Taylor Swift has been known to do a little record shopping, but can she expect to find copies of her own records -- all of which have been pressed on vinyl -- at independent shops?
Swift's 1989 was the only album released in 2014 to go platinum, but she didn't crack the top 20 in vinyl sales. Does that mean record collectors aren't interested in analog T. Swift? Potentially. When I realized I couldn't live without a copy of 1989, an album serendipitously named for the year vinyl died, I decided to visit several Twin Cities record stores to check inventory.
I walk into Treehouse Records as I do about twice a week, but there's nothing Swift-related to be found in the stacks. As I go to check out, I query the girl behind the counter. She looks at me sideways. "I'm not joking," I clarify, handing her the Elliott Smith LP I picked up as evidence that I'll truly need some poptimism soon. "Sorry, we don't usually carry big releases like that," she finally relents with a shrug.
Owner Mark Trehus does a great job injecting his personality into the stacks he curates, so I respect that maybe Taylor hasn't impressed him yet. But then again, she's an independent label signee who is totally in control of her musical output and has eschewed freemium art-explorer Spotify. Framed this way, Swift embodies the same spirit that drives indie shops, but her success has placed her outside the sphere of hipness.
Taylor's take: So it's gonna be forever, or it's gonna go down in flames.
It's immediately obvious that Roadrunner won't be the payoff destination. A tall man in a papakha looks down on me disapprovingly from the register as I enter. The store is vacuum of silence without so much as a Kooks tune playing in the background. The four or five people mulling around the crates are silently studying their finger flips.
Roadrunner's closet-like confines include a tower of 50-cent boxes stacked nearly to the roof, and I spy a grade school's vintage chorale pressing in the local section. Their new section is minuscule. It's about five feet wide and holds only a select few LPs, like Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love and Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear alongside some Captain Beefheart albums. Taylor's sub-nasal Polaroid is nowhere to be seen.
I almost ask the clerk what's up, but he glares me down again, and I exit. I try calling back the next day to probe the owner, but the call is ignored. Combined, this is answer enough.
Taylor's take: Baby, I could build a castle out of the bricks they threw at me.
Hymie's Vintage Records
Hymie's is a labyrinthine shop with threadbare armchairs and vintage hi-fi systems. New and previously owned vinyl is stocked together, which makes tracking down 1989 a little difficult. However, an off-duty employee points out the last remaining copy high up on a display wall.
The chipper guy behind the counter admits he's a fan of the album, but he tries to sell me on Pharrell's latest instead. He claims that the vinylization of 1989 is poorly mixed. After admitting Swift's was the store's best-selling pop record of the previous year, he bemoans the lack of digital download. To him, the pressing was an afterthought. This beat? Still sick.
Taylor's take: Hide away and find yourself with some indie record that's much cooler than mine.
Cheapo is a trove of goodies, but Swift is nowhere to be found. Confused, I trek to the counter to inquire.
"Oh, you gotta have Taylor Swift," the cashier exclaims before yelling out to the bearded man restocking the piles. He doesn't hear, so she hollers again, "DO WE HAVE ANY TAYLOR SWIFT?" I'm unsure whether she's trying to shame me, but it turns out Cheapo does stock Swift. She's just hidden away in the country section. Perhaps miscategorizations like this one are what's given the tuneful dynamo her stigma among vinyl buyers.
Taylor's take: This love is difficult, but it's real.
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I head to St. Paul with hopes that the other side of the river will be a stronghold for unapologetic Swifties like myself. Eclipse is perfectly positioned to clean up with mainstream offerings because it's right down the street from the Xcel and countless other workaday offices.
And I'm right. She's right there under "SSS." It's a shrine. At the counter, I speak with owner Joe Furth. "We don't try to niche ourselves," he tells me. "Some record stores think they're too cool."
Here's a guy who recognizes that Swift isn't quite Suicide when it comes to titillating hardcore fans, but he'll sell the two side by side. Furth touches on what is perhaps the biggest reason Swift is (wrongfully) denied real estate in shops. "My customers are mostly male," he admits. "I've seen a lot of couples come in here, and the girlfriend will grab the record and be like 'Look!' and the boyfriend will just sort of shake his head."
Taylor's take: Talk to the man with the reasons why and let me know what you find.
Agharta is a baby in the vinyl game. They'll celebrate their one-year anniversary this month, and it looks like they still haven't gotten their inventory completely settled in the last 11 months. I can't manage to find Swift, though there is an impressive array of movie soundtracks and 10-inch picture discs in stock. I spy a clear vinyl of Jedi Mind Tricks' Violent by Design as well as some rare Count Basie releases.
When I ask the clerk why Taylor is absent, he kind of shrugs. To him, it seems natural they wouldn't carry such a chart-busting pop record. He's eager to help me order in a copy, but I decline. Perhaps when the shuffling ceases, the guys in charge will see fit to stock Swift, but it seems like they've found their niche in oddities.
Taylor's take: This place is too crowded, too many cool kids.
The Electric Fetus
I finish my search at a sure bet. Electric Fetus is basically a record store, but it carries a wide cross section of oddball gifts too. I suspect there are more than a few shoppers who've popped 1989 on their turntables for the sheer irony.
The Fetus is the first place that dares to carry Swift in multiples. I eagerly grab a copy and take it to the front, explaining my day to the clerk. He looks unimpressed as he tells me my total.
Taylor's take: There's nothing to figure out. Count to ten, take it in.
A few days later, I give Treehouse another call for a statement from Trehus. He's not in, but the shopkeep on the phone tells me they've recently stocked up on 1989. It seems the record was between pressings, and they've only just gotten in the back-ordered copies.
I glance over my haul from the days of searching -- No Cities to Love, Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking, Kanye West's The College Dropout, and 1989. No entry seems out of place to me.
I've still yet to find a place that's bold enough to order in the rest of Swift's catalog or an owner who'll exclaim "Yes!" when I extrapolate my theory that Taylor Swift is a beacon of the independent spirit, but there's certainly cause for hope.
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