Riot Act Media’s Nathan Walker on Record Collecting: “It’s a mix of excitement and fear…”
By Bianca Rosemarie de Valentino
Nathan Walker is the Senior Publicist/Partner at Riot Act Media. He is by far one of my all-time favourite PR folks I’ve ever dealt with doing what I do — he’s helped hook up my chats with Street Eaters and Agent Ribbons, plus recommends awesome music/bands like The Pharmacy. Nathan is also an avid record collector and kindly took time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his vinyl collecting journey.
In an interview with Vice magazine recently, you commented: I pride myself in being a record nerd. This really piqued my interest because here at the Mystery Mansion we’re huge record nerds too! How big is your record collection?
NATHAN WALKER: The last time I counted, I was up to 1,400 or so. Since then, I’ve quit keeping track because once you have numbers, then you can do the math of how much you’ve spent and once you’ve done the math on how much you’ve spent versus, oh, I don’t know – say, the cost of having health insurance (which I don’t currently have) and you realize that you’re maybe a bit crazy. Why don’t I say 2,000 now?
Why do you collect records?
NW: Because I need them. There’s nothing more calming than the process of looking through my collection for the perfect record, finding it, and then laying the needle into it. It’s like getting a letter from an old friend.
Vinyl definitely seems to have had a resurgence in popularity in the last few years; why do you think that is?
NW: To me, the reason is pretty obvious. People want to connect with their music when they’re listening at home. MP3s just can’t do that. The other, underlying reason, is that it’s pretty rare to see a CD increase in value so folks who buy physical music know they can retain more value if they buy vinyl.
Do most of the bands that you work with release vinyl?
NW: More so now than ever! It makes me really happy. Not even kidding when I say I cried the first time I was thanked in the liner notes of a record.
What was the first record you ever brought? What did it mean to you? Do you still have it?
NE: ‘Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees. It meant the WORLD to me. I played it to death on my red & white stripe suitcase record player in the late 70s. I also had a recording of Peter & The Wolf as read by David Bowie around that time too that I loved but was also a bit afraid of. Sadly, I have no idea where either is now.
Describe the feeling that you get when you’re flicking through crates of records and you come across something you’ve been searching for? Do you find it thrilling?
NW: Oh man, I wouldn’t describe it as thrilling. It’s a mix of excitement and fear that generally plays out like this:
“Oh fuck, oh shit… No way! I think it’s the original!”
[At this point, my stomach drops because I know what's next]
“I wonder if they know what they have here?”
[Then I tentatively turn the record over to look at the price]
“Shit, they do! Gahh… do I need it?! Just buying this one record blows my budget and I already have three in my stack that I want to buy.”
[Then I hate myself and walk around the store for another 20 minutes before inevitably buying it]
Do you have any interesting or exciting stories you could share with us about your years of vinyl collecting?
NW: I was once gifted the first 45 that The Gories ever released by a record store owner for writing about his shop in a local newspaper. My jaw was on the floor. There was the time I bought Neil Diamond’s Hot August Nights in such mint condition externally (and cheap) that I didn’t bother to check the condition of the records. When I got home, I pulled them out and discovered that in lieu of Neil’s double live masterpiece, I’d been treated to a switcheroo and, in fact, had purchased Bob Seger’s double live masterpiece, Live Bullet – in mint condition, no less! I laughed for hours about that one.
Is there anything that you’ve sold or traded that you regret letting go of?
NW: Nope. My only regrets are the times I pass up on a hand-screened limited release of some obscure band that I can’t afford and then later hear their music and fall in love. Of course, by that time, the record now goes for $40.
Where are your favourite places to shop for/find vinyl?
NW: In Portland, I really love Exhiled Records. Hands down, the only store that I can go in with a budget and always find more that I want than I can afford. In Seattle, Jive Time Records treats you well with a huge mix of must haves that fill out your back catalog wish list at reasonable prices. Grand Rapids, MI has a place called Vertigo Records that was the first place to truly fuel the insanity of my record collecting. Last name drop… Hello Records in Detroit, MI should be the template upon which every vinyl-only record store stamps themselves from. I visited recently and was not only blown away by their prices and selection but the staff was extremely knowledgeable and, for real, without pretence. They were the friendliest dudes to every single person that walked through their door.
That means a lot to me. Listening to records isn’t some sort of elite club… every single person that’s into records got there because someone else shared their passion with them. It can truly change someone’s life. Why horde what brings you joy? Spread it!
Tell us about the most expensive record you’ve bought. How much did you drop on it?
NW: So, I bought the original pressing of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on 45 from a regular at a bar I used to work at for $50. I was stoked. I thought it was a steal… he stuck around after close and we talked records. Spun some of his other stuff, drank a few too many too. After I locked up, I felt a little “stumbly” and decided that I shouldn’t drive home. Also for good measure, I thought I should put the record in my car so I didn’t mess it up.
Well, I woke up at noon the next day to a 100 degree day and the sheer panic at knowing my car was putting the 45 into a furnace. I got to the car and sure enough, it was a rippled as a crinkle-cut potato chip. I actually hucked it out my window as a drove away.
What is your most prized piece of vinyl? Is there a story behind it? Does it have a special significance for you?
NW: I’m going to say my autographed copy of Link Wray’s self-titled LP. I was bartending his performance in Seattle, WA about a week before he passed away. I wish I could say it was amazing but it sadly was not.
It was a sold out show and fans were rabid. There was even a group of guys in their early 20s in matching leather jackets who’d flown over from Japan just for the show! His backing band took the stage about an hour late and proceeded to fart through song after song of recycled standard 60s greaser covers. It got to the point that people were booing them, heckling and even throwing beers on stage.
Finally, Link took the stage to a relieved round of cheers. The next 10 minutes went like this – they put a guitar on Link. He waved to the crowd, made a show of turning his amp all the way up and then they blasted through three inaudible songs of guitar fuzz. He waved. They took the guitar off of him and he exited the stage. The band went back to playing cover songs in the key of Vegas and the crowd lost it! People were screaming at me for a refund, threatening the musicians, arguing with anyone who was willing to listen. It sucked. For everyone. Seriously. Not a single person, staff-musician-concert goer, left happy.
We finally cleared the room out and the band was nearly packed up. The lead guitarist/van driver flagged me down to ask directions to their hotel. I wrote them down for him and asked on small favor, ” Will Link sign my record?” Him: “I don’t know man, Link doesn’t do that stuff these days. But, you’ve been nice to us, tell you what, I’ll take it to him in the van and ask. No promises.”
Five minutes later, he grabs me and tells me that Link wants to meet me. I go back to the van and it turns out that record was Link’s favorite record but he hadn’t seen nor heard it in years. Mind you, this is being related to me by his wife as Link was obviously in rough shape. He was smiling and he did shake my hand though. He then went on to whisper to his wife and she looked with amazement at the album. Turns out, she had never seen a photo of Link’s mom before but there he was smiling with her on the back of the LP. Link gave it his best shaky autograph, everyone thanked me and they went on their way.
He passed away less than two weeks later and I still think about it, what it meant. Was he having fun up there on stage for one last blast of noise? He sure looked like it and I sure hope so! He deserved it.
To you, what is the holy grail of records that you’re yet to have in your collection?
NW: This may sound crazy but it’s one I haven’t heard yet. All the great ones I hear or just hear about are being reissued or can be found for loads of money. I’m not a collector for money so I rarely get too lusty after extremely rare records once their value is known. A recent holy grail for me was finding a limited release of a Little Wings live to tape collection of covers and originals. 200 copies and every last copy had a hand painted album cover done in watercolor by Mr. Little Wings himself, Kyle Field.
Do you collect anything else?
NW: Stories and memories. After lugging that record collection to 10 different apartments in as many years, it’s all my back can take.
What projects are you focused on at the moment with your work at Riot Act Media?
NW: Oh, you know, spamming music writers with new releases (aka future Holy Grail records)!
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