Indie rock, sounds behind vinyl comeback

By Tom Dougherty

PHILADELPHIA — Marc Lancaster didn’t really start listening to music until he was 15.

And even then, it only happened because a girl he was a friend with gave him a cassette tape of Nirvana’s first album, “Bleach.” He only began playing guitar since he wasn’t allowed a BB gun.

“She’s like, ‘I don’t like this, here you take it and see if you might like it,’” he said of what pushed him into music. “So I put it in, and I’m like, this is awesome.’ It was so much different than all the crap I was hearing on the radio and I was like, ‘This is some music I can get into.’”

So when Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s lead man, committed suicide on April 5, 1995, Lancaster didn’t know who he was and didn’t understand what it meant in the music world. All he knew was that he was a musician of a band who killed himself. That all changed when he listened to “Bleach.”

“I used to make fun of him like everyone else did,” Lancaster said. “ And then I heard the ‘Bleach’ album, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is some heavy stuff.’ It was the vocals, the power of the guitar. It just grabbed me. This guy was heavy. Now I get who he was and who he became.

“The whole album got me, but ‘About a Girl,’ which was the most strangest on that album. It didn’t fit with the whole context of that album, but it was still good. It showed they can write songs that aren’t strictly a Slayer vibe, with punk rock … that first album was pretty dark.”

Physical album sales continued to decline in 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScape, but vinyl sales maintained its upward swing. It increased about 52 percent last year, from 6.1 million to 9.2 million.

It was the first time in 20 years vinyl sales surpassed nine million, and 3.6 percent of all albums sold were vinyl, a substantial increase from 10 years ago when 0.2 percent were vinyl. Lancaster, now 35, understands why vinyls have continued to trend upward in the last seven years.

“It’s something that you can touch, hold and you can feel,” he said. “It’s tangible, it’s there. You can see the artist. You get to know the artist. You get the song lyrics instead of trying to guess, you get the artwork. You can tell they put their time into it.”

For National Record Store Day on April 18, Justin Cascaden, a longtime friend of Lancaster and a vinyl record collector, went to AKA Music on North Third Street in Philadelphia. Cascaden has been doing this for the last four years, and he continued to add to his collection.

Cascaden has noticed more people his age and even younger at National Record Store Day each and every year, and he’s also seen more women, too. He credits that — and the vinyl comeback — to the indie scene.

“The indie rock scene is really exploding to an age of people that have the money to spend the money on a luxury item like this,” Justin Cascaden, a vinyl collector and friend of Lancaster, said.

“And also be able to go to these shows, these festivals, which I think is a huge thing and exploding the scenes. Vinyls, most festivals I go to now have a store and a lot of vinyls are being sold at music festivals.”

The Recording Industry Association of America reported recently Spotify now makes more money than the entire United States record business in one year. Spotify’s value in 2014 was $8.4 billion, while U.S.-based recording was $6.972 billion.

“Spotify pulls in more profit, so I understand the convenience of Spotify,” Cascaden said, “especially now the people who are listening to that music are probably the age group of 18 to 25. They’re young professionals able to listen to it at work. Clearly they’re not going to have a record player there.

“But you can put your headphones on and play it on your phone, and that’s also the convenience of you don’t want to carry a CD or a walkman. You want to have it on your phone.”

But, like Lancaster, Cascaden believes listeners are missing out on the pure music. And vinyls forces the listener to have patience, to appreciate the full album instead of just one or two songs. It takes away the ability to skip a track, but that enriches the listening experience.

“You’re getting the whole feel of the album and the song and the music and the mystery,” Lancaster said. “It’s something that has to connect all the way through. It can’t just be one or two good songs and the rest crap. They have to have some kind of substance.”

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