High Fidelity

Jay Gonzalez and the Crowdsourcing Renaissance

by Eric Risch

15 June 2015

Photo: Greg Chow 

Crowdsourcing and more...

You used Kickstarter to fund the recording and production and pressing of the vinyl. The video you did for it was one of the funniest things ever.

Yeah, that’s all John Britt, my friend that does videos. He does a bunch of videos and has done them in the past for me, too. That was pretty great. I think it’s funny that one of the funniest things, one of the best videos he did for me, was a Kickstarter thing. I don’t know. I can keep it on the site, people can still check it out. I honestly think it got more money than anything else. I’m eternally grateful for that. It’s awesome. It was fun. We have our friend Jake who was acting in it, so it’s always fun to have buddies and just go around Athens. A lot of the videos are shot around Athens, so a lot of folks watch it and recognize the landmarks. It’s a lot of fun.

Going into the Kickstarter thing and then after it was funded, did your thoughts on the whole crowdsourcing aspect change at all?

I was a little hesitant at first. I feel weird asking folks for money and feeling like you owe this thing. It’s not radically different than any other Kickstarter thing. But I did try to make it where you could get the record for cheap at the base level. It’s almost like a pre-order; then if you did want the other level, I try to make them somewhat interesting. I printed up sheet music of the whole suite. You could get that and a t-shirt. Probably the most fun was the co-writing level. We had everything ranging from this young teenage girl that wrote a song, and her dad signed her up for me. I helped write a bridge to the song and then recorded it. Initially I thought I would write a song for whoever wanted it. It really ended up mostly being collaborations with folks. A couple guys who are Drive-By Trucker fans did real heavy instrumental bass and drums thing, and I put this weird surf guitar heavier instrumental thing over it. It ranged. This other guy was just like crazy synth-pop thing. So it really went all over the map, and it was a lot of fun doing that.

And the house shows, which I know a lot of people are doing house show tours. Will Johnson from Centro-matic and Anders Parker. I think even Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens has been doing it for years. It’s a neat way to get into that. I did three of those so far. Every one is radically different. One was quiet in the living room with a bunch of people, and I lost my voice. Then everyone sang along. I had everyone singing. I did one that ended up being almost like a teenage basement rock show. It was people sitting in the basement watching us next to the pool table cranking the guitar. I ended up finishing my set and our hosts had a band on their own, we ended up playing an hour set, doing “I Want to Be Your Dog” and all their songs. It was random and fun. In the end, it was a really cool thing. People were really supportive. Hopefully they’re happy with the stuff they got. I haven’t had any complaints so far.

From other artists I’ve seen who have done these, it seems like it’s a lot of work. You see pictures on Twitter and Instagram of all the records they’re boxing to ship out.

It was insane. That was stuff I never really dealt with. It was almost like starting your own little label. You’re figuring out how much it costs. The whole budgeting thing was not my forte. It all worked out, thank God. I didn’t realize LP cardboard mailers cost so much or figuring out to use media mail. It’s these little things that you end up figuring out.

Having backed a few of these projects myself, you see other ones that bands or artists are doing, it’s like once the campaign is fully funded, that’s the entire marketing campaign, there’s not much point or life to it after the campaign is over.

It is fascinating to realize. That’s the one thing I didn’t consider. Someone mentioned to me that it is in itself the start of a promotional thing. It’s releasing it that way that brings attention to it. It didn’t really occur to me. I don’t have a machine or anything. I thought if I did it all around the same time, it would help. The more of doing it at this point, I think for the level I’m doing it, which I can’t tour a lot behind it, having things come out over time, it seems to work out the best. It’s really keeping it out there on a lower level, as opposed to having a big bump of stuff written about it and then it’s gone.

You almost have to do a tiered marketing campaign for it now.

Exactly. None of it’s by design, of course. It’s just the way I work. It’s like I don’t know what’s happening the next day. Fortunately it’s worked out so far. It’s weird having it all done, too. I was focusing on it for so long, and now it’s nice to have it done, but now I’m already thinking about the next record and recording the next songs. I’ve got to have something in the next chamber. That’s where we are now.

Moving to the vinyl side of things, the album The Bitter Suite, it does work well digitally. There’s a gapless aspect of it but it’s really meant for the vinyl construct. Having lived with it for as long as you have to get it to vinyl, what are your thoughts on the digital aspect? Not necessarily for your album, but digital in general. Does it stifle the creativity from an artist’s standpoint? You mentioned this was a vinyl thing and the whole aspect of front to back, one-sided, a continuous sweep. You don’t necessarily have that in the digital format.

You can listen to it the same way. The weird thing about digital’s sonic façade or MP3s taking chunks of sound out of the actual music is the randomness and how the order of what you’re listening to can be lost pretty easily. They Might Be Giants, I heard an interview with them and they were saying the way iTunes loads the songs in, the order they get loaded in, a lot of times if you don’t have it in a playlist and you just hit play, it goes last song to first. Is it even worth doing that, trying to sequence it right or in a way that’s effective when people are going to be either taking a song out and not listening to the rest of the record or listening backward and forward? Maybe sequence it backward to forward.

But on the other hand, I am a singles guy. I do like the idea of the 45s, it’s not radically different. I like the idea that a lot of folks are putting out singles or one or two songs as a single. I do think it’s neat. You can really do that. The CD single never really seemed to take off.

It seems to be revisiting that 50s-era 45 pre-full length popularity. With The Bitter Suite, it’s really important. It’s almost extra important that you listen to it in order because if it’s not, it sounds like the endings are so abrupt because they flow right into each other. It’s hard taking it out of context. Each song is a little bit shorter than a normal song just to keep the flow going. If you cut a song out, it’s only going to be like two minutes long, which is actually fine. Some songs are a little long these days it seems. Part of me was going to put one side, the suite on the one side, and then do a bunch of other songs on the other side, which seems to be what a lot of the prog bands did or Abbey Road had the suite on one side and then the other songs. I did like the idea really of just trying to make the focus be on the one little group of songs and not dilute it.

Keep the focus on it.

It’s funny the limitations, what people love about vinyl, and it is cool, but it was also tough. I was like, “Maybe we can do a 45, but then we would have to flip it and it would lose the momentum of that.” It seemed to be that the only way to do it would be on one side. Maybe we can do it at 45 speed but on a 12-inch and have it sound really extra great. I do think the limitations really help sometimes. I do think CDs got a little ridiculous in the 90s when you’re getting a 75-minute full CD of stuff that could have been honed down a little bit. It works great with the longer sets, but everyone felt obliged to fill up the CD.

To justify the $18.99 price tag.

Right. For a piece of plastic worth 50 cents.

The resurgence of vinyl these days, what’s your thoughts on Record Store Day. I know it just happened. Are you a fan?

I am. We played a few Record Store Day things with the Truckers. It’s cool when I’m there, but I always seem to miss the stuff I want to get. I’m unfortunately too lazy to get up and wait in line. I do like it, and I like the idea of having specialized vinyl. There is enough of a fetishist in me that still likes the colored red vinyl or clear vinyl and limited-edition stuff, but I’m also not enough of a collector to really go out and do it. I do think it’s a good thing to promote it. I love that you can go into an appliance store and they’re selling vinyl now, which is a good sign. You should obviously buy it from a record store, but I do like the idea that it’s become popular enough that it seems like the record stores are able to sustain a little more than they were before.

I love going in and buying; just having the physical thing is a great thing. I like the sound of it. The natural compression of it, it’s a sound so good. I have a little shitty record player, but if you just bought a brand-new record, I’m not going to put a brand-new New Pornographers colored splattered vinyl record on with that little needle. Or maybe I would, and then regret it later. That’s the only thing, buying a bunch of them and having to wait to get home to check it out. It builds up the anticipation, and then you actually sit down and listen to it. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.

What are a few records that you prefer on vinyl over any other format? Not like remastered stuff, but the original.

I like 45s that are the real hot mastering that a lot of the older 45s have, especially I like a lot of the 50s and 60s instrumental stuff. I try to collect. Like I like “Telstar” by the Tornadoes. It sounds so much better on a scratchy compressed 45 where it’s mastered really loudly than a shitty re-recorded version. A lot of that stuff I really dig. I was listening to The Brown Album by The Band. It wasn’t even a great original copy, but it sounded so good. I was just playing it on the vinyl. And then the reissued Beatles stuff. I’m trying to collect all that, too. The mono stuff, I wasn’t able to get the whole box, but I’m trying to slowly get one by one. It’s so tough to pick. “Which one should I get first just in case?” It’s tantamount to torture. They’re all so good.

Two albums that really hit me as a different experience listening to them on vinyl would be like Steely Dan‘s
Aja and Pink Floyd‘s Wish You Were Here. Those are studio-oriented band, but it was a whole different world listening to those albums, having lived with them for 20 or 30 years, first on cassette or 8-track and then on CD, you hear the originals on vinyl, and it’s a totally different album.

Certain ones sound great. As a teenager, I had the first Black Sabbath album. Funnily enough I was talking about how you don’t want to play it on a shitty record player, but the only record player I had at the time was a little toy portable record player. It never sounded quite as good to me as that little tiny speaker. There’s just something about it, the resonance of it or Led Zeppelin II. At a certain point in my teenage years, I found my aunt and uncle’s stash of records in my grandma’s attic, and it was instant classic rock. It was Sabbath’s first album, the RamonesRocket to Russia and then Joe Jackson. That’s where the whole Joe Jackson thing started; I’m the Man and Look Sharp and then all the classic rock standard stuff, too. I would just sit there with the little record player. It wasn’t even a hi-fi thing for a while. And knowing the sequence of it ... there are a lot of records I just listened to one side of the record.

Like memo-repeat on some record players, keep playing the same side over and over and over again.

Yeah. You don’t have to get up; you just sink into the couch. I have my grandma’s old standup furniture record player.

A console unit?

Yeah, a console unit. I need to get it fixed because you can stack up the 45s and it drops them one at a time. It’s been so long since I’ve had that. I think being spoiled by the iPhone-iPod digital age is being able to set stuff up on a queue or playlist and let it go. Part of the good thing about a 45 or records is that you’re getting up, you’re engaging, but there’s also, unless you’re playing DJ in your house, you have two minutes to walk away and come back and do it. Just dropping a bunch of the A-sides is fun, too. Or just go in for jukebox. That’s the dream.

Even those are digital now.

That’s the thing, the jukebox in your hand.

I’ve mentioned you and I are the same age. For you as an artist, having grown up and seeing all the different formats that have come and gone, the vinyl, the 8-track cassettes, the CD, does having your music on vinyl as an artist add any more validity to it as art, or is it just another format for you?

It does for me. It does because that was the first one I knew. I still do feel like it’s the most permanent. I did the cassette thing for a long time, and they just don’t last. I remember having the Nice Price CBS whatever greatest hits album, and after four or five plays it’s just squealing and feeling ripped off, then finding out that it’s tape and that’s going to happen no matter what.

Like leaving it in the car in the summer.

It’s all warped and shit. And again, with records it’s the scratches. There a lot of records that I have reissues of, and I’m used to the scratch. The Band album being one, “Across the Great Divide” on my original copy, there’s a skip that happened that I’m almost looking forward to. It doesn’t happen, and it’s like something is weird. I was a little kid and had a Billy Joel record, and it was the same thing. You get used to it. I remember being annoyed by it, and now I go back to it, “Where is that?” It’s all part of the experience. That’s why people get pretty into the vinyl thing, different pressings and stuff.

Fortunately Chris Grehan, we’ve been playing together since we were 18 or 19, he’s an engineer and he’s got great ears. I’m glad he did this thing when we pressed the The Bitter Suite, a lot of people will do MP3 downloads or whatever. We contacted the pressing company, and we were seeing if we could do high resolution downloads, too. You can get the low-level AAC compressed thing, but also you can get the FLAC with CD-quality wave files or 9624, real high fidelity ones. I’m all about the Pono or the high-res things. I heard it, and it sounds great. It’s good to have the option to do that. I see the rationale of “It’s just the download. You have the record.” But if someone wants to hear it in all formats, it sounds really good, especially when you spend so much time trying to make it sound as good as possible. I could see that it’s heartbreaking to know it’s mostly is going to be played out of a little tiny earbud. There’s not much you can do about it. Again, I guess it’s just holding onto that, getting it as close to the original experience intended as possible. There’s folks who still want it.

We talked about Record Store Day; in the Kickstarter video, you referenced that High Fidelity stigma of the record shop snob. Do you think that’s changed a bit just because record stores were on their way out, and now they are coming back in? They don’t have a cadre of employees; it’s usually just one or two people. It’s almost like they have to be friendly.

I don’t know if I’ve noticed that. I guess we are lucky, traveling around a lot with the Truckers, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of stores and for the most part everyone is cool. A lot of guys get into the vinyl thing aren’t necessarily doing it to make money. You get a lot of the collector guys who don’t want to sell you the shit. But it is more rare. That’s like one out of every five guys. I do think it’s probably helped. I was in Dallas somewhere, and this young kid, he was so enthusiastic. He had to be like 16, and he’s like “Have you heard the new Dan Deacon?” I’m like an old man. I’m like, “I know it.” He’s like, “You’ve got to hear it. It’s great.” He was just talking about the young bands, and he’s like, “It sounds like this, and this guy is great.” I’m buying a Move record. It’s great in the sense that it’s not just oldies like us and we’re holding on. They sold hi-fis and they had the whole thing going. It was pretty awesome. It was funny. I was chuckling, but it was also endearing. He’s turning everyone onto stuff in the shop. Shit, there’s a lot of new stuff that’s great that I haven’t seen. Patterson’s really good in the Truckers. He keeps up with everything. I’m lucky through that, too. Through my friends I can keep up with the music stuff. Otherwise I’m stuck in a quagmire of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

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