Benjy Ferree on the Record (Store Day)

benjy ferree

The second annual Record Store Day is tomorrow, April 18. It's a pretty simple concept -- "the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music." Now by "celebrate the art of music" they mean "release extremely limited edition records that get music obsessives into the store to buy said records and hopefully lots of other records so these stores can make some money and stay in business." But that's not a bad thing, is it?

The record store has always been a special place, with surly employees who would scoff at your purchases (hello, Skip from Yesterday and Today) or those people who would see what you liked and then tell you the secret best stuff that you weren't aware of (hello, everyone from Vinyl Ink). In addition to those exclusive Record Store Day releases, there are slews of in-store performances across the country, including local favorite Benjy Ferree at Som Records. Ferree's newest album, "Come Back From the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee" is a brash, fun, glammy batch of songs about long-ago child star Bobby Driscoll. I asked him questions about record stores and he did his very best to stay on topic.

So you're playing an in-store for Record Store Day. Are you one of those people that has a real sentimental attachment to record stores and what they mean for really devoted music fans?
I'm all about it. Those are the only places I buy music. I'm all about buying records from the band or the shop. I like going in and I like smelling it. I like talking to people. I got schooled by record store owners. I also got frisked by one at the CDepot, up in College Park, like 15 years ago. I forget how old I was. I think I spent maybe $5,000 over two years and they accused me of stealing. And I remember the guy that fr -- actually I didn't let them frisk me. I got really hot-headed and stuff when tried to touch my coat and I swore at him or something. And this was the guy who always played Stone Temple Pilots and Van Halen's "1984." And I love "1984," don't get me wrong. But that's a bad example.

I've been going to record stores, CD stores, whatever you want to call them, since I could drive. I'm all about it. I'm only about it. As soon as I started making records, and I've only made two records, but nobody knows who I am except for -- anybody that would look for my record, they wouldn't go to Barnes and Noble. They'd go to a mom and pop shop. Because I'm not Justin Timberlake. And I love Justin Timberlake. To be honest, I've never heard about Record Store Day in my life until Neal from Som Records asked me to play it.

(More after the jump.)

I guess it's sort of like Earth Day, except for record stores. Like, raising awareness so people know they exist. Or something. Do you think people are missing out when people buy or download stuff online, or get music from a generic store?
I don't like the Internet. I don't like Facebook. I don't like MySpace. I only do MySpace because my manager's my dear friend and I'm trying to make her life easier. I wish I could be 100 percent DIY, but I'm more ADD. So I have to do things like that. I'm all about seeing the artwork, I'm all about talking to people. There's a lot of stuff I don't know. I mean, I don't know anything about music. How many records are there out there? There are millions of them. And there's something to be said about talking to someone who has music as their life. And also, when a band plays in front of an audience, and a band thinks it's better than the audience? Well those bands usually suck. Because they wouldn't be there without the audience.

But if you're playing in front of an audience, the people in the audience are amazing people. Because most of them will tell you about bands you've never heard of. I've learned more from playing at my own shows -- and that's pretty much the American dream, you do what you want to do and have success in whatever it is you want to do, success meaning happiness -- and people come up and they heard one song of mine and they start talking about their favorite record. And I'm like, "Oh, I've never heard of that band." I was talking to this guy at South by Southwest who was a fan and he came out to see us play and he was from Australia and I start talking about the Saints or the Bad Seeds or the Birthday Party or Crime in the City Solution or whatever and he starts mentioning all these other Australian bands I've never heard of. And I have a serious crush on bands from Australia. And I don't know anything about bands from Australia. And I thought I was cool. But I'm not.

There's also sort of a vinyl resurgence, especially within the indie community. Do you think it's the most "pure" form of music?
The most pure form of music is on vinyl. Period. Absolutely. Vinyl is a hardback book. Well they obviously sound better than CDs. And somebody told me, and I don't know if it's true or not, but that in a certain amount of years they break down. You know when you have a scratch on a CD and it just won't work? With a record, even though it sounds horrible that you have that scratch, it's like a car going over a speed bump. But you do go over the speed bump. At least there's a document of that recording. And what if it is was some band that only made 500 pressings? And 20 years or 100 years later it's better to have that scratched up version and maybe Smithsonian Folkways can remaster it or something. They do that with Blind Willie McTell. If we didn't have those really scratched up blues recordings or folk recordings, some rare copy, we wouldn't have any of it. Who knows? I hope we can save CDs of artists that didn't have any vinyl. But I always thought that vinyl just sounded better and lasted longer. Even the crappy vinyl still works.

Let me take the contrarian point of view here -- people who must have everything on vinyl are object fetishists that value the object more than the actual art. Do you think there's any validity to that?
If there's someone that likes looking at a certain font on the computer every day when they listen to music, if that's what they're into ... music's a precious thing, don't get me wrong. And if someone wants to look at computer text on their iPod or their computer, sure, if it makes them happy and it brings world peace, I'm all about it. And music does bring world peace. Or take the edge off, at least. Anyway, I think that it's going to be there anyway. So if it's going to be there anyway, meaning the MP3s, then you may as well have the vinyl.

My fiancee has an iPod and then someone gave her another one. So that means I'm getting her old iPod. And I don't know how to use it. That is because I'm a moron. But some people aren't computer savvy, for whatever reason. I swear I'm not trying to be funny. I'm not computer savvy. The other thing about MP3s is that -- I bartend. I bartend at Cafe St-Ex. When I put the iPod on, or someone else does, one song sounds really good then one song has too much treble and it's all inconsistent. I like checking the liner notes. I want to know the dates, the names of the people that were in the band, I want to know who recorded it. I want to know anything I can possibly find out.

I don't like MP3s because you can't see 'em. They're just in the air. They're in the air and the Internet. The Internet doesn't mean anything to me. It is amazing. And technology is amazing. I like synthesizers. I like Bob Moog. I like the Postal Service. Not the band, but like the Pony Express. Mail. And I think that e-mail is amazing and all that stuff. But it gets to the point where nothing's sacred. I don't like the idea that I can't see it or feel it.

I do like paying someone for a record. I need to know. Whatever that means, I need to know. It's always better going to Bill at Crooked Beat or Neal at Som Records, those places are a big part of my life. If I could buy more records I'd be there every day. I spend too much time in the house as it is. I don't want to buy records online.

By David Malitz |  April 17, 2009; 11:11 AM ET Interviews
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