By Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
When Steve Stevenson first saw Van Halen and their flamboyant appearance on MTV, he never felt like he could be a part of the music scene. It wasn’t until the rise of grunge rock artists like Nirvana, did he actually view working in the music industry as a possible career choice. And that’s what he decided to pursue after high school. Originally from Springfield, Oregon, Stevenson soon found himself working for various record stores in Seattle and managing indie bands on the side. After a tour ended, with all his belongings packed in a suitcase, a friend’s calling sent him down to Oakland.
Though his label 1-2-3-4 Go! Records has been functioning for ten years and has released close to 50 pressings so far, Stevenson never had a chance to open a physical store to accompany his passion. So when a three-year stint for Cinder Block (a music merchandise company) failed, Stevenson felt it was a perfect time to make his wish come true. Opened on March 15, 2008, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records has been standing for a little more than three years, providing an option for a city, which despite its recognized music scene, lacks an authentic locale for record collectors. Of course, digging through the mega stockpiles of Amoeba Records in neighboring Berkley, or crossing across the bay to San Francisco are legitimate options. But Stevenson prides his store’s existence as one of, if not the only, record shops specializing in vinyl in the city. And with a selection of 5,000 12-inches and an additional 3,000 7-inches all neatly tucked in 900 square feet of space, it stands valid as a resourceful music stop even if it carries mostly independent and classic rock titles. We spoke to the record enthusiast for our weekly Wax Nostalgic 7 Question Survey.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
Steve Stevenson: It was a spoken word record by Jello Biafra called No More Cocoons. I was 14 years old. The first cassette I ever bought, which was the first music I bought with my own money, was The Simpsons Sing the Blues. I got that at Target. I don’t really have cool first record stories, but those are my two.
What’s your favorite record of all time?
Steve Stevenson: I don’t think I can say I have a favorite record of all time. There’s definitely a handful of records I would always carry with me. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers. The Pixies' Come on Pilgrim. T. Rex’s Electric Warrior. The Pogues’ Hell’s Ditch. Those are sort of my go-to older records. Right now I’m really attached to this record by The Black Angels called Passover. And one of my favorite music lately has been The True Story of Abner Jay. It’s a re-issue of this one-man band. He put out his own records from the late ‘60s, until when he died in the early ‘90s. I think this record is from the ’70s or something like that. And it just recently got re-issued, and it’s funny and depressing and weird, and it’s one of my most popular records that I sell at the store. I think I sold about 75 copies of it. And for a one-man band blues guy who’s been dead for 20 years, that’s not too shabby.
What’s the most valuable/expensive record that you own?
Steve Stevenson: I sold a vast majority of my collection. So part of this information is a little outdated. But one of the records that I was sorry to see go was the “X” single by Adult Books. I think the most expensive thing I currently have is Live at Raul's Club, which is a split between The Dicks and The Big Boys. I was looking for that record for 12 years, and I only got it when I opened my own store. I don’t really keep too much for myself anymore to make sure the store gets all the really good stuff. But I had to keep that one.
If you didn’t own a record shop, what would you do?
Steve Stevenson: I don’t know. Probably working in another warehouse somewhere? I would like to say that I’ll be running the label, but I think having the store made the label more successful, and made it more of a fixture. I wouldn’t have been able to do that just by sitting at home.
Why should people buy records?
Steve Stevenson: I think entertainment and art need to be supported to thrive. I think it’s a beautiful idea that everything should be free, but unfortunately people can’t actually live like that. One thing I want to take away from, especially vinyl is that it’s not a super precious thing. It’s not something you have to be an ultimate collector to enjoy. Records are to be played. You don’t have to have the ultimate limited version to enjoy the record. It’s good music. If it sounds good on that format and looks good, it’s a great piece of something to hold in your hand. I think people get caught up with the audiophile, collector nature. I think that’s some of the least important aspects for me. To me it’s more important to buy good music that you like rather than having something that’s just limited.
Vinyl will never die because…
Steve Stevenson: I would say, no. I think there’s been a real explosion in the last three or four years that I think will eventually die down. But vinyl is the only portion in the music industry that actually has growth. I think it’s been increasing 20% a year for the last three or four years? I think it’s basically going to come down to you either having vinyl or having MP3s. There are people who don’t care about packaging, don’t care about the experience, all they want is music they can take on the go. I totally understand that. I think that’s completely valid. And then there are people who want that experience. They want to have a record collection. And I don’t think CDs provide any of that. There was a huge wave in the early ‘90s when pressing plants were disappearing. And it looked like that was going to happen again. But having a label that presses records myself, I can tell you that it’s hard to get things done in a timely manner because there are so many other labels pressing vinyl right now. I heard of a few new [pressing plants] opening up last year. As people figured it out and tracked down equipment, it’s actually going to increase because there’s a significant amount of money to make. So I don’t feel like it’s going anywhere.
Have you ever played a certain record and gotten laid?
Steve Stevenson: I have definitely used the power of mixtapes. I swear I made a mixtape and stole a girl from somebody else. Not a single record per se, but definitely I’ve used music [laughs] in that capacity. It’s very moving.
1-2-3-4 Go! Records (Oakland)
423 40th St (between Webster St & Ruby St), Oakland, CA