IN THIS season of gratitude, Savannah should give thanks for Ryan Graveface.
The past months have been filled with backlash as out-of-towners stroll into our town, wave money about and turn our famously unique and wonderful downtown into Anywhere, U.S.A.
You have businessmen allegedly “saving” us from ourselves, as small businesses fall under their footsteps.
But then you have people like Graveface, who, captivated by the city’s beauty and storied past, moved here, opened up a record shop (we didn’t have one), made Savannah headquarters for his already-successful indie record label, and began hosting all-ages shows in a town devoid of live music opportunities for those under 21.
And that’s just the top of a long list of endeavors that have catered to music lovers, artists, and collectors, and attracted new visitors to Savannah.
The thing about catching up with Graveface is, every time you do, he’s guaranteed to have a new idea. They range from vague concepts to fully charted business plans, but they’re always brimming with contagious enthusiasm.
In 2015, Graveface will launch Terror Vision, a VHS rental shop inside Graveface Records that specializes in horror and sci-fi, from catalog staples to homemade films.
“The plan is—and we’ll see how it works—there will be a large curtain with the Terror Vision logo,” Graveface says, waving a hand toward the stage in the back of the shop. “It just looks like a curtain, but you have to know about it.”
The insider VHS shop will even have membership cards.
Terror Vision doubles as an independent releasing company for VHS and vinyl. Right now, Graveface is navigating the ropes to issue the soundtrack to a certain horror classic’s corresponding video game.
He’s also interested in taking on a producer role and facilitating the manufacturing of lo-fi, low-budget films, shot on VHS.
It’s some pretty niche—and wildly fun—stuff.
“It’s more to appease my bizarre taste,” says Graveface. “I can’t imagine there’s going to be a ton of people going, ‘ooh! VHS rental!’”
You never know, though. Graveface’s fans are trusting of him as a curator, whether he’s stocking the shop with handcrafted bitters or screening indie documentaries.
Graveface has also hired a label manager and is launching a distribution company. Distributors are responsible for getting a label’s catalog on record shop shelves worldwide.
“I’ve been using an external distro for years, who takes half of my money for what I deem to be very little work,” he explains. “So I’m creating my own company.”
Not only will he distribute titles from his own label, but he plans to get other labels involved, like locals Soft Science and Furious Hooves. It’s an incredible opportunity—just think: you could recommend Sauna Heat to your buddy in Oregon, and they could go pick up the Sharkbait cassette in their neighborhood record shop, in turn supporting their local shop, and a Savannah-based distributor, band, and label.
Graveface artists like Black Moth Super Rainbow and The Appleseed Cast have titles already stocked all across the world; this way, they’d bring new titles with them.
“Maybe their tapes and records will be in stores in Holland,” Graveface offers.
The possibilities—and opportunities—really are endless.
Before all these 2015 endeavors, though, Graveface is prepping for the biggest retail day of the year: Black Friday, which doubles as the second Record Store Day.
Record Store Day, for the uninitiated, is a day upon which labels release limited-run, special edition pressings. Unique color pours, picture discs, and B-sides aplenty are stocked in indie record shops across the U.S. This year, fans are slobbering over titles by Hüsker Dü, Waylon Jennings, Ramones (curated by Morrissey), Wu-Tang Clan, and more.
And, while you may think the college kid desperate for that Conor Oberst limited 7” is a subdued and gentle creature, that can all change when he’s cloistered with hundreds of like minds, all outnumbering the shop’s stock.
“People went nuts,” Graveface remembers of April’s Record Store Day Proper.
Not expecting such a huge turnout, Graveface didn’t set rules or restrictions, as some bigger shops do for the occasion.
“We unlocked the door... and it was upsetting,” he says.
The line wrapped around the shop, down Desoto Row, and circled all the way down 41st St. When the doors swung open, it was a stampede—granted, Graveface says, not necessarily the kind you see online where people are trampled at Best Buy—but certainly a mess inside the little shop.
There were even reports of theft, despite seven employees being on duty; the crowd was just that thick.
This year, there will be a “bouncer” to welcome five vinylphiles at a time. Only one copy of a title per person is allowed.
All in all, it’s a fun occasion, and a neat way to approach an otherwise kind of gross day of consumer gluttony.
“People like me, I’ve never done Black Friday,” Graveface says. “But I think that if there was a title I wanted, I’d totally do it. It’d be a hell of a lot of fun, actually.”
There’s almost a game element to it: check out the titles online, make a list, line up, and lay your hands on that exquisitely etched LP that you and only a few other people in the world will have in their collection.
“That’s the thing,” says Graveface. “I think people enjoy the waiting and anticipation.”
You can technically get the release online thirty minutes after they go on sale, but where’s the fun in that? It’s the thrill of the hunt, going elbow to elbow with your friends and neighbors, then taking the haul home to listen together that’s the reason for the season.
Graveface has seen both sides of it, as a label owner and business owner. Graveface purchases all RSD titles, and they’re all nonrefundable. He also makes sure to get bestsellers, like the Radiohead catalog, due to the increased traffic.
Simply put, it’s not a cheap endeavor.
“I think we made like, a dollar or something,” Graveface says of last Record Store Day. “Seriously.”
Additionally, what started as a celebration of small, independent labels has attracted major labels, smelling an opportunity.
“Now majors are like, ‘We can actually get rid of 5,000 copies of a Jimi Hendrix demo that most bootlegs have had for 30 years.’ And that 5,000 copies turns into 10,000 by day of, and then they sell them all and knock out the little guy.”
The idea that 10,000 copies is “limited” in and of itself is absurd; as Graveface notes, this year’s top-selling vinyl, Jack White’s Lazaretto, has sold 60,000 copies—and it’s the bestselling vinyl record in 20 years.
And with majors jumping on the chance to crank out product, some vinyl manufacturers push indie orders back when a big label order comes in. Some independent labels won’t get their Black Friday Record Store Day vinyl until 2015.
(Graveface is still awaiting the highly-anticipated annual Marshmallow Ghosts Halloween release. He ordered in August, didn’t get them in October, and hoped to at least get them out in time for Record Store Day. They still haven’t arrived.)
Despite changes, frustrations, and a slim profit margin, it’s all worth it. The holiday welcomes a slew of new customers, and even brings a new kind of visitor to Savannah.
“I’ve got emails from people in Brunswick, Athens, some towns in South Carolina I haven’t heard of,” says Graveface.
“People who are like, ‘What time are you opening? We’re driving down.’ I wasn’t planning on doing anything until I got those emails.”
It’s part of the reason for implementing rules; Graveface wants out-of-towners to have a positive experience in the shop, and in Savannah.
Keep an eye out for the dollar record rack and markdowns throughout the store; DJs will provide a soundtrack while you shop, starting at noon.
There will also be a raffle with rad prizes, gift certificates and Whirr and Black Moth Super Rainbow test pressings among them (those are some highly valuable Graveface releases, so nab those tickets!). There’s more, but Graveface wants to keep it a surprise; you’ll just have to line up to find out.
Does Graveface himself have his eye on a release? Though he’s first and foremost concerned with customers getting their titles, he admits he’s been ogling a Lee Hazelwood box set.
On how to successfully navigate the shop and ensure a successful Record Store Day for all, Graveface wryly advises:
“Be sweet. We’re sweet, you’re sweet, everybody’s happy. Peace and love.”