Smile Politely

A breath of fresh air

The Holy Sabbath of independent music is upon us: Record Store Day 2012. The third weekend of April has been that sacred day for the last five years and is only picking up steam since it originated. In C-U we’re lucky, because there are a lot of places around that don’t really give a damn about music. I like to think we have a pretty great thing to brag about, and what’s most important for the people of C-U? There’s no half-assing it on Record Store Day.

Saturday marks the fifth RSD at Exile on Main Street, and we took this opportunity to talk to the man who makes it all happen, owner Jeff Brandt. He is instrumental in making all the nuts and bolts fit just right for a day like this.

Smile Politely: This is the 5th annual RSD have you done something every year at Exile? This seems like you are blowing it out even bigger this year.

Jeff Brandt: We have participated each of the first five years of Record Store Day here at Exile. The first year I didn’t know how to get in on any of the limited edition releases, so we didn’t really have much fanfare for the day. Honestly though, I think there were only a dozen or so at most that even came out for the first RSD. I put up signs saying it was national record store day and put everything on sale. No one had an idea what it was, and we didn’t get anyone coming in looking for any of the few releases that came out that first year.

Things have changed quite a bit since then as you can see. The last four years we’ve had live music in the store, and each year we’ve decided to take it a little further. I think last year we had about nine hours of music, which turned out to work very very well for everyone. We had people hanging out all day or leaving and coming back later. It was pretty incredible. This year, we had so many folks who wanted to get involved we are now having a spillover show for the Boneyard Arts Festival, which happens to be the day before RSD.

SP: What does this day mean to you?

Brandt: For me, it’s sort of like one giant party for locals in the community who still really care about music, physical media, record stores, local music and local retail. It really has turned into a match made in heaven for us here at Exile, and each of the last four years we’ve felt overwhelmed with the increasing support shown on that day. It really means a lot to me when I see how excited people get and how much fun people have every year. There’s a certain amount of pride that I feel on this day specifically, more so than any other day of the year, about the monster I’ve created that is Exile if that makes sense.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been part of any other event, other than the day I married my beautiful wife Amelia Bowen, where I’ve felt so much goodwill and love directed at something I’m associated with. I can’t really explain how much it means to me to be honest. I really don’t think people understand how hard it is to keep places like Exile on Main Street open, so when the floodgates open for RSD it’s like a breath of fresh air that helps get me through the tougher times in the year when we are not packed to the rafters with smiling faces.

SP: In your mind, what is the importance of RSD for record stores like Exile as well as music in general?

Brandt: I think for each store it’s probably a little different, but from others I’ve talked to, this day is huge for everyone in one way or the other. Until RSD was created, there was nothing like it at all for us to hang our hats on every year, so to speak. Now there is at least one day a year where we know our little (or big) shops will be the center of attention for those who love us year-round in general, and even for those who just come in occasionally.

It’s also great simply because the day is a reason for news outlets to give a damn about record stores, when they normally would find no real reason to report on us. As a result, some of them actually talk about us all collectively or individually, which is fantastic. I hope that it continues to kill the still somewhat prevalent idea out there that record stores are dying or almost all gone. Someday I hope to stop hearing such things as, “When did they start making records again?” and, “How long have you guys been here?” and, “When did you guys open?” as a result of things like Record Store Day. I’m not holding my breath on that just yet though.

SP: What was the process like for setting up the even this year? It looks like you guys went all out again.

Brandt: It was a long process, just like it was last year to be honest. To get all those bands/DJs lined up and in time slots that worked for them took probably two months or so. Luckily for me, I had tons of help from the likes of Isaac Arms (Withershins, Evil Tents) and Ryan Groff (Elsinore). Their help was invaluable, and without them the lineup might not be as huge or as impressive. They really had a lot to do with getting me in contact with bands I didn’t have email addresses for, as well as situating the actual lineup and times people were playing. This whole day takes a lot of work to begin with, and when you plan 12 hours of music on top of everything else it takes a lot more work. Needless to say, it’s all well worth it in the end.

SP: How has this year been different than years past in setting up the event at the store? More difficult? Less difficult? About the same?

Brandt: I would say it was more work, but I’m not sure I’d say it was more or less difficult. With so many bands having so many different members with different schedules, we did run into some trouble with who could play when. This led to a few bands ending up on the Friday Boneyard schedule instead though, so it all worked out pretty well as far as I’m concerned. Also, having both Skins N Tins and Analog Outfitters donating their fantastic equipment for us to use that day takes a lot of the worry out of things that could become a problem if not planned properly. Having a house drum kit and top notch sound equipment really makes an aspect of the day that could be a huge headache, something we don’t even have to worry about. A big thank you to Ben and all the fine folks at Analog Outfitters as well as Terry, Liz, and the great people of Skins N Tins for helping us out this year.

SP: What’s your favorite part about being involved with Exile in general?

Brandt: Oh man, that’s a tough one. There are some really great things that come along with being the Exile guy so to speak. Well, I guess the first great thing is that I get first pick of anything that ever comes through the store. As anyone will tell you, that is a truly wonderful privilege to have and it comes in handy when someone walks into the store selling near mint copies of Frank Zappa’s first 25 albums, which did happen last year. Also, it was my dream ever since working at Periscope when I was a teenager and in college to eventually run an independent record store.

Not many people get to say they have their dream job, but I’m one of those people. I feel pretty lucky about that. I also love being part of the Champaign business community and more specifically the downtown Champaign community. I’ve always loved downtown, going back to when I was a kid visiting the late great Robeson’s department store and when my father used to work down here selling insurance. Then when I started working downtown in my Periscope (phase 2) days, I learned a greater appreciation for just how cool this part of Champaign really is. I guess I just have a overwhelming love for this community, and I think it’s a pretty sweet gig to be running a record store carrying on the tradition of other greats that have gone before Exile.

SP: Do you still buy records yourself on RSD or do you leave that up to the customers?

Brandt: Oh, I still buy on RSD also. It’s unavoidable really. There simply are too many cool releases they put out every year for me to ignore them. I’d be one of the people here in line before the shop opens if I wasn’t the one opening the door … trust me.

SP: What was the last LP you purchased for yourself?

Brandt: The most recent things I bought were a couple of releases from the incredible Chicago based label Numero Group. The first one being Lou Ragland’s I Travel Alone and the second one being Personal Space: Electronic Soul 19741984 both of these are fantastic. Then again, I’d likely say that about anything from the Numero label as they are one of my and Exile’s favs. They’ve been in business just slightly longer than Exile, but they’ve made an impression on a very large portion of our regular shoppers here. Labels like this one are really in tune with what should and can be done in terms of great packaging, crate digging for obscure gems that deserve the spotlight, and researching the stories behind the artists you’ve never heard of.

I really feel like Exile and Numero are kindred spirits when it comes to a love of music and they’ve been great to us over the years. Samples of everything they do are available at their website. Incidentally, they have two RSD releases that will be available for purchase this Saturday. Get them while you can, because they won’t be around long. If you are in Chicago instead of Champaign this Saturday, go check out their pop up RSD shop which will be at The Empty Bottle. Sounds like it too should be a great time.

SP: I know you’re a busy man leading up to this day, but the most important thing here is incorporating the local scene. What are some of the local releases we should be looking for on Saturday?

Brandt: I’m still not sure just how many new things we’ll have to sell, but I know for a fact that at least Take Care and The Dirty Feathers will have new music for purchase or giveaway that day. We will also have new albums or EPs, that are not exclusive to RSD, from Withershins, Hathaways, Coed Pageant, as well as an An Evening with Your Mother.

Head over to Exile on Saturday. It doesn’t matter who you are, an RSD veteran or rookie, showing your face in that store is the important part.



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