Gilgongo Records Founder James Fella Talks Vinyl

Click. Download. Stream. It's never been easier score a musical fix. But is digital necessarily better?

James Fella makes records. His label, the Tempe-based Gilgongo Records, puts out a couple releases a year the old fashioned way, on 45 and 33 rpm vinyl. You may regard vinyl as an antiquated format, relegated to gathering dust in milk crates, but for Fella, vinyl is a format that has never faded, and remains a passion untouched by the current trend to "get it on vinyl."

Up on the Sun caught up with Fella to discuss the process of pressing music onto vinyl.

Up On The Sun: How did Gilgongo Records come about?

James Fella: Gilgongo Records started up in 2004. I've been buying records since I was 12. Growing up in Central New Jersey, this was somewhat normal if you were involved with punk [music], in any of it's various forms. The climate of music in DIY subculture at that time often yielded vinyl-only releases. I always had the urge to put records out, so when I was in my early 20s and finally in a place where I could financially see that happen, I went for it.

[Arizona-based] Reindeer Tiger Team was the first release on Gilgongo. Having seen countless groups from Phoenix come and go since moving here in 1999, without any tangible document of what they were doing, I was wanting to see something more for them. From the beginning, about a third of the releases focused on artists from Arizona such as French Quarter, Pigeon Religion, Soft Shoulder, and Vegetable.

The label, however, is really just a vehicle for things that I appreciate to come to fruition. So what goes into making an old-school LP?

Releasing a record can be fairly simple if you want it to be. In the end, it's largely the result of coordination, and not much more.

As far as the actual process of the pressing -- the master recording is transferred in real-time and cut by lathe into a lacquer. The lacquer is transferred to metal stampers by a process called electroplating, which is essentially like making a reverse copy of the original cut which would then be used to press into vinyl during the actual production. These are all steps that occur at manufacturing plants and so unless you're nearby, it's nothing you are really privy to actually see happen with your own eyes. Most plants use automated machines, though a few still exist that are hand-operated. While that may sound romantic, it's not. Most of those machines are old and janky. I used to use a plant that only had hand-press machines but the center holes would always have too much excess vinyl stuck in it and the outside wouldn't be trimmed well.

After you receive a test press, and you listen through to make sure there are no errors to the physical pressing, then you give the green light to the plant and they process your order. If the tests are fine, then the press should be fine.

Everything on Gilgongo is manufactured in North America. Realistically, 95 percent of it is produced in America, but my LP jackets are often printed in Canada. The various pieces (physical records, jackets, polybags, any inserts or stickers) all show up to a sheltered workshop in Mesa where they are assembled by members of the developmentally disabled community. Vinyl has been seemingly enjoying a resurgence lately, why do you suppose that is?

Music becoming regularly available in the vinyl format, to me, makes complete sense on just about every level possible. Much like the fate of the cassette, I believe that once you have means to make something yourself, the desire to spend an unreasonable amount of money for a properly manufactured version starts to slip from the general public. With just about every single computer having the ability to burn CDs, I believe they have lost their validity. On top of that, fewer and fewer people use CDs as time goes on. Portable players are becoming replaced by MP3 players and vehicles are slowly seeing a similar trend. More and more have line-ins that see more use than the actual CD player. If most plays are occurring on an MP3 player or from a computer while at home, buying a CD seems like not only a waste of money, but also a waste of space.

The vinyl format provides the consumer with something that is undeniably physical and tangible. I can only speak from my own perspective, but it's the format that always has seemed most legitimate to me. With many labels including a digital download with the purchase of a record, it satisfies most possible demands for playability and in my opinion is not a rip off.

Aside from the process of actually recording, a CD costs under a couple of dollars to make. A digital download that you pay for is essentially zero-cost. Paying any substantial amount for either of these formats seems unreasonable to me, but a record is giving the consumer the most for their money. I think [CDs] have their time and place, such as collections, [or albums with] a length that is just far too long for an LP, if they are kept reasonably priced. Do you think this resurgence is a temporary fad, or will vinyl continue having a place in the world in the foreseeable future?

I think the fad will more than likely fade. All fads do. I think its surge in popularity results from it being all that's really left. It's appeal to the masses will surely dissipate over time, but the format is not going away, especially in regards to music that is slightly left of center. It's been there the entire time.

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Anthony Sandoval
Contact: Anthony Sandoval