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interview

Kevin Smokler & Christopher Boone

Vinyl Nation

Kevin Smokler is a writer, documentary filmmaker and event host with a focus on popular culture. He’s the author of 3 books, co-director of one documentary and finds people and the things they make endlessly fascinating.

Christopher Boone is a screenwriter, filmmaker and dad of two teenagers. He’s happy that his days of chauffeuring the kids around town are mostly over.

Kevin and Chris are both directors and producers of film, Vinyl Nation. A documentary dig into the record resurgence. 

Kevin Smokler & Christopher Boone

Where are you based?

Kevin Smokler: San Francisco, CA. USA

Christopher Boone: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Where do you work? What do you do?

KS: Author of 3 books about pop culture, most recently “Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies” and brand new documentary filmmaker.

CB: Screenwriter and filmmaker. Wrote & directed narrative feature film Cents (2016). Collaborated with Kevin on our new feature documentary Vinyl Nation (2020).

What are you listening to?

KS: Lately, new albums by old 80s new wave favorites like Dramarama and Deacon Blue and the complete catalog of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

CB: The Freedom Affair: Freedom is Love, Brittany Howard: Live at Sound Emporium, Billie Eilish: Live at Third Man Records, The Chicks: Gaslighter, Al Green: Green is Blues, Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual

How do you discover new music?

KS: I divide pretty evenly between music podcasts (especially Heat Rocks on Maximum Fun and Broken Record from Puskin Industries), streaming terrestrial and online radio (I’m quite fond of the legendary WWOZ from New Orleans WUOL Classical in Louisville and Worldwide FM out of Los Angeles), recommendations from friends and whatever is new from artists I already admire. I keep everything to be listened to in 3 Spotify queues marked “Continuing Education” (artists I already love), “Study Hall” (artist I only know a little) and “Hello, we’ve Just Met” (artist I don’t know at all) and rotate between them throughout the week.

CB: Kevin is much more disciplined than I am in this category, and as a result, I discover a lot of new music from his recommendations! I also learn about new music from my kids and what they’re listening to at the moment. All Songs Considered on NPR sends me down new paths. And when I really just want to be surprised, I’ll look up some recent reviews of new music from artists getting raves that I’ve never heard of and will buy the vinyl without ever listening to a single track before I put the needle on the record. That’s how Jamila Woods’ Legacy, Legacy landed in my life, much to my good fortune.

“I’ll look up some recent reviews of new music from artists getting raves that I’ve never heard of and will buy the vinyl without ever listening to a single track before I put the needle on the record.”

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

KS: I’ll use both Spotify and Tidal to experiment with and discover artists I don’t really know. But if I’m serious about what I’m hearing, I’ll buy it on vinyl and then it becomes part of public listening I do with my wife while we’re at home.

CB: I’ll audition new music on Spotify. If I play the same album three times, I need to purchase it, preferably on vinyl if it’s available. I also tend to have a few older albums that mean something to me on a mental list so I can hunt for them whenever I’m in a record store.

“…if I’m serious about what I’m hearing, I’ll buy it on vinyl and then it becomes part of public listening”

Where do you do most of your music listening?

KS: During the workweek, I’m at my computer and will be listening to new albums in the morning and old favorites in the afternoon via Tidal. Come evening and weekends, it’s all records on the turntable that my wife and I listen to together. Our stereo is a relatively new Audio Technica DJs turntable (we used to live in a place with very rickety floors) and Moon amplifier from Sim Audio. Our speakers are used ADTs from I believe 1987.

CB: When I write, I can’t listen to music because I’ll focus on the music instead of my writing. I may listen to something before I start writing to set the mood, perhaps on a morning walk with my dog along the arroyo just before sitting down to work. If I’m going through more menial tasks on my computer, I’ll fire up Spotify to check out some new music. When I want to focus on the music, I mainly listen to records on our turntable in the living room that opens up into our kitchen while I’m making dinner and we’re eating. The family is used to me excusing myself from the table to flip the record. On the weekends, my wife puts on something loud while we clean (e.g. The White Stripes/Jack White, Greta Van Fleet), then she puts on some jazz on Sunday mornings while she reads the paper and I do the crossword.

“The family is used to me excusing myself from the table to flip the record.”

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

KS: I don’t really. At any given moment, there’s 20-30 albums I want to listen to next that are anywhere from 2 weeks to 75 years old. So “new” is kind of a word that’s pretty lost on me when it comes to music.

CB: The last time I listened to pre-release music was in 1997 when I worked at a record store in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware right after college. I was so much cooler back then.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

KS: I don’t particularly care for what a lousy job iTunes does synching with devices and its labelling and playlist integrity is a friggin mess. I am terrified everytime I update that all my playlists and library organization will vanish in a puff of smoke. That shouldn’t be.

CB: I’ll use Spotify when I’m researching story ideas that take place during a specific time period and I want to create a playlist to put me back in that particular time. I’m constantly amazed how frequently the original album release date year is completely wrong on older albums on Spotify and an artist’s discography is all out of order (and not because of the endless remasters/re-releases). I mean, how hard is it to cross-reference with Wikipedia? Or even Billboard archives? Is anyone doing quality control? And somebody tell those kids to get off my xeriscaping

“I am terrified everytime I update that all my playlists and library organization will vanish in a puff of smoke. That shouldn’t be.”

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

KS: I have a really terrible short term memory. So I have both a physical notebook where I keep track of what I’m listening to and a few dedicated iTunes playlists that are specifically designed to capture what I listened to yesterday, last week, two months ago, this year etc.

CB: I listen to the same things on heavy rotation for several weeks, so those records are always sitting at the front of my display racks next to the turntable. When I’m looking for something “new” to put on the turntable, I’ll flip to the back of the racks to find the records that need more love and attention. And if I still don’t want to listen to them, maybe it’s time to bring them to the record store to trade in (unless they are my wife’s records, of course).

“When I’m looking for something “new” to put on the turntable, I’ll flip to the back of the racks to find the records that need more love and attention.”

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

KS: Often. Generally only a song at a time (I figure more is kind of overwhelming to whomever I’m tipping off) and I’ll usually send a link to a Youtube video which seems lightweight and not format dependent.

CB: Ironically, not really. But I am the happy recipient of Kevin’s recommendations, which sometimes magically appear on my doorstep in the form of a package of new records. And then I tell other people to listen to what Kevin has sent my way. And then I sound really smart, thanks to all of Kevin’s hard work.

Anything you want to “promote”?

KS: I’m the co-director of Vinyl Nation, a feature-length documentary film about the comeback of vinyl records and the connective power of music. More information at www.vinylnationfilm.com.

CB: And I’m the other co-director of Vinyl Nation.

"I keep everything to be listened to in 3 Spotify queues marked "Continuing Education" (artists I already love), "Study Hall" (artist I only know a little) and "Hello, we've Just Met" (artist I don't know at all)"

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