Unlocked: Take a trip record shopping with Psychic Teens

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Photo by John Berry
Photo by John Berry

Tonight, Psychic Teens celebrate the release of their new LP, COME, by performing at Center City record store Long in the Tooth. We thought a record shopping trip with the band would be a good way to warm up for the show.

It’s 1 p.m. on a bright August afternoon in South Philly. Larry Ragone, guitarist and singer of raw post-punk annihilators Psychic Teens, is sifting through the “new arrivals” bin of vinyl records at Beautiful World Syndicate. He’s arrived before his bandmates. And that’s a good thing.

“Sometimes when we shop together we fight over who gets what records if there’s only one in the store,” Ragone says. “I’m glad I got here first.”

The vinyl record collecting boom isn’t a new craze, but audiophiles are especially embracing the LP’s resurrection. The format is a bit glorified by its enthusiasts, but the praise is warranted because of vinyl’s superior sound quality, enlarged artwork and pursuit of owning different versions and packages that many bands offer with their albums.

The sound advantage lies within each record’s grooves, which capture the entire sound wave of the music within by replicating the wave’s shape. That replication is what sets vinyl apart from other formats. CDs are much more inclined to lose certain tones of the music as it’s converted from its analog form to digital. And think about it, if vinyl is projecting the sound of vibrations from the shapes and indentations in its grooves, it’s actually natural sound. As opposed to digital downloads and CDs which is a laser reading of what laypersons may call, “computer language,” (read: 001011000011101, etc.). But the appeal of owning the physical copy of an album, may be an even bigger part of the vinyl collectors’ culture.

“I’ve definitely bought multiples of the same record to have different cover art of the same record,” Joe DeCarolis, Psychic Teens’ bassist says. He estimates his collection to be around 1,700 records. Today he’s purchased four, including the Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee and Minuteflag, an experimental EP on SST Records by the Minute Men and Black Flag, together.

Nowadays, lots of albums are making package deals that come with novelty items and other music, such as an artist’s back-catalog with vinyl releases. For instance, the Teens are putting COME out on SRA Records with multiple packages available. One, called “extra deluxe” includes COME on LP, CD and cassette, an LP of their first record, TEEN, a sticker, poster and a paper mask of the album’s haunting cover work by Polish artist, Aleksandra Walizsewska, with all of the album’s lyrics printed on the back. The mask is limited to the first 100 albums, too, and many have already been snatched from pre-order sales. The Teens’ “deluxe” package is similar but without the TEEN LP, mask or COME cassette. They’re also offering it in every other format, CD, cassette and download by itself.

“We’re big record collectors ourselves,” Ragone says, “That’s why we got so into offering our own record in a package deal.” But Ragone discloses that he’s a little bit newer to collecting than his bandmates; his collection, he says, is “at least 400.” Today he’s bought six LPs, ranging from two Soft Cell albums, including Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret of “Tainted Love” fame, two Depeche Mode albums and Head of David’s noisy Dustbowl.

Psychic Teens have one thing on their mind when they enter a record store. DeCarolis, Ragone and drummer Dave Cherasaro almost immediately stop talking to one another and each find a bin of records to dig through. The lack of conversation probably even happens subconsciously, their minds instantly going one-track. After flipping some records that stand on end, some with frayed cardboard corners, others pristine and never played but most in plastic sleeves, one of the Teens will say to another something to the effect of, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ or ‘Yo, do you have this one yet?’ And despite their collections reaching the several hundred-plus, they always have a definitive answer whether or not they have any given album.

After stopping at Beautiful World Syndicate, we made a stop at another neighborhood record/head shop, Sit & Spin, which started as a DIY punk label in 2008, before gradually expanding into a record store. Ragone is a regular here, as he also was at BWS, and knows the cashier behind the counter. They have a quick conversation about the records he bought and the Psychic Teens record release show at Center City record store, Long in the Tooth, where we will stop after Sit & Spin. While driving to Center City, Cherasaro shares why he’s okay with double-dipping the albums he owns on CD, as well as on vinyl.

“I’ve already owned a lot of records I now have on CD,” he says. “But hearing it on vinyl is almost like hearing it for the first time again because the sound quality is better. So you hear new things because you’re listening more closely because you know it’s vinyl.” His collection is around 1,200 records. Today he bought Dinosaur Jr.‘s first release, Dinosaur, Coliseum’s self-titled album and an Iron Maiden record.

All three of the Psychic Teens say they use Discogs, a website that connects vinyl and CD enthusiasts with record stores and other collectors. The goal is to create the most comprehensive music database any artist’s catalog of albums for easy reference. Think Wikipedia specifically for music collectors. Through using Discogs Ragone’s been able to reel in records before they even hit Beautiful World Syndicate’s and other record stores’ shelves. Right after that, Cherasaro shares that he has True Widow’s new record waiting for him on a special order at Siren Records, in Doylestown, PA.

These three guys have varying tastes. In fact, every Iron Maiden record that’s found during today’s “digging,” which is how many record collectors refer to shopping for vinyl, is brought to Cherasaro’s attention by Ragone. It’s almost comical. Much like when Ragone found an original Ghostbusters movie soundtrack on vinyl at Beautiful World Syndicate and made sure to show it to Cherasaro, who’s a huge fan of the movie, down to the point of tattoos somewhere on his body. However, he didn’t buy the soundtrack. Aside from the music lined up on shelves and in boxes, record stores themselves are places that these three guys identify with, too.

“[Record] shops are places of culture,” Ragone says. “It’s a place you can walk into and just talk with people about music and some even also sell books. But lots have shows, which is great. That’s why we try to play shows in record shops whenever we can. We played Permanent Records in Chicago for Record Store Day, we’re close with the guys at Siren Records and have played there. It’s also why our record release show is at Long in the Tooth.”

That’s where we head next. When we walk in, each of the three Psychic Teens say hello to the cashier, chat with her about other Long in the Tooth employees and other planning involved for their album release in-store show Friday. They snap cell phone pictures of the cashier’s beagle between looking down aisles of albums. Again, only talking to each other about what they see in the bins, before ending the hunt for buy-worthy vinyl.

Oddly, through out the day, not one of the three mention a specific album with certain packaging pieces or limited releases they have been searching for. There hasn’t been one crowning jewel brought up in any conversation while “digging.” And then it reveals itself while listing today’s finds.

New Order is a band I try to see what I can find and get everything of their’s that I can,” DeCarolis remembers saying earlier in the day.

Ragone bought New Order’s Substance today.

“You know, Larry, I’ll gladly take that New Order record off your hands if you’d sell it to me,” DeCarolis offers. “There’s a twelve-inch version of that album that has exclusive songs on it, I didn’t see if that’s one of them but if it is that’d be pretty cool to get from you.”

Ragone turns down the offer, but is amused hearing that piece of New Order trivia.

When the “digging” is done for the day and until today’s purchases hit the turntables anxiously waiting at home to start spinning, all that’s left to do is reflect. And that’s what Ragone does.

“Yeah, actually,” he says, “it was a pretty good day.”

COME is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted track “Less” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch the video for “Bug” in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview with the band, and get more info about tonight’s album release show here. And check back to The Key for future installments of Unlocked.

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