Weirdo Records

Behind the Counter: Weirdo Records (Cambridge, MA)

Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

Weirdo Records in Cambridge, Massachusetts lives up to its name. Rather than try to compete with the various stores selling indie rock and big-name artists, it’s found a niche in the esoteric and obscure — “records where people are literally just banging on their kitchen pots and pans and yelling,” according to store owner Angela Sawyer. We spoke with Sawyer and found out what makes Cambridge a haven for music (and book) geeks.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

This year is my 20th year working in a record store. So I’d wanted to start one for a long time, but really couldn’t figure out how — mostly because I was always working in a record store, which meant living below the poverty level, and I couldn’t put together enough money to buy a car or a vacation, much less start a business.

When the Internet came into its own, I started using all my spare time to try and figure out how to build a website. I started with about 10 titles, and these days there are several thousand. I moved into a proper storefront at the beginning of 2009, and a few folks (mostly journalists) were surprised that I was opening a shop. Simply and frankly, I’ve been surrounded by and motivated by records my entire adult life. So I felt like, what was I gonna do — take up taxidermy?

Weirdo Records

What is the musical community like in Cambridge?

Flat-out amazing. Boston is home to more colleges and universities than any spot on Earth, so it’s the college town’s college town. All those students mean that it’s a real haven for book and music geeks. Right now, there are three different handmade paper pamphlets around town that are solely dedicated to listing different underground house shows (and they don’t overlap in what they cover). There’s a vibrant, world-class improvised music scene, and lots of crossover between noise, jazz, hardcore, avant classical, etc. There are also several unique regular DJ nights where people play all 45s or LPs, each focusing on something a little bit different (three different soul ones, several ’60s-only, one for international music, one for rootsy country, and so on).

New England is known far and wide for its adventurous and voracious record collectors, and the prices in town are cheap, and the selection is plentiful — especially for genres that are abstract or difficult. The record-collecting community here has been very good to me, and the shop is really theirs. I feel extremely lucky just to get to hang out in it all day, and I think that it just wouldn’t fly anyplace else.

Secret Cities

Pop Addict: Secret Cities’ Strange Hearts

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Secret Cities: Strange HeartsSecret Cities: Strange Hearts (Western Vinyl, 3/29/11)

Secret Cities: “Love Crime”

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The economic landscape is a desolate, lonely terrain these days. Throughout the country, there have been bailouts, bankruptcies, bank failures, and business closings. There is, however, always a bright side to things. Thanks (oddly enough) to the down economy, Fargo, North Dakota-based trio Secret Cities was able to craft a gem of a record with this year’s Strange Hearts.

With a seemingly firm resolution to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, the band occupied the basement of a recently abandoned bank in Kansas City, Missouri, to record its follow-up record. Serving as the band’s makeshift studio, the deserted space (equipped with bulletproof glass and a gigantic vacant vault) helped the members — Charlie Gokey, Marie Parker, and Alex Abnos — to hone in on their creativity, focus their efforts, and play to their many musical strengths.

Stormy Records

Behind the Counter: Stormy Records (Dearborn, MI)

Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

Stormy Records in Dearborn, Michigan was created to serve the Detroit area with a diverse selection of hard-to-find records. That simple mission, along with the unwavering passion of its two proprietors, Windy and Carl (also the ambient duo Windy & Carl), has sustained Stormy for more than a decade. Though the “weirdo music” that fills the shelves leaves some customers feeling entirely clueless, its specialized focus fosters a tight-knit community. Get to know Stormy, and check out photos of Windy and Carl’s favorite records.

Stormy Records
Windy holds Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt and Vini Reilly by The Duretti Column