Record Store Day: ‘Hurray for record stores!’ – TLOBF meets Huw Stephens

It’s Saturday, 16 April 2011 and the world has just flung open their doors to millions of excitable music fans on the hunt for those mouth-wateringly limited edition releases. Radio 1 DJ and all round music enthusiast Huw Stephens talks vinyl, Record Store Day and the importance of supporting your local indie store.

What are your plans for Record Store Day?

Well I’m not doing anything particular. Jo Whiley has gone to Radio 2 so I’ve started a weekend show on Radio 1 on Saturday and Sunday between 1-4 so we’re going to reflect Record Store Day on Saturday afternoon.

How are you planning on doing that?

Hopefully we’ll get hold of some of the records that are coming out. It’s a mainstream show so we’ll probably try and get hold of the more mainstream releases. There are so many coming out, which is great isn’t it? I think it’s brilliant. I think Tinie Tempah has a record coming out which will be perfect for daytime Radio 1 and I love him so that’s all good. And yeah that’s it really, all I’m doing.

Do you think days like Record Store Day are important?

First of all I love record stores. I think obviously they’re a dying breed but I think they are massively, culturally important. Every time I go to a city I’ll try to go to the local record store and it makes me sad when there isn’t really an identifiable independent store in that city.

I think Record Store Day is great because it reminds people that so many record shops do actually exist. Maybe it is a bit of a publicity stunt, but maybe that is what record shops need, to remind people they’re there and they’re relevant and you know that they are good.

What do you think are the limitations of independent stores?

I mean I like ‘em, you like ‘em, The Line of Best Fit likes ‘em but in the grand scheme of thing I’m not sure whether your average 13 year-old music fan nowadays would ever have even been in a record store and I’m not whether they ever will because they’re just so used to downloading things. So I do worry that record stores are going to become a bit like museums for people who can afford to buy records by their favourite obscure bands while the rest of the world downloads their favourite Katy Perry single. And to be honest, if you want a more mainstream album, your local independent record store, most of the time, just doesn’t stock it.

I want as many people to hear the kind of music that you and I like as possible, so you know a 150 strictly limited vinyl edition on Record Store Day is not going to change the world. But I think once you go into a record store your eyes are going to be opened up to something bigger.

So what is that bigger thing? What do you think it is about independent record stores that keeps people coming back?

Well I go because I’m naturally into new stuff, listening to things I haven’t listened to before and I’m into local stuff as well. Even if I’m in Manchester for the day I still want to know what is good in Manchester and maybe hasn’t crossed out to the rest of the world yet.

Obviously online you can and I do find a lot of new stuff, which is great and all, but I like the character of Record Stores. I like the fact that they’re all different. You go into Rough Trade and they’ll recommend something totally different to what Spillers would recommend. I like that individualism and I think it’s hard to come by online. I mean the Internet is undeniably incredible but I do think that sometimes things get lost, so you need dedicated websites, record shops and radio shows to kind of push different music out into a wider audience. Otherwise it’s just going to stay really insular and that’s not good for anybody.

How do you think independent stores have had to change over the years?

Record stores can be intimidating which is such a shame but you’ve just got to dive in really and absorb it all. There is that old kind of stereotypical image of record stores being snobby and not actually wanting to sell records, there are still the odd few that are like that but generally, well it’s all changed now hasn’t it? I think the fact that record stores like Rough Trade have changed the way they think and work: getting exclusives, in-stores and stuff is vital.

It means something doesn’t it to have your record or CD physically sold in a record shop? I like the fact that it’s like buying into someone else’s ideas and thoughts. Buying a record and going into a record shop means you’re supporting the shop, you’re supporting people who work there and you’re supporting the music that is sold. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I still think we should pay for music, cos 12/13 year olds, a lot of them think that we don’t have to pay for music, they think it should be free. I totally understand because that is all they’re used to but I’ve got a disposable income and I want to spend it on records.

Where did you shop for records growing up? Any great local stores?

I grew up going to Spillers records and walking out with that big red bag full of CDs but you know there are also places like Piccadilly in Manchester. We’re a bit spoilt in London, we’ve got so many great record stores: Rough Trade (I go to West more than East), Phonica and Sounds of The Universe.

I bought a lot of Edwyn Collins in Spillers, Super Furry Animals, more recently it’s been like Joanna Newsom, Bonnie Prince Billie. I buy a lot of Pulp and I still go in there and buy recommendations. I bought a brilliant record by a band called Chailo Sim in there recently, they’re like a folk band from west Wales. I heard Simon Raymonde talk about them online and a friend of mine mentioned them, so when I saw their CD in Spillers I just bought it. It’s a really incredible EP.

I think we forget that there are loads of little record stores in all the little towns and cities across the UK, like there is Cob in Bangor and you know its never going to be as well known as expertly funded but for music fans in North Wales it’s a life line.

What do you think about Mercury stopping vinyl imprints for singles?

I think it’s sad because I think if bands had a choice they would want to release on vinyl but then at the same time you’ve got like Jack White setting up his own label which is strictly vinyl.

I’ll always look in the vinyl section of a record shop for new releases because I think there is a level of quality control. If you have paid to press a number of plastic seven inch vinyls well there is commitment there isn’t there? Whereas you know, you haven’t just put a song up online to download for free. Does that make it a bit of an elitist thing, that you have to have money to buy 7”? Probably yes, but even though there are hundreds of incredible songs you can get for free I like having something that I’ve paid for because it costs a lot of money to produce. I’ve ran two record labels and you know if you want to lose money FAST then set up an indie record label and run 7 inches.

In a professional capacity how have they influenced what you do or what you play?

For work they’re invaluable. I always want to hear and buy stuff that I’ve not been sent, they’re the ones I listen to first to be honest because I’ve spent my hard earned cash on them and I’ll always end up playing them on the show because they’re not part of that machine. It is somehow less disposable; you can’t just wipe it from iTunes and or delete the email. It’s like the books I haven’t read on my shelf – they will get read, just like a physical album will get listened to but a download, it’s easy to forget about.

I went to Sounds Of The Universe once and bought an album by Daedelus because the album was called ‘Of Snowdonia’ so I presumed the guy was Welsh. Anyway so I bought the album and it turned out he was from LA and now he’s one of my favourite musicians, so you know if I hadn’t been into Sounds Of The Universe and picked that record up because it was given a nice space in front of me then I might not be as into his music now as I am you know so I just think they’re great.

They’re like physical windows into the musical world really. I think there is a mystique about them, they’re really important really and really exciting places. But it must be really tough for them…I can’t quite put my finger on why I like record shops so much but yeah, hurray for record stores!

You can catch Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1 every weekend between 1-4pm and every Thursday between midnight-2am.

Listen again to Huw’s Record Store Day special where he chats to Rough Trade’s Spencer Hickman and has TLOBF favourites Still Corners in session.