Vinyl Nation directors Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone on their inspiring journey

The documentary vinyl country is available for digital streaming on April 19, just in time for Record Store Day on the 23rd, and it’s a compelling film. What at first glance may seem like an ode to a dying music format for audiophile elitists turns out to be a celebration of the community that physical objects, passion, collecting and music can create. It also chronicles the strange cultural resurgence of vinyl records and what it could mean in our time.

As the Recording Industry Association of America points out, vinyl physical units sold surpassed CD physical units sold in the first half of 2021 for the first time since 1986, and Billboard says vinyl album sales in the U.S. increased each year since 2007, from 1 million total albums sold to 41.72 million total albums sold in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021, vinyl album sales jumped 51.4% in the United States. United.

Philosophical Waxing About Vinyl

A woman with green hair holds a shiny vinyl record in Vinyl Nation
1091 Pictures

Directors and producers Kevin Smoker and Christopher Boone took a leap of faith in this topic that neither of them had specifically addressed before. Smokler is an author, writing largely about pop culture and literature in books like Brat Pack Americaand Boone is a narrative filmmaker (pennies) and a writer himself, so the fact that the two decided to make a documentary about vinyl records seems particularly fascinating. Maybe it took a few quasi-strangers (and myriad miles of travel) to get to the heart of the matter.

“None of us play an instrument,” Smokler says. “We’ve never been in bands. We’ve never worked in the music industry. It was mostly an idea that I had the germ of, and I was trying somehow other to understand why discs and old technology that were far from practical […] were on their way back, because you didn’t see that in other forms of pop culture. Dime novels weren’t experiencing a resurgence, neither were VHS tapes, cartridge games, as if none of those things were coming back with the fervor that vinyl was. »

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The two had gone to college together, so when Smokler was on a book tour, he pitched the idea to his filmmaker friend. “The first question Chris asked was, ‘Why? Why does this have to be a movie? Why not do a 10-part podcast series, or why don’t you write another book about it? And I think what we both found is that vinyl is inherently a physical and visual thing. […] records is to touch them and feel them, and see them spinning on the turntable, and the amazing artwork, and all the different senses and your ears that they activate, and the best way to convey that artistically was through the film.

Two strangers travel to the heart of Vinyl Nation

An aerial view of a giant vinyl record flea market at Vinyl Nation
1091 Pictures

“If we are to tell a story called vinyl country, it has to include the whole vinyl nation,” Boone says, “so we have to see all the different people who have done this. You’re writing a book, you can’t really see them either, and if you’re doing a podcast, you’re just hearing them.” That was important because a lot of vinyl country is about how vinyl fans’ image as elitist snobs (think High fidelity, or the comic book store owner of The simpsons) has changed to be radically more inclusive.

“We really wanted to show you who these people were because we didn’t think they were what you think vinyl enthusiasts are today, or weren’t portrayed that way in the media. ” So the couple set off with a crew, traveling across the country in the spring of 2019 in order to visually understand the phenomenon, oscillating from town to town between times spent at home.

“It was a big part of the fun, at least for me,” Boone recalls, “being able to travel the country to many cities and towns I’ve never been to and meet all these people, but also learn about the communities where they live, and it was important for us to capture as best we could. We were all over the place, and these people came from all different walks of life, and they’re literally of all races, all genders, all ages, in our movie. They have that thing in common.”

Find and create a community in Vinyl Nation

A man searches for records in a Vinyl Nation store
1091 Pictures

As such, vinyl country portrays the community in a fresh and interesting way. So often today, communities are formed out of anger instead of love, and negative passion instead of positive. The recording community may share a specific interest (music in a rather antiquated physical form), but that interest spans an international century, brimming with folk, rap, bossa nova, death metal, and pop idols. teenage girls; they’re all on vinyl, where they’re skilled in a community that cares. “If we put the 45 subjects of our interviews in a room, they would become fast friends, simply because they have this connection through recordings. And we hope that when people watch the film, they will also feel this connection with These persons.”

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In a fascinating turn of events, this great recent community documentary has helped build communities in turn and give back to others. When the film was completed, the world largely went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and film festivals were shutting down. Smokler and Boone came up with a delightful idea that complimented the vibrant community nature of vinyl country: they screened the film at record stores. As Boone recounts:

We just said, it’s a crazy idea, but what if we did a fundraiser for these record stores. So we contacted the Record Store Day organization and said, hey, we want to do a special screening. Only record stores that participate in Record Store Day can be a part of it, and they will sell tickets, and they will keep all profits […] Over 300 record stores signed up and collectively sold over $37,000 in ticket sales, and it all went back to record stores.

However, the pandemic and its viruses didn’t exactly end, and record stores weren’t the only small businesses to suffer. So vinyl country supported this community, too. Bon continues:

We reached out to the art house cinemas and said, hey, y’all are still closed. We would also like to help you. So we did a virtual screener release with about 80 arthouse cinemas, and other record stores joined in, and at the same time Kevin leaves, and the festivals? For example, we love film festivals, why don’t we try to do something for them too? And I thought, well, I don’t know if they’re going to be interested, because we did this kind of backwards version.

Hands flip through hundreds of records in Vinyl Nation
1091 Pictures

Most film festivals generally do not accept submissions from films that have screened elsewhere. they tend to be exclusive prime minister occasions, so Boone wasn’t sure film festivals would be interested in a film that had been screened in small communities of music lovers and moviegoers for months. As Smokler puts it:

This rule was basically dropped due to the pandemic […] There were over 100 festivals in the United States alone that had signed something called the “film festival survival pledge”, basically saying that they will do whatever it takes to make sure our film festivals are surviving this pandemic and to ensure that our community always receives quality cinema. I just said to Chris, that’s our kind of people. These are people who want the same thing for their community that record stores want for their community. That’s why we made this film. So we just started asking around […] We got one or two no’s, but mostly we got about 98 yes’s, and actually most of them were like, please take this waiver code or and don’t bother paying. We just appreciate that you understand the mess we’re in, the mess the whole country and the world is in, and so gradually we started showing it in virtual film festivals.

As Smokler touchingly puts it, “It kind of reaffirmed what we knew vinyl country was approx. It says there are kind of friends everywhere, though often it doesn’t seem like it on the surface.”

Vinyl Nation goes digital

The journey that Smokler and Boone embarked on began as a way to understand why vinyl records have become so popular again. Was it nostalgia in the era of the reboot, when everyone goes forward looking back? Was it hipster fashion, some kind of cool trend? Was it a byproduct of capitalism and materialism, a refusal to digitize everything, a desire for physical possessions? Finally, no matter vinyl country could mean, ultimately, it’s about people, and the journey of these directors has led to a deeper understanding of community (for them and their audiences) at a time when such a thing is hugely important. Music is good, but you need ears to hear it.

vinyl countryfrom 1091 Pictures, hits digital April 19 in a gorgeous 4k master.

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