guess it's different in that you get elbowed by a bunch of people while you're shopping…. at least at the places that do it up really big on Record Store Day. The fart to oxygen ratio in the air is probably way in the red. I try to avoid scenes like that; like going to Disneyland on the 4th of July… its non-fun; a punishment!
How are RSD patrons different from non-RSD patrons?
Did I mention the thing about the farting? I can't imagine that there are a hordes of people out there saying to themselves “By golly, it's record store day… let's celebrate and go to a record store. It's our patriotic duty”. But I understand that's kind of what happens. People like that and me live in a different dimension… and we're visible to one another as vapors only. I can only surmise that lots of people hang around saying things like “I didn't know they still made records” or “Wow, vinyl's really making a comeback” or “You know, I have a copy of a really rare record: The White Album by The Beatles. I wouldn't ever sell it, but what do you think it's worth?”. Yeah, in short, more punters and time-wasters per square inch.
What is your favorite release from RSD's past?
I've heard that people go scrambling around trying to get a hold of certain record store day product that has a lot of buzz… like the Blur single that came out last year. Actually, I found a cheap copy of it on my trip to England last month. It will be in the shop in a week or two priced at way too much money. I recommend no one buy it… it's not worth it!Then it goes for crazy money for a month or two afterward on Ebay… but pretty soon after that people come to their senses and the price levels out, or no one buys the expensive ones that are still up for sale. The whole thing is too susceptible to tampering for my tastes. You just know you won't end up with the good ones… you'll get Dewey Cox sings “Walk Hard” like I did a few years back. The wily dealers somehow end up with the hot titles.. The comic book guy from the Simpsons will have a whole stack of the Kate Bush and Bad Brains records.
How do you restrain yourself from keeping all those records for yourself instead of using them for store stock?
It's a sickening experience, but I vowed when I started Wombleton that I would put everything into the store. I've been on these buying trips since we opened 8 months ago, several times to the UK and also Holland and Jamaica. I'm thinking about doing trips to Brazil, New Zealand and a few other places, too. And we've cracked into some incredible stashes- stuff I had spent years trolling around trying to beat out of my local shops. Lots of it; tons and tons of it in heavy, concentrated doses. Stuff I didn't have and was longing for that I begrudgingly put into the shop to try to drum up a good reputation for not being picked-over. There's a store here in L.A. that we all know… they've got more records than just about anywhere all in one place and it seems to me that the employees have worked it over to the extent that ALL of the good records never hit the sales floor. You could spend endless hours in there sifting through the mediocre junk. Over the years I've found a few things that have slipped through, but it's so much work. It gives me a headache to even think about it. And every record store I ever worked at was the same way; I'm sorry, it's true. The employees make crappy money so they inflate their record collections as compensation. Rarely does anything special get through their net. I think my hard-nosed policy on this has irritated some of my friends who want to see stuff before it goes out in the racks. I say “no”, but I also set the example by saying “look, I'm not getting any of it either, so you'll have to wait and see it with everybody else”. On occasion I've taken something for myself, but it's usually something so esoteric that I would have trouble selling it anyway… like a Top of The Pops album or a little person singing songs from “Grease” or something. Sometimes when we're shopping abroad if I see something really great that is far too expensive to make any profit on at Wombleton, I'll announce: “I'm buying this with my own money, for me!”. I think that's fair.
Care to weigh in on the relationship between RSD and the availability of records and tapes?
Sure, as you've seen so far, I love to put my two cents in! Behind all of my sarcastic whinging I love record stores! From the little ones that used to be in malls when I was a kid to all my old haunts around Ontario, New York City and out here in L.A. I'm sad the landmark giants have disappeared- Sam The Record Man in Toronto, Virgin at Oxford Circus, Tower at 4th and Broadway NYC, Rhino Westwood (small shop, big legacy). I guess if the frenzy for RSD product attracts a bunch of new people to a shop, if only for a day, and they spend a bit of cash on some product, including a lot of non-RSD exclusives as well, that it may be enough to keep some of these stores afloat. Maybe they can pay off some mounting bills with a little sales spike like that. I'm in favor of record stores still existing… so if they had to have “naked day” at record stores to keep them going, I'd say “Yeah, great!”
In what way does the record store itself have a relationship with a particular format?
Brick-and-mortar record stores are only necessary so long as people are buying physical formats. In the simplest terms, it is plain that people like music as a physical thing to own, otherwise they'd have stopped manufacturing long ago and abandoned the whole thing back in the era of 78rpms when commercial radio started up. People didn't stop drinking orange juice when they invented vitamin C capsules, did they? At the very least there is a small but sturdy percentage of people who care and will always care. For me, the whole digital streaming and downloading digital “revolution” replaces commercial music radio or the mix tape. Nothing to worry about for vinyl sales, at least as far as I'm concerned. There may be a little revival going on in terms of the general public's interest in vinyl formats, but the people I'm primarily selling to are lifelong, dedicated vinyl lovers who are immersed in a whole universe of musical obscurities which are being blogged about and reissued and DJ'd around. They're using their computers to research the area they are interested in and to hear a sample of the stuff, but when they find something they like, they want the original pressing on vinyl. They've got the fever for it and there's no substitute. None of my customers are happy with a mere rip from the internet. But the digital media “revolution” has helped this record fiend culture blossom- it's been a very synergistic relationship between vinyl and computers. It's a good thing!
Any famous faces grace Wombleton on a regular basis?
Sasha Grey has come in a few times and she buys a lot of good stuff. She's got interesting taste… she's a music geek, believe it or not. She buys Throbbing Gristle and Tones on Tail LPs and stuff like that. John Cameron Mitchell, the Hedwig guy, was here a few weeks ago. Who else? Neil Hamburger, Tim and Eric. I guess I should probably beef up the comedy section here, it's pretty weak. We keep Derek and Clive LPs in stock at all times, however. Lots of people from bands come in. Does Don Bolles count?
At the place I worked at in the nineties we had some real heavyweights as regulars… Judge Reinhold, Sherman Hemsley, Fred Ward, Billy Gibbons… the list goes on. When I was working at Tower on Sunset for three weeks I met Peter Bonerz (Jerry the dentist), Corey Feldman and Lou Christie! The “I see dead people” kid came in in his tux the day after the Oscars, looking all strung out like he had been partying Belushi-style for the last 24 hours. I'm pretty much only in this business to meet celebs.
You guys always have a lot of amazing, rare 45s. What are some of your favorites right now?
Well, we've got “Arnold Layne” / “Candy and a Currant Bun” by The Pink Floyd in right now. The Inflatable Boy Clams EP; a nice reggae one: “Suffers Prayer” by Enos McLeod, more great reggae: “Come See About Me” by the Soul Stirrers and one from the band Berlin before they made it called “A Matter of Time” with a different singer. That's five I'm into!
What was the most unexpected thing you've ever seen on RSD?
I've only been to a record store once on Record Store Day and known it. It was Rockaway a few years ago and they stuck an unexpected, unwanted Dewey Cox 45 in my bag.
What is your dream record store day release?
I've got one word for you: “Zoso”.
If a customer shows evidence of retweeting this post, through a print-out, screen capture, or other means, would you give him or her a dollar off items purchased in your store on record store day?
Yeah, I'll play ball with that. Definitely!