(The number of chain-record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops -- and for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this new weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados -- and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? Email us.)
Xeroxed zines may seem to be an outdated forum in the digital age, but for zine maker Ben Stegman, they're a great platform to discuss some of the freaky findings he has in his record collection. His controversial zine Freezerburn has been found at mom and pop shops and punk-rock toilets in St. Louis for nearly a decade now, debating everything from the relevance of Pitchfork to the tragedy of "Cookie" Thornton. The most recent issue was a free giveaway at Apop Records on National Record Store Day. We caught up with him after shopping for records at a new vinyl store he works for called Phono-Mode, and discussed his introduction into music through Rudimentary Pedi.
Last Collector Standing: What are some of the odder pieces in your record collection? Ben Stegman: The odder pieces in my record collection... I'd have to think about that.
Do you want to define oddness the way six million people would define odd, or as I would define odd? I figure my record collection is whatever's not on the radio, basically.
As far as strange pieces, one of my favorite records to play that doesn't sound like a record comes from Bobby Vomit. He is this guy who lives a couple of states up north [Indiana], and he has his own lathe-cutting machine. He would make records out of whatever object you had on you. He would take old records and spray paint a coating of whatever color over them. Then he would record conversations onto records without people even knowing and he would sell them at shows. It was just basic noise because the sound pick-up was terrible. You could play them on a record player, but they wouldn't sound like records. They were these bizarre art pieces, like playing a painting. I always found them to be pretty odd. They're great at parties.
That's one of the records that are odd to your standards? To my standards, probably. It's fun when you consider that you're playing something on a turntable, and it's kind of redefining not just what music is, but what the actually carrier of sound is. What the object itself is. What the record is. It breaks down the fourth or fifth barrier with those things.
Is there a particular band that you heard and had an epiphany. and said, " I can't believe they sound this way?" Several! Maybe I'm easily pleased because every couple of years there is a band that makes me feel like I've never heard music before. It happened to me when I was in grade school and I first heard the Butthole Surfers. I wondered how anyone could be that freaky and make such freaky sounds. It certainly happened the first time I heard the Residents, the first time I heard Whitehouse.
Locust Abortion Technician by Butthole Surfers, Cruise by Whitehouse, Cacophony by Rudimentary Peni. All on vinyl. They were scored in that fashion.
What is it that compels you to collect something not along the mainstream lines? I never thought along mainstream lines. If that was ever a problem, that problem must have started way early on. I was raised hearing what everybody else heard on the radio. I guess I either got used to it a lot quicker, or I just wanted to hear something that no one else was hearing at the time. I was the kind of kid; I'm talking like five-year-old kid, who enjoyed the sound of cars going by, or of trains, or just conversations. To me, all of that was music. When I started hearing about composers like John Cage, or power electronics bands, or 20th-century avant garde composers who would use sound like that, it was a total revelation. I was like, "Music isn't just verse, chorus, verse." It is whatever you want to define it as. My definition towards most of life in general is something more esoteric, whatever stands outside of mainstream thought.