Every now and then I walk into Permanent Records while a band is playing and a wall of vibrations greets me at the door. It’s surreal, similar to a book reading. There’s the author! There’s the creator of this art! How personal! I’m breathing their air! That author has a sick drum set!
OK, not exactly like that. Permanent Records offers a wide selection with arena rock, Fugazi, Zappa, Tom Waits, a swath from the 70’s, plenty of soul and blues, and an island for CDs. There are the usual jazz, world, acid rock labels, but it’s always nice to browse the store recommendations.
In 2006 Lance Barresi and Liz Tooley opened the first Permanent Records in Chicago. They made a lot of friends, and out of their love for the band Warhammer 48K started their own label to release that band’s first vinyl LP. To this day they’re still releasing band’s on vinyl and the world is richer for it. In 2011 Lance and Liz decided they wanted to do the same song and dance in Los Angeles, in the Eagle Rock neighborhood. Everything is nice and pretty around Permanent Records west coast headquarters, so it’s appropriate that they get the kids in their tattered jeans or the clean cut whoevers into the neighborhood.
During my last visit I purchased Black Math’s ‘Phantom Power’ on the Permanent Records’ label, then I spoke with Lance about the usual stuff.
What does it mean to you to sell records for a living?
I guess it really means everything. It’s what I love and what I’m into personally. It’s great. I love doing it. I can’t think of anything else I’d be doing with my life. It’s pretty perfect.
Your last job?
I worked at a record store and then prior to that I bartended, served at this restaurant in college. Before that I had a few other jobs, but that’s taking me back to high school.
Some people say records went away and others say that they’ve always been popular no matter what’s happened. How do you see it?
They’ve definitely always been around. Like a niche thing among collectors, who enjoy the format. But there’s been an up tic and resurgence in it with people who maybe only bought CDs or bought CDs and stopped buying them to listen to digital versions. Maybe it wasn’t as fulfilling to them to listen to digital. People are coming back to vinyl, or coming to it for the first time. I wouldn’t say it will go mainstream in the near future, but percentage wise it’s way up.
What does your personal collection look like?
It’s lean and mean these days. When Liz and I started the first store we sold off all of our personal collection to start that store. Then we did a big chunk of it when we started the LA store. It’s gotten a little bigger since then, but it’s like 1,500 LPs and a few hundred singles. Pretty much bare essential stuff, because we live in a small place. At this point in my life I’m keeping the store stock as good as it possibly can be instead of looking out for myself. I only keep stuff I know that I’ll never see again. There are always great records that come through that I’d like to own.
Most prized or rare record?
It’s funny I have loads of records that I love. The most prized stuff is the kind of stuff that I know I can never replace. Only five might exist in the world. The test pressing of the early releases we put out on our label, those are probably my most prized possessions, because I know that I can never let them go, because I will never see them again. It’s part of the history of the store and the label. I dealt with all those artists, and knew many of them closely. So it’s a very personal thing. Not the records that go for hundreds of dollars. My taste changes over time and sometimes you have to trade away something that you might have considered a holy grail for a new holy grail.
What albums would you recommend that have to be listened on vinyl?
I’m not an audiophile, I’m not a headphone masterpiece guy. There are certain records. Sgt. Peppers is one of those records you have to hear on vinyl, on headphones. You know I don’t really care about audiophile pressings of records, I’d much rather listen to music on vinyl that I’d want to listen to no matter how it was pressed. Sometimes some of the stuff that I love is recorded so poorly it sounds like shit no matter what format you listen to it on. But vinyl is my preferred format. I don’t really listen to records that way, but I don’t think it should make a difference in how you listen to some type of music. Unless of course you’re going to get a warmer sound, in that case I’d say every record.
Now some record labels include a free digital download with their LPs. Do you think this defeats the purpose of selling a physical copy?
Definitely doesn’t hurt. People who have record players and collect vinyl still are not at home with their collections all day. I think it’s great. It’s really nice that labels include that. That way you can play that record for a friend in a car on a road trip. You don’t have to wait to get home, download it illegally or pay for it twice. I think that was one of the major faults of the music industry and one of the reasons it’s hurting so much right now, because labels try to get people to buy something more than once. You should never really have to do that. A department store doesn’t put out the same pair of jeans over and over again, expecting you to re-buy them. I feel like the music industry should have focused on developing new artists and getting people to buy new records, instead of reissuing a bunch of old stuff. Digital media isn’t even that old and there are some people who are getting over it. Someone came into the store saying, “I just bought a car with a tape deck. I need tapes now.” Sure they can plug the media player into the tape deck, but some people just still want to have tapes.
Music is something that you want to hold onto and show people. Put on display. It’s like a book collection or a wardrobe. You can just wear one shirt and one pair of pants all day, everyday. But that doesn’t reflect a person’s personality. That’s kind of the best part of owning records, well one of the things, is that you get to put it on display. It’s all there for people to look through. For people to get an idea of what you’re into. Instead of you going ‘I LIKE THIS I LIKE THIS I LIKE THIS’.
Will cassette tapes ever see a rise in popularity?
They are in a certain way. Not in the way of vinyl. They’re not a viable format for a long term. They wear out pretty easily, portable to a certain sense, like CDs. There’s a certain air of “hipness” to them. Cassettes are great, but I don’t listen to them that often.
If I was stuck between buying a cassette or an album on iTunes I would buy the cassette. And besides some labels put download codes in the cassette.