DUST & GROOVES
Visiting 130 vinyl collectors and their “record rooms”, thousands of miles traveled, and countless anecdotes and reasons to keep digging for more – no wonder Eilon Paz, born in Israel and now residing in Brooklyn, says that “a baby has been born” when you ask him about his hugely inspiring 416-page book that just came out via Dust & Grooves Publications.
What started out as a fun little project some six years ago – a photographer by trade, Eilon just wanted to take photos of people whose record collections were larger than his own – saw a massive boost after his successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, so now he’s become the official meta collector of the vinyl digging world: featuring a foreword by RZA, “Dust & Grooves” visits everyone from Egon to GLK, from Gilles Peterson to Four Tet and back... time to put the needle to the groove with Mr. Paz!
A photographer in love with vinyl… does that mean you don’t shoot digital? Are you also in love with good old film? Books instead of eBooks etc.?
I do shoot digital. I am not a purist like some of my vinyl collecting subjects, but yeah, having a real book does make a difference. This is actually something I thought about at the beginning of the project: if I’m dealing with this old school, analog subject, maybe I should shoot film? But that thought went away pretty quickly – just from looking at my bank account! Plus, as I said, I’m not a purist. Film has its own look and feel, which is great, but I don’t have the capacity to deal with all its expenses and it’s also very time consuming. I do try to emulate film when I shoot digital, but in the end, my camera is a tool, it’s not the artwork itself. My subjects and their surroundings are the art, so it doesn’t matter to me if it’s an analog or digital image. I do occasionally shoot a roll of film at a shoot, but my main footage is always digital. And I always print my digital photos, I have to say. In fact, I made the final decision to do this book after I printed a few of my favorite images on 5x7 and laid them out in my studio – it just looked like a book! So the physicality of the photos is a key element here.
What were some of the most amazing experiences while putting it together and meeting all these collectors?
You know, it really varies by the stage I was in at the time; what depth I was at with the project when something happened. At first I was excited by every meeting; every interview got me super amped. But when you do things over and over, it dilutes the experience. So over time, it’s the ones that were really hard to get, or the ones that took me by surprise, that stand out. Definitely the opportunity to shadow Frank Gossner in Ghana, just being in on that process of chasing records, following them with him, that was amazing. And on that trip, meeting Philip, an 80-year-old guy who hadn’t listened to his records in 30 years – that was a mind-blowing experience. In that case, we were really able to give him something too, as we brought the turntable he listened to them on. So it was incredibly cool that we were really able to give each other something, to exchange these great experiences. Also traveling up the Mississippi Delta on our road trip last year – meeting David Caldwell in his broken-down store and spending the day with him listening to stories and talking about old records; that will stay with me. I don’t know… maybe I’m just really fascinated by old men! Also, getting to hang out with people who made music that I listened to as a kid. Getting to meet a few of my heroes: Gilles Peterson, King Britt, the guys from Jazzanova... those were all amazing experiences.
Do you think vinyl collectors are all – somehow – quite similar, no matter what country or part of the world they’re from? Is there anything they generally have in common?
Oh yeah, of course! They’re all super intelligent. They all have phenomenal memories. They’re a little bit obsessive – sometimes very obsessive – about knowledge, about facts. Most of them are male. And most of them have cats.
Collectors can have such different motivations to start digging, what’s your reason? And which of the ones that you've heard in interviews did you find most convincing?
I guess the least expected one I ever heard was from a collector in Lafayette, Louisiana that we met on our road trip. His motto is, “Buy any record. If you don’t like it, give it away.” So he’s always buying vinyl and giving it away. It’s the opposite of the classic nature of the hoarding record collector.
I can give some more examples: one of the weirdest ones is this guy in Italy who holds the world record for most colored vinyl. He has everything categorized by color; he files them neatly based on the color spectrum. He’s just obsessed with any record on colored vinyl, with no consideration for the content. So that’s kind of odd. And I’ve met two people who have this mission of creating a Noah’s Ark for vinyl. One is public, one is more personal, but they both want to have two copies of every record. (One wants two of every record ever made; the other wants two of every record that he likes, and in mint condition.) Then of course there’s Rutherford Chang, who collects only Beatles first pressing, numbered white albums. I think he currently has over 950.
It’s been 5 and a half years since you started the website – what were some of the main lessons you learned from doing it, from meeting and interviewing all these people?
Oh wow. This whole project has been a life-sized learning experience, in so many aspects. One thing I’ve learned for sure is never assume anything. Also, I’ve learned how to look without judgment. I made quite a few mistakes, and hopefully I learned from them as well – about being sensitive to people. This project has definitely enhanced that capability for me. Then there’s the whole technical side of running a blog, running a website, editing videos, printing a book, dealing with press, learning text editing… it’s all been fascinating and taught me to be very thorough and responsible. Lastly, in the beginning, I thought this would just be for myself, but the demand for more content from the vinyl community taught me that I have a responsibility to them. So no more slacking off for me!
The book clocks in at a whopping 416 pages, though I guess it could’ve easily been 832 pages! How did you decide what to put in there and what to leave out? I guess it wasn’t easy?
That was one of the hardest processes I’ve been through, that decision-making. It took some time, you know. It basically was hibernating in my head. I had all kinds of different ideas. In the beginning, I thought I should just have a few stories and divide it into themes or genres and then have full stories to accompany the photos, but I found out quickly enough that it wasn’t necessary to break it into chapters like that; I didn’t want to break the flow of the photos. But I also didn’t want to lose the interesting interviews. So I decided to split it into two main sections: one of mainly photos, with captions and a few quotes; and a second that’s mainly longer stories with photos. Having the photo section allowed me to include photos of almost all the collectors I’ve ever shot, which would have been impossible with full stories for everyone. (Although I tried to include photos of each one of my subjects, some of them did fall through the editing process, unfortunately. But full inclusion was definitely a goal I was trying to achieve.) In terms of the full interviews, I didn’t want this to be a celebrity-driven book; I wanted to give full representation of the community I came to meet in the six years of working on this project. So we have a DJ, a behind-the-scenes curator for music labels, we have a kid who collects very specific stuff… so we have people from every corner of the spectrum: older people who only know vinyl (that’s the only format they’ve ever used), and younger people who are just discovering it. And I wanted to get people from all over the world: Asia, Africa, Europe. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to Australia, but that’s on my list.
Sounds good! How did you get RZA to write the foreword?
Well, when I was debating who should write the foreword, I had quite a few people in mind. I wanted someone who’s associated with records, but who could also make that bridge between the vinyl collecting community and people who don’t collect records. Someone who’s known enough to make the book accessible to people who don’t know vinyl. So I had a lot of people in mind. When I photographed Craig from Atlantic Records, we were talking about it: I threw out Quentin Tarantino, Mike D, ?uestlove, RZA… and Craig had RZA in his ‘rolodex’ and said, “Let me just call him right now,” and he did. And RZA was quick and kind enough to do it.
And what are you working on now that the book’s done? Vol. 2?
After I take my vacation, my first priority will be doing things in a more relaxed way, in terms of shooting. I want to go down to South America and do some shooting there, concentrating more on stories of vinyl communities and sound systems. This project exposed me to so many talented people – in photography, in graphic design, in writing… many different disciplines. My next project will involve graphic design and vinyl; curating a show that combines them. I learned from this project that I really enjoy curating stuff and connecting people. So I’m going to branch out.
Interview: Renko Heuer