By Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
Imagine a record store organized entirely in alphabetical order, without any genre sections. Jason Willet, owner of The True Vine Record Shop in Baltimore, doesn't use such a system in his current venture, but did at a previous shop in Frederick, Maryland, and it's indicative of his devil-may-care approach to vinyl appreciation
Jason started out as an employee for major music retails (Sam Goody and Mothers) in the ‘80s, before opening his first record store in 1990. The result was four years of struggling business. After bouncing around for a decade as a musician in several bands, including Michigan’s Half Japanese, Willet, along with two other partners, opened up True Vine in 2004. Since its inception, the shop stood out for a selection that’s a direct reflection of the owner’s unique taste.
A wide range of avant-garde rock, avant-garde that’s not rock, experimental music, spoken word, Christian psychedelic music, and many labels that can’t be pigeonholed into a genre, are offered at this emporium. More than a business, Willet considers his shop a destination for music lovers. The store's layout, which offers chairs and a desk in the center, allow customers to participate in impromptu listening sessions and expand their musical horizons. To Willet, whether those who come through the door buy nothing or $1000 worth of items, it’s the dispersion of new music that matters the most. Find out what Jason had to say for our weekly Wax Nostalgic 7 Question Survey.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
Jason Willett: The first record I ever bought would be different than the first record I ever owned. The first record I ever owned means more than the first record I ever bought. It was “The Blob” by The Five Blobs. It’s a really curious tune, and my father gave that to me. And I used to listen to it over and over again. And the first record I ever bought, I’m going to speculate. Maybe it was “Disco Duck”? I don’t even know who the artist is [Editor’s note: It was Rick Dees]. It was a disco song, but it had vocals on it. The follow up, which was called “Disco-rilla,” I bought as well.
What’s your favorite record of all time?
Jason Willett: I don’t have one favorite record of all time, but I can pick one of my favorite records of all time. I’d say Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. He was high school mates with Frank Zappa, but his music was different than Zappa’s. Zappa, however, produced that record. I heard that record in my early 20s, and I must have listened to it over 100 times. It’s a long record. Beefheart was like a savant visionary. His music was based on guitars, but he often had melodies in his head, and he would try and sing them or bang them out like a piano, and his band would have to decipher what was on his mind.
They went out to the desert somewhere to make that record, and I think for few months they were living on cans of beans and water. And then they were starting to lose their minds. In the end, they created a new form of rock music. But when they first tried to play it on stage, they got a lot of flack because people thought it was complete garbage. It took many years for people to realize it was in fact a genius record.
What’s the most valuable/expensive record that you own?
Jason Willett: I don’t have one. And the reason why is because once I realized a part of me was a collector, I’ve decided to let go of that. It just wasn’t what I wanted to be with music. Plus, I can’t even afford to be a collector. The way I pay myself here is so poverty level, I barely have any money after I pay for food or anything else. So it’s more like my joy with these records that are coming in. It’s mostly a vicarious joy of passing it along to other people, and seeing their minds being expanded. That gives me a lot of pleasure.
If I really fall in love with a record that’s $200, I can always transfer that into a CD. As much as I love the aesthetic of the vinyl over CD, in the end, it’s just more realistic. In the end, it’s all about the music. And even in that end, it’s not about the music. It’s about discovering yourself, and then you can connect with people. I think the right kind of music can trigger all these things. I’m not too caught up in the object.
If you didn’t own a record shop, what would you do?
Jason Willett: I would probably go back to waiting tables or some other job, while I continue to work on making records, and playing shows with different people. Having a record shop keeps me in touch with what I do, rather than have a black and white kind of life. You know, waiter by night, and musician in the afternoon.
Why should people buy records?
Jason Willett: I only feel like they should buy records if they want or feel the need to buy records. One thing I hate to see here is people buying anything they don’t truly want to buy. I discourage people from buying a record if I feel like they’re not going to get anything from it. If they’re buying the record for the hype, I’ll say something about it, rather than taking their money, and see them walk out the door with something I don’t think they’re going to enjoy. If people come in, and they seem to get stressed about money, I tell them, “Don’t buy any records.” I think people should just do it only if they want to. If people don’t want to buy records, then I’ll figure it’s time to close down the shop, since there’s no need.
Vinyl will never die because…
Jason Willett: I believe it’ll die out, like how all physical matters will eventually disintegrate. But as far as what medium would last the longest, I’m definite that’ll be vinyl. What more can I say about that? It certainly has persevered the longest. So it gives the impression that it will continue into the future the longest. It’s funny, though, because cassettes are actually selling again. We started a cassette section, and half of them are pre-recorded cassettes from major labels, and the other half are brand new cassettes by people with their own music.
Have you ever played a certain record and gotten laid?
Jason Willett: I’ve certainly played many records, and gotten laid many times after putting on those records. But I feel confident that I would’ve gotten laid even if I didn’t put those records on. [Laughs.] I’m pretty sure the record was more incidental. I have played records that discouraged me from having sex. Sometimes I play a record, and some of the lyrics or sound is so ridiculous sounding that was hard for me to concentrate on anything sexy. Lately, my favorite record during “that” is a record by a guy named Omar Korshid, and the name of the album is called Guitar El Chark. It’s almost surf-guitar, but with an Egyptian scale. It’s all instrumental, and I find that music is this beautiful wonderland, and there’s nothing in it that sort of reaches out, and slaps you across the face, and takes your attention away from whatever you might be doing. It’s more conducive, and not interruptive.The True Vine Record Shop (Baltimore)
3544 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD