Located on North Lamar in Oxford, Mississippi, The End of All Music is a fairly young independent record store by most standards, but one often sighted as a great example of doing the right things right.
Over the last couple of years we’d struck up a friendship with co-owner David Swider so we took the opportunity recently to talk to him about the store and Oxford Town. Following him on instagram I had become increasingly certain that we were seperated at birth.
Deluxe: “The End of all Music” - I have read about you explaining the name, but perhaps you could one more time for us as I don’t want to get this wrong?
David Swider: The name of the store comes from blues musician Junior Kimbrough’s tombstone. Junior is considered one of the greatest of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues artists and there’s a great quote engraved on his tombstone from rockabilly artist Charlie Feathers. Charlie calls Junior, “the beginning and the end of all music.” So that’s where the name came from. Oxford is heavily steeped in the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues tradition so it was fitting to name the store with ties to that. Plus some of the strongest titles in the Fat Possum Records catalog belong to Junior Kimbrough, so we sell a lot of his records too. We suggest the essential Junior Kimbrough record “You Better Run,” and you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and where Charlie Feathers was coming from.
D: From record fan to shop owner, what made you make the leap and what was your journey to behind the counter?
DS: I worked in a local bookshop in Oxford called Square Books for about 5 years and loved it. I knew I wanted to do something in that kind of retail environment. I also have always loved buying records and record store culture for better or worse. Unfortunately then and fortunately now Oxford didn’t have any type of record store. The internet and the ipod had killed the last shop in the mid 2000s and nothing had come along to replace it. Bruce Watson, general manager at Fat Possum, got wind that I was wanting to open a store and so did he. So we got together a few times and within a month or two we’d found a location and started remodeling the place. It was a whirlwind and really fun.
D: Do you remember what your first record shop purchase was? Where and when?
DS: My first record purchases were made at thrift stores around my hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi in the Mississippi Delta. Then I probably had my first real experience in a record store when traveling to Jackson, the state capito, a few hours away. There was a local chain of indie stores there called BeBop Records. I loved that place. I spent all my money there whenever I got the chance. I remember buying Weezer’s blue album there and Radiohead’s The Bends. Some really important discoveries were made in that place. All of the BeBop stores have since closed and we actually bought some of their old record bins, which we now use in our store. I still smell BeBop in our store every once in a while because of those bins. It’s crazy nostalgic.
D: You’ve been running the store since March 2012. Three years in, what would have been the best advice you could have given yourself before you opened?
It paid off for sure but it wasn’t always necessary to be so stressed out. I should’ve just enjoyed it and had fun a little more, which is what I’m trying to do now. I have my dream job and not a day feels like work. What more could you ask for?
D: Of the many, many fascinating things to look at on your walls, you have a framed Pavement picture. What’s the story there?
DS: Pavement is my favorite band. When I was opening the store I hit up Matador Records to see what they had as far as Pavement stuff goes, and my sales rep Dave dug around in the basement a bit and found me this original Wowee Zowee promo poster. I flipped out and immediately had it framed. I also have a framed Pavement sticker on the wall that my buddy Clay Jones gave me. He got it at a Pavement show during one of their first tours in the early ‘90s. It’s this shitty little homemade sticker but I love it. But yeah, the Wowee Zowee poster gets a lot of comments. It’s a prized possession.
My favorite piece of art hanging in the shop is a photograph taken by Kelsey Bennett of soul singer Charles Bradley. Kelsey is a photographer based out of New York and she followed Charles around and photographed him when he was still performing as a James Brown impersonator, before he released any of his amazing solo records on Daptone Records. It’s such a great photo and it’s hanging right by the front door.
D: Is the shop an extension of your record collection? Yourself?
DS: The shop is most definitely an extension of myself. I curate everything and I try to listen to most of what we stock. That’s why you open a record store, right? I like to think of the shop as being my alternate living room. I want folks to be really comfortable when they’re flipping through records. I want them to think, “man, I wish my house was like this.”
D: The colour Blue… It is so specific to your shop that I once saw a google image search of someone holding a record in their hand with the tiniest flash of blue wall in the background; you were instantly recognisable. Was it a conscious decision there with your pallet or did you just plain like the Blue(s)
DS: Blue is my favorite colour! Also, when we rented the building its previous tenant was a Mexican grocery and the walls were bright orange, so when I was picking out the paint color I knew it would be blue. I wanted a darker color so all the album artwork would really pop, and I think that’s important.
D: How big of a deal is Record Store Day?
DS: RSD is a huge day for us. We love it. I struggle with it every year from a money standpoint and I hate some of the crap releases that come out, but we just don’t stock everything on the RSD list. I try to be very selective about what we bring in…what makes sense for our store. I also really like to throw a big party. Sure, we can sit there and take people’s money all day but that’s bullshit. I like to look at RSD as a great way to say THANKS to all our customers. We have tons of free beer, BBQ, live music, and we give away a ton of free stuff. It’s also an excellent excuse to put out our own records and projects. This year we did our first vinyl release, which was a spoken word record by a local author/hero Barry Hannah. Oxford is very literary and the town really got behind the release and it was a huge success. So that’s what I really dig about RSD. I just try to look past all the negative aspects of RSD and try to just focus on my customers and my store and trying to make it the most fun possible, and so far so good. And it’s always nice to be selling records!
D: Who is your customer? Oxford is a big University town right? All those fresh faces every year is going to be good for business?
DS: Our customers are all over the place. We have college kids, high school and junior high kids, grandpas and grandmas, middle aged record nerds…the list goes on. So many different kinds of people come through our doors, but they all have that itch for records in common. We are in a part of town where there is zero foot traffic, so people really have to go out of their way to come here, but that’s ok with us because the folks that do find us are finding us for all the right reasons.
D: Now you’re pretty tight with Fat Possum right
DS: We operate as kind of an unofficial Fat Possum store front—we sell their whole catalog as well as t-shirts and stuff. We even have a Fat Possum listening station. Their offices are right down the street and I’m really close to those guys that run the label. They’re all excellent dudes and I really admire the work they do. They are constantly surprising me with badass records. Be on the look out for a record by Seratones coming out in the near future on Fat Possum. They’re from Shreveport, Louisiana and are pretty great. That record is going to be good. Fat Possum also keeps reissuing records from the Hi Records catalog that I just can’t get enough of. The Don Bryant LP is now one of my favorite soul records and I didn’t even know it existed until they reissued it. They’re about to drop a new Ann Peebles reissue that I’m really looking forward to.
D: Which other labels are a joy for you to champion?
DS: Some labels that constantly put out interesting stuff that I keep my eyes (and ears) on are Paradise of Bachelors out of North Carolina (check out the excellent Jake Xerxes Fussell LP they put out recently), Trouble in Mind, Other Music, Drag City (as always!), Dust-to-Digital out of Atlanta, Superior Viaduct from Oakland, I love all the Memphis reissues that Omnivore Records has been doing. Zoo Music always puts out interesting stuff, and Secretly Canadian is constantly growing and getting better. SC distributes some of the best labels on the planet at the moment.
D: Talking briefly about bands, who have been memorable instores for you?
DS: We’ve hosted a lot of great instores in the three years we’ve been around. Some notable performances that come to mind are Lonnie Holley, William Tyler, Jon Langford of the Mekons, Dent May, Bass Drum of Death, Dead Gaze, Young Buffalo, Water Liars, and the list goes on and on. The Lonnie Holley show was really special. He’s just an amazing artist and had the room completely focused on what he was doing. Lonnie stuck around and made found art with all the kids after his performance. It was amazing. Check out his two records on Dust-to-Digital.
D: Which other shops are buddies of yours? Which other shops inspire you?
DS: Whenever I travel anywhere I always seek out the local record stores. It’s a sickness, but in a good way. One of my favorite stores is Domino Sound Record Shack in New Orleans. It’s so old school and tons of great international LPs. I always hit up Euclid Records in New Orleans as well. I love going to Other Music when I’m in New York. Lagniappe Records in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is great. I bought a original Pylon “Chomp” LP from them not too long ago. My friend Dent May keeps telling me to check out Mount Analog in LA, so I’ve got that on my list. I could also list all the stores in the AIMS coalition of independent record stores, which we’re a part of. AIMS is made up of some of the greatest stores in the country and I find instant motivation from all those places—Grimey’s in Nashville, Criminal Records in Atlanta, Landlocked, Luna Records (Todd rules!), End of an Ear in Austin. Instagram has also made it really easy to see other record stores, and I love checking them all out. I think that’s how we know each other!