The number of chain record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops as well as for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. (Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? E-mail us. Miss any previous ones? Read 'em all here!)
Some couples meet and fall in love over music. Nick "DJ Nick O" Opelander and Brittany "Trash Talk" Browers have made careers out of their mutual appreciation. The couple can be seen DJing together every Monday night at Atomic Cowboy. Though they're not spinning vinyl live, the pair still enjoys the black wax. We met at Openlander's Tower Grove apartment to talk about the Strokes, the difference between male and female DJs and the cultural significance of skinny jeans.
Last Collector Standing: When you're DJing, do you spin vinyl? Brittany Browers: We mostly use digital just because it's easier to carry around -- not as much equipment. Also, I've found a couple of times [that] when I have a show it's limited space, [and] I didn't know was going to be limited. It's really nice to just have a laptop and a controller to hook into a mixer, instead of having to have turntables and crates of records.
Nick Openlander: Likewise. I use a Hercules console, Brittany does, too. It's basically like an external hard drive that can store a ton of music. It's just easier to carry around rather than loading crates around. You have a broader selection to choose from.
Is there an advantage otherwise? Is there something unique about spinning vinyl for you, even at home? Openlander: I found that it's more of a tactile thing. I don't really spin vinyl [live]. The Mac control can simulate turntables for the most part, which kind of simplifies things for me. I still really like to buy records.
Browers: Yeah, I like the physical aspect of vinyl. There is something about listening to a record in your living room on a turntable and having to get up and switch it to the b-side, and having an a-side and b-side. There is something really nostalgic and cool about that, which you don't get with MP3s and CDs.
What was the first album you ever bought? What was the first album that you had on vinyl? Openlander: I was actually musically stunted. My parents didn't really listen to music when I was a kid, besides from just the radio; soft rock and oldies. I remember one time my dad bought my mom a Bee Gees cassette and they put it into the player and it started spewing tape everywhere. I was probably four years old. They were like, "Well, that's that." They didn't really buy any music after that.
I finally bought my first CD well after CDs were commonplace, when I was seventeen, which was 1997. It was Sublime, the self-titled Sublime album. I heard that song "Santeria" and I was just like, "Man, that's a good groove." After that I went through a Dave Matthews Band phase for a really long time...
Thank god the Strokes came out, and Interpol. It sort of changed everything. Finally it was acceptable to wear skinny jeans. The aesthetic behind it was much more appealing to me, and identifiable.
I actually didn't buy a record player until maybe two years ago. I was working at Urban Outfitters, and I found a pretty sweet one for a cheap price. I think my first record after that was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I was trying to build up a library of different music. Most of the CDs and the music I download is electronic music or hipster indie rock, so I use [vinyl collecting] as an outlet to pick up different things that I wouldn't normally find. After that I bought every Strokes album on vinyl. My best vinyl experience was at Euclid Records, because I had worked at the Starbucks down the street. We would get tipped out once a week, like 70 to 100 bucks, and I would just blow it all there. I picked up a few Rolling Stones albums. It's probably where I got into more classic rock.
It really is such a great experience to through a record store and search. As convenient as it is to download music, there is something that gets lost in the experience. Browers: The thrill of the hunt.
My first album, and I can't remember if it was on cassette or CD, was C+C Music Factory. [laughs]. I was living in Washington State and I had a friend up the street that I would take C+C Music Factory to her house and make up dances. Ten-year-old girl stuff.
My first album on vinyl was Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones. I found it in a Goodwill. That's pretty much how I find a lot of my albums -- Goodwill and Salvation Army.
I was in a Salvation Army not too long ago, and there was a bunch of gospel music and Christmas albums; your standard thrift store selection. Then lo and behold -- I swear it had a halo over it - was Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." That was the find of the year!
How did you both meet and is there a song or album you bonded over? Openlander: We meet at a Hanson show.
Browers: I was running merch for the opening band Everybody Else.
Openlander: I was working at the Pageant and was like "This chick's hot!"
Browers: We met again on the street a few days later.
Openlander: You went to a lot of shows as it was. So I recognized you from around.
Browers: When we re-met on the street, we were talking about The Strokes, Kings of Leon, all the stuff we were listening to. We started talking about it and realized we had a lot of the same interest.
Openlander: I'm generally not a huge fan of Top 40 music. Obviously, certain bands that I like have huge albums and have garnered a lot of mainstream success. I remember this Julian Casablancas interview where he was [explaining] when he started the Strokes it was like making underground music cool. Something that went along with a band that was so huge like that, or even the Stones, there is certain style behind it in terms of fashion, or even in sound. It's very identifiable.
Browers: Nick and I even to a certain extent dress similarly. It's just the whole scene of indie rock stuff.
Openlander: I think if anything brought us together it's skinny black jeans. [both laugh again]
How does it feel to be a DJ couple? Browers: It's badass
Openlander: And we spend all of our time together anyways. Last summer we were at Sol Lounge. This friend of ours is a bartender there, and we were like "We'll DJ." It seemed like a good opportunity and another way to hang out with Brittany. Why not work on this together and have fun with it?
Browers: I think it's cool having our styles complement each other, but we still have very different tastes; the balance of the male/ female DJ aspect. I feel like we can relate to a broader audience doing it together.
Are there different expectations between male and female DJs? Browers: I think that sometimes girl DJs aren't taken as seriously. You have to prove yourself with your gigs. Every gig is an audition, and that's true for any DJ, but I think that especially as a female DJ. They expect me to play Lady Gaga and Beyonce. That's not the case.
Openlander: If anything I think it's cool that Brittany got into it, because it is such a dude heavy scene. It's nice to have some diversification. What's the craziest request you've gotten? Browers: I had this very big masculine guy come up to me, and I really expected something completely different than what he requested. He requested the Waitresses "I Know What Boys Like." It blew my mind. It's one of my favorite songs; of course I have that.
Later he requested the Cure and the Smiths. It really took me off guard. I probably expected hardcore music.
Openlander: I think the one that stands out to me the most recently was this one sketched-out looking dude wanted me to play Elton John ballads all night. That's so hard to mix into a set when you're like, "Hey, let's party! It's Saturday night!" and then you put on the theme to the Lion King. I did "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," and that seem to work pretty well.
Do either of you think that the fashion element of music is losing a popular platform with the decline of album artwork and photography? Browers: Well, you don't even have music videos anymore, really. MTV and VH1 usee to play music videos all the time, and that's where I saw a lot of the performers I like and what they were wearing. You look at Michael Jackson in "Thriller" or "Beat It," with the motorcycle jacket and the cropped pants with the socks and the loafers. That was a big fashion statement for a while on the cover of albums and on the cover of magazines. For the most part you don't have that [anymore] unless you are interested in fashion. It's not in your face all the time like it once was.
Openlander: I don't know if the platform has suffered. I think it's certainly changed though. There is still an outlet for it through print magazines like AP, Spin, Rolling Stone , or even just going to shows. You still have that fashion element of the rock star image. The thing that I've found is that more and more people just seem to dress the way that their bands dress. It's become more commonplace now, and I don't think it stands out quite as much anymore. To go back to skinny jeans, you see everyone wearing them now. Even with tattoos, for a while it was only hardcore bands, but everybody has tattoos now. It has asserted itself onto society -- even though you're not necessarily seeing it on albums -- in a lot of ways society has become the album.
Do men and women collect music for different reasons? Browers: I don't think so. I think both men and women have sentimental attachments to certain songs. You hear a certain song and automatically go back to summer of junior year of high school. That's what you're thinking about when you listen to music. I feel that both men and women have that attachment to music, which inspires more collecting.
Openlander: I think it's universal, really. Basically, you listen to music because you see a part of yourself in it, or it's just catchy, and you have a good time. It's not really limited to men, women or age. One of my favorite albums is Weezer's Pinkerton. I listened to that non-stop because I felt like every song on there described a part of my life, no matter when I put that on. I think that's probably the same for both men and women.Is there anything missing with the way we listen to music today? Openlander: I don't want to see record stores go out of business.
Browers: We already lost Tower Records.
Openlander: So that side of the industry seems to be hurting. On the flip side of it though, almost everybody has an iPod and can listen to whatever they want to, whenever they want to. That I think is certainly an asset and helps lots of bands grow. Even though a lot of bands have lost their exclusivity or what their fanbase is - it's not necessarily such a well-kept secret anymore - it is good to see more and more bands getting the exposure.
Browers: Success is a little bit easy to achieve now with the whole digital age. One thing about it though is you can download everything in singles now. You can just download one song off an album, and just listen to that one song and not know that there are any of the other pieces. Whereas when you are listening to vinyl, or even CD, those albums are composed in a way that artist wanted you to hear them. It's a whole experience, and they wanted you to experience it [that way].
It's kind of like looking at a painting. You don't just look at a corner of a painting and make your judgments on that, you look at a whole painting, and all the pieces that make up the one piece. It's a whole experience. The thing with vinyl, CDs, eight-tracks, whatever, you should look at all of the parts as a whole. Listen to it in the order that [the artist] wanted you to experience and hear the story that they are trying to tell, instead of looking at the corner of the painting and making your judgment off of that.