|Photo: Kalyn Oyer of Charleston Scene|
If you want to get inside the mind of Ryan Graveface, all you have to do is stop by Graveface Records at 724 King Street. Stocked full of tarot cards, quirky taxidermy, and records, the space embodies his trademark creepy cool style. Taking over The Vinyl Countdown for the summer, the pop-up shop has an eccentric excitement that elicits a sense of curiosity from everyone that enters. With the main location in Savannah, the Charleston shop has the same carefully curated selection ranging from the super-niche to the mass-marketed.
With a label by the same name, 4 hours of driving every day, and managing two shows at once, Ryan Graveface is no stranger to multitasking. Somewhere in the midst of all that multitasking, I had the opportunity to talk to Ryan about his favorite bands, the allure of physical music, and of course, records. Read our interview below.
Samantha Sullivan: What’s the first record you ever owned?
Ryan Graveface: What was the name of that? It was a terrible song, just an awful song, there’s some shitty 80’s movie about mannequins, I think it’s called “Mannequin” whatever the theme song of that awful movie when I was like 5 my aunt bought me a 7” of that song. I can’t even remember it, I think the movies called Mannequin. It was a terrible movie, I don’t recommend it. That was the first one I ever owned.
First band you ever saw?
Probably The Smashing Pumpkins, maybe the Cure. I think it was The Pumpkins, it was a long time ago. I’m just old enough to where I was able to see New Order and Depeche Mode and The Cure.
First band you signed with Graveface?
Well the first album I put out was my own, but the first non-me band was this band called Monster Movie who’s still kind of active. It’s members of Slowdive, it’s incredible. But that was Grave 007 and I’m at Grave 142 so I’ve put out a lot since then.
How did you go about getting the label started?
That was pretty chill. I saw a documentary called Instrument, highlights this band called Fugazi and how they started their own label. That’s how I started, like “Oh that’s not only doable but this band kicks fucking ass and they made money on it.” So they were king of the empire for it but it took a solid 5 years for me to be able to make any actual profit enough to quit all of the other jobs so it was 5 years of working 3 jobs to pay for the label so it’s only been since 2007 so 11 years since I’ve really been able to just do this.
Did the store come first or the label?
No the store is new, the store was 2011.
How did that happen?
I moved to Savannah escaping Chicago and my awful past and there was no record stores so I was like, “Why the fuck would there not be a record store in this town of 200,000 people?” or whatever, so I opened one and people came so I made it bigger and people came so I made it bigger and it’s just been that cycle. So that’s 7 years old now, yeah.
How do you go about curating the records in your store?
That’s honestly really tricky because I don’t love too much music. Like I wasn’t raised on classic rock so I’ve literally never heard a Pink Floyd record or a Beatles album, I mean I know who the fuck they are, I sell zillions of them but I’ve literally never heard a Beatles album front to back. I’ve heard the hits of all of them but I was raised on soul so I have pretty deep knowledge of early Motown and that sort of stuff. Shangri-La’s which isn’t Motown at all but that sort of stuff.
Yeah it’s weird, curating is tough that’s the point because I see what people are buying versus what I know and am passionate about so it’s been difficult. Not lately, but at the beginning it was hard to figure that out that balance. It’s not great here (in Charleston) because this is brand new, but in Savannah I think I have it pretty perfect between things that no one else would carry on Earth because it’s so me versus what people are actively buying because you don’t want to shun people that want a Taylor Swift record or something.
But then ordering it you’re like….
Yeah. I like the Savannah store a lot because it’s everything to everyone instead of just this. But aesthetically it is my vision, so people are forced to kind of…like walking in this is not there yet but it’s getting there. The Savannah store when you walk into it it’s like walking into my mind, it’s the same darkness with the light that shines through it’s really weird and goofy. So I feel like I impose that upon people without forcing certain records down their throat that they probably wouldn’t enjoy.
What are some of your personal favorites that you’ve carried?
I like stuff like Bruce Haack which is this old electronic musician that made a bunch of almost jokey songs about Lucifer. I mean it’s not satanic or anything. It’s hilarious, but it’s not comedy either. It’s just so tongue in cheek but experimental as hell. Ruth White, she was one of the first electronic musicians, her first record was in the 50’s, I like her stuff a lot. It’s just weird you listen to it and it’s not party music it’s like solitary people think you’re a weirdo for listening to it type of music. I like that and stuff I put out, like what we’re listening to is something I’ve released, this is Grave 123 (Fruitless Research) by TW Walsh. He used to be in this band called Pedro The Lion which was big in the late 90’s.
How do you approach people about putting out records?
I harassed him for a long time. When he quit Pedro The Lion I just sent email after email, every year at least I’d be like, “Make me a record, make me a record,” and eventually he was like, “Alright, I’ll make you a record.”
Once they agree then what happens?
He’s interesting in that for a living he’s actually a mastering engineer so he already had the ability to make a record so he’s not a great example. Some people are just songwriters that have no means to get into a recording studio so I facilitate that, or I have a studio in Savannah so I’ll bring them in or like with that Monster Movie band I’ll fly to the UK and sit there in the studio with them and tell them, “No that sounds like shit! Do it better!”
Was this always what you wanted to do?
No, that’s the goofiest part. I wasn’t and I’m still not like, “music woah!” Like I would never go to a music festival unless I play it, unless i perform there, so no. I think that’s why the store is so weird because it taps into everything I like. I like shitty taxidermy and serial killer paintings and really gruesome stuff, it allows me to get all of it out and I also do like music, but just what I like. Especially the stuff that I release, if you think about it it’s a platform for everyone that comes through the door whether they know it or not they’re probably listening to it. I mean sometimes I don’t listen to it, 9 out of 10 times I’m listening to something we released so subconsciously they’re like taking in all this info and the aesthetic and everything.
That’s crazy considering how successful both the label and the shop are.
Yeah I’m a very determined person, like if I have an idea. Like I’m not one of those people that just has ideas, like if I have an idea I have to do it or I actually beat myself up alot so doing it keeps me out of depression. Really my work ethic is directly tied to the fact that I don’t want to be depressed cause as a kid I was a fucking depressed kid. It’s weird but very accurate, it’s not even pride that you feel it’s just accomplishment and that can be the vehicle to the next little stretch. Just a series of scratches that you’re itching.
How did you decide what to bring to the Charleston store?
The reality is not beautiful. I had a bunch of shit in Savannah that wasn’t selling for whatever reason, stock that’s been sitting for 7 years I was like you know what fuck it I’ll bring it up there and see if people want it and for some insane reason that’s what people are buying here and excited about it mind you like, “Oh my god I’ve been looking for this record for 7 years,” when it’s just been sitting in Savannah and no one in Savannah is touching it. We’ve been open now for a couple of weeks so it’s morphed from that at the beginning. Now I’m just bringing up tons of shit. Not shit as in bad but stuff and now I’m going through and writing down every single thing and now I have a better idea of what people are looking for here so I’m able to replenish that and bring more of those genres. It’s fascinating actually.
What do you think is different about the music communities in Savannah and Charleston?
I mean I haven’t seen a show here but I think that people in Charleston are much more open-minded than people in Savannah which kinda surprises me, I don’t know why it just does. They’re very open to learning about the labels and they want to talk about the label and have me put various records on that we’ve put out so they can take one home and in Savannah that’s like old fucking hat. Like, “Yeah yeah yeah you’ve been here for 7 years we know you have a label,” and the regulars don’t seem to give a shit and actually it kinda bums me out, all they want is the coolest used product. Which is fine too but certainly it’s not a creative thing to stock used records so that’s been really nice, to see how interested people here are. That might die very quickly mind you but at least it is currently.
What do you think it is about physical music that people love so much?
Well, it has soul. You know, like typing something in is soulless even if you like it. I drive 4 hours everyday to do this, so I’ll listen to Spotify from time to time but that’s almost like just getting your fix versus heart and soul. I mean you can’t beat a physical format, and that’s why people kinda hate CDs, cause it never had that sort of cache. That’s why vinyl always will be popular even if it isn’t mainstream popular. It never went away, I was making records when no one was buying them and people always will.Follow @extrachill on Instagram!