Local Current Blog

David Campbell talks with local record fiend John Kass

John Kass at Go Johnny Go. Photo by Jay Gabler/MPR.

Veteran local record-collector John Kass has recently been in the news for his quest to sell 200,000 of his records at once. David Campbell talked with Kass in an episode of The Local Show last year. Here’s a transcript of their conversation.

David Campbell: How is it that in a time when the record industry is shrinking and people are buying less and less physical product, that you are expanding rapidly?

John Kass: Well, it’s because of vinyl and because of all the interest. 20 years ago when I got hundreds of thousands of free records as everybody was getting rid of them, I kind of had an inkling that people were going to want them eventually, but I never expected it to be like it is in 2014.

So you actually were just kind of collecting what people were throwing out in the ’90s.

Yeah, well I collected records ’cause I love them, like all different kinds of music, that’s kind of my curse is I like a little bit of everything. But then in 1991, ’92, ’93, ’94, right around there, the record store owners were getting rid of all the records they had. Getting dumpsters and throwing them away. And I would say, “Don’t hire a dumpster. I will come over and pick them up. And I will find a nice space for them and I will keep them warm.” And then guess what? Records came in again and I had them all. And then I had all the records you threw away years ago.

Let’s talk about the total amount.

I think we’re getting close to about 600,000 right now. I mean, I got 1,500 yesterday. People unloading their cars in my White Bear Lake store lately has been kind of the norm a couple of times a week. We’re trying to assemble a staff so we can sell them as fast as we get them in and we haven’t been lucky enough yet. It’s still growing.

The challenge is to move stuff, right?

My life’s challenge. Yes.

Not only are you a fan of collecting the physical thing, which, many people like stuff. I have a friend who collects paintings of the Last Supper. People like things. But you’re a huge, huge fan of what’s on the records. You listen to tons of music—always have, always will. But what bit you the first time?

I think it was my cousins. On both sides of my family, my cousins had records. On my mom’s side of the family, all of my cousins had 45s and they’d dance around and stuff. I guess that had an impact on me when I was little. And then on my dad’s side of the family, they all had like albums like cool ’70s rock stuff. And I thought, “Oh, that’s so cool.” So it was my cousins’ fault.

Do you remember the first 45 you heard or the first 45 that you bought?

Yeah, “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. I bought it at Shopper City on Larpenteur and White Bear.

East St. Paul. So do you still own a 7″ of “Sugar Sugar”?

Oh, I probably own 20 of them. I had it on the jukebox in my house for a long time, too.

What do you know about Soma Records?

When I was a kid in the late ’70s, I befriended the mailman at my parent’s house. He was a huge fan of local music in the ’60s, and he made me cassettes of all kinds of local bands. I’m like 17 years old getting exposed to all this stuff from almost a previous generation. So it turned me on to all these bands like the Avantis and T.C. Atlantic and the Litter. I’d never heard of any of these bands and he completely exposed me to all that. Ron, if you’re out there, thank you so much.

Ron the mailman took you to school. These guys were all on the Soma label, or many of them.

The Avantis, they played all over town. They were a fantastic band. They should have put out an album. They had enough material to do so. They’re one of those bands that not a lot of people know who they are.

Did you ever have the opportunity to see any of those bands?

Some of them have gotten together and done some reunion things, which is kind of an odd situation. I never saw the Avantis, but I saw a couple of them. It’s a pretty interesting experience to see, “We haven’t played a show in 40 years. Here we are.”

What do you think of the idea that people are into vinyl right now exclusively because they’re feeling emotionally connected to a time period prior to this one? Do they actually like how it feels and how it operates now, or is it exclusively kind of a reminiscing feel?

I think the vast majority of people who listen to vinyl also are happy to listen to music on their computer and stuff, too. I mean, let’s be realistic. [All media] have their advantages for sure. But I think it’s great. There’s definitely a nostalgia thing there. Some people think it sounds better. Some people appreciate the art. But I’m fully convinced that the majority of people who listen to vinyl listen to music in other ways, too. That’s totally fine with me, too.

You’re an equal opportunity employer of all different formats.

Yeah, let it be told that you gotta explore it all. They all have their advantages.

Let’s talk about the Redeyed: Minneapolis Shoegaze and Dreampop 1992-1998 compilation put out in 2006.

That was when I lived and breathed Twin Cities music. I was putting out a lot of 45s by bands. I was hanging around at Twin Tone records a lot, working there, putting out CDs and stuff like that. Working with a lot of different musicians. It was a great, great time. The music that was coming out at the time was really, really creative and kind of ethereal and spacey and psychedelic, yet had kind of an edge. It was really a lot of fun. The people I was associated with back then, we all had a super good time.

Describe the experience of going to see your favorite band at the venue you frequented most back in the day.

Going to the 7th Street Entry and seeing a whole slew of local bands and friends like that. Usually it was Thursday through Saturday. Tuesday was new band night, so there was plenty of time to go down there on Tuesday.

New band night was a big thing.

For sure. You know, Leinenkugels were about two bucks, so I drank a lot of Leinenkugels and saw a lot of bands. It’s a haze when you think about it now.

The Redeyed compilation is still available.

Yeah, I’ve got copies available. It’s a handmade CD. It’s a perfect snapshot of that scene in the Twin Cities. All of the bands are represented with their best songs. I guess the name kind of describes how the morning was after a night out of debauchery.

Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Introduced and transcribed by Grace Birnstengel