Vinyl Tales: Meeting the people behind the record collections

It takes a certain type of person to be a record collector. It is someone who loves music, but wants more from it, to feel it, to touch it, and full immerse themselves in the experience. In our new feature, Vinyl Tales, we will be meeting the people behind some of the best record collections out there.

First up is one of our long time customers, Michael Caisse from Boston, MA. After 30 years of collecting, Michael has amassed around 10,000 pieces of vinyl that spans a multitude of artists, labels, and genres of music. We spoke to him to get some background on his amazing collection.

Firstly, when did you start collecting records, and why?

When I was 6 or 7 years old, I used to spend time at my grandmother’s house on weekends. My aunts, who were both a few years older than I was, had a modest collection of 45s (as we called them back in 1965) that they had randomly hung on nails on the walls around the room. I used to play them on their old console record player they had in the basement. A couple of years later I started buying my own records with my allowance from chores I did around the house. At such a young age I didn’t really have the money to “collect,” not to mention the fact that I really didn’t take care of the small stack that I did have. When you’re 8 years old I learned that the records could be listened to, and they also made really excellent Frisbee’s. So much later when I started collecting in earnest (late 80’s), and I really began to appreciate both the value and the vulnerability of the vinyl format, I would begin by re-purchasing all those records that I treated so badly, to recreate my earliest collection.

What was the first record you bought, and is there a story behind it?

I vividly remember the first single I bought was Carrie-Anne by the Hollies. I bought it at Woolworth’s the same week it was released (May, 1967) with a dollar my grandmother gave me. But the first LP I ever bought was Sgt. Peppers, which must have been right around that same time frame (June, 1967). I remember staring at the cover artwork the entire first weekend I owned it, trying to figure out how many people I recognized (which probably wasn’t more than four at the time), and also committing the lyrics of the entire album to memory (back album cover: red background, black text) as I listened to it repeatedly. Looking back, it had such a profound and lasting impact on my life, just like it did for so many others.

Given you have such a vast collection, what would you consider to be your most treasured item and why?

I have several that come to mind. One of the genres I really enjoy collecting is mid-late 60’s psychedelic-pop, and “Strange Girl” by “Kate” was ever so elusive for me for such a long time. I now own a few copies of that rare 45, but there is just something about that song, the melancholy strings section, the dynamic changes in key and tempo and the haunting baroque mood – it just sends chills. Some of my most treasured records are simply ones that were just really hard to find, like the “Love is All You Need” 7” by Sarah Cracknell, or “Circles” by Les Fleur de Lys, or that unplayed copy of Big Star’s “September Gurls” on Ardent. Another genre I really enjoy collecting is early-mid-90’s shoegaze and I was fortunate to find a 2×12” acetate of Catherine Wheel’s masterpiece “Chrome”. There is something so vulnerable about preserving the condition of a record, and acetates take that to a whole new level. To me there is something so rare, volatile and authentic about acetates and so in my 35+ year record-collecting quest I have been able to build a sizable collection of them. In general, I’m also not a huge fan of reissues, I mean they’re fine to play, but as a matter of personal preference, I always seek out the original pressing of a release, and if possible, in the original county of origin as well.

One of the labels I enjoyed “nearly” completing (more on that later) is the iconic Sarah Records from Bristol, England, and so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Pristine Christine” by the Sea Urchins. Funny, I was late to jump onto the Sarah Records band-wagon, having only discovered that label in the mid-90’s, so I ended up investing fairly heavily to catch-up on my Sarah collection. There are also countless autographed copies of things, acetates, test pressings and other one-offs too many to list, but a sizable portion of my collection is also comprised of obscure, non traditional Christmas pop, punk, garage, shoegaze, ethereal records. So, I would have to include the scarce 45 by Jaymes Fenda & the Vulcans: “Mistletoe Love”, The Leopard’s: “Dancing in the Snow” and “For Christmas Only” by Soft Verdict, found only on the vinyl pressing of “Chantons Noel – The Ghost of Christmas Past” compilation from Les Disques du Crepescule label as among my most treasured.

With such a vast amount of records in your collection, what do you find is most appropriate way to store the collection?

I’d love to tell you that I have found an “appropriate” way, but I’m still in search of the right answer! 5 years ago, my wife and I lived in a much larger home in the country, so I had plenty of space for the records. I had industrial-strength shelving units to support the weight of the 12” and 7” records and they were stored in the basement. I used dehumidifiers, and the room stayed comfortably cool and dry. But then we decided to move to the coast and downsize, so today we live oceanfront on Humarock Beach, which is roughly halfway between Boston and Cape Cod. It’s a lovely home in the gorgeous New England coastal area (3 seasons of the year) BUT presents many challenges for the records to be sure, not only because of space limitations, but also due to the humidity from the close proximity to the ocean and also the risk of flooding due to winter storms.

Fortunately, I have been able to shoe-horn in 12” wooden cubes on some built-in shelves that are well off the floor, with wooden trays for the 7” records stored on racks (also well off the floor) and I continue to use a combination of dehumidifiers, air-conditioning and generators to maintain a safe climate for them, but it’s a far cry from being an ideal situation. So much about record-collecting is about preserving the original condition of the items and despite the volatility of my current locale, I’m happy to say that the condition of the records has never been compromised. I have contemplated scaling back the collection in terms of quantity, (backup copies, etc.) while continuing to improve the level of quality. Specifically, I have several hundred sealed copies of things and then there are duplicates of those either on CD or vinyl and often times – BOTH, which are the copies that I actually play. I may need to rethink that strategy going forward ;-).

You say that you collect a lot labels rather than bands. Where did that come from? What is your favourite label to follow?

When I say I collect by label, it’s really just a by-product of collecting in general, because when you collect a lot of records, bands and labels eventually As a collector, I may complete sub-collections (genre, label, band) and you can categorize/organize it multiple ways (as we saw from John Cusack in High Fidelity. So for example, if I collect the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Lush, Belly, Red House Painters, Pixies, This Mortal Coil, pretty soon you look around and by accident you end up collecting pretty much everything 4AD. I do have my favorite labels such as: Creation, Sun, Sarah, Summershine, 4AD, Sub Pop, Heavenly, SFTRI, Nude, Blue Note, Third Man Records, Warp, Flying Nun, because I gravitate to the bands and genres that those labels sign.

I don’t necessarily purchase everything (or every band) by the label, although I have backed into that situation a few times. As an example, with the exception of ONE item, I have proudly completed the entire Sarah Records discography. The one missing puzzle piece would be: “Sunstroke”, Sarah #32, which is not even a record, it’s a 12 page fanzine! What is unfortunate is that I used to own a copy of it and I misplaced it, or sadly it may have gotten thrown away with a random stack of papers many years ago. Sunstroke cost a mere 10p when it was released, and I’m quite certain that it will be 100£+ to replace it, assuming I am fortunate enough to find another copy!

What are you still looking for to complete your collection? Do you have a ‘holy grail’ or ‘white whale’ record you just have to track down?

For me, there will always be the evolving wish-list, so there is no misconception of ever actually “completing” my collection, and I also think that “holy grail” means different things to different people. For example, one of my favorite bands is the Chameleons, and I have been fortunate to collect virtually everything they have ever recorded, literally every release, live performance, bootleg in every format (in true completest style) – some 200+ items, which is thought-provoking considering they technically only released 3 proper studio albums! Anyway, it was rumored that during the period of their amazing third LP: “Strange Times” in 1986, Geffen was going to release “Mad Jack” as a single. Apparently, due to “inappropriate lyrics” the label withdrew the release. However, this decision was made after 75 white label pressings had been produced! GEF 11 (7”) and GEF 11T (12”) were the rumored Mad Jack singles, and I have scoured the planet for the past 25+ years trying to find a copy of either of these records. Other than that, another item that I used to own (and then sold to a good friend who wanted to give it away as a wedding present) is an Electric Honey pressing of Belle & Sebastian’s “Tigermilk”. Technically speaking, that record is actually not particularly difficult to find, (when compared to, say, Mad Jack) but again, if you’re going to search for one of those, you may turn down 3 opportunities and hold out for that one, pristine copy. It’s all about the condition, isn’t it? And of course, I won’t rest peacefully until I replace that “Sunstroke” fanzine and finally complete the Sarah discography.

But there are others on my wish list that may even be completely out of reach for me, which at least from my perspective, are the true holy grails for many record collectors: Sex Pistols’ original A&M pressing of “God Save the Queen”, an Alan Livingston 1st state, sealed mono butcher cover of “Yesterday and Today”, the 1963 withdrawn version of “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, the 1969 Third World Recordings pressing of The Shaggs’ “Philosophy of the World or U2’s Australian green vinyl 12” pressing of “All I Want is You”. While for many record collectors, these ultra-rare and highly-sought-after items may be unattainable – due to the simple fact that even if you had the money, there are so few of these items in existence that you’d never get the chance to purchase one. So, I tend to think about my wish-list in a 3 tier hierarchy: 1) Unattainable, 2) Aspirational and then 3) Attainable, which means – finding the right copy is just a matter of time. So if the aforementioned list of holy grail items serves as examples of the unattainable, then perhaps rare releases such as: Kaleidescope’s “Tangerine Dream” or GBV’s hand-crafted “Propeller” fall into that aspirational category for me, whereby if all the stars were to align (right price, right condition, etc.) I would probably make that investment. I think that a major part of what makes record collecting sustainable is to have an ongoing list of attainable items that provides a sense of self-accomplishment (call it progress) and the pleasure of ephemeral satisfaction, which then drives us onward in the never-ending conquest of our own holy grail

Being a long running collector, what advice would you give to those just starting to build there collections?

Off the top, there are three pieces of advice that I would offer:

1) Don’t feel as though you have to spend a lot of money in order to build a great record collection! Start by going to yard sales, thrift shops and by all means, and if you’re fortunate to be in a location that has real record shops – there is nothing more enjoyable than combing through the bins. And when you find that gem that you have been searching for?…..there is no better feeling!

2) Listen to your records! Statistically, I have read that nearly half of all people who collect records don’t even own a turntable. Record collecting is different than other collecting categories in that there is enjoyment to be had well beyond the fun and challenges of collecting – simply for the sake of collecting. For example, people who collect rare coins don’t actually get to spend that money, or people who collect rare stamps don’t actually use them for postage. At least with record-collecting you have the opportunity to enjoy the multi-faceted, and totally immersive experience of physically buying a record, putting it on a turntable, listening to it, reading the liner notes, appreciating the full-size artwork and then sharing that experience with others!

3) Finally, by all means, if you decide to start a record collection, don’t move to the beach! Trust me, your records and the ocean should never be uttered in the same sentence!

What do you see for the future of vinyl? Do you think it will continue to grow following the resurgence of the last few years?

Well, suffice it to say that none of us possesses that crystal ball, but I do have to say that I’m optimistic with the trends I have been seeing with vinyl sales outstripping digital downloads last year for the first time, EVER. Something like 3.2 million LPs were sold last year, which is a 50%+ year over year growth from the previous year (albeit from a favorable compare), but it also marked the highest number of albums sold since 1991? – and THAT is pretty amazing! It’s also encouraging to see manufacturers like Sony opening up a vinyl factory in Japan after a 30-year hiatus! So, while I’m not sure the explosive growth rate that the vinyl industry has seen recently is sustainable, it certainly is encouraging that more millennials are getting more interested in vinyl.

I also hope that the new record-buying generation gets the opportunity to experience buying vinyl the way that I did (or we 50+ years olds did), by physically going into the store, combing through the bins, listening to new music while in the store, and then making a b-line to your turntable with your newly found stash! I think events like Record Store Day is really fueling a lot of that dynamic, I just wished I didn’t see those same RSD releases show up on eBay for 3x the amount the very next day! That is criminal!

Finally, do you think music really sounds better on vinyl?

I do, but with a few caveats. While you don’t need an expensive sound system to appreciate vinyl, investing a little extra in your record-playing system does make a difference. Not only that, but the quality of the pressing and the overall condition of the record can be the difference between a positive and a regrettable listening experience. One caveat is certainly the matter of listening convenience. I do have SONOS throughout the house for listening convenience and for background effect, or for throwing a speaker on the deck while we’re outside on the beach, but when I want to really enjoy some music, whenever I have the option my preferred medium is always going to be vinyl. I converted my primary listening system to 100% analog several years ago, so amp/pre-amp/phono stage is all vacuum tubes, zero regrets, and I can honestly say (in my admittedly biased way) that a well-cared for piece of vinyl on a decent system sounds far superior to any other format!

 

Many thanks to Michael for taking part. If you would like to tell your Vinyl Tales, please email Glen.Bushell@eil.com with a brief description of your collection and why yours should be featured.

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