Friday, April 18

Chatting With Music Industry All-Star Bruce Duff

Vinyl record sales are on the upswing, and with Record Store Day right around the corner (April 19), A Hot Cup of Joey sat down with music pioneer Bruce Duff to chat about the success of vinyl and his upcoming projects. Bruce has done it all in the industry: he was an indie-label executive at Triple X Records, has played with and produced for all sorts of rock legends, including Adz, Circle, Thor and Simon Stokes, and written as a rock journalist for outlets like LA Weekly, Billboard and CREEM. He recently released his rock biography, "The Smell of Death," about life on the road with Jeff Dahl.

A Hot Cup Of Joey:
Why do you think vinyl sales are increasing even though digital sales are dropping?
Bruce Duff: I think it's a shift in the attitude of the fanbase. Vinyl is just a better way for fans to engage with the artist. The record is a big piece of art, with the cover and liner notes, and then there's the record itself. You have to maintain it and you're actually involved with the listening of it. 

Playback systems have changed, too. Rather than these big, extravagant players, things are more futuristic and little. You look at some of the MP3 players that are so tiny. I think the fanbase wants to get back to how it was in the past, with that whole album experience. With digital downloads you lose a lot of that. Of course, it's a ping pong effect. Albums are in now, but who knows if that will still be the case in 10 years?

AHCJ: What makes for a great album experience?
BD: Good mastering, great liner notes, eye-popping artwork are all a big part of how an album is experienced. It's very fan driven, too. Soul and indie rock are big advocates of vinyl, and hip-hop 12 inches are always in. But those are very different genres so a great album cover might look different based on the kind of music the artist plays.

AHCJ: How does the collectibility of vinyl help its appeal?
BD: A lot of people my age had parents who probably had a vinyl collection around the house. So growing up, you'd get a sense of that album experience. Sitting down, putting an album on, and getting to enjoy the artwork, liner notes, and all that. Now, stores have started carrying used vinyl albums, and the quality and price of those albums have gone up. There's really high volume nowadays, and it's costly, but I think amassing a quality collection is something to take pride in.

AHCJ: Why is National Record Day so special to you?
BD: This has been an explosive year for me on vinyl. We just reissued the Jesters of Destiny "Fun at the Funeral" album, and I have two new singles coming out this year, which is something I haven't done on vinyl in a really long time. 

AHCJ: Talk a little bit about your book, The Smell of Death.
BD: Well, first of all, I learned books aren't like records. You know how records are always released on one Tuesday, and then they're out everywhere? Books aren't like that. You'll have an early release, then a North American release, then a worldwide release, then an online only release. All sorts of different things, but it's out in the world now, so I'm happy.

I went on tour with Jeff Dahl and some other musicians--11 countries, low pay venues. I just kept a journal of the whole thing and kept a lot of photos. And looking at them a few months later, I realized I had a story here. Being a music journalist, I had some of my connections read it. And they all said the same thing: "It's good, but it's not about anything anyone cares about." Twenty years later, my wife, unbeknownst to me, sent the book out to the publisher (Rare Bird Books). And they loved it. Now, it's almost like a nostalgic look back at how things used to be.

AHCJ: You also have a weekly DJ residency in Los Angeles. How'd that come about?
BD: It's at El Chavo Restaurant, which is actually where the book deal went down behind my back. A few of us just spin all these old records. It's all vinyl, and we'll share collections and just hang out. For me, it's more therapeutical than anything else. And it doesn't hurt that the food is great, too.

AHCJ: What's the most memorable show you've ever been to?
BD: We had a show in Finland one time, that was just a magic night, everything was perfect. And recently we (the Street Walkin Cheetahs) just played a show with Cheetah Chrome at The Whiskey. As a kid, playing there was like you made it. And Cheetah Chrome is just amazing. Hearing his guitar, I'm like "that's what a legend sounds like." It was just fantastic.

But it's funny, I get asked about shows all the time. I'll tell you something people don't realize: it's an absolute bore backstage. People always try to get backstage and hang out, but it's just boring. If I'm seeing someone play and they ask if I want to come backstage, I'm just like "I'd rather stay at the bar."

Bruce Duff of Knitting Factory Management/Entertainment is the author of "The Smell of Death" and recently reissued his vinyl-only "Fun at the Funeral" album by his band Jesters of Destiny.

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