11,000 miles, millions of records, one shared passion. Photographer Eilon Paz soon will embark on a journey across the United States documenting one of the quirkiest musical subgroups—vinyl collectors.
Interview by Casey Brown
Four years ago, Eilon Paz started interviewing and photographing vinyl collectors in his free time. Today, his pastime has developed into a full-fledged project complete with a website called Dust & Grooves, which includes photos, interviews and mixtapes from the collectors he’s met. Pretty soon he’ll take on a nation-wide tour and publish a book about it. Most importantly, Paz’s enterprise has engaged and connected the underground community of vinyl collectors—people as vibrant and vital to music history as the relics they collect.
Sounds interesting? Dust & Grooves’ Kickstarter campaign to fund the journey and book will expire soon. Now is the time to help make this project possible. If you’d like to contribute, go here for more information.
How did your website “Dust & Grooves” get started?
I never really planned to have a website. I just wanted to work on a long-term personal project. After the first photo shoot I did I decided to blog about it, you know, just a casual blog post. I posted on Blogger and got an amazing reaction from people, like “These photos are cool, and it’s cool that you’re dealing with this subject matter”. Suddenly I realized I had something bigger than I thought. It’s more than a personal project. It’s revealing something people always wanted to see. They always wanted to see the personal spaces of other collectors, their hidden worlds. After blogging about two collectors, I started getting more credibility. I managed to get into more serious collectors. Once they opened their houses to me and showed me their collections, I knew that this was going to be a serious project.
Slowly it started to grow, and the community started to grow as well. We had more and more people joining us, and more collectors pitching their stories and asking me to come document and profile them.
How did you decide on creating a book out of this project?
Perhaps a year ago I decided I wanted to make a book out of it. It was based on my readers’ comments, which suggested I make a book. I never thought it would be possible to do it myself. It’s become popular in recent years. Now that I have a strong community behind me, I’m positive this will happen. And I’m getting worldwide support from the vinyl community as well as the photo community. I’m covering the scene in a pretty insightful way, with interviews, photos and videos as well.
We’re doing this Kickstarter campaign to fund our book. We’re now at 78 percent of what we need. We need all the support we can get. If people love music and love vinyl, I’m sure this book will be an excellent investment for them. They can read about music, learn about people, and have a look at this subculture.
Can you tell me about some of the record collectors you’ve interviewed?
I guess you could call them magnificent and cool music nerds, and I say that in the most positive way. All of them are music heads, and they all get their life through music. Vinyl is just a manifestation of it.
I see collectors as archivists and preservers of musical history. They’re helping preserve our history because vinyl is the perfect format. If you don’t use it badly, it will last forever. And each vinyl carries a lot of information. I think that these collectors are important for culture.
Can you tell me about one of your most interesting collectors from your travels?
It’s really hard and I can’t really say that any particular collector is more interesting than the other. Every time I visit or make a photo session I feel like I’m attending a music school. I learn about music, about art, and about human behavior. It really interests me. It’s about the anthropological aspect of it.
If I need to answer your question in a direct way, it’s really hard. I’ve interviewed this guy who collects only Sesame Street records. Maybe the records themselves are not the most sophisticated, but it makes you think, “Why is it that he collects only Sesame Street records?” [Check out this interview here]. I’ve also interviewed Matthew Glass who was recently featured on the website. He collects all kinds of records for their interesting titles and covers. [Check out Paz’s interview and pictures with Glass here. Click here to listen to the “Cover Lover” cloudcast, which includes tracks chosen from his collection].
What makes the vinyl format so unique?
It’s the perfect format. CDs are small, and if they fall they break or scratch. Mp3s are basically nothing, just little files with no cover, no lyrics, and no actual feel. Vinyl records are pieces of art, and they transmit the message of the artist and the people who work on the album. Everything is delivered in the best way. Vinyl itself has evolved so much over the years, from colored vinyl to layout. It’s like a museum.
What significance do records hold for hip-hop, specifically to sampling?
Hip-hop is based on beats and loops from jazz and funk records from the ’70s and ’60s, so it’s pretty obvious that records, which were the only valuable forms back then, actually created hip-hop. With vinyl it was possible to cut and sample these records basically anywhere. Hip-hop lived on the street and at parties. This is how DJ Kool Herc, a pioneer of hip-hop, did it. I can tell you about a specific person, Tony Larson from Philly. He goes by the name of Triple Double. He’s a serious collector who digs for music producers. He used to work for Diplo and make tapes that are a hybrid of funk, soul, and hip-hop. They had endless cuts from funk and soul albums. It will sound to you like hip-hop, but it’s just basically a mixtape with 45 minutes of breaks. [Check out the interview with Larson here]. I guess that’s another form of hip-hop, like b-boy hip-hop. If you want to know about my personal taste, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Premier are all on my list of top hip-hop producers/artists.
What does music on vinyl do to bring people together and document history that other forms of art cannot?
First, there are the record stores. These are important hubs and cultural centers, or meccas. Today you can go and buy an album on iTunes, or you can buy something on eBay or Amazon. It’s easy. When it comes to vinyl, people enjoy browsing, the physical aspect of it, going to flea markets and record stores. It’s the element of surprise. I have a rule to never buy records over 10 bucks. I go to flea markets and wonder, “What will I score today that is under 10 bucks?” and I find amazing stuff. It’s important to go out. Record collectors go out and meet other people. I mean, record digging is pretty much a solo act. People don’t generally go with friends. The social aspect comes after. For instance, we had a photo exhibition a few weeks ago, to which I invited a lot of record collectors featured in the project. You could see how people interact. All of a sudden they see each other, and they see the real faces behind the names on Facebook. You can see how they enjoy other’s company and how they enjoy records, and how they bond over, say the limited edition they bought years ago. It’s a small community that goes back in time. It’s like gathering around a fire. They gather around a turntable and talk records.
For more information check out Eilon’s website www.dustandgrooves.com. To contribute to Paz’s project, visit his Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dustandgrooves/a-photography-book-about-vinyl-collectors-dust-and.