Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Le'Talk: a Q&A with Will Gilbert of Secret Stash Records

By Juleana Enright

The local dudes behind Secret Stash Records just might own the coolest reissue label in the country. With a huge catalog of releases in the areas of African funk, freak folk, krautrock and forgotten international rock and soul gems paired with their all-inclusive knowledge of vintage music history, Secret Stash have carved a niche for themselves in the culture of record reissuing – a welcoming revival in a shrinking music industry.

We recently caught up with Will Gilbert, 1/3 of the brains behind Secret Stash Records to chat about how the label got its start, why the Twin Cities thrives on vinyl, and why record reissuing and buying local is saving the music distribution industry...

l'etoile: First off, what is Secret Stash and what's the story behind its inception?

Will: Secret Stash is an independent vinyl reissue label. We focus on unearthing overlooked funk and soul grooves from across the globe and pressing limited vinyl runs. The label was started by Eric Foss and Cory Wong in 2009 in reaction to their experiences working on projects for labels from the Walmart, Borders, & Best Buy model of music distribution, that segment of the music business is rapidly deteriorating and is a pretty sad scene. Vinyl is just about the only part of the industry that is going in the right direction. I think the label was a natural step for Eric and Cory: two people passionate about vinyl who enjoy sharing new (old) music with others.

As far as why vinyl was the format of choice, it comes down to the personality of vinyl diggers. It seems to me that the type of people who buy vinyl have a completely different mindset than those who primarily download or buy CDs. A lot of buying vinyl is in the experience. You go to your favorite local shop, chat with someone working there and maybe get some recommendations, spend a half hour or longer looking through all of the new arrivals, and leave with a few records. If you ask someone where they got their record, chances are they can tell you the store, what they were thinking when they saw the record, and maybe even the month or year they bought it. If you ask the same question to someone about an album in their iTunes, chances are you’ll get a blank stare. The point is, vinyl buyers, for the most part, are very active and engaged consumers. If you have an obscure '70s funk record from Ghana, more people are going to stumble across it in a vinyl bin than in a CD bin, or on iTunes.

Friday, October 14 at Clubhouse Jager, details here

l'etoile: Why do you think the resurgence of record reissuing – vinyl specifically – has become so popular?

Will: New music is so competitive that unless you spend millions of dollars saturating the market with advertisements, reviews from prominent tastemakers, and radio airtime, you can’t get people to listen, even if it’s free.

From a label’s point of view, the costs associated with doing a reissue are much less than a new release. You can get a lot of attention and interest in a reissue without having to spend a lot of money on marketing. With a struggling music scene and economy, a lot of labels are realizing reissues make a lot more economic sense than betting the farm on some up and coming act who likely will never make back the money spent on promotion.

l'etoile: With the competition in the music blogs scene and even between record labels, how are you able to find vintage artists and unique genres that haven't been hyped to death or reissued a million times over?

Will: We work in an office nine to five every day, sometimes longer. We are not a hobby label, and I think researching and networking on a continuous basis is essential to finding new material. That being said, sometimes it seems with the ever increasing number of reissue labels out there that finding untapped material in the future will be a challenge. We are off to sunny Miami in the next few weeks, so hopefully we will return with some more treasures!

l'etoile: You guys do a lot of research into the cultural and political history of an artist's country and time span before re-releasing their album, how does that affect your view of the record and its importance?

Will: I think there are different layers of appreciating music. When we choose projects, we are very conscious of a few things. First, it is important to us that the music can stand on its own, independent of any historical or cultural significance. Second, we research the culture, politics, and history of an artist’s native country so we can make sure we can do justice to a reissue, and present a story that contributes to the reissue landscape. Without both of those components, we quickly lose interest. The more we know about the back-story of a record, the more excited we become about the reissue; I remember sitting transfixed as I read about the history of Haiti while looking into the Tabou Combo reissue. And because of that history – combined with the great music – it is my favorite project.

l'etoile: What would you say to people to encourage them to support local record distribution? What are some of your favorite local labels and vinyl boutiques?

Will: Minnesota used to be a really important place for music distribution. Amos Heilicher, who started Musicland (Sam Goody, FYE), was a pioneer of indie music distribution, and Best Buy and Target have a history of being among the biggest music sellers in the country. The areas dedicated to music in Best Buy and Target seem to be shrinking every day. Over the last twenty years or so, that scene has virtually disappeared. If you value physical products, supporting local record stores will be the best way to ensure they continue to be made.

We really appreciate what Rhymesayers and Doomtree have done to put Minneapolis on the map as a hip hop destination. As far as stores, they each have their own charm. I would say the Electric Fetus is Minneapolis’ most successful indie chain, and they have a national presence. They do a great job stocking new releases. Treehouse Records, Roadrunner, and Yeti are old school record stores. They have a mix of used and new, and very cool vibes. If you are looking for a specific used title, Cheapo and Shuga Records - they probably won’t have it on display, but it is likely in their enormous warehouse – would be great places to start. The truth is we are very fortunate to have a thriving vinyl community – probably in the top ten in the country.

Catch Secret Stash founders Will Gilbert and Eric Foss in the studio for 89.3 The Current's recent Current Presents show here and join them Friday, October 14th at Clubhouse Jager as they celebrate the release of their latest reissue Obi Agye Me Dofo by Ghanaian legends Vis-A-Vis. Details here.

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