Weirdo Records was the coolest record store I've ever been to in my life. It was the size of a large walk-in closet, never had more than a few shelves of stuff I'd heard of, and the woman who was almost always sitting behind the counter played loud records and mostly looked like she, quite pleasantly, didn't really give a fuck. Still, anything I brought up with questions, she would answer in detail. I learned about Las Chinas, an all girl Spanish new wave band from the 80s, Load records, and mid-00s Boston underground stuff from shopping at Weirdo. I also found a fandom book on Annette Funicello's Beach Party movies and a copy of one of my favorite Lux Interior mixtapes "Forbidden City Dog Food" pressed to vinyl by a mysterious Australian non-label.
One time I brought some tattered Half Japanese and Daniel Johnston tapes to the counter and asked the woman, who I learned to be Angela Sawyer, where they came from. She told me they were hers and that once on a road trip a friend hated the Half Japaense tape so much he ejected it from the player and tossed it out the window. She stopped the car and backed up, searching in the grass along the highway till she found the tape. Maybe then she kicked him out of the car? I don't remember exactly. Anyway when Weirdo closed last year I decided to take the opportunity to send Angela a few questions because she seems like a bad ass who appreciates music in an inspiring way.
First, Weirdo has been closed now since last summer, right? Have you been able to do all kinds of fun stuff? You seem to have a lot of projects going on concurrently.
Last May, yup. I've been doing comedy a lot this year, running a weekly open mic & hosting a couple of monthly shows. I also work at a movie theater and a jazz record store. I got to travel over the summer, joined a hardcore band, and I'm working on a solo album & trying to get back to doing more regular playing with the jazz trio I'm in. Iluvkarlrahner.com has the current schedule. Closing Weirdo went way better than I expected, and although it's flattering that people miss it, it was a ton of work. About 100 hours a week, and I did it for about ten years. I'm really enjoying having days off, sleeping more normally, and getting paid ten times as much money to do way less. I still do too much, because that's my personality, but I am shopping for groceries during the daylight hours now, and that seems like a good sign.
When Weirdo closed you issued a statement thanking patrons and said it was nice the shop was able to exist "in the face of a culture that is in no way interested in art, culture, avant garde music, music in general, or vinyl (I think you probably know that all those vinyl is back fluff pieces are lying thought their bullshit corporate teeth, right?)" -- I think about how uninterested our culture is in art all the time. Would you care to muse on this a bit? What, in your eyes, is modern western culture obsessed with, if not art?
Mainstream Western culture is, just like everyone always says, all about getting as much money and power as possible. Avant garde experiments (which is what actual art projects get lumped in with most of the time) are marginalized from that world by definition. They can never last long when they're so at odds with the main impetus of the larger society. I think of a record shop as a place where you can learn to defend your skull against the onslaught of meaningless junk. And that's something many people need badly. But everyone dies and everyone loses their dignity as they do so. The meaningless maw always takes it all in the end, and quickly and easily too. I secretly think this is why record collectors so often respect surf music. They know they're just catching a quick wave.
So true, I like that, about a good record store being like this very important refuge and place to arm yourself, in a way, with sounds and ideas and inspiration to keep you from melting into the drudgery of the money/power gain routine we're talking about in western culture. Can you think of a super formative experience you'd have not had, were it not for being in a record store?
As for formative experiences, they pretty much all happened in record stores. That's where I learned how to think. Knowing that it wasn't a question of being cool or uncool, but that a critical, measured, and actually musical-based opinion would be well received. Putting my ideas up against other collectors- that's what made it all work for me.
I loved visiting Boston/Cambridge to shop at Weirdo, never once in my 3 years of shopping there did I pick up an uninteresting record. Your shop was small but very "all killer no filler" vibe. Being in there, even if I was feeling kind of ho-hum, it would get me excited about music again. It never seemed like a place concerned with carrying records simply because they'd sell. What was the selection process for stock, was it only stuff you felt some affinity for?
There really wasn't a selection process. I just didn't waste money on lousy records or records that were stocked right down the street, unless the customers demanded something in particular. There were hundreds of dollars of good titles that I could have carried every week. I really just got as much as I could manage.
Someone who owns a shop like Weirdo SEEMS like they'd only love the most avant-garde and unusual sounds, but I bet you love all kinds of stuff. Who are totally boring/middle-of-the-road artists you love?
I have a Beach Boys tattoo, used to work on an all Frank Sinatra radio show that was 8 hours long, and I genuinely enjoy hearing the Eagles when they come on in a bar or convenience store. I think Willie Nelson is a frigging amazing vocalist, although his harmonica player is a genuine tragedy. I really liked 'Suit and Tie' last year, and I listen to top 40 radio in the car now & again. I like bridges and waltzes, wherever they might be found. Sometimes dudes of a certain age think that, let's say 'Metal Machine Music' just for example purposes, isn't enjoyable on its own terms and those who claim to enjoy it are just being perverse or insecure. Those dudes are dickwits. You should never trust them.
What's the last mind-blowing record you've heard lately? It's fine if it's been awhile.
Let's see. Well, records don't blow your mind in the same way once you're on the 100 thousandth one. It's a slower, sweeter romance at that point. Probably the last thing that really came out of nowhere & socked me was Bob Chance's 'Broken'. But that says more about where I wasn't looking than it does about the record.
What is a record you love that you can't, for the life of you, get anyone else to climb on board with?
There are lots of new records that never seem to've found their ears. Early Mammal never blew people away like I thought it would. The Augst Carl Korn CD on FMP should have born a thousand Kagel acolytes. Bugs n Rats should be taking the East Coast by storm. There's one every year, usually. But as for perennials, there's always someone who loves the Four Freshmen or Beauregarde or whatever. You just have to wait to bump into them.
Can you think of any music or artists you adored in youth and now that fandom is unfathomable? Or are you pretty consistent with tastes.
I was a pretty insecure, green teenager, so some of the things that I listened to then are things I haven't liked since (I had 'Thriller' hung on my wall at 15). But for the most part I'm pretty consistent. Even fluff has its place, so if I hear a Huey Lewis or Hall & Oates tune in the supermarket, I can just enjoy it for the candyfloss that it is. It would only be a problem if that kept me from enjoying a Derek Bailey record or something. It hasn't at all, so I'm not angry. I think there is one thing that's changed about listening to music since I started. Most people who were into records at all, no matter which ones, presumed themselves to be left out of and heavily marginalized by mainstream culture. The community of people who make up underground music still exists, but the sense that it is any form of resistence or haven has disappeared with the ascent of the internet. Everyone thinks themselves merely quirky, and no subculture is too obtuse, nor is it connected to any other. No one thinks mainstream exists any longer. Sadly it does, and if anything America is more homogeneous and more socially stratified than it was in the 1980s. I know I'm still looking for lifesaving, burn-it-all records that can't be merely processed. I think they might be harder to make in 2016, but I won't quit looking.
I am a person who has always gotten into music in ways that was not so much genre-specific as it was through other people's tastes. If I learn of a person or friend who has taste I find interesting I generally check out whatever they're digging through. This is a big reason I got down with Weirdo's stock, it seemed like a specific person's taste (that person being you!) Another big one for me as a kid was reading David Keenan. As a result of this kind of music exploration I'm really into mixtapes as a format, maybe in certain cases even more so than albums. Anyway, do you have particular people or mixtapes/cds/whatever, that have greatly influenced your taste?
Sure, one of the first compilations of girl groups that I ever heard was a cassette made by a guy I worked for, and it was so well put together than many of the tracks remain my faves in the genre to this day. Some musical styles really lend themselves to collections of singles more than others. Different people like to learn about music in different ways. Some people love reading magazines, some liner notes. Some people have one person who feeds them stuff. Some just buy a bunch of albums that look promising and see what checks out. Some like compilations, some like 45s, some YouTube, some get really into stuff from a particular time period or a particular genre. If you have a way that works for you, great. If you ever feel like that methodology is getting stale, remember there are as many ways of accessing music as there are ways of listening. Go find some you like.
Preggy Peggy & The Lazybabymakers: modern grotesque take on Martin Denny? Haha. I am only half-serious but I love this band and its very excellent song titles ("The Mysticism Of My Fucking Sound", "A Broken Vag Is Like A Broken Badge", "Snobs Are People Too", etc.) and it does sometimes seem like weird fantasy music, kind of like exotica. Can you tell me more about this project?
Preggy Peggy ended up being the name of my solo project. It actually began as a writing duo with my friend James, but when I started the store, I no longer had time to work on heavily written/studio-magic styles, so it just accidentally morphed into the name of what I do when I improvise experimental jazz by myself. Before Preggy Peggy, it was called the Phenomenological Boys. Maybe it will be called something else some other time. I don’t think it’s particularly exotica-leaning, but I do have a real hangup for novelty records and sound effects, as well as for highbrow avant garde. Bird calls are never far from my fingertips, certainly. I suppose a person could think of what I do as answering the musical question: what if Joan LaBarbara and Annette Funicello were the same person? Maybe I should just answer that question and title my next project ‘Weird Boobs’... Anyhow right now I have the next album about 30% done, and I hope to record some live sound effects to a Dungeons & Dragons game as part of it.