Music Farmers interview with Jeb Taylor

As every committed record-store frequenter wakes with the birds in a tense state of Record Store Day excitement this morning, Radar catches up with Wollongong’s nearest dearest record store owner, Jeb Taylor, to talk chance beginnings, what it’s like running a record store in modern-day Wollongong, and that which it’s all about – records!

R: What made you start Music Farmers in 2004?
J: There was no real plan behind it as such, my friend Simon and I were running a small scale music distribution label for a handful of international labels and we were looking for office space to run that from. When we found a space that also worked as a shop, we started selling local music and titles we distributed, then we introduced other releases and the shop gradually took over the distribution side of things. I guess like a lot of kids into music I’d always wanted to start a record shop but it more so just happened as opposed to intentionally starting it.

R: What would you say are your defining features as a music store?
J: Our main specialty is vinyl records and we try to make sure we stock a good selection of titles on that format. Vinyl is our niche and people have come to know that. We like to think the shop is your old style record shop where people can discuss music with us and get a more personalised service. With places like JB HiFi becoming the main physical places that people buy music over the last decade, music has become just another product that is scanned through at the checkout. There are still a lot of people that want to talk about music with the people they are buying it from. We have plenty of customers over the years that have become friends, I doubt that would happen in the supermarket-style shops.

R: How has the exhibition and live music space been working out for Music Farmers?
J: We seem to have resolved issues we had a few years back with live music but we try and keep it for special occasions so we don’t get too annoying for our neighbours. As a set up I think it’s important not just for record shops but any sort of niche retailer in this day and age to think outside the square in terms of getting people to their shop. It’s no longer enough to just set yourself up on the street and think people will come pouring through the doors. The exhibitions and shows here always provide us with people that have never been here before, and give established customers a reminder we are still here so it works really well.

R: As well as running the Music Farmers store, you also promote artists, own a label and organise events in the local area. How do you find the music scene in Wollongong and how has it changed in your opinion? What are the best and worst things about it?
J: It goes through peaks and troughs both in terms of the quality of bands and the people that go out and support local bands. These two things don’t always happen simultaneously though. There have been times amazing bands have had basically no support and some pretty terrible bands have been well-supported. It’s changed a lot with the increase of online accessibility for bands, they can now get their name out there online before building any sort of profile in their hometown playing shows, and this is something that even ten years back didn’t really happen. It is something that has positive and negative effects for the local music scene. At the moment though there are plenty of places to play and enough interesting bands around, I guess it could just use a bit more support from the wider community.

R: So, onto records. What are your top recent local releases?
J: It changes all the time and there are a lot of locals I haven’t seen/heard yet. There are bands I work with in some capacity such as Mother & Son, Leadfinger, Yardvark and Cape Tribulation that have put out good records in the last year. Aside from them, some personal favourite local releases over the last year are:

The Walking Who – Candy Flu

A lot of bands doing the epic psych rock sort of thing can get fairly lost in their songwriting but these guys have a batch of really solid and fairly focused songs. They have also managed to get what they do live really well sounding good in the studio. They are now starting to get much deserved recognition beyond Wollongong.

Places, People – Hid & Hunted

Brian has moved from Wollongong now but this record was written and recorded while he was here and it is really good. Fans of newer stuff like Fleet Foxes should like it but also anyone into the older American west coast folk sort of thing from the seventies should find it interesting.

Troldhaugen – S/T
I’m not a huge metal fan but I like and respect it when it’s done right. These guys make it fun, do something a bit unique and do it amazingly well. If they get themselves to Europe at some point they’ll do really well. Great live too.

Bec Sandridge – Lyons & Bees
This is a solid EP release from a young, local singer/songwriter. The songs are well written and it is really well-produced. She also has built a solid following via fairly DIY promotion and regular touring which has to be admired.

Totally Unicorn – Horse Hugger
These guys are a world class band. They probably haven’t totally captured their live intensity in the studio on their recordings yet but when you have the live show these guys have, that would be a pretty tough task.

Emma Russack – Sounds Of Our City

Not exactly a local release but Emma spent a few years here while at uni and played many shows here at Music Farmers. This is a strong and focused album; another ex-local Alec Marshall contributes amazing guitar work.

Perhaps an impossible question… Your top five records?
J: These aren’t necessarily what I think are the best five records of all time but they are five that had some sort of influence on me at certain points in my life:

Mudhoney – S/T
I started listening to I guess what you’d call underground music at a fairly young age and this was the album that started it. I was probably eleven when I heard this and suddenly realised there was a whole world of music out there that wasn’t just what was on TV and local radio.

Kyuss – Blues For The Red Sun

I loved this the first time I heard it; my cousin played it to me one Christmas and I went out and bought their albums the next chance I had. Later on I got to work with members of the band in different capacities and even tour around the world with one of them.

Tumbleweed – S/T
The debut album from Tumbleweed was a really big Australian album in the mid-nineties and for a young kid growing up at the time, it was pretty inspiring that the five guys that made the record were from my hometown.

Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

This was a big album when I was in high school; spent many hours with friends in the music rooms trying to learn the songs. It just was re-issued on vinyl and I think it still stands up today of one of the great albums of the nineties.

Arcade Fire – Funeral

The release of this record basically timed perfectly with when we first opened Music Farmers. As you can imagine, you spend a lot of hours listening to music in a record shop and you get to know albums really well. This was the most fresh and interesting record from that time period for me.

R: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open a shop/get involved in the music industry in a similar way to you?
J: You really need to want to do it. There are too many tough times and unrewarding moments if you are doing it without full commitment. I’ve seen a lot of people come to the industry with good intentions but burn out fairly quickly and realise getting a ‘normal job’ maybe the easier option. I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself, some of them costly in different ways, but I’ve used them as a way to learn as opposed to a reason to give up. Having said that, working in the music industry has given me the chance to travel to incredible parts of the world I would have never have seen otherwise and meet some musical heroes of mine. So basically if you are prepared to put in the hours and not let the setbacks get you down, it can be a rewarding industry to be part of.

Record Store Day is today! Come and celebrate with Music Farmers from 1pm – live local music, exclusive releases, BBQ, and more (see below).

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