Every month from here on out (for reals this time), we’ll be naming one lucky reader as our Record Collector Of The Month. This month, the distinction went to Gordon Diggs. Gordon is a 25-year-old software engineer based in New York City who has a collection of over 1,200 records. Apart from collecting, he spends quite a bit of time baking bread, brews beer and even has time to go out for a run every now and then. We thank Gordon for his time.
What do you remember about the first piece of music, vinyl or otherwise, you were either given or purchased?
One of the first records I ever owned (that I still have) was a picture disc of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. It’s a UK release, which means it was pressed in West Germany and actually sounds pretty great for a picture disc. I had it framed in my room for many years before I started collecting – now it lives in my shelves with the other records I own.
One of the first records I actually bought was NOFX’s hardcore covers 10”. I didn’t own a turntable (or, really, any records) at the time, but they were doing this vinyl only release on black and white vinyl and I really wanted to hear it. I think that’s the first record I ever pre-ordered. I listened to it in my parents’ living room many times.
Was there anyone in particular who introduced you to vinyl records or music in general?
My dad is a musician, so growing up music was always a huge part of my life. I heard a lot of jazz in the house, which has stuck with me. When I was about 13 or 14, my mom sat me down on the couch in our living room and handed me a few records she had decided I needed to hear. I don’t remember what the whole stack was, but I do remember it included Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, The Doors’ Strange Days, and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. I was really into the first two, but not so into the Jethro Tull. I remember feeling that very physical connection to the music that a lot of people talk about with vinyl: flipping the record, seeing the large artwork on the sleeve. It’s an incredibly tactile experience.
What genres would people come across if they went digging through your collection?
It’s a lot of punk rock and free jazz. On one end I really like classic sounding punk rock: bands like NOFX, Anti-Flag, Black Flag, Snuff, Youth Brigade. I also like records by bands that only ever put out one or two releases. There are lots of punk bands that kids got together in the ’90s to put out a 7” that you see in discount bins now. I love those – it’s raw enjoyment and a real love of music. I even ended up getting in touch with a guy from this band Wormbath and convinced him to send me MP3s of the rest of the music he recorded back when he was a teenager.
On the other end of the spectrum, I listen to a lot of jazz, and a lot of free jazz or experimental music. I’m a really big Don Ellis fan. I think the improvisations on How Time Passes are brilliant. There are a number of artists and labels whose records I will always buy. Don Ellis is one. Guitarist Bill Orcutt and percussionist Chris Corsano are two others (they play together sometimes too and it’s amazing). On the punk side, I try to buy all the Ebullition Records releases whenever I see them, as well as lots of Fat Wreck Chords records. My collection is really varied. I have a lot of Alice Cooper and Miles Davis in there too.
What is it about Fat Wreck and their catalog that has kept you engrossed throughout the years? There’s plenty of punk labels out there. What have you loved about Fat?
Fat Wreck gets criticized fairly often for having a “taste.” People say all the bands sound the same and things like that. I think that’s a real strength of the label, though. The whole catalog is basically governed by what Fat Mike wants to listen to and he’s built a serious catalog around those musical preferences. You can buy a Fat Wreck release without necessarily knowing the band, but still know it’s worthwhile because of that taste. On top of that, the label has always done really interesting vinyl releases: cool colored vinyl, great packaging and they keep their prices fair. There’s a big body of music to collect from that label. The last thing I’ll add is that there’s a great community at fatwreckwiki of other people who are also crazy about all the Fat Wreck releases, so getting to talk to them about the catalog makes it even more fun.
And you’ve also collected basically everything from NOFX. What is it about the band that inspired you to keep going with that hard to maintain collection? You even flew out to San Fran (you’re on the east coast) for a store exclusive one time.
Yep! I have at least one copy of all of their official releases. I’m a bit of a completionist, in that if I like an artist and they only have a few other releases, I’ll try to find them all. NOFX was kind of the ultimate challenge in that respect. I love the band’s music – they basically introduced me to punk rock, so owning all of it is fun. I listened to it all chronologically recently and it was interesting to hear how their sound has evolved over the years. They manage to keep things fresh while not actually changing too rapidly.
The San Francisco story is a funny one. Fat Wreck has a store that they open periodically on Fridays and when the new NOFX LP was coming out, they were doing an opening for it with this store exclusive version. I took that Friday off of work, left my apartment in Brooklyn at about 4 a.m., and flew to San Francisco. The store didn’t open until 3, so I spent the day at a bunch of other record stores until it was time. It was really fun getting the record (pictured above) and getting to meet Fat Mike. I had to be back on the east coast on Saturday, so I crashed on a friend’s floor for about 3 hours before getting up to fly back. I think I was there for about 26 hours – it’s the only time I’ve been to San Francisco. I’d like to go back!
What are some of your other prized possessions?
I have a copy of the Cambodian Rocks compilation. It’s a collection of songs from the ’60s and ’70s in Cambodia. The story as I’ve heard it is that American soldiers would play American pop music and they basically tried to mimic that sound as best they could. One of the songs is essentially a cover of “Black Magic Woman.” It’s a really great compilation.
I also have a full collection of the releases featuring Spitboy, who were an early 90s San Francisco punk band. I bought their album True Self Revealed on a whim and really loved it. It’s a very intense record. From there I bought all of their 7”s and all of the compilations they appeared on! That started the obsession with Ebullition too.
What about the “white whales.” What are you still on the lookout for?
There’s a Bill Orcutt box set of 13 7”s that I really want to own. They’re alternate versions of songs from his covers LP A History Of Every One as well as his version of the Star Spangled Banner, which is amazing. There are a few early NOFX pressings I don’t have that I want: an original Liberal Animation and an original The PMRC Can Suck On This.
You’re currently out in New York City. What are some of your favorite shops in the city and what would you recommend to anyone visiting (selfish question alert)?
NYC is a treasure trove of great stores. I spend a lot of time in Greenpoint at Academy Records and Record Grouch. In Manhattan, I’d recommend Generation Records, Academy Records (same owners) and Jazz Record Center. That last one is inside an office building, which keeps their prices reasonable. Let me know when you come down if you want to go digging!
Do you mostly shop at physical stores or do you find yourself going digital often?
I buy online from record labels a lot. There are a number of really great labels putting out music today. This blog captures a lot of them! I have a long list of pre-order emails that I am waiting to come in. For used records, I mostly shop at physical stores because I’m lucky to have so many near me. I find the act of digging through bins of records to be very relaxing? Even if I don’t find anything I want. So, you’ll see me often in stores after work or on the weekends. There are pretty frequent record fairs here too: The WFMU one annually and the Brooklyn Flea one bi-annually. I love the crowd and gathering of sellers at those events – it’s a great energy that’s unique.
Are you going to be on the lookout for anything this Black Friday?
In terms of releases, I would like to pick up the Against Me! and Mick Foley records. I’m a sucker for those Side by Side 7”s of the original and cover, so if they put any of those out, I’ll buy them! I’m most excited for the chance to go back to Double Decker Records in Allentown, Pennsylvania when I’m visiting my family. I spent a lot of time there in college – it’s one of the best stores I’ve been to in the world, so I’ll be there bright and early that Friday!
Tell me a little about the application you built to catalog your records. Is that something available to all?
I’m a software developer by trade, and wanted something other than Discogs to catalog my collection. I built this application called Rayons to do that. It’s a cool thing to hack on and I can add features to it as I want. I recently added a notes field to keep track of things like pressing size or where I got a record. My favorite feature is the stats page that aggregates data on artists, labels, etc. from my collection. The application itself is open source, so technically it’s available but you need to either be a developer or be friends with one!
And finally, this is something new we’re doing. If you could toss one question into the “Collector Of The Month” bank for MV to ask the next honoree, what would it be?
What’s one record from your collection that you want to play for people when they come over?
A big thanks to Gordon for letting us in on his collection and life. We hope he continues to collect and of course, bake tons of bread. Until next time…