Collector Interview: Stephen Mejias
Posted on July 15 2019
I first met Stephen online through our mutual friend, Jenn from Atocha Design. Over our chats by email and Instagram, it was clear to me Stephen was a good person to know and learn from, with a clear love of good music and refreshing thoughtfulness and humor in his approach to world of hifi and vinyl obsession.
With over 2,500 records in his home collection, Stephen's work and play are both firmly in the vinyl-hifi world, but Stephen knows how to keep it real. Stephen explains, "Most conversations about "hi-fi" turn to money -- specifically, the crazy high prices of so much audio equipment. So, it's important to me that people realize that truly outstanding gear doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Anyone with a job and the interest can enjoy incredibly great sound quality. A few turntable brands that I always recommend are: Rega, Pro-Ject, U-Turn, and Music Hall. There are many, many others worth considering. Interested readers should check out Stereophile.com, Darko.Audio, and AnalogPlanet.com for other great recommendations."
Who are you?
I’m a writer. Officially, I’m the Director of Communications for a company called AudioQuest. We’re best known for high-performance analog and digital cables, and we also make power products, headphones, and a popular USB DAC called DragonFly. Vinyl enthusiasts might be familiar with our Record Cleaning Brush or as the US distributor of Lyra phono cartridges. Formerly, I was an editor and author of "The Entry Level" column at Stereophile magazine. For a brief period, I contributed a column for Audiostream.com called "Weird New Pop," and, more recently, I keep a weekly list of album recommendations at TwitteringMachines.com.
https://www.stereophile.com/category/entry-level https://www.audiostream.com/category/weird-new-pop https://twitteringmachines.com/category/music/newmusicfriday/
I post stuff on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/stephenmejias/
In theory, I meticulously organize my collection first by genre, then by artist name (last, first). In reality, though...my collection is sort of a big mess. I try! I do have a few genres (jazz, hip-hop, Latin, and classical) that are more or less properly organized, but the bulk of my collection, comprising various branches of pop, rock, electronic, and experimental forms, is just all over the place. For a while, my collection was very loosely \"organized\" by date of purchase, with my most recent purchases at the top of my LP cabinets, but even that system has fallen apart.
Part of the problem is that the collection is almost constantly growing, so any attempt at organization is confounded by limited shelf space. (Digital music formats and playback applications have solved this problem, but whatever. I find vinyl to be much more fun and beautiful.)
What album/artist are you listening to right now?
I love this question because it reflects so much. My wife and I recently had a baby! Her name is Veronica and she's incredible. In the first few weeks after we came home from the hospital, I played a lot of Miles Davis (In A Silent Way) and John Coltrane (A Love Supreme) because these albums seemed to soothe her (and/or me) during those late-night feedings.
More recently, Veronica has seemed to enjoy classic Blue Note soul-jazz -- stuff that I might have never discovered on my own, like The Three Sounds' _Soul Symphony_ and Jeremy Steig's _Legwork_, whose opening track, "Howlin' for Judy," contains the popular flute sample from Beastie Boys' "Sure Shot." So, my listening has been strongly influenced by fatherhood, yet, on my own, I'm looking forward to Felicia Atkinson's new record, _The Flower and The Vessel_, and I've really enjoyed the new records from Black Midi (_Schlagenheim_) and Mannequin Pussy (_Patience_).
How does listening to records make you feel?
Listening to records makes me feel alive, purposeful, and connected to something far greater and more important than myself. My collection makes me feel strong and vulnerable. It makes me feel rich and indebted to the world. I'm endlessly amazed by music -- as language, expression, art, necessity -- and I can't wait to share it (our record collection and the act of listening to music on vinyl) with our daughter.
How long have you been collecting records? How did you get into it?
Another great question. In some form or another, I've been collecting records since I was a child. I remember finding my first record on the street in my neighborhood in Newark. It was a live comedy album and I guess someone had thrown it away. I brought it home and played it on my dad's Emerson stereo. I was enraged when he lent it to a friend who let it melt in his car. Later, in college at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I inherited from the radio station and the art department crates and crates of beautiful old records. I carried those crates around for years, from basements to attics to garages and finally into my own apartment, long before I had anything to play them on. Then one day I visited the Princeton Record Exchange with my dear friends John DeVore and Michael Lavorgna. Still without a record player, I purchased a few records that day -- you know, just for fun, as you do.
Unbeknownst to me, the guys had planned all along to have a listening party back at my apartment later that day. Michael had a Rega P1 waiting for me in the trunk of his car for me! That's friendship. Those dudes gave me the gift of music and fed my addiction. (The whole story is here, in case you're interested: https://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/708awsi/index.html)
Michael is the former editor of Audiostream.com and now has his own website, TwitteringMachines.com, where he writes about music, hi-fi, and art. John designs loudspeakers under the name DeVore Fidelity, in a beautiful factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he sometimes hosts listening parties.
At AudioQuest, I'm fortunate to be surrounded by music lovers, such as the inimitable, cooler than cool Joe Harley (who is also responsible for curating Blue Note's amazing Tone Poet Series of audiophile reissues; get them all!) and Shane Buettner (founder of the outstanding reissue label Intervention Records). We're always sharing music, inspiring one another, feeding the habit.
Favorite or biggest music genre in your collection:
Lately, I've been focusing mostly on Blue Note jazz, but I'm probably proudest of my salsa records -- old Fania and SAR titles are so cool -- while the largest genre in my collection must be pop/rock.
Best album to listen to when you’ve had a rough week:
The first that comes to mind is In A Silent Way.
Last record you purchased:
Grant Green: Carryin' On (for Veronica, I tell myself)
What is your beverage of choice when listening to records?
These days, it's LaCroix sparkling water. Peach-Pear, Pamplemousse, and Apricot are my favorites. But if I'm hanging in sunny San Clemente with Joe Harley, then we're almost certainly drinking something unusally dank and hoppy -- Stone's Enjoy By IPA or Russian River's Pliny the Elder, most likely. And while we're talking beers, I have to mention a couple of New Jersey's outstanding breweries: Kane Brewing Co. in Ocean, NJ, makes a beer called Head High that rivals anything I've tasted from Southern California to Vermont.
Meanwhile, Carton Brewing Co. in Atlantic Highlands may be the best at balancing hops and malt. Their Boat Beer is the beer I drink when I'm drinking more than one. Their tasting room features a hi-fi system comprising Rogue Audio amplification and [attempts to dig deep into brain for names of loudspeakers and turntable...nope, can't retrieve them...was too drunk...] some other cool stuff I can't remember right now.
Where do you hunt for vinyl?
For the longest time, one of my favorite places in the world (musical or otherwise) was Other Music in Manhattan. Sadly, it's now gone. My current favorite record shops are Iris Records in Jersey City, whose owner Steve Gritzan also hosts regular Record Riot record fairs in our area, and the great Turntable Lab.
While it's all too easy to bemoan the death of the record shop, we're fortunate to have tons of great places to explore in and around New York City. Rough Trade in Williamsburg is the big one, but I've been meaning to visit a dozen other places.
A few that come to mind are Vinyl Fantasy, The Thing, Black Gold, Human Head, and Halcyon. Also, these two venues are not record shops, exactly, but they _are_ all about vinyl and music discovery, and they seem very important in the most beautiful way: Public Records in Gowanus and Nowadays in Ridgewood.
My friend Queen Majesty (who also makes some of the world's most delicious hot sauces) hosts Summer Reggae Sundays at Public Records. Barbie Bertisch and Paul Raffaele, founders of the Love Injection fanzine, host Classic Album Sundays, a monthly vinyl listening party, at Nowadays.
All of these people and places are worth knowing. Which reminds me, I should have answered ""Queen Majesty hot sauce"" as my beverage of choice while listening to records.