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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wall Of Sound: Long Live Physical Media!

posted by on February 23 at 19:17 PM

Last weekend, I set out to pick up a handful of albums and say my goodbyes to Fremontís Sonic Boom. Here on Line Out, comments regarding the closing of the store were met with a variety of responses. There were the expected laments, but also a few bouts of cynicism implying that record buying is somehow on par with renting VHS tapes or having a land-line home phone number. What a shameÖ I love buying records, and judging from the amount of customers at Sonic Boom on Monday, Iím inclined to think a healthy percentage of Seattleites feel the same. But rather than dwelling on the loss of a beloved outpost of musical wares, I thought Iíd take the opportunity to highlight a local business thatís still alive and kickiní. Whenever I start to feel unimpressed or bored with the current crop of music being discussed in glossy magazines and publicist-driven websites, I know I can find something to renew my interest at Wall of Sound. Situated at 315 E. Pine Street on Capitol Hill, Wall of Sound is the kind of shop where I always manage to discover records I never even knew existed. Iím still kicking myself for missing the opportunity last fall to buy their vinyl bootleg of Jim Jonesí last recorded sermon (hand numbered edition of 913: one for every person that died at Jonestown).

I was curious to see how Jeffery Taylor, the bearded guru typically found manning the counter, viewed the climate in todayís music industry.

First off, could you elaborate on the history of the record store? I know it’s a tedious question, especially when there’s already a brief blurb on your website about it, but Iím more interested in the personnel behind the store and the initial impetus for WoS.

Wall Of Sound started in 1990 inside the Art In Form bookstore on the corner of 2nd and Bell. Two guys started it (Mark Sullo and Eric Hoffman) because they had a passion for music and sound that was a bit outside of the mainstream. It was just one little wall of the shop with tapes and LPs (hence Wall of Sound) and they carried all sorts of weird and cool sounds that NO ONE was carrying in town.

How has the Internet age affected WoS? Has the general industry drop in CD sales been apparent at the store, or do you think the increased exposure of peripheral music has drawn more people to your store?

It has affected us in the same way it has affected countless other small indie record shops. We have experienced the same downturn in CD sales that the entire industry has. With easy access to the glut of free music on the Internet it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a steady consumer base. While it has been more difficult for us in the last 5 or 6 years, we do have a faithful core clientele and we hope to continue to add to the list of Wall Of Sound fans and customers. We have no advertising budget to speak of and rely on word of mouth or maybe a mention in the press every now and again for one of our events. We send out weekly emails with new reviews and other info which also serves as a reminder “hey folks, we’re still here, stop by for a visit!”

The following is a quote from a commenter on Slog regarding the Sonic Boom closure; “OMG, a record store is going out of business!!! Oh wait - that happens all the time, because we have the Internet now. Anybody running a record store now who doesn’t expect to be forced into shutting down in the next 5 years should be given a Gold Star for Baseless Optimism.” Well, we’d like our gold star now please.

For me personally, acquiring music online is completely unsatisfying. I canít help but worry that the increasing dominance of mp3s is setting the stage for an entire era of music that has no physical presence. All technology becomes obsolete at some point, and when mp3s join the ranks of 78s and 8 track tapes, that music simply won’t exist anymore. I was curious how you feel about mp3s and whether the new technology has altered your perspective on record collecting.

The Slog comment from above implies that the writer has no use for going to their local record shop. Too bad. It makes me wonder how old they are. I understand that there is a generation growing up without the knowledge of what it was like to go hang out in your local record shop. This sort of social interaction and means of discovery is gradually being replaced by chat rooms, file sharing and Myspace pages. While there are certainly advantages to this sort of networking it would seem to me to be a far cry from actually talking face to face with someone about something you or they are interested in or excited about. I do think the mp3 and the myriad of places to hear music online serves as a valuable tool for researching new (and old) bands. I would then hope that a person would support that band by purchasing some product or tracking it down at their local record shop. Certain people will always want the physical object (the LP or the CD), so the mp3 has not altered my take on record collecting one bit.

I can only imagine that your clientele are a pretty diverse crop of individuals. Is there anything even close to a “typical” WoS customer?

Nothing close, save for the fact that they love music.

Over the years, Iíve depended heavily on advice and staff picks from various record stores. WoS seems very selective and tends to carry some pretty obscure stuff. Where do you get most of your tips on new music?

We poke around on the web and see what folks are getting in a tizzy about. We read mags, blogs, look at loads of distributor updates and we always like to hear what our customers are checking out. We have our staff picks and we are always happy to suggest stuff to people. You name 3 things you like and we’ll point you in the direction of 3 other things you might like. Our success rate with this option is very good.

Do you have any current musical recommendations youíd like to share?

Here’s a short list:

Various / Nigeria Special / Modern Highlife Afro Sounds And Nigerian Blues 1970-1976 [Soundway]

Sound Dimension / Mojo Rocksteady Beat [Soul Jazz]

Various / Tropicalia / Ou Panis Et Circencis [Lilith]

Bixobal #2 / Zine [Ri Be Xibala]

Gerard Manset / La Mort D’Orion [World Psychedelia]

Various Artists / The Garden of Forking Paths [Important]

Various Artists / Bachata Roja (Acoustic Bachata From The Cabaret Era) [iASO Records]

Andrew Douglas Rothbard / Abandoned Meander [Smooch]

Citay / Little Kingdom [Dead Oceans]

Victrola Favorites / Artifacts from Bygone Days [Dust To Digital]

Shocking Pinks / Shocking Pinks [DFA/Astralwerks]

Ong Ong / Zine #4 [Self Published]

Various Artists / Pop Ambient 2008 [Kompakt]

Klimek / Dedications [Anticipate]

Black Mirror / Reflections In Global Musics [Dust To Digital]

Eyvind Kang / The Yelm Sessions [Tzadik]

Burial / Untrue [Hyperdub]

LCD Soundsystem / 45:33 [DFA]

Richard Crandell / Spring Steel [Tzadik]

Phosphorescent / Pride [Dead Oceans]

Sokai Stilhed / S/T [Self Released]

Well, I managed to snag the last copy of the Nigeria Special collection, but thereís still a lot to check out. Letís all just take a minute to remember that when it comes to aquiring new music, itís better to support true music fans than Steve Jobs/Apple/ITunes, Rupert Murdoch/Myspace, or some jackass BitTorrent site funded by bigoted politicians. And the next time my hard-drive takes a dump, I wonít lose my entire record collection.

RSS icon Comments


Hey Brian nice writeup!

I was recently in Yakima & stopped at Central WA's only indie record store "Off the Record." The owner told me that they may have slow times biz wise, but they pretty much make up for it at X-Mas & other holidaze. I even found a semi-rare Songs: Ohia CD there, along with a Buddy Guy disc, so I was somewhat impressesed.

So, are the impending death of the record industry stories I keep reading premature?

And what about Amazon? Is it wrong to buy from them? At least they're locally owned right?

Posted by Jethro | February 23, 2008 11:20 PM

Wall of Sound is a national treasure. Even though I moved out of Seattle last year, I still order stuff from WOS, because shops of its ilk are more than just businesses--they're the heart of a healthy music community. Plus, owners Jeffery and Michael are stellar folks who possess a deep knowledge of great music. Respect--and a good chunk of your money--is due.

Posted by segal | February 24, 2008 2:39 AM

Vinyl sales have actually seen in increase over the past couple of years.

Posted by finn | February 24, 2008 1:52 PM

one thing that bugs me about wall of sound is their lack of a strong local music section. i feel that small record stores should almost indiscriminately carry as many local releases as possible. maybe not as much pressure for blake lewis or something totally opposed to WoS's thrust, but srsly the store has not so much music from around here. the vinyl is the only reason to shop. except the guys who work there, they are nice. but they don't carry hiphop.

Posted by ndrwmtsn | February 25, 2008 9:32 AM

Do you really need a strong local music section ndrwmtsn?
They do carry hip hop I think they file it under rock / pop but it is not part of their main bread and butter.

Nice write up Brian.

Posted by Biggie J | February 25, 2008 1:04 PM


WOS was the first shop to carry Tiny Vipers' music, if I recall correctly. WOS also carries Specs One, Tulsi and other local hip-hop artists' releases. I've seen a fair amount of Seattle-centric experimental and indie-rock albums there, too.

Perhaps WOS prefers quality over quantity w/r/t stocking local music.

Posted by segal | February 25, 2008 9:29 PM

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