Photos: Lindsay Galatro, Trent Johnson and Cristina O’Connell

Vinyl Talk with DC’s Record Store Owners

By Monica Alford and Trent Johnson

National Record Store Day is just around the corner, celebrating 10 years on April 22 with special releases and other vinyl-themed treats. In a city that embraces vinyl with open arms, where vinyl-only dance nights and listening parties are popping up around town and owning a record player is becoming increasingly essential, it only seemed natural to catch up with the folks providing the tunes. We chatted with the owners of eight record stores in and around the city about their plans for RSD 2017, DC’s thriving vinyl scene and everything else in between.

Joe Lapan and Alisha Edmonson
Songbyrd Music House & Cafe

On Songbyrd’s ambiance: We are a very relaxed, comfortable place. We have tried to be very warm and inviting and wanted to design a place that was accessible to a wide audience. [AE]
Who hangs there: Our customers run the gamut, from the music writer that works in the record cafe to the neighborhood local that comes for dinner and a drink to the record junkie. We’ve tried to make space for all types of music fans. [AE]

On what they carry: We specialize primarily in “new” records (i.e., fresh, unwrapped), but our selection ranges from soul and hip-hop to jazz and rock – classic albums as well as the best new records. It is also important to us to feature and provide space for local DC records. [JL]

What’s on the schedule: We have a really robust live show and music-based party calendar. We have touring acts and local bands of a variety of genres, and a lot of fantastic events like all-vinyl dance parties and listening parties. We partner with folks all the time! We just hosted a DC label record fair in partnership with D.C. Music Download featuring over a dozen DMV-based labels. [JL]

The vinyl connection: I think records and music are so connective! There are no boundaries with music and so you get to have really unique experiences with people that aren’t about what someone does, or any of those typical interactions. The conversations lean more toward learning where someone first heard a band or why they love a certain genre. [AE]

Why they love vinyl: Music on vinyl inherently lends itself to caring about, learning about and paying attention to what you are listening to. [JL]

RSD plans: DJ Nitekrawler spinning brunch, a series of live acts all day and evening, DJ Neville C spinning Ritmos Raros at night, and RSD releases in stock

Songbyrd Music House & Record Cafe: 2475-2477 18th St. NW, DC;

Neal Becton
Som Records

On life before Som: I worked in the newsroom of the Washington Post from 1993 to 2003. I also DJed. Before that, I was a bartender and hotel manager.

On genres: We are a generalist store, so we specialize in good records in all (or almost all) genres. We sell new and used, but our stock is probably 80/20 used/new.

Record players: I have six Technics 1200s: two in my shop (listening station and store stereo), two at home and two in my storage unit, which I use for weddings and gigs.

Fave spots to hear vinyl: I LOVE playing Showtime [as DJ Neville C] for the vibe and crowd. I also love Songbyrd because it’s got great sound, and is such an oasis in Adams Morgan.

Daily routine: I usually grab a stack of records at home each morning before I work. If I have a DJ gig coming up, I’ll bring records I might be playing there. I also play stuff I have in the shop, but not always.

On the best part of the gig: Best is hanging out in a record store all day listening to music and talking to people about music.

RSD plans: A lot of RSD titles in stock, gift certificates and “trying to get folks in and out of the shop in one piece” when it gets packed

Som Records: 1843 14th St. NW, DC;

David Schlank
CD Cellar

On his customers: It takes all kinds, and we’ve got them. Obsessive music lovers keep my business going. I love them all.

Best part of the gig: The people. The customers. They’re from all over the world. They have far-reaching tastes in music. They’re well-traveled. And there’s so much disposable income.

Strong points: Our rock/pop and jazz sections, but blues, folk, classical, electronic/dance and R&B are also very strong, we [just] don’t get as much traded in.

Anything goes: We play a little bit of everything in the shop: loads of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll from the 50s and on, classic R&B, blues, indie pop, etc. It’s whatever we’re in the mood for. I’m often in the mood for Slayer, but sometimes the customers aren’t. I try to get a feel for the room before I blast The Prodigy or Pharoah Sanders.

Fave vinyl/retro happenings around town: Ritmos Raros, Tighten Up! Soul and Reggae, Biff Bang Pow and of course, Mousetrap and The Wag. I’m there to hear music and have a good time.

Music that keeps him going at work: Black Sabbath, The Smiths, Style Council, Funkadelic or a random funk/soul compilation.

On vinyl’s popularity: Vinyl is less exotic now. It’s everywhere. Bars and barbershops use vinyl as a draw, and that’s fine by me. I hope it continues for many years to come.

RSD plans: Important titles in stock, coffee and pastries, and “let the customers go crazy”

CD Cellar: 105 Park Ave. Falls Church, VA;

Noah David
Gumbo Records

Reason for location: I opened the shop in the spring of 2013 out of a garage a couple blocks from my house. There was never a conscious decision of, “Oh, I’m going to open a record shop in a back-alley garage.” It just kind of evolved from me selling on Craigslist into going more public with it. People liked the off-the-beaten-path aspect.

Gumbo’s vibe: The feel of my shop is kind of a Mississippi roadside juke joint: rough around the edges [but] a comforting spot.

On Gumbo customers: My customers are mostly folks from the neighborhood who have heard about it and like weaving it into a Saturday morning walking their dog (we are dog-friendly).

What’s in stock: Mostly blues, jazz and R&B. I currently only carry used vinyl, but am hoping to start stocking new vinyl from some of the local record labels.

Favorite vinyl DJ night: I enjoy Neal Becton’s [DJ Neville C] Ritmos Raros night he does every month.

On what makes vinyl special: People have this desire in the digital age to hold on to something – to touch and feel and have that visceral experience that is really unique to vinyl.

Why he can’t quit vinyl: I love those first few seconds when you drop the needle and the music hits. It’s just pure satisfaction.

How to connect with Gumbo on social media: @gumborecords

RSD plans: 33 rpm Spread Music/Spread Love sale with 33 1/3 percent off all vinyl if you bring a non-perishable food item for the Capital Area Food Bank

Gumbo Records (temporary location): The little orange garage behind 940 Shepherd St. NW, DC;

Bill Daly
Crooked Beat

On why vinyl is still relevant: It’s fun, and it’s a bigger medium. You can read what’s on the record covers. In 1990, I got a CD player, and I felt cheated.

Crooked Beat regulars: We never focused on Billboard’s Top 100, and we still don’t. It’s not us being snobs. We’ll sell maybe seven Adele records per year, but we’ll sell 150 Fugazi records per year.

Genres covered: Indie stuff, and reggae. In used stuff, we specialize in classic rock, soul and alternative. You know when you come to us, you’ll be able to find old alternative, back catalogue stuff. You’ll see all The Smiths, Depeche Mode and The Clash albums here, but you’ll also see David Bowie and The Velvet Underground.

On why RSD matters: It’s a way for people to get their stuff out there for people to see. The way things are in 2017 America, there aren’t many mom-and-pop places left; it’s all mainstream. If you go to a chain looking for records, you’re not going to see the local bands like Fugazi. You’re only going to see what the status quo wants.

On Crooked Beat’s RSD release, Recutting the Crap: It’s a tribute to The Clash; mostly their obscure stuff. A lot of these bands are from all over the U.S. It’s from our record label; the album will be our 17th release.

RSD plans: Pre-RSD golden ticket drawing, grab bags filled with swag and 80 percent of RSD’s 600 releases in stock

Crooked Beat: 802 N Fairfax St. Alexandria, VA;

Rob Norton
Hill & Dale

On his relationship with vinyl: I grew up listening to vinyl records and cassettes. I taught myself how to play drums by playing along to entire sides of LPs nonstop. Whatever song came next, I learned to play – or tried. Most of my records were classic and progressive. Later, I started listening to college rock [and] alternative bands like R.E.M., The Smiths and Pylon.

On Hill & Dale’s vibe: The shop is very clean and spare, probably reflecting my OCD. We also offer framed photographs and collectible posters, so the store looks a lot like an art gallery. We really want visitors to feel welcome to hang out, talk to us about music and enjoy the shop.

Best sellers: Our biggest sellers tend to be new releases from current alternative/indie bands, classic rock staples and jazz. Our all-time best seller is Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.”

What plays in the shop: Some days it will be all jazz, and others it will be a mix of new bands, Iron Maiden and electronica.

On his goals for Hill & Dale: Right now, we specialize in new records, and I would like to offer used/vintage records for customers who love searching bins for old treasures.

RSD plans: Giveaways, special releases, and coffee and snacks in the morning

Hill & Dale: 1054 31st St. #010, NW, DC;

Matt Moffatt
Smash Records

On in-store play: There are no rules. It’s whatever the person wants to listen to. I used to work at a cheesy chain, and you used to have to play the cheesy chain in-store tape. It’s nothing like that. It would not be very punk if we had a different system.

Smash’s focal point: Punk is our forte, if you come in the store, I think it’s pretty clear that’s what we go for. But rock ‘n’ roll in general is what we peddle.

Where he finds new music: A good thing about this job is that a lot of times, people come to you on a one-on-one level. And it’s all local, so it’s actually music made by people that live in DC.

On supporting the local punk scene: Being connected to these local bands that still take the time to put out physical music and drop off a couple of copies at the store, that’s real ground level. So that’s what we want to support

CDs are like candy bars: We still sell CDs. People are always kind of shocked, and I’m like, “People buy CDs like I would buy a candy bar, you know?” At 7-Eleven, sometimes you want a Snickers. At Smash, sometimes you want a James Brown CD.

RSD plans: A bunch of RSD titles in stock, refreshments and snacks, and doubles as the store’s anniversary party

Smash Records: 2314 18th St. NW, DC;

Gene Melkisethian
Joint Custody

On life before Joint Custody: James [Ritter, co-owner] has had a few office jobs over the years. I have helped run a family music business since I could hold a packing knife.

On his lifelong relationship with vinyl: Both James and I were raised in households where collecting old/strange/interesting things was a fact of life. We both also come from a punk background, the one place (besides hip-hop, which we were also immersed in) where vinyl never really went away. I put out my first record in early 1997 [Melkisethian is a drummer in hardcore punk bands], and every release since then has been primarily a vinyl release. The same goes for James.

On DC’s vinyl scene: Every record store in DC gets along and supports one another, [but] the real winners are the music lovers. I travel a lot and trust me when I say that for the relatively small size of the city, DC is world-class when it comes to the record scene. We have more good stores now than we did 10 years ago.

On vinyl’s relevance: The medium is very important to taking in a creative work: the size of an LP cover, the length limitations of an LP that force artists to put thought into the sequencing of songs, the richness in fidelity – all of this creates an experience that cannot be replicated in the digital realm.

RSD plans: Giveaways, extra treats and essential non-RSD releases in stock for record store newbies

Joint Custody: 1530 U St. NW, DC;