Noël Wells,
The TVD First Date

“When I recorded my first album, I knew that I had one major goal and that was to get it pressed on vinyl. And it’s not because I grew up immersed in the format or even had a lot of history with vinyl, but it is because the times I have listened to vinyl have been my most precious music listening experiences. Because of that, I keep my personal record collection rather slim, but every piece of vinyl is something I have poured over religiously, and I revere the musicians that I have on vinyl, and feel in direct commune with their overarching vision as artists, and that is something I yearned to establish with my own foray into music.”

“Looking back at my first experience with vinyl, it had the feeling of an American archeological discovery. My parents had been hunting for a budget sound system, and after visiting various used furniture stores, they found a great deal on a unit that also had a record player as part of the setup. When the giant faux wood entertainment system was successfully moved into our home, my parents dutifully pulled together the records from their respective collections that had survived various moves over the years, and like any proper ’90s family, the unit was christened with Michael Jackson’s Bad.

The afternoon was one of those rare and joyous moments where the entire family was joined together in the living room dancing, and unlike while watching television, which was a passive entertainment experience, vinyl seemed to demand our active attention and interaction that was only rivaled by the jubilation of unwrapping presents on a Christmas morning.

A few months later, I tried to recreate the  moment on my own when my parents had gone out for the evening. I chose Don McClean’s American Pie, and proudly setup the record player on my own, listening to side A over and over again. I danced, I sang, I felt inside the music and totally in command, and eventually, realizing I could drop the needle to any part of the song I wanted, opening up a whole new interaction.

I felt like a conductor or a musical God, a feeling that was quickly dashed when my parents came home, discovering me in my analog stupor, with vinyl sleeves strewn about, a badly damaged record needle and a scratched up record that now could no longer play past “Drove my Chevy to the levy” without skipping. Needless to say, I was banished from using the record player on my own, and my career as a budding 8 year-old DJ died.

It would be about 10 years before I experienced vinyl again in a real way. By that time, cassettes had become CDs and CDs had become Napster, and so listening to music was like eating at a buffet, a gluttonous and schizophrenic experience where you could skip around and pluck out what you wanted, perhaps never really getting to know what a “great meal” was all about.

But I got the chance to learn one summer while I was staying at my aunt’s apartment in Manhattan doing a grueling internship. My boyfriend eventually came to visit me, and he discovered her record player and copy of Sgt. Pepper’s on vinyl. I had never really heard The Beatles before and wasn’t that excited, but I didn’t tell him this and I went along with us listening to it because he seemed super stoked. With the lights out, we put it on and listened to it front to back, all in one sitting. Needless to say, it was like detonating a sonic boom in my consciousness. MUSIC CAN DO THAT?! VINYL CAN DO THAT?

Can music be art not on vinyl? Absolutely. But that evening made me realize that albums really were the most like “albums” on vinyl, and I heard music in a way I had never experienced. The term “album” itself makes the most sense in regard to vinyl, kind of like how a photo album with pictures has more of an impact if you have the physical album of photos in your hands, and you can interact with the images physically, turning the pages, touching the photos.

While the pictures themselves are a snapshot of a memory, the memory feels more manifest as a physical object. Vinyl is many ways is the ultimate physical manifestation of musical recordings. Like photos, music is an alluring auditory memory of an event gone by, a spacey and ephemeral experience that has been snatched from the ether, and when put on vinyl, it is a dynamic fusing of two worlds, a merging of heaven and earth.

The physical interaction with vinyl demands an element of attention that makes the experience sacred in a way that rarely exists in our attention-deficit economy. For the few albums in my vinyl collection, I feel more directly connected to these musicians as “artists” than many of the contemporary musicians I love and listen to on digital formats alone, mostly because I have taken that time to peruse their work of art on multiple sensory levels and they feel more fully realized because of that.

And while I do find value in listening to albums on cassettes and do enjoy the convenience of CDs, the auditory experience of vinyl feels more real somehow. Perhaps it’s because of the many variable elements that come together to play sound back. The vinyl itself has its own unique impact on the music, the needle on the record player, the stereo system, all of these elements become alchemy for producing sound, meaning that no vinyl listening experience can ever truly be the same as the last, even on the same player. Not to mention, the record sleeve is a whole other element to the work itself, contextualizing the concepts, themes, and intent in the music itself. To me, vinyl makes an album complete.

After my Sgt. Pepper’s experience, I returned to my college town and found Michael Jackson’s Bad at a thrift store for $5 and it officially became the first album in my own personal record collection. I bought a cheap portable record player, and when I first played the record, I was hoping to recreate the same experience I had all those years ago with my parents.

Dropping the needle, I held my breath. And. It sounded awful. As it turns out, the record was badly warped. And not only that, the record player had a wimpy speaker and played too fast, leading to a manic and spastic sound. Welp, it wasn’t Christmas, but it was perfect. Me and my boyfriend danced in the apartment at double time, creating a whole new memory and making me double down on my renewed love for vinyl.”
Noël Wells

Noël Wells’ debut LP, It’s So Nice! is in stores now—on translucent cherry red or electric blue vinyl.

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PHOTO: LAUREN NAYLOR

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