Black Tambourine were only around for a couple of years in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but their shoegaze sound made them one of the most beloved and influential indie pop bands of their era. In fact, Black Tambourine were the band behind Slumberland Records’ very first single.
Archie Moore found a concurrent role as guitarist/vocalist in Velocity Girl (named after the Primal Scream song on the C86 compilation), another melodic indie rock band that went against the grunge grain in the early-to-mid ’90s. Former Black Tambourine bandmates Archie and Slumberland Records head honcho Mike Schulman—yesterday’s Q&A with Mike is right here—continue to laud their love of indie pop to this day.
Today, it’s Archie’s turn to have the TVD front page. He’s got lots to say about his favorite indie labels (besides Slumberland, of course), the glorious days of DC’s independent record stores, and how those very stores helped bring about the success of his bands.
“From my late teens until my late twenties, there were two Maryland record stores that figured very prominently in my life: Yesterday & Today and Vinyl Ink. Each was the type of place that had perpetually-flickering fluorescent lights surrounded by stained acoustic ceiling tiles, drippy AC units, sloppy stacks of to-be-sorted records on the floor, and warped, dusty promo posters all over the walls and windows. In other words, exactly the type of place that record addicts live for and that become hubs and nurseries for local music scenes.
Vinyl Ink, in Silver Spring, was the store where my friend and Black Tambourine bandmate Mike Schulman worked as manager, and it was where my friends and I bought all of the new indie stuff we cared about. It was owned by George Gelestino, who was significantly older than us, but who nevertheless eagerly absorbed all the new music that came through the shop.
The place was dedicated to stocking rare and collectible indie, punk, post-punk, noise, psych, industrial, and assorted other underground and out-rock subgenres, as well as the hardest-to-find new releases (especially after Mike came on).
There were always expensive Throbbing Gristle & Industrial Records singles and a Sordide Sentimental title or two on display behind the counter. Members of D.C.-area indie bands including Unrest, Pitchblende, and The Ropers worked there. Everyone always seemed to be drinking beer on the premises, or a couple of them would be taking a liquid lunch down the street at the Quarryhouse. There were in-store appearances by bands like The Wedding Present, Sonic Youth, and Loop. I spent a lot of hours and money there.
Yesterday & Today was hidden near the back of one of the many shitty shopping strips on Rockville Pike, behind an Entenmann’s outlet store. It was less than ten miles from D.C., but still felt frustratingly far away. I first visited it when I was a freshman at the University of Maryland, to buy the new singles by the Smiths and David Sylvian, and the other New Wave-y stuff I favored at the time.
For two years, I was reliably overawed every time I walked in. The place was kinda legendary: it was the early mailing address for Dischord Records, and store owner Skip Groff had gotten an affectionate shout-out on Minor Threat’s cover of “Steppin’ Stone.” He’d also produced and released the first recording by the Bad Brains, and his Limp label (get it?) released early records by other local luminaries like The Slickee Boys and Tommy Keene.
The rest of the staff then (this was the mid-Eighties) consisted of notable D.C.-area rock people. Ted Nicely from Tommy Keene’s band worked there before he became a sought-after record producer. Dave Stimson, who founded the Touch & Go fanzine with Tesco Vee of the Meatmen, worked there every weekday. The younger staff comprised people I recognized from the Banned In D.C. photo history of the hardcore scene. I remember sheepishly purchasing a copy of the Happy Go Licky record from band member Guy Picciotto.
The layout was peculiar: two distinct, adjacent storefronts, with separate entrances. If you showed up on a Sunday, one of them might be closed. The door on the left led to albums, the one on the right to a room filled with 7” singles. And I mean filled, with tens of thousands of records. There were long racks along the walls, and a large double-sided rack island in the middle of the room. The surface area of the walls was tiled with picture discs and new or rare singles in picture sleeves.
On the back wall, shelves of small cardboard boxes and plastic crates were labeled with the names of artists with sizeable 7” catalogs, whose singles would otherwise clog the main racks. Most of these made sense: The Damned, Bowie, Beatles, Beach Boys — traditionally collectable stuff. But right alongside those would be (full) boxes with mysterious (to me) labels like “Long John Baldry,” “Shakin’ Stevens,” “Girls!,” “PWL/SAW,” “Roy Wood/Wizzo.” I’ve still never seen another 7” collection like it.
In 1989 when my friends and I decided to put out a 7” compilation featuring our then basement-only bands Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, and Powderburns, we took copies to Yesterday & Today (and Vinyl Ink, and all of the other decent local vinyl stores) to see if they’d take any on consignment. Skip, like George and all record store owners, was an intimidating, vaguely cranky-looking guy, and insisted on playing the record before taking anything.
I later found out this was a gruesome tradition. Oh no no no no, I do not want this guy playing my murky four-track indie muck, especially in a store filled with innocent bystanders. He dropped the needle on fifteen seconds of each track and, betraying no opinion, agreed to buy five of them. I’m pretty sure he thought it was crap, but took the risk because we were willing to sell them for next to nothing, and because it was the kind of store that was going to support local bands. Same thing happened months later when I returned with the first Velocity Girl single, though I was mentally prepared for the audition that time.
Shortly after that, I read in the store’s weekly, crypto-jokey City Paper ad that they were looking for a part-time employee. I drove up to Rockville and got the job, Skip having a vague memory of me from those records. He gave me a tour of the rest of the space, particularly the labyrinthine path that connected the backs of the two rooms. Holy shit. There were at least as many 7” singles back there as there were on display in the store. Skip estimated that he had close to a million singles on the premises.
There was also a nook there filled with major-label promo CD singles, those ugly things with no sleeve art save for the “For promotional use only – NOT FOR SALE” warnings on the front, occasionally accompanied by dodgy legalese “agreements” that the discs must be surrendered on demand if the labels came looking for them. Those were sold via ads in Goldmine, or occasionally in the store, but only to especially trustworthy customers. Skip didn’t sell bootlegs, and he also wasn’t about to end up in trouble with the law for selling promo CDs to undercover label guys who want their promos back.
I graduated from college about a month after that and, not having any idea what I was going to do with my new B.A. in psychology, started working at the store full-time. The employees could take cash and/or employee-discounted records every night (against our bi-weekly paycheck), and I pretty much brought records home every day that I worked there. After closing time, we’d call Skip at home, read the cash register tape figures to him, gather the cash—without counting it—and shove it into a file cabinet in the back.
I stayed on for about two years, and got to know the regular customers—the goth couple that came in every week for the British weekly papers; the helmet-haired Boomer who was working on collecting every U.S. Top 40 record of the rock era; the two female T’Pau obsessives who had that band’s face-made-out-of-letters logo stitched onto their denim jackets; the pompadoured punk collector; the Madonna-loving teenager who got banned from the store when Skip discovered he’d slipped a picture sleeve over a single that didn’t come with a picture sleeve. (Skip took a Polaroid of the kid on the spot, hailed me from the other room, and told me—with the young scofflaw standing shamefully by— “If you ever see this asshole in here again, you call me immediately.”)
Skip and the other employees were absurdly knowledgeable about rock history, especially as it pertained to records, and I tried to absorb as much of that as possible. I hunted through the stacks and found copies of records by Lee Hazlewood, Silver Apples, and ESP-Disk albums by Pearls Before Swine and Sun Ra, and the first Television single on Ork Records. There was a 7” box labeled “UK 70’s” that I didn’t rate much at the time, but years later realized was filled with all the D.I.Y. stuff that ended up on the Messthetics compilations. I occasionally daydream about the records I didn’t know or care about back then, but saw every day and now wish I had played and bought.
Because of his status as an early booster, Skip particularly identified with the local scene, especially Dischord, Tommy Keene, and the Bad Brains. Some other notable locals, not so much.
I’d ask “Skip, how come you don’t have any Pussy Galore records here? I’d buy Pussy Galore records from you instead of George if you’d get ‘em.”
“Those guys are fucking bigots! They have a song called ‘You Look Like A Jew’! I’m not selling their bigot records here!”
George and Skip were good friends, but there was still that weird, surly record-store owner tension between them. Each would involuntarily bristle when I mentioned the other’s name. With record stores becoming an endangered species, owners were understandably possessive when it came to customers and weird about competition. I remember a coworker once coming into Y&T, stunned after being admonished and kicked out of another local store, Joe’s Record Paradise, when Joe recognized him as one of Skip’s guys.
Skip liked me. I somehow ingratiated myself with him to such an extent that I was never on the receiving end of his angry outbursts. When he was on his way to work, he’d call me on his huge car phone and say “I’m about two and a half- no, two minutes away. You have just enough time to get me a Diet Coke from next door.”
After I wrecked my car during a snowstorm, Skip, unsolicited, offered a $1,200 loan for the repairs, which he let me repay over a year.
It was at Y&T and Vinyl Ink that I began to realize that, outside of superstars like the Beach Boys and Beatles, most of the music scenes I loved existed in mundane little worlds like my own, based in record shops, friends’ bedrooms, and tiny clubs. My musical heroes likely still worked day jobs. This epiphany was reinforced as I’d alternately witness the little triumphs of my coworkers in their musical endeavors and spend hours with them every week restocking shelves with Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus jukebox singles for eight bucks an hour.
Sometimes it was surreal.
My band would record a single in a cheap basement studio in Arlington, and a couple months later at the store I might open a package from a distributor and find copies of that single alongside new records by my favorite artists.
My co-worker Bert Queiroz was in a band called Manifesto, which had recently been signed to Fire Records in the U.K. He’d leave for a short promotional tour in London, and while he was gone we’d see him in the pages of Melody Maker and N.M.E.
Another employee, Danny Ingram, was recruited (by phone!) to join Swervedriver after their drummer quit. He hadn’t even met the band yet, and was working the racks and cash register with his Walkman headphones on, frantically memorizing the songs on Raise and air-drumming the parts, two days before flying out to join their tour.
Meanwhile, Vinyl Ink became the de facto home base for the Slumberland label, storing our unsold stock and serving as a meeting place for the bands; a place to fold and stuff sleeves. The records were distributed from there until Mike moved to the west coast.
Y&T and Vinyl Ink each had well-stocked Velocity Girl sections in their 7” racks, which was very gratifying and validating. Anybody who bought a Velocity Girl or Black Tambourine record on vinyl in the D.C. area likely did it at one of the two stores. The same probably goes for Shudder To Think, Unrest, Jawbox, Tsunami, Edsel, Lilys, Eggs, and the other area bands who were beginning to receive wider attention. At that time, these bands (and most indie and punk bands) put out more 7” singles and appeared on more 7” compilations than full albums. And though their full-lengths might be available at local chains and other mom-and-pop stores, Skip’s and George’s shops were the local places that maintained significant 7” selections.
By this time the 45, despite its status as main musical currency of the punk and indie world, was a strictly underground phenomenon. The format (and vinyl in general) had fallen out of favor with the general public (squares) to the extent that more than once I witnessed walk-in customers who came in, looked around quizzically, and finally, realizing what we sold, laughed and quickly exited.
Vinyl Ink closed its door in 1999, and George ran Vinyl Ink Mailorder until he passed away in 2002.
Skip closed the Yesterday & Today store in 2002, but still sells his massive collection online through yesterdayandtodayrecords.com.”
Band photo: Tae Won Yu, Archie is at far right, Mike Schulman is far left.