Record Collector Interview: Eric S.
Posted on May 17 2023
This week we're sharing a peek into the record collection of Port Townsend based Record collector Eric Stephenson- in addition to a beautiful listening space, Eric kindly shared some wonderful stories about his collection, and what he's listening to these days.
Eric shares, "I’m the publisher of Image Comics. I’ve worked in comics for over 30 years, and during that time I’ve done a little a bit of everything – I started out writing and editing and even did a little coloring, but later moved into sales and marketing. Comics is probably what got me into collecting overall, as I started hoarding comics and books just about as soon as I could read. Music was just as big an obsession, though, and whereas my interest in collecting other things always kind of ebbs and flows, I can’t imagine a time when I’d ever tire of seeking out and listening to records, both new or old."
Which Koeppel Design products do you use?
Oh, man – a lot! My wonderful wife got me the full 26-piece set of the engraved A-Z record dividers and a few custom dividers (The Beatles, David Bowie, and Paul Weller) as a Christmas gift a while back, and I was so thrilled with them that it became something of a yearly tradition. I have almost two dozen custom dividers at this point, and I just got my second engraved LP Block.
Size of your collection:
Including box sets, I have just under 5,700 albums right now, then around 800 7” singles, about 150 12"s, a few dozen 10”s, and 600 or so CDs.
How do you organize your collection?
I keep it pretty simple, with albums and 12” singles all shelved in alpha-chronological order, and then compilations and soundtracks at the end in their own section, organized alphabetically by title and if they're part of a series, in chronological order. Most of my box sets are shelved together in a couple different places, and then the 7” and 10” singles are stored separately, mostly out of sight.
Tell us a little about your vinyl listening routine.
As much as I’d love to say there’s some kind of special ritual involved with my listening, it’s really just a case of putting on what I’m in the mood to hear, when I’m in the mind to hear something. Generally speaking, I like to actually listen to records as opposed to just having something on as background music, which means I’m usually listening on the weekends or in the evening, but there’s not much to it beyond picking the right thing for the moment. Sometimes I like to read the lyrics or read about what I’m listening to, especially if it’s an older record I’ve just discovered.
Oh – I keep a notebook with a record of everything I listen to. Does that count as a routine, or just weird?
Where does your vinyl collection live in your home?
I’m fortunate to have a small, dedicated music room in our house, and when we moved in, I had nice wood shelves custom built by a local craftsman. All the albums are stored there, along with most of my vinyl box sets, and then I’ve got all the CDs running along the top. Everything else – 7”s, 10”s, 7” box sets, the rest of LP box sets – are either stored in the console the turntable and amp sit on or they’re on other shelves in the room.
I don’t listen every day, but close enough. If nothing else is going on, then weekends are prime listening time, and at least in terms of evening listening, I’m partial to red wine or port. If I’m listening to something in the morning or during the day, it’s pretty much always coffee.
Favorite music genre?
At the moment, jazz is what I’m listening to the most, and at least in terms of albums, it probably makes up about a third of my collection. I’ve been into jazz since I was a teenager, and I love that you can use almost any album as a roadmap to other great music. If you look at something like Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, well, you’ve got John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly, and if you just went out and got one each of their own records, you’d have a nice little jazz collection, but then you if look at the people who played on their albums, and it’s like, just on a Coltrane album, you’re going to have McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, and it’s almost a never-ending path from there.
There’s a bit of that in all music, to be sure, but with jazz, it was like unlocking a kind of code. I got into Kenny Burrell because he played guitar on a Jimmy Smith album I liked, I discovered Harold Vick because I liked John Patton and he was playing on one of his albums – next thing you know, you want it all!
Current top 3 albums:
The latest Weyes Blood album, And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, has been on the turntable a lot since it came out, and that’s something I like to play when I’m in the car, too. I love her voice, and she’s a fantastic songwriter. This particular album does a really good job of capturing the feeling of the last few years, I think. I’ve also been playing In a Silent Way by Miles Davis a lot, and while I’ve always liked it, for some reason, it really clicked with me lately. And thanks to the recent 40th anniversary box set, Pelican West by Haircut 100.
Best party album:
Motown has never let me down, so I’d pick a UK compilation from the ‘60s called Motown Chartbusters,Vol. 3 – “I Heart It Through the Grapevine,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Get Ready,” “Dancing In the Street,” “Road Runner”… It’s packed with hits and even the lesser known songs are great.
Best album to listen to when you’ve had a rough week:
Sadly, it’s not something available on vinyl, but Keep Going by Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time always makes me feel better. Really, almost anything by The Lilac Time would do the trick – Stephen Duffy is one of my all-time favorite songwriters.
How long have you been collecting records? How did you get into it?
My parents were always playing music when I was growing up, and my Dad had a decent-sized record collection full of albums he’d had since he was a kid himself. I started buying things for myself when I was around 11 or 12 – which would have been around 1980 – but at some point, I got really interested in my Dad’s records, most of which were from the '60s and early '70s, and since I was also a voracious reader, I started checking books out from the library to find out more the bands I liked.
The more I learned about where the music I liked came from – how a lot of the British bands in the ‘60s were influenced by American blues and soul or how the ‘60s Mod scene evolved from an obsession with modern jazz to take in soul and reggae and ska and so on – the more I saw how it was all connected and the more I wanted to listen to as much of it as I could. My Dad was in the Air Force, too, so we moved around a lot and whereas I always had to leave friends behind, music was always right there with me no matter where we went.
I wish I could say that I kept everything I had as a kid, but I dove headlong into CDs in the late ‘80s and got rid of most of my vinyl to fund CD purchases. I then proceeded to amass a huge collection of CDs over the next 20 years or so, only buying vinyl occasionally and even then, rarely listening to it. After a while, CDs were mainly just getting ripped onto my computer and I was listening to most of my music on my iPod and then later, my iPhone. Sometime in 2009, though, a friend of mine gave me an autographed first pressing of the first Lilac Time album – which is a completely different mix to what’s on the CD or even the American pressing of the album – and listening to that and really honing in on all the differences made me reassess my listening choices.
It’s too bad I don’t have a photo of what my collection looked like back then, because it’s kind of incredible to think that I went from three or four cubes in an IKEA Expedit to... all of this within a relatively short amount of time.
Where do you hunt for vinyl?
I like Quimper Sound here in Port Townsend, but Hi-Voltage in Tacoma is a favorite, as well as Jive Time in Seattle. I’m in Portland regularly, too, and Music Millennium is always worth a visit.
Anything else you want to share about your set up?
We have two systems, both all vintage and 100% Sansui – two SR-838 turntables, an AU-111 tube amp in the music room and then an AU-999 solid state amplifier in the living room, along with a TU-999 receiver. SP-3500 speakers in the living room and some slightly less presentable SP-3200As in the music room while I seek out another pair of 3500s.
Weird story about that: I’d picked up Vetiver’s album, Thing of the Past, and there’s a cool little Sansui system on the cover and I really loved the look of it. Well, not long after that, a friend of mine was house-sitting at an apartment over in the Sunset near Golden Gate Park, and as it turned out, it was the apartment where that photo was taken. So we wound up listening to a few records on the same stereo from that album cover, and I was thrilled that it sounded as good as it looked. I wound up putting together a couple different vintage systems after that, none of which were ever quite right, but once I started picking up Sansui gear, I discovered I really loved the way it sounded.