Over the past two decades, with consumers increasingly choosing to purchase their music via digital outlets, countless independent records stores across the globe have been forced to throw up their shutters. Leslie Feist however, has a plan to stop this chain of events. “I’ll wear armor and hold up a sword and stand out front of the independent record shops and just protect them,” the Canadian singer/songwriter, 36, tells Rolling Stone.
Feist is hardly alone in her passion for independent record stores. Since the inception of Record Store Day in 2007, artists of all genres and backgrounds, from Paul McCartney to Wilco, and Phish to Pearl Jam, have helped contribute to the event – an international holiday that encourages music fans to visit their local brick-and-mortar music retailer – by dropping limited-edition, one-day-only releases made available exclusively at independent retailers. Record Store Day co-founder, Michael Kurtz, estimates that for this year’s celebration, on April 21st, more than 300 limited-edition releases will be offered worldwide, and approximately four to five million dollars worth of vinyl records have been produced for the occasion. Detailed information on participating stores and releases can be found at the event’s website.
Most exciting for fans and collectors is that many prominent artists have begun to view Record Store Day as an excuse to indulge in their most wild musical fantasies. For RSD 2012, acts from The Flaming Lips to Mastodon and Feist have recorded and will release never-before-heard material. The Flaming Lips will drop The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, a massive collaborative double-vinyl that finds the psychedelic rockers teaming up with the likes of Ke$ha, Bon Iver, Erykah Badu and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, while Feist and Mastodon have joined forces for an unexpected, split-single covers project.
In fact, Lips frontman Wayne Coyne himself is still baffled by the group of artists he reined in for Heady Fwends. “Sometimes I look at the lineup and I’m like ‘Fuck, who did all this?” he says. “It’s like a dream.” The album was a cross-country expedition: The Lips joined the Plastic Ono Band last November for an upstate New York session; in February, on a whim, Coyne drove to Badudio, Badu’s Dallas studio, to record a cover of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” (“Wayne is the Willy Wonka of music,” says Badu.) Later in the month, Coyne headed to Nashville and tapped Ke$ha and rapper Biz Markie for the doomsday-inspired track “2012.” Hectic schedules forced other tracks to be remotely created: For the swampy Lips/Bon Iver cut, “Ashes In The Air,” Justin Vernon and Coyne digitally swapped tracks and lyrical ideas; Coyne and Chris Martin worked in similar fashion on the piano-based track “I Don’t Want To Die.” “(Chris) sent me this little track and we went back and forth probably 15, 16 different times,” Coyne says. “All the time he’s playing shows and doing all these ridiculous things. It’s a beautiful thing.”
No release however, is perhaps as unexpected as the Feist/Mastodon split-single covers collaboration for which both artists covered a song from the other’s newest album: Feist takes a swipe at “Black Tongue” from last fall’s The Hunter, while the Georgia sludge-rockers put their spin on Metals’ “A Commotion.” The project, which first came together after the two bands impressed one another while performing on the UK talk show Later…with Jools Holland, was spontaneously created. “We didn’t really know how or what was going to happen,” says Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher. “We just thought ‘oh, lets cover one of their songs. They’ll cover one of ours. And we’ll go from there.'”
Both bands gave the other free reign of their catalog. Lyrics however, would serve as a guide: Feist says she chose to cover the rumbling “Black Tongue” for its “elemental language” (“It’s all in a language that I already speak lyrically”); Mastodon, comparatively, went with the ethereal “A Commotion,” Kelliher says, for its simplistic, open-book quality. (“We did as much stuff on it as we could to make it very Mastodon-esque – throwing open high-notes in there, low guitars and heavy drums,” he explains.) Both are impressed with the other’s interpretation of their work. “I don’t want to say they prettied it up, but they definitely put some ghosts in there,” Kelliher says of Feist’s “Black Tongue.” Adds Feist of Mastodon’s “A Commotion,” “It’s super massive. It’s a wet dream to have Mastodon take one of my songs and put it into their massive machine.”
Other artists have also cooked up unexpected covers for Record Store Day, including Detroit electro-pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Portland folkies Blitzen Trapper. For their Motown-focused covers-EP, We Almost Lost Detroit, whose title is taken from the song by the late poet/hip-hop forefather Gil Scott-Heron that the band covers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. pay homage to their hometown by putting their own spin at the works of other Motor City artists including, surprisingly, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” “It’s the most fun thing I can imagine releasing,” says band member Josh Epstein. Blitzen Trapper, for a 7″ split-single they’ll release on RSD, reached back to outtakes from their 2008 Furr sessions; they dug up, and will release two previously-unreleased tunes, one of which is the backwoods crew’s take on the timeless betrayal ballad, “Hey Joe.” Frontman Eric Earley says that although the song has been covered by many acts, his band gave their version – based on Jimi Hendrix’s classic 1966 debut single – a drastic alteration. “We switched pianos for the guitar,” Earley says. “It’s just a cool song.”
Animal Collective, by comparison, used Record Store Day as motivation to release one of the most experimental undertakings they’ve ever concocted. Titled Transverse Temporal Gyrus, the 12-inch Record Store Day release is a reworking of material from the band’s March 2010 interactive live show at New York’s Guggenheim Museum for which they digitally-manipulated ambient tracks and spit them out via 36 speakers. The RSD release combines original recordings with the Guggenheim creations; together they’re now blended into a never-before-heard aural collage. “Personally I think it’s going to end up being one of my favorite Animal Collective releases,” says group member Brian Weitz, a.k.a Geologist. “It’s always fun when projects come up, like the Guggenheim installation or Oddsac, where the nature of the project pushes us in (an experimental) direction.” The band is also debuting a website on RSD that will allow listeners to partake in a different aural experience with each visit.
Yet despite artists’ embrace of Record Store Day, holiday co-founder Kurtz still says he’s looking ahead: he says his next goal is to get every artist to place a RSD button on their website. Kurtz says that because they’ve primarily pointed to digital retailers like iTunes and Amazon on their websites, artists have “created this perception that there are no record stores.” Guitarist Derek Trucks, whose band with wife Susan Tedeschi, Tedeschi Trucks Band, will release a live EP on RSD, agrees with Kurtz, saying that he believes independent record stores need to be more visible. “I think it’s supremely important,” Trucks says, explaining that he cherishes the experience of visiting a store to buy music. “There’s something about going to a record store with people who actually know music and give a shit.” Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness, whose iconic band will issue a limited-edition mint-green reissue of their 2011 full-length Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes on RSD, concurs. “Who wants to buy a fucking record at Wal-Mart?” Ness says. “I don’t.”
Kurtz feels his work is only getting started: he hopes to expand Record Store Day to additional countries in the coming years. But he still can’t help but be amazed by just how far the holiday has come in only five years of existence. “It’s way beyond what we ever thought it would be,” he says. “After the first year, when we started getting emails from Paul McCartney saying how much he loved record stores and how much he supported what we were doing, we kinda knew we were onto something.”