Collector Interview: Windy Chien

Posted on May 22 2017

Today we're sharing the enviable record collection of San Francisco artist Windy Chien. Former record store owner turned artist, Windy is an inspiration when it comes to her musical interests and design aesthetic. I've had the pleasure of exploring Windy's collection a few times during our casual weeknight record club with a few other folks from the neighborhood. We get together to share a few albums, drinks and a meal midweek, rotating houses and music. 

I’m Windy Chien. I like to say I’ve lived three lives. For 14 years, I had a record store in San Francisco, Aquarius Records, which tragically closed in 2016 after 46 years. I was there from 1989-2003. After that, I joined iTunes and was at Apple for 8 years. Since 2013, I’ve been making art full time. I live in San Francisco.

We worked with Windy to create a personalized set of record dividers to suit her collection. This custom design project was a fun one because Windy's extensive music knowledge is almost encyclopedic, yet her method of cataloging her collection is very personal. Windy came up with a handwritten list for custom dividers: a mix of artists, genre and categories all her own, from The Seventies, Nina Simone to Found Sounds and Keith Jarrett.

Windy explains, "The record dividers forced me to confront my previously horribly chaotic, unorganized collection. I’ll always be a music obsessive, but because I left my record store days so long ago, the collection had sat there sadly ignored while I moved onto working in tech and now making art. Putting it all into genres with my new record dividers was a trip down memory lane and forced me to come to terms (as cliche as that sounds) with my past life."

Size of your collection:
Maybe 750 LPs? Not that big at all, really. My time at the record store coincided with the rise of CDs, so, as gross as it sounds, most of my music is on disc. There, I’ve got Krautrock, indie rock, and experimental collections like you wouldn’t believe. With vinyl, I tended to take home older LPs that were collectible or easier to find and cheaper on vinyl - genres I needed to *learn*, like jazz, prog, reggae, tropicalia, Krautrock, and more ‘70s soft rock, country, and folk than a human can listen to in a lifetime.

Current top 3 albums:
Can’t do a current top 3! But Top 3-ish of All Time - that would be Os Mutantes’ self titled first two albums (1968/1969), Gram Parsons' ‘GP' (1973) and 'Grievous Angel’ (1974) (mm hm, that's two albums in one - don’t make me choose) and a tie between Zombies' 'Odessey & Oracle' (1968) and Television's 'Marquee Moon' (1977).

Favorite or biggest music genre in your collection:
My favorite LP section is simply called The Seventies. I will always maintain the best music was made in the ‘70s. Soft rock, outlaw country, singer songwriters for days, Krautrock, reggae, New York punk. I have entire sections devoted to Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Keith Jarrett.

Best party album:
V/A 'It's Rockin' Time: Duke Reid's Rock Steady 1967 - 1968' (Trojan) This is a perfect compilation of Duke Reid-produced tracks with a couple of great Phyllis Dillon songs and several tunes featuring the great saxophonist Tommy McCook. I love rock steady, the American-soul inspired, post-ska, pre-reggae genre whose heyday was just a couple of years. It makes me happy. If I could listen to only one genre, it would be rock steady.

Best album to listen to alone:
The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett. Makes me cry every time.

Give us a breakdown of your collection: how much is used vs how much is new?
It’s mostly used, but in no way does that mean it’s not valuable. Working behind the counter of a record store, you get first pick of all the juicy collectible vinyl -new or used- that comes through the door. I have craaazy shit. Sparkly gold Stereolab double gatefolds, mint condition Roedelius, insane Hermann Nitsch clear vinyl with clear lettering, the 'Sounds of American Doomsday Cults' LP with Elizabeth Clare Prophet, etc.

How long have you been collecting records? How did you get into it?
I got into pop music my junior year of high school, when my parents sent me to a fancy private school and I found my true people - the misfits, poets, and punks. That was the year I got turned on to Big Star’s Third.

Where do you hunt for vinyl?
Contact Records in Oakland, CA.

Where do you listen to vinyl?
I listen in my downstairs, the main floor of my house. You can’t take the record store out of the girl: I organize by genre, with breakout sections for artists I’ve got a lot of.

Anything extra you want to share about your collection?
I’m not gonna lie - I am largely agnostic about formats. There’s nothing like reading liner notes on an LP sleeve, of course, so vinyl will always be the best, but ultimately I believe it’s about the music and not the method of delivery. I have no problem with Spotify or other ways we hear music these days. Historically, new ‘improved’ formats have just been a way for the greedy major label music industry to repackage and resell us music only to enrich their pockets. Don’t fall for it. Just listen to the music.