For this week’s Record Store of the Week feature we kept it close to home in our native Pacific Northwest. Olympia’s Rainy Day Records is a regional institution, full of old world record store charm and character (and great records). We never leave without a handful of scores as you can see in the Light In The Attic Road Trip. Check out the video below.
We chewed the cud with store manager Adam Hardaway about holding down the freak scene, Kurt Cobain’s house, and lunch advice from Leon Russell.
1. Tell us a little bit about Rainy Day. The store is one of the oldest in the region, no?
We’ve been in business since January 22, 1973, the same day as the Roe Vs. Wade decision. I’ve been told that makes us the oldest living record store in Western Washington. Rainy Day started not long after the Evergreen State College was established, bringing lots of young hippies to town, and many of our customers have been devotedly shopping here since the 70′s and 80′s. We moved from our original location on the West Side of town seven years ago. We’re downtown now, but we’ve tried to retain the same 70′s head store feeling that we’ve always had. Our rent is a lot cheaper, but the essence of Nag Champa is the same.
2. Olympia is a small town, though one with a historically strong music scene (K Records, Kill Rock Stars, etc.). Is this reflected in the kind of records you see coming through the store? What are people generally selling and buying?
There are definitely a lot of used Olympia records coming through Rainy Day on a regular basis, and we carry and sell lots of local records. A lot of our best sellers in the recent past have been Oly bands like Gun Outfit and Milk Music and Rvivr. We’re kind of a general record store for every kind of music fan though. We carry just about every new LP that we can, from major label releases to hard to find things on smaller labels. We sell tons of reissues these days. Where we once would have been lucky to sell 2 or 3 copies of something like the Anonymous LP, now we can sell 10 easy. Our new LP sales have taken a crazy upward spike in the last six months – 42% – and that’s not just because of Record Store Day. Hopefully the teenagers who are paying $40 for Daft Punk records don’t get disillusioned by rising prices and will keep buying vinyl for life.
3. Do good records regularly walk through the door or do you have to go out and find them?
We’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in the amount of good records that people bring in to us in the past few years, due to a number of factors like: the word on the street that “vinyl is back,” changes in our buying policies, and the simple reality that people who were around in the ’60′s and ’70′s buying records are retiring and downsizing now. Any relatively normal human being who has lived under the dark skies of Olympia for decades is probably gonna want to retire somewhere sunnier, and they aren’t gonna take records they haven’t played in 20 years to Arizona with them. Folks who bought LPs from us 30 or 40 years ago bring them back to us every day, often with original Rainy Day stickers intact. We also go out and look for records just like anyone else, but our reputation and history gives us some degree of vinyl magnetism.
4. Do you have a record that will sell/people will inquire about every time you put it on?
The Human Expression LP that Mississippi put out recently has been in heavy rotation here, and someone buys it every time we put it on – anyone who’s into 60′s music will flip over it instantly. As far as Light in the Attic releases, definitely Marcos Valle, especially Previsao Do Tempo, which I think is the best one to start with. It’s a perfect breezy summer time record with songs that sound like they are about swimming cheetahs if you aren’t really listening carefully enough or don’t understand Portuguese, which we definitely don’t. It’s amazing that the songs are actually subversive and anti-police. Totally genius.
5. What’s the coolest/weirdest/most prized record that’s come into the store that you never thought you’d see?
We get really amazing and weird and rare records all the time. I’m surprised daily, but I’m also not never that shocked because anything’s possible when you deal in 20th Century consumer goods/ephemera/the forgotten dreams of everyday people who made their own records, then gave them to their friends and family. Even the squarest easy listening granddad collection is bound to have an insane record by someone that the original owner happened to see play live somewhere. I guess the most surprising find recently was when someone brought in a small collection of real Turkish LPs from the 70′s. You don’t expect to see original Baris Manco records in a small town like Olympia, but there have been a lot of freaks here for a long time so you never know.
6. What are the best/worst things about working at a record store in Olympia?
The best thing about working at a record store in Olympia is that we are part of a community that stresses buying local and supporting businesses like ours, and we would probably not do as well in most other small cities. But we are also shaped by our community, so the store is really a reflection of and belongs to the town as much as it does us. Olympia is kind of a refuge for people that don’t fit in in the straight world, or don’t want to, or are trying to find more sustainable and just models to live by. Also, this is an affordable place for someone who works at a record store to live. I rent a huge beautiful 1920′s house for pretty cheap and it’s full of everything I could ever want, which is mostly lots of records. I love my job, and there is never a day that I don’t feel really fortunate and privileged to have everything that I have. But I’m also poor. The worst thing about working at a record store in Olympia is that there is a certain ceiling to how much money can ever really be made. Fortunately for me, money isn’t something I really care about that much. If I had more money, I would probably just spend it all at other local businesses. Or on more expensive records.
7. Any “famous” locals who frequent the shop? Famous heads passing through?
One of the nicest aspects of living in Olympia, which is also one of the main things that people get sick of and find themselves desperate to get away from, is that everyone knows everyone, and you see all the same people all the time. So “famous” locals are around the shop here and there, just like they are everywhere else that you see everybody because we live in a small community, but it seems like that kind of status isn’t really a big deal here.
I can say that the increasingly legendary Captain Trips stops in pretty often. He’s the person responsible for recording just about every killer record that has been made by the most recent generation of Olympia bands. And members of some of the best bands in town work here. Someone will probably write a book about all of us some day, and then we’ll all be famous to people who grew up reading about us in Louisiana or somewhere, and then they’ll stop in at Rainy Day and flip out that they are actually here. We do get really excited Nirvana fans in the shop sometimes, which we have no real connection to because we weren’t even in our current location when they were around, but people are so excited to be in a town where Nirvana used to be. If I’m not too busy, sometimes I’ll show them a Youtube clip of what it looks like to drive by the house where Kurt lived and tell them how to get there. But only if I find their enthusiasm endearing.
I think that famous people from other places probably come in occasionally, but I doubt that we would realize it because everyone looks different in real life, unless they are really distinctive looking like J. Mascis or something. My dream is for Leon Russell to stop by, because we keep a framed copy of his 80′s album “Solid State” behind the counter and sometimes ask him for advice about what to eat for lunch. It would be nice to be able to just ask Leon in person for once.
8. How’s the scene in Olympia these days? Turn us on!
This is a college town, so people are always coming and going, and bands usually have a limited lifespan because of that. Or they get to the point where they need to move somewhere bigger, or they grew up here and need to get away. Around 2010 or so there were a bunch of great bands and it seemed like a real peak for Olympia, but most of those bands have now either broken up or left town. One band that moved away is Gun Outfit, whose newest album “Hard Coming Down” is really excellent, maybe the best LP of that Oly generation… in fact, that’s another record that customers always get really into when we play it in the store. I also like Cairo Pythian, and at some point there is gonna be a new Mona Reels record that will probably blow everyone’s mind. I’m in my mid-thirties and losing my hearing, so I don’t really enjoy going to punk shows as much as I did ten years ago, and I haven’t seen all of the current crop of bands in town. But some really great ones I can tell you to check out are Hysterics, Vex, Moon, and Morgan & the Organ Donors. Also Broken Water, Spider & the Webs, and of course Survival Knife, who are working on a record.
9. What’s your favorite LITA release and why?
Well, ya’ll have reissued a few records that are long time favorites of mine from when I was a young teenage music freak in Virginia, like the Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs of Life, which I think is their best record. It tends to be overshadowed by the cover art lunacy of Satan Is Real when people are trying to decide which one to check out first. Armchair Boogie by Michael Hurley is definitely a top all time choice of mine, so I’m happy to see that finally get a CD release. “No Body Like You/Califia (Stone Rider)” by Lee Hazlewood and Suzi Jane Hokum was the first weird 45 I ever bought at a thrift store when I started collecting records, so The LHI Years is a favorite too. But as someone who lives in the Northwest, and who has been digging Light in the Attic since the beginning, my top pick has to be Wheedle’s Groove. We’ve been jamming that record in our shop since it came out, and it really put both LITA and the Seattle soul scene that not many people knew existed on the map. The documentary is essential too.
10. What’s up with Strange?
Strange were a band of Oly teenagers who played moody late 60′s/early 70′s style psychedelic rock in the mid to late 70′s when it wasn’t really in fashion anymore, and were probably quite a weird vibe to catch in their scattered live appearances at such intimate venues as the local rollerskating rink out on the edge of town. They made a record called Souvenir Album that was pressed in an edition of a hundred copies and mostly given away to friends, after the band had split up. A lot of the record was captured live, and it sounds a little loose and shaky while also highly ambitious and accomplished. Not every listener would dig it, but everyone I know who does is kind of obsessed because there is a heavy feeling to the record that fits very strongly into the continuum of what it feels like to live in this particular place. For younger listeners in Olympia I think it also evokes an era in our town’s past, particularly the early days of Evergreen’s influence, in a dreamlike way. The songs are cryptic and introspective, and there’s definitely a dark and searching mood to their music that is eerily timeless and pure. And the guitar playing is godlike at times. I think all of the members of the band still live here, and two of them–Tom Hackett and David Chamberlain–are friends of ours and visit the store a bit. They are also two of the sweetest and most supportive people I know. I’m sure they appreciate that we genuinely love the music that they made. The album was reissued by Shadoks a few years ago and is probably still around if you want to check it out.
Rainy Day Records
301 5th Ave. SE, Olympia, WA 98501
Monday through Saturday 10AM to 8PM
Sunday 12PM to 6PM
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