Given the recent press devoted to the return of the cassette, you may have expected a bigger coming-out party than the first-ever Cassette Store Day, on September 7. The Zia Records Exchange on Camelback rolled out all of six cassettes at the front counter, all easily dwarfed by a Questlove book and a Beatles desk lamp. At Stinkweeds, the local cassettes that the store dutifully carries year-round were still there, but no extra hoopla. According to owner Kimber Lanning, four, maybe five people came in asking about Cassette Store Day.
We conducted a Cassette Store Day postmortem with Gage Olesen, co-founder of Rubber Brother Records, a local outfit that puts out a multitude of new cassette titles. Seven of them saw their "tape release" during the first weekend of Rubber Brother Fest, a four-night event spread out over two weekends and two cities, Tempe and Phoenix.
New Times: So was the format once credited with killing music in the '80s killed off by Cassette Store Day?
Gage Oleson: Most people I know had no idea that it was even going on. I think the fact that it exists is sort of a niche thing, kind of like cassettes are currently. If somebody was expecting Cassette Store Day to be as big as Record Store Day, they're probably disappointed.
NT: Are you into cassettes over CDs because it's the cheapest form of analog duplication?
GO: Most definitely. The fact that I don't have to get together 10 friends with computers to try and make a run is really awesome. Everything from the means of duplication (we just bought old tape decks from Goodwill) to the price of the actual cassette is perfect for what we're trying to do.
NT: Is there any part of Rubber Brother Records that isn't DIY?
GO: We're working on our screen-printing press now but haven't really started printing on it yet. We buy all of our shipping materials from my girlfriend's corporate handbook — I'm not sure if that's DIY.
NT: How many copies do you make of each release? What titles have been the most successful?
GO: We try for runs of 50, and anything that sells anywhere near that is considered successful. So far, Playboy Manbaby, Petty Things, and Wolvves have been our most successful.
NT: Ryan Avery of Related Records says that when he sells a cassette, he knows that fans will play the whole thing, where with a CD, they copy it to iTunes, find the one song they like, and forget about it.
GO: I think there's something to that, definitely. To me, to biggest appeal of tapes isn't really the fact that they're analog, but that they're cheap to produce, cool to look at, and completely collectible.
It's like musical trading cards from all of your favorite bands. Most bands package their tapes with download cards, and that's probably what most people are going to be listening to.
NT: Does preserving a two-sided format make for better-programmed albums, since bands have to start and finish strong twice?
GO: I hadn't ever really thought about it, but I think that's definitely a thing. The question is whether most people who are releasing tapes now are recording for tapes or just recording to be heard online.
NT: Is there any J-card cassette art from the bygone cassette era that you point to as an influence?
GO: All of our art is either from local artists or put together by my business partner, Robbie Pfeffer, because we left it off to the last second. Aside from the medium, we aren't really the dudes that spend time being nostalgic. My interest in cassettes is purely contemporary. We've got bands lined up from all over the Valley that I'm really excited about. We're releasing an Iji tape, which is really incredible . . . Honestly, there are too many to list. That said, I've got an old tape of Ziggy Stardust that is definitely one of my prized possessions.