You can't talk DC hardcore and punk without including Government Issue. The influential act released seven (!) studio albums in the '80s, and guitarist Tom Lyle appeared on all of them. Before that, Tom was in a band called Beaver, but good luck finding their eponymous EP from 1981! So, yeah, the dude's punk cred is solid as a rock. Oh, and the man also has a ridiculously cool vinyl collection in his home.
I want to take a moment to thank Record Collector member Jim Idol for introducing me to Tom, who agreed to also partake in my silly questions.
How long have you been collecting records?
I’ll begin by denying that I am a “record collector." I’m not just arguing about the terminology. I admit to collecting records, but I don’t consider myself a “collector." I made a conscious decision long ago that I wasn’t going to buy records for the sake of owning them, like they were baseball cards or Hummel figurines. Which means that in my collection I have very few multiple copies of the same title. When I search for or buy a copy of a record that I already have, it’s because I’m looking for a better copy – for one that’sin better condition, or because the sound quality of that pressing is better. Anyway, I started this whole thing when I was a pre-teen, or tween as some like to call it.
Where/how do you usually find your records these days?
Wherever they are [laughs]. These days I buy more of them online more than anywhere else, Discogs, Amazon, eBay, but also a few smaller specialty record store websites. But I’m lucky that I live right outside of New York City, so there are some brick & mortar stores that I visit such as Princeton Record Exchange, Academy Records, and Rough Trade, but that’s usually a special occasion because I often can’t control myself at those places, and I end up spending way too much money.
What is the most you paid for a single record, where/how did you obtain it, and what was it?
Oh, I’d rather not answer that! Instead I’ll say that one of my greatest thrills is scoring an LP for way less than what it’s worth, like when I found a perfect condition Japanese Beatles EAS series Sgt. Pepper… for $20, and then only about two days later I found an original US mono copy of the same record in great condition for about $3. I bought my UK copy of Faust IV on Virgin Records UK for $6, and brand new, sealed first pressing copies of Slayer’s South of Heaven and Pantera's Far Beyond Driven LPs for about $6 each. Sure, I’ve shelled out quite a bit of money for some records that I really wanted, and the only way I was going to be able to listen to it on my turntable and have it be a permanent piece in my collection was to buy it, but I find no honor in that. The only thing it proves is that I’m crazy. But one thing that makes my record collection great is that I’m lucky. I’ve acquired lots of very cool records because I was lucky enough to be able to hold on to lots of the 3 dollar singles and 5 to 7 dollar LPs that I bought back in the day, and never had to sell them to pay rent or something.
Since you’ve been a musician for so many years, did you spend most of your time on tour in the ‘80s and ‘90s at record stores? Has being in bands like Government Issue throughout the years given you any advantage when it comes to vinyl hunting?
I’ve joked about it with other collectors that were in bands back then and even now, that we don’t call it “touring," we call it “record shopping." It’s an understatement to say that it was cool to go record shopping while on tour. I would be totally bummed when we had to play a show and then had to leave town before getting a chance to visit their local vinyl purveyors. But there were plenty of time when we did have the time to go record shopping. And yes, sometimes being in a band got me a discount. But since I always would spend more than I should have I usually made up for that. That is, when I had the money. Sometimes on tour we’d be broke. But often not.
If you had to pick one record label you feel had/has the best track record of quality releases, who would that be and what are some key titles you love?
You knew I was going to say Faith, Void, and Minor Threat on Dischord Records in the 1980s, didn’t you? Well, that’s true, but I have very wide ranging tastes in music, believe it or not. Those who have heard my recordings, especially the later ones must hear that, all those odd influences that I’d throw into the mix. So, not only do I have a crippling vinyl addiction, but it’s compounded by having wide reaching tastes. Or lack of taste, some might say. So, yeah, Dischord Records for hardcore punk and lots of post-punk. I go through different phases, but right not I’d say that I mostly listen to punk, metal, Krautrock and prog. But not necessarily in that order [laughs].
My favorite jazz label and records would be a tie between Impulse and Blue Note, my fave artists and albums being Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and definitely Eric Dolphy’ s album Out to Lunch. I just about soiled myself the first time I heard that one when I was a kid. Also, any of the Miles Davis titles from between 1965 and 1968, and then what some call his “blasphemous” electric period. But he’s on Columbia.
In classical it would be RCA and Mercury LPs that were pressed in the late '50s and early '60s, there are some serious barn burners on those labels from that golden age of early stereo recording, many by either the Chicago or the Boston Symphony Orchestras, led by either Fritz Reiner or Charles Munch. EMI pressed tons of great classical vinyl in the '70s, and those I like not only because of some great artists and performances, but because of the sound quality. Then there’s Wergo Records from Germany that I love for the “post-war” classical period, and György Ligeti is my fave on that label. Ligeti is most famous for having his recordings used for the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but of course he’s recorded much more than just that score. His is very intense stuff. It’s like being on really good psychedelic drugs without any bad side effects or lasting mental scars, I guess, but I wouldn’t know [laughs]. Those records weren’t that expensive, but they were very difficult to find. I think I have every one of Ligeti’s records on that label by now.
When it comes to reggae, I like small label dance hall labels from the '80s, especially those singles that were made as a “one-off” for an artist, then they would destroy the records that didn’t sell from that night. Sister Nancy’s One, Two is the one I probably play the most. For newer metal, I would say Relapse because of High on Fire, Brutal Truth, and especially Pentagram, but Pentagram has been on so many labels and have gone through so many lineup changes it gets complicated. Relapse has so many great bands it’s sick. RidingEasy has Monolord from Sweden, which is probably the heaviest band I listen to. On the Finnish label Svart I scored the double LP of Pentagram live in Helsinki when it came out. What is in the water in Scandinavia that makes them have so many killer metal bands. I guess one could say that about Florida in the '90s, so there goes that theory.
There are so many great metal labels and so many great bands I’d say we’re going through some sort of metal renaissance these days. Older metal has Combat, where I have my original US copy of Celtic Frost’s earlier stuff, and of course their involvement with NYHC and the less hairy of the hair bands, and English punk Clay Records, electronic Warp Records was great in the '90s, and Twisted Records in the '90s with Hallucinogen and now Shprongle, and with Krautrock there’s Sky Records, and and of course Brain Records, I could put Cluster II on repeat for a while. I’m always on the hunt for more of those original Brain pressings. Prog there’s... wow, what a horrible question to ask a record collector. I could go on and on. Oh, man, how big is your server?...Get me to start talking about music I like and then I can’t stop.
Of everything in your current collection, what is your most prized record and why?
That is a tough question. And to tough to answer. It’s like asking me which is my favorite child. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But like my tastes in music, or lack thereof really, my fave changes on what day of the week it is, what time of day it is, really. I never counted my records, that would be silly, but I suppose I’m getting somewhere near ten thousand. How am I supposed to choose a “favorite." Or the “best." Or even the most valuable, right? I’m sure there are some valuable records on those shelves. In fact I know there are!
Is there anything that frustrates you about the current record collecting scene?
There’s a scene? Cool! Where is this scene you speak of?... Oh, yeah, in the Facebook groups, right? Sorry about that. The thing that frustrates me lately are people who complain about the price of records. Records have always been expensive. But now they aren’t made like crap. Usually the complaining about the prices are from the older record buyers, saying the typical “well, when I was a kid records weren’t as expensive." Yes they were. I remember having to save my money until I had enough to buy the record I wanted. If one plugs the numbers into an inflation calculator one would see that prices have stayed pretty much the same. Yes, some are more expensive then others, but there’s usually a reason why one is more expensive than the other. Plus, like I said, the quality has gotten much, much better. Some of the garbage that the major labels were pressing before the great-digital-scare of the '90s began they’d never be able to get away with now. 180 gram pressings? Some of those pieces of junk would be lucky if they’d reach 80 grams.
Which records are still on your want list that you've had a tough time tracking down through the years?
The days of searching for the Holy Grail, or Holy Grails, really, ended for me quite a while ago. I’ll mention it again, I’m not a typical record collector, I’m just a music lover that likes to listen to music on vinyl. So those original Dischord or NYHC seven inch singles aren’t on my want list, or at least very few of them are, because I either bought them when they came out and I took really good care of them, and then with the advent first of eBay and then Discogs, all of those Holy Grails are now available. And since I’m not a “normal” collector, it’s not rarity that appeals to me.
Sure, I’ve paid out some serious cash for a record I’ve wanted on those websites, but it was because I wanted the music that was pressed onto that record in mint condition that was for sale or auction. And the best sounding copy often means an original, or a Japanese or UK pressing, or whatever. I’m lucky, too, because I’ve been collecting records for so long my collection is largely self-supporting. That means that I will sell a record that I haven’t listened to, say, for 10 or 15 years, and with that money I’ll be able to support my vinyl habit. But it’s a healthy habit, wouldn’t you say?
Follow Tom on Instagram.
Tagged: record collector