What did you wake up thinking about this morning? It sounds stupid, but I was thinking about what I should show you. A lot of people will show you a gold record. For me, this business is about the people. In the early stages of Amoeba, we put artists’ names on the bin cards, not alphabet cards like every other store did it. We wanted to make it easy for people to find artists, not just the big artists. We did that by making a space for them. Artists were so proud that they had their own bin cards.
Describe a lesson you learned from a failure. For a short while we had our own label. We released a reissue from Graham Parsons, which did really well. And we tried to introduce a new artist, Brandi Shearer. Artists put everything in your hands. For us, developing a new artist’s career felt unnatural. But it was also very insightful. That firsthand experience taught us how hard it is to be a label.
What will define success for you in the coming year? Our numbers versus the numbers for every other record store. We continue to be busy. We represent a model as a destination record store. The decline in CDs has been more than made up for by the growth in vinyl. Sales have been steady for the last 10 years, while everyone else has been going down. We’ve also added a lot more merchandise. Ten years ago, it was tough to move a $15 T-shirt. Today, we have no problem getting $30 for a T-shirt with an obscure artist on it. It’s odd, but DVDs also sell pretty well. We are in an area [in Los Angeles] that has 5,000 movie studios within a 20-block area. That includes postproduction. People here are still into collecting movies.
Who is your most important role model? Sun Ra. He was such an icon for me personally, but not a lot of people know about him. But he represents everything Amoeba is all about. He’s an artist who was just pure heart and soul and not motivated by monetary and career motivations.
Name a project you’re not affiliated with that has most impressed you in the past year. Record Store Day. It has little to do with our efforts. I was actually skeptical when it first started. It’s turned into a wonderful event that just celebrates our culture. It’s like a full-on holiday. Everybody who loves records is going to be out shopping.
Is there a future in music for physical retail? These past two years, at least 10 record stores have opened up in L.A., mostly all vinyl stores. That’s the future — a place where someone can go and feel comfortable. Shoppers don’t want the hard sell. They want an education and a path to get them spiritually uplifted — not something generic.
Name a desert island album. “Nefertiti” by Miles Davis. It’s so daring and experimental but at the same time so romantic and rootsy — all at the same time. Sun Ra blazed the path, but Miles refined it so much.