Bay Area Vinyl Hop: Amoeba Music (Part 2)
An Interview with Founder and Owner Marc Weinstein
<Continuing on from Part 1…>
―― So how is the vinyl resurgence affecting your stores?
Vinyl sales, at Amoeba, never fell below 20% of our sales—and that's a lot. At the L.A. store, we are selling 2,000 records everyday for many many years on end. Now, it's at about 45%, so the percentage of vinyl sales in our three stores is now higher than it ever was. So that's a testament, certainly, to the resurgence, but also a testament to the extent to which our customers love hard product.
We've always been utterly committed to vinyl as what we love the most, all the people who work in the store are all vinyl people. So, it's obviously what we have highlighted the most. We always had turntables and even when it wasn't fashionable, we were really selling and displaying records. We had a period where people would walk in and say: "Oh my god! They still have LPs, look!" [Laughter.] No, it never went away in Amoeba-land, ever.
―― Anyone reading this article is a music lover, obviously, but if you were to inspire the new generation of music lovers—what is your message to them?
Well, in terms of vinyl, I guess my message will be, for them to really pay attention to the difference and experience between listening to music on a record versus any other digital media. I grew up in a generation where I was lucky enough to not have that many choices in terms of media. My friends and I really got to sit collectively and listen to new records when they came out, or listen to records together. That is such a powerful experience. For me, that was my church! I was not a religious person, but I believe in the power of music more than anything. There is no other way to experience other humans' art and passion that comes close to listening to music. It is closest you can come to experiencing that art and artist. A lot of people don't recognize that very basic fact about putting on a record. You are not putting something on your headphones, or walking around with the soundtrack to your life going on in the background; you are sitting down and you are taking in a piece of art, almost more like you are in a museum. Giving it that much focus and attention is really the crucial part of the experience that a lot of people totally miss out on!
Our world culture is becoming a little bit more generic all the time—because of the internet and all of that—but there is so many ways that we can get ourselves to experience music together. I was of the generation where I got to go to a Pink Floyd concert with 20,000 people all taking LSD, okay? [Laughter.] That was a collective experience and there are very few parallels to that in modern society. The LSD enhanced it but was by no means necessary. That collective experience of being in a room filled with people who love that artist as much as you do and experiencing it together, there is nothing more powerful—it's truly a religious experience—and the next best thing is listening to a record. What can I say? [Laughs.]
―― I feel like I just touched upon the magic of Amoeba….
It's all about love—everything—and that's the only place I am coming from. Love, love, love! Love and passion is what people come to my store for: they see the love and passion in everyone's eyes—on both sides of the counter—all the customers, all the staff... when can you walk into a big store and have everyone loving the product as much as Amoeba, I mean, it doesn't happen!
[ Marc's record picks!]
―― So, what's in your bag, Marc? If you had to walk away with some records from Amoeba... or can we be totally dramatic and say: "Without these records, Amoeba never happened!"
Even though I collect a lot of jazz, I am basically a rock drummer and a rock person. Though, the crossover between abstract jazz, improvisation, and rock—that is where I am coming from—and I can list off a couple dozen bands that all define that, but in terms of records that blew my mind, here is my list. (Although the list would be much longer….)
■ Atlantis by Sun Ra
One of my main artist, my main inspiration, my biggest passion—is for Sun Ra—I have over 200 Sun Ra LPs, and an extensive collection on CD and tapes. I don't collect as avidly as I used to, but I have seen him over 20 times over the years. He certainly had a very abstract vision. An opportunity for any human to travel the space ways—that's his whole thing—this isn’t art from outer space, but it's really an opportunity to go somewhere else and off of this planet. He really let it take you where you are going. His music was filled with improvisation by some of the greatest, most soulful artists in his band.
So, it's hard to pick one Sun Ra record... so I am going to pick the first one I bought—which blew my mind—and it is called Atlantis. Atlantis is this mythological place that theoretically once existed where humans had it more together than they do on planet earth, as we know it today. It's an incredible tour, I can almost remember the first time I heard it, how alien and beautiful it sounded and it never stopped doing it for me. So I always recommend this record to people. It's from 1967-1969 and it's kind of that perfect period where he was very mature and at a peak stage of development. It was reissued famously by Impulse along with several records from that period. I got all of those records and they all blew my mind: The Nubians of Plutonia, Astro Black... those records are all fantastic. A lot of people that never discovered Sun Ra was able to get Impulse reissues considering the originals are so hard to find. Those came out just around the time I was graduating from high school.
■ Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Captain Beefheart broke so many rules with this record. There is a type of lyric content that I appreciate more than anything, where he is basically making up words for the way they sound—a Dada approach, lyrically—and the music is so hardcore in terms of how well conceived it is, and then the fact that they managed to rehearse that stuff and pull it off. Talk about a record that represents a place and time that remains a mystery—my god—he was in suburban Los Angeles, in a house in Glendale, practicing with his band for a year to make this record—it's unbelievable! It is listed as one of the greatest records of all time by Rolling Stone, and it is certainly recognized by so many musicians as having been a giant influence—it's almost a cliché—but to me, that is exactly where I want to go if I could ever be that great.
■ Tago Mago by CAN
The original singer from CAN is named Malcolm Mooney, and he has a group of West Coast musicians that he plays with whenever he gigs out here, and I have been playing drums with him for 25 years. So I have an amazing and wonderful personal connection to CAN, by way of Malcolm, who is really a visual artist at heart and an amazing man. Tago Mago was the first one I bought, and still the one I consider to be most magnificent, even though it doesn't have my friend Malcolm on it and has Damo Suzuki singing instead.
They are very much an instrumental based band whose every single thing they ever made was, originally, a free improvisation. They recorded free improvisation and then they brought it back into the studio and layered in maybe some vocals maybe a couple of overdubs, but CAN is very unique, fresh, and very different because no one ever wrote anything down on paper—it was all created in thin air—that's something I think is some of the most magical aspects of music—a musician is almost acting like a transmitter from another thread of reality—and that is something I love especially. This album is one of many great CAN records, but I would put this one in my desert island bag.
■ Nefertiti by Miles Davis
That record represents the greatest band that Miles ever had, and it's interesting because among other things that makes it interesting, all the compositions are written by band members and not by Miles: Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock really wrote all the music. It is one of the most delicate, sweet, beautiful, soulful, and best recorded Miles record ever. I mean, it was at that period where it was so damn inspired—it's just oozing with soul, man! And the atmosphere—as good as Miles was at creating atmosphere thematically—this was one of his greatest works, and I always go to this record when I don't know what to put on. It's just incredible!
■ The Modern Dance by Pere Ubu
This record came at a time and place in my life where I was kind of struggling for a hook—it was that revolutionary period, 1976, 1977 when things were changing and there was the early sound of punk rock and some more primitive "gut" approach to rock 'n' roll, like MC5 happening. Pere Ubu represents this crossroads between classic bar rock, absolute Dada art and everything in between. The lead singer David Thomas is most obviously part of that, lyrically and the way he sings, but the whole band: they all had this very punk approach to doing this incredibly strange rock landscape. The Modern Dance is, to me, one of the more definitive Pere Ubu record. I highly highly recommend it to everybody as being a definitive example of that period of change. I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and these guys are from Cleveland, which is actually very close. The aesthetic on the record is also very strange: gray and industrial. Also, I don't think anyone ever articulated the way it felt where I grew up at the time than this record, so it really resonates with me.
■ Tales of Captain Black by James Blood Ulmer
Blood Ulmer was an amazing guitar player who was on a couple of Ornette Coleman records, but then his first record, which actually has Ornette Coleman on it as a member of the band, is the first record under Blood Ulmer’s own name—it's absolutely stunning.
It's another record that articulates the endless possibilities of music that are out there that you never heard or thought about, and it's like a combination of jazz and rock with this tumbling rhythm. It's got this phenomenal rhythm section with this guy Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and Ornettes' son Denardo Coleman, who is a drummer his whole life but never learned how to play in a normal way—he plays very much in his own way—and so there is a lot of rhythmic stuff that anyone listening to it has to stop and think about. Jamaaladeen Tacuma is one of the great bass players out there. In this case, they created a rhythm section, and a concept inspired by Ornette Coleman. This was hitting at a time when the punk rock thing was happening, and a lot of people were looking for stuff that redefined what music could mean—getting away from a corporate mentality and the polished sound of a lot of the rock bands of the day. This record is so refreshing, so beautiful, so soulful, and so beyond definition!
Amoeba Music Berkeley
2455 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley, CA 94704
Sunday-Thursday: 11am-8pm, Friday-Saturday: 11am-10pm
(Trade Counter Hours - Open to 8pm)
Tel: (+1) 510-549-1125
Amoeba Music San Francisco
1855 Haight St. San Francisco, CA 94117
(Trade Counter remains open during store hours)
Tel: (+1) 415-831-1200
Amoeba Music Hollywood
6400 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028
Monday-Saturday: 10:30am-11pm Sunday: 11am-10pm
(Trade Counter Hours Monday-Saturday: 10:30am-8pm, Sunday: 11am-8pm)
Tel: (+1) 323-245-6400