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Savannah has a new-vinyl store, and a world-class indie label

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POSTED: April 18, 2012 10:56 a.m.
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Ryan Graveface holds one of the store's bestselling records.

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Saturday, April 21 is Record Store Day. It’s an internationally–recognized celebration of the (few remaining) independent vinyl retailers, and certain labels (both the big–bucks and indie variety) put out special, limited edition singles, EPs and albums to mark the occasion. Collectors snap ’em up. For others, they’re ... curiosities.

You can get all sorts of new and sealed independent vinyl the other 364 days of the year at Graveface Records & Curiosities, along with used flatware from musical days gone by. The shop has a few CDs lying around, too.

And if you’re in the market for taxidermy — say a boar’s head, a bloody squirrel, an embalmed opossum paw, or bizarre toys, games, models, mannequins or plastic statuary — Graveface has got you covered.

The word “Curiosities” is not to be taken lightly, because store owner Ryan Graveface — yes, he named the place after himself — is a card–carrying fan of the strange and the bizarre.

(OK, his real surname is Manon, but nobody calls him that, so we won’t either.)

The former Midwesterner is also the owner and sole employee of a mostly mail–order label that specializes in one–of–a–kind colored vinyl and picture–disc releases. It, too, is called Graveface Records.

“The label was created because I wanted to do something musical myself, but I don’t trust anyone,” says the 30–year–old Toledo, Ohio native. “So I didn’t want to hunt for a label or worry about money, as far as ever getting paid and so on. So I thought it would be smarter to start something.”

As a songwriter, musician and record producer, his project is called Dreamend. It is lush, thick “shoegaze” pop, both dreamy and nightmarish and packed with the sort of swirling psychedelic colors mixed from ink pellets into the very vinyl it is pressed on.

His first release was called The Sickening Pang of Hope Deferred. He is not comfortable with attempts to explain his musical motives. “I don’t think of things in the normal sense,” he offers. “So trying to break it down in a way that’s not horribly depressing or offensive is definitely my weakest point.:”

Graveface plays everything — banjo, cello, keys, drums, bass, guitar, everything — himself. He makes the tapes in his bedroom.

Graveface, the label, sells more records in Europe, New Zealand and Japan than in the States; the artist roster includes, among others, the Marshmallow Ghosts, the Appleseed Cast, Hospital Ships and Monster Movie.

Black Moth Super Rainbow’s double LP Dandelion Gum is the label’s all–time best–seller; Graveface, who joined the band on guitar just after the album’s release, figures it’s sold around 36,000 copies (he also plays in the Marshmallow Ghosts and several other bands on his label).

Graveface products are prized by collectors for their striking design — 2010’s Dreamend release, So I Ate Myself, Bite By Bite, was a phenakistoscope — it created the illusion of animation as the disc spun on a turntable.

An earlier Dreamend album, The Long Forgotten Friend, came in an elaborate, pop–up picture book package.

Graveface says he’s interested in “The Album as Artwork.” However, he adds, “I’m not an artist at all. I can’t draw a picture. It’s just stuff that comes to me.

“I did a hairy bag one time for a Black Moths release. On store shelves, it just looked like a hairy pouch, with no indication of what was within.”

His custom discs are pressed in the Czech Republic. “They’re the ones that can do the super–crazy vinyl stuff that I like, like foil–stamping on one side, and then the other side is some splatter vinyl,” Graveface says. “Weird stuff that unfortunately a lot of American companies can’t do. Or, if they can do it, it’s insanely expensive.”

The packaging — sleeves and sundry paperwork — is created in Florida. Everything is then shipped here to Savannah, where Graveface assembles the final pieces, one by one. He hand–numbers the limited editions before he mails them out.

He also puts little goodies into each outgoing package. “I do all sorts of things, coloring book pages to Halloween erasers. Candy, handmade things, anything weird. Pages from old books or slides. I’ve cut up film before. Anything that’s somewhat striking.”

For one Dreamend CD, he inserted a different vintage black and white photograph into 3,000 die–cut covers.

Before you ask, no, he isn’t making any money off this stuff. “The animated picture disc, that pressing was $6,500 for essentially 500 records,” Graveface explains. “There are moments where I’m like ‘Why on earth am I doing this?’”

The lyrical content of So I Ate Myself and its 2012 sequel, And the Tears Washed Me, Wave After Cowardly Wave (which sold out its initial vinyl run of 600 copies), originated with the same source material. “For Dreamend,” Graveface explains, “I can’t even consider making a record unless there’s some massive plotline.

“I need to be inspired by something. I don’t sleep, which I’m inspired by a lot.”

The genesis of both narrative–driven works is quite a story. “I can’t get into it too much, just because I’d be afraid of consequences,” he says. “But basically, some Internet posting, a very bizarre website, was mentioning that there was going to be this auction — literally, in the woods. And every time I say that, people go ‘Huh? What? Who would go to an auction in the woods?’”

It was an auction, he says, of items that once belonged to a serial killer.

“I went. I bid on a lot of things, many of which I’m not going to mention, and I never will, that were really, really disturbing. And the only ones that I won were these two journals. And I only really talk about one.

“I was looking for inspiration, and it was instant. Because it wasn’t as screwed up as you would think. I mean, it was insane, but with who this person was, I would’ve guessed that it would be stranger than it was.”

Although the majority of the lyrics are taken from the killer’s journals, Graveface did move a few things around and embellish a bit for dramatic effect.

Not so with The Long Forgotten Friend. “That was about a mentally ill relative,” he says. “I can’t play those songs live — unfortunately, it’s too personal. Which is why, with the serial killer one, I had to step away. I’ll play those songs till I’m blue in the face, because it has nothing to do with me.

“It’s finally writing outside myself, rather than a horrible family secret or however you’d want to phrase it.”

Graveface got his first look at Savannah in 2008, during a day–off–tour excursion with several other members of Black Moth Super Rainbow. “I was absolutely floored, but I wasn’t really actively looking for a place to move at that point,” he says.

Back home in Chicago, however, “I got this itch to buy a house, even though I had no money. So I just went up and down the Eastern Seaboard looking at all these insane old houses. Of course, I didn’t end up buying a house. It was a pie in the sky sort of thing.

“And then I had to get out of Chicago, in 2010. I have a horrible nervous disorder, so I was getting into some very mentally unhealthy places. It was like, one day, ‘All right. Done.’ I came back to Savannah that summer, found a place on Park Avenue that was really cool and rented it.” Graveface says he can’t believe how nice Savannahians are.

Moving Graveface Records, the label, wasn’t too difficult, since he is the only employee. The retail store was a no–brainer, particularly since there wasn’t a single place in town for vinyl aficionados to shop.

In truth, the record store was Graveface’s second Savannah idea — what he really wanted to do was open a place to show and sell taxidermy and the other weird stuff he’s collected.

“I hate to be a stereotype of something,” he says, “whatever that is. But anything doomy, death, dark, morbid ... since I was a child, I just found inspiration in that stuff.”

Graveface Records & Curiosities is at 5 W. 40th St. See Graveface.com.

 

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