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AN INTERVIEW WITH MAGAS
"The real reason to collect records is because you love them".
I interview Jim Magas, also known as the solo musician MAGAS. His other bands include Couch, The Many Moods of Marlon Magas, Lake of Dracula, and Miss High Heel. His labels include Midwich and Bulb Records. Jim has been influential in the midwest and worldwide with his music and taste. He's currently working on a new album as MAGAS. If you want to talk to an expert about all things noise and or experimental music you can find him at Reckless Records in Chicago.
We talk about his record collection, what he loves about vinyl and take a tour of his colorful studio.
Why start collecting records?
"Vinyl, or vinyls as some kids are saying these days, have value. They can make you feel special, you have something that others don't. The real reason to collect records is because you love them. Some people tie their self worth to their record collection. "
I'm no expert in the value of vinyl, what makes them worth more?
Rarity and demand make the value go up. Labels are savvy to the game and will make special editions or do color runs. "
"Why did you start collecting, what is your history with vinyl?" I suppose that is also tied into, what is your history in music?"
I was in the middle of nowhere, Marquette, Michigan, but my parents had records. My mom would play the Beatles all of the time. The Beatles were like nursery rhymes to me. My dad hated the Beatles and loved the Rolling Stones. Some of my dad's hippy friends also collected. There was one guy in particular who had a collection of thousands and thousands of records. When I started getting more into music I went over to his place a lot. We had records that our parents would listen to that we are also getting into music ourselves
During lunch hour at school we would listen to vinyl and go over Casey Casum's top 40 hits. It was this new, dangerous world.
Music was the entry into sex, it had a lot to do with gettting the girls back then. I really got into Blondie. I had Debbie Harry posters all over my wall. In the 70s record stores were all over the place. There were a few record stores in Marquette in the 70s. Even Woolworths had records. Shopko had records. The 1st album I bought in 1978 was Blondie's Parallel Lines. I went to Shopko. My mom would shop for household supplies and I would go and look for records. Whenever she would go to the supermarket I would go look at the magazine racks. I started reading the music magazines. I was looking for any magazine that had anything about Blondie. I got this pin catalog and I saw things that I had never heard of heard of. Pigmeat Markham, Throbbing Gristle and the Plasmatics. I was thinking, what is all this stuff about I've never heard of? I started seeing stuff in Cream Magazine.
Looking at these magazines in the Supermarket tied into getting music at the record stores. I started talking to people and realized there's a whole other world out there than what I was experiencing in Shelter Bay, Michigan. I was 12 and realizing there's this whole other reality than the reality I'm experiencing here in my little tiny town. I always kind of knew this but catalogues provided me with the affirmation, there's some wild s*** out there. I was kind of afraid of it at first. Especially punk rock. There was a show called, In The News.
They did a piece on what I thought was called "Pump Rock." I remember hearing on the news show that Rod Stewart had a gallon of semen pumped from his stomach. The rumors claimed he had to have his stomach pumped because It was so full of semen. I didn't realize what that meant and when I did, I felt nauseous to my stomach.
I saw Blondie on The Midnight Special which was a show hosted by Wolfman Jack. When I saw them I thought, oh they're punk rock. By this time I knew that it was punk rock and not pump rock. But I thought the punk had to do with the fact they had spiky hair like Rod Stewart.
And I thought the whole thing was these totally depraved people that were doing all these things that would somehow get a gallon of semen in their stomach. Pretty scary.
So I was into Blondie and everyone made fun of me because everyone was into more tougher, harder rock like Ted Nugent, ACDC, and The Scorpions. Then I got into that stuff too. Because I was into girls and I wanted to listen to what other people were listening to. So I wouldn't be so isolated in my weird thing. But eventually I would always gravitate towards digging deeper. Other people were listening to Ratt, and I was thinking, what's up with Blue Oyster Cult or Black Sabbath, older groups that not as many people weren't listening to because it was considered weird.
Then, a friend of mine brought records up from Arizona, it was Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, the Birthday Party so we listened to them. And I thought, this is some weird shit. This is amazing, especially the Birthday Party and Nick Cave. This was different than what I'd seen on Saturday Night Live, like Captain Beefheart and the B52s. Well that stuff is pretty crazy stuff too but in my mind I started hearing crazier stuff. Harder punk like Black Flag. Then I thought, ok this is what I"m into, fuck all that mainstream stuff. And I started to dig deeper.
I would look for something, like The Cramps would say, a new kind of kick, something new, something that will grab me by the lapels and shake me, that would blow my mind. Then when I would find it I would tell everyone about it. I always had this idea to dig deep and then share with everyone.
A lamentation on the history of music and being a conduit of cross pollination of genres...
I think we are really living in a Golden Age. especially with electronic music. We have better TV shows, people making great music. Electronic music is in a golden age because people are getting better gear and trying new things. My ex wife and I opened up a record store in Wicker Park in the late 90s early 2000s.
We were at this crossroads of the cross armed indy rock people and the techno people. I was thinking, lets not have these boundaries.
I wanted to have a cultural influence. We would carry experimental music like Tortoise and Techno. Weird shit, noise, and dub reggae. Techno was a little more separate like being only at Gramophone or there would be indie rock at a place like Reckless Records.
When I was living in Ann Arbor, Detroit techno was getting off the ground there were some amazing things in my backyard but I was not into it at all. Rock music and techno music was separate, it was which team were you on. Very rarely at that time was someone into both. I had a cliched perception of what techno was at that or electronic music. I thought it was just cheesy, people dancing at a rave with glow sticks. I thought that's not my thing.
Then once I started getting bored with noise or no wave more band oriented stuff and I heard some really unconventional music in the techno world, i started working my way backwards and thought fuck I missed all this great stuff because I was too much of a snob.
I feel like I was the first one of my musical peers to get into techno. At first, people were a little dismissive, like you're into djing glow stick shit now. Whatever I'm into at the time I'm going to be preaching. We had this record store where punk people were getting into techno and techno people were getting into punk. I felt like our store was a conduit, I was a bridge between those two worlds and helped cross pollinate.
Maybe it was a cultural shift but people started to be a lot more open minded than they were. Now websites like Pitchfork review all genres and have a festival. Now you don't have to be on one team or the other.
It's so easy to hear music now, it's so easy to sample. I lament the mystery now, to be able to read about something and dream about what it may sound like and sort of form your idea of what it would sound like before you would hear it. Like when I first heard about Pump Rock. Mad Magazine had a parody of the Sex Pistols where they were throwing up on stage and into the audience. All these spiky haired people were throwing up on stage. Then when I heard the Sex Pistols when I was in high school and I thought, this is it? This isn't at all what I imagined when I read about them. Then later on I heard bands that lived up to my imagination.
That misperception can't happen anymore.
What did you look at when you wanted to dig deeper into something?
I'd buy a bunch of magazines because you would have more specialized stuff like Forced Exposure. They translated into mail order and now they are a huge force. Still underground in the grand scheme of things but now they are a big distributor, influential and crucial in curating in underground and experimental music.
They tend to be open minded like myself in carrying world music dance music, noise, and modern classical all off the beaten path genres and it is well curated. I think that's what it takes sometimes, someone having great taste.
Separating the wheat from the chaff. You can discover stuff on your own, but in terms of a source, it's like going to Whole Foods you know you'll get fresh organic vegetables where if you go to another grocery store you have to watch for pesticides more carefully. The quality ratio is higher with Forced Exposure.
I also went to shows and talked to people to find new music. I went to people's houses and listened to records. People would make tapes of records. It was a legit activity to come over and listen to music. That doesn't happen so much anymore. Now I also listen to Soundcloud, there are good playlists on there.
What is it that you love about vinyl?
I feel like it's a commitment. Commitment on the part of the listener and the artist, obviously the person was committed to go through the process of getting it released. I think that it shows a little more commitment than making an mp3 in your living room one afternoon. I'm not against music being created in a moment without any thought but at least it shows some commitment either from the artist of the label.
I love it enough to spend money on it. I love it because I can hold it in my hands.
Listening to records is more of an activity. You'd sit down and hold it in your hand. A good record would have good art work something evocative that would pull you in. having the actual physical thing is really nice, feeling the weight of it. I'll never forget the smell of the first record I opened, it's always a fun thing to do, to break the seal.
What is one of your favorite memories going record shopping in a store?
I remember going into a record shop one time, a Woolworths and buying a copy of the UFO record and bringing it out to the car and going somewhere else and coming back and it was liquid. I brought it back, they didn't let me return so I had to buy another one for two dollars. That's when I learned records melt. They get super soft from light warping to a crepe like consistency. People talk about straightening warped records between plate glass or wood glue to clean up records but I haven't done that.
What is one of your favorite record stores to shop at?
I like Hard Wax in Berlin. It's ostensibly a techno store but they are reggae fanatics. They have a replica of a reggae sound system with horned tweeters in their store. I asked the people working there why they weren't playing the speakers during the day. They said, "Oh those speakers aren't on during the day, we use those to test the dub plates to see what it sounds like."
It's a well curated store, it has a special focus. You can tell it's curated by a person who is passionate about a certain kind of music. The store had a stark look, minimalistic, rough, like rock and metal. It felt very techno but in a cool way, like a leader of techno rather than this cheesy techno. They have a mastering facility where they cut dub plates.
I also went to a really great psychedelic music store in Toronto, Canada, I can't remember the name but they had a great collection of psychedelic rock.
The store I work in now, Reckless Records is great because we have experts in all genres. We have a couple people that know a lot about soul, someone knows about metal, this person is into hardcore punk, I know about experimental and world music. It's a real melting pot where you can learn about soul or other genres. We are constantly turning each other onto things.
It's a real thrill to see the whole process from beginning to end, to hear a record, discover a record, then order the record, describe the record, market the record then play it in the store and hand it to someone who is buying it.
It's a real thrill to get an update from distributors to pick out what I want to order then sell it and see people walking away happy. When I was younger I'd sell noise to these younger kids and then they went and turned into Wolf Eyes which is a more influential noise band. Then to go even further, make the record yourself, package the record, etc.
What would you choose on a deserted island, would you listen to all of the old music you already knew or new music?
New music. I've got the old stuff in my head already.
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