November 1, 2012 in Features
A few weeks back I ventured out to the new location of mainstay Boston record store Looney Tunes and asked a few questions of owner Pat McGrath. Read on for some words of wisdom on the current state of the music business and the continuing virtues of vinyl in the full Q and A.
Surviving as a purveyor of vinyl LPs in an increasingly digital music marketplace is no easy task, but Pat McGrath remains firmly convinced of the powers of the record store.
For the past 30 years, McGrath has owned and operated Looney Tunes Records, a well-stocked haven for Boston record collectors and vinyl enthusiasts. McGrath, a Kentucky native and resident of Boston since college, relocated the business this past spring from a Boylston Street storefront to an Allston basement shared by offbeat antique shop Store 54.
A half-hour in the Looney Tunes domain sees McGrath pricing some new arrivals, debating the relative worth of a reissued Minor Threat record and assisting in a customer’s hunt for some early Elton John. Amid all that, McGrath sat down to answer a few questions regarding the recent move and life in the business of selling vinyl.
Q: Looney Tunes recently relocated from Boylston Street to Allston. What was the reason for that?
A: I don’t know if there was any reason. There was reasoning. … The character of the neighborhood had changed drastically as of late. And I’m such a character I can’t change.
Q: Does this new location have a different ‘feel’?
A: Well yeah. [On Boylston] you have a built in audience of music fanatics. You know, they’re going around in herds. There’s nobody more hardcore than that bunch. There are people willed into existence by their instruments. Over here it’s a different sort of thing.
Q: What is your general clientele like? Specific kinds of people?
A: The people that buy records generally seem to have considerably higher IQs. They’re smarter. They’re sexier. They stand a better chance of accruing enormous wealth and living to a much advanced age.
Q: Has your clientele changed at all?
A: Well it’s pretty soon to tell. People don’t know we’re here yet. It’s a transition.
Q: You had been on Boylston Street for 30 years. What was the process of moving like after all that time in the same spot?
It was daunting. I have never ever worked that hard. Honest to God I’ve lost close to 70 pounds, both from poverty and moving boxes all day every day forever. [The Boylston location] is going to become an ice cream chain. They were thinking of doing a tribute to Looney Tunes, which I fully support. It was a musical archaeological dig.
Q: How is the business of selling records these days? Do you think people are still interested in vinyl?
A: Oh yeah. You find out what people want and try to find some. Pay less than you sell it for and hope that the extra they pay covers all the bills and whatnot.
Q: What’s your best selling artist? Genre? Why do you think that is?
A: It’s difficult to say. It shifts around. We sold the most jazz over [at Boylston]. Classic rock seems like a genre that you can’t get enough of. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin. I suspect a lot of it has to do with video games that became popular – Guitar Hero, Rock Star. Young people are aware of music from 30 years ago. More than aware – it’s in their nervous system.
Q: How has the culture of the record store changed over the years, in your opinion? Do you still view your store as a kind of mythic place where people go to discover music?
A: It has not changed at all. It’s always fanatics, fetishists, people who can’t understand that others don’t give a fuck. That’s our ideal customer. People who’d rather eat dog food than buy fewer records. You will run into like-minded freaks because the places are set up by like-minded freaks. They’re us. This is us. ‘But that guy doesn’t care if it’s an original pressing or not and I do.’ We’re the same. It’s easy if you go online to find what you’re looking for, but it’s harder to find what you’re not looking for. What you’re not looking for could be your highlight. A wealth of experience could come through randomness and I think that needs to be preserved.
Q: How has the Internet affected your business? Have MP3s killed physical music?
A: It’s affected the real music business – it’s in tatters. It’s in smoldering heaps. It used to be the way music was distributed was through record companies large and small. The record industry let the genie out of the bottle by going to digital format. … Anyone discerning enough to listen in analog format will find it more nurturing to their soul. It’s a much more engaging listening experience. There’s a ton of stuff that makes it worth the while to own a record.
Q: What motivated you to make a life out of running a record store?
A: Passion. I thought that I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing. I decided to latch onto something I was passionate about. It’s not work at all really. I have avoided work all this time. I got a job working at Looney Tunes, which had opened a day after I moved to town. Jerry, the owner, wanted to split. And that was 30 years ago. I didn’t start the Looney Tunes store and now it’s become an empire fit to fill an alleyway.