Written by Greg Gonzales & Parisa Eshrati
This blog introduces Wooden Tooth Records, a new vinyl shop in the heart of downtown Tucson, AZ. We caught up with the owners, Kellen Fortier and Jake Sullivan, to get a glimpse of the current trends in music sales and hear some of their music recommendations for this season.
Authenticity is not usually the name of the game at giant music outlets, and the same can be said for some local record shops. Wooden Tooth Records, however, bleeds authenticity from its very walls.
Before a visitor even steps into the shop, they walk past delectable clouds saturated with coffee, tea, and pastries. Wooden Tooth is located toward the back of Cafe Passe on Tucson's Fourth Avenue, so you can get your jolt on while you peruse vinyl, cassettes, and a fine collection of rare memorabilia from bands of every genre.
Though it's a recent addition to Tucson, the shop's collection of vinyl old and new, combined with the rich aged wood enclosing the place and jaw-dropping memorabilia, makes the place an instant Old Pueblo classic.
Without a doubt, you can find the latest from labels like Slovenly Records, Sub Pop, and Matador Records, but you can also delve into the collection for older bands and exclusive releases across a myriad of genres. That's because founders Kellen Fortier and Jake Sullivan searched across Southern Arizona for music gems to get their inventory started.
“The furthest we've gone was Phoenix and Bisbee," said Sullivan. However short the distance, their efforts weren’t fruitless, and they started their entrepreneurial venture with plenty of stories to tell.
"The time we went to Bisbee was because I ran into a girl bringing in a crate of records to Bookmans,” Sullivan said. “I stopped her in the parking lot and asked if I could take a look and get first picks and pay her cash instead.”
She actually went for it, and referred them to a seller in Bisbee. Eager to explore another vast collection, the pair took a day trip down to the old mining town. The seller apparently had a clean collection he was selling cheap — but his shop had a "CLOSED" sign on the door when Fortier and Sullivan arrived.
Thinking fast, they looked the guy up on Google and drove to his house — to no answer — so they left a note in the mailbox. "We never heard from him again, so that was a wasted day," Sullivan said with a laugh.
Luckily, that was one minuscule drop of failure in an ocean of success.
With six months in business on Fourth Avenue, sellers now come to them. "This one lady came in recently who had inherited a bunch of punk memorabilia," Sullivan said. “There was a lot of Ramones stuff, like a clock and a flag, some Dead Kennedys show posters, some awesome vintage zines, and even a little nutcracker guy decked out in punk gear."
Don't think for a second that Wooden Tooth limits itself to fringe music. Oingo Boingo, Sonic Youth, The Beatles, MC5, Muddy Waters and other better-known bands decorate the walls and fill the shelves. Fortier and Sullivan keep their ears to the ground for local trends, too. When the two first opened back in April, they noticed a big increase in Nina Simone record sales due to the hit Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” This past month, they’ve noticed a spike in metal.
"Since Southwest Terror Fest happened this month, there's definitely been an increase of metal in the shop, specifically doom," Sullivan added. "It's interesting because, among metal, I felt like black metal was more popular recently, and then maybe death metal before that. ... We've been seeing a lot of Electric Wizard."
Another hit at the shop this past month has been Butterscotch Cathedral, a new project from Matt Rendon of The Resonars. This three-track LP is filled with hypnotizing vocal harmonies and desert-psych riffs that pay homage to sixties and seventies concept records (i.e. The Who, Beach Boys). Sullivan states that visitors who don’t know much about Tucson music, who came in to check out Butterscotch Cathedral, end up walking out with Golden Boots, Lenguas Largas, or The Resonars.
A good shop doesn't just provide what the people want, however; the best shops also teach you about the music you shouldn't live without .
We asked Sullivan about some of his favorite discoveries from this season. Aside from the new Kurt Vile album b’lieve i’m going down..., which has been on repeat during his work shifts, he has been on the lookout for garage rock with Spanish vocals. Recently, he stumbled across a band called Vuelveteloca after digging through their distributors’ archives. The Chilean group pumps out some killer Ty Segall-inspired garage tunes but with some dancier and, often times, more psychedelic melodies.
Sullivan’s favorite Fall season discovery came from a free sampler CD of Mark Lanegan (Queens of the Stone Age) that he received at the shop. There was a cover of “Blues Run the Game” by some fellow named Jackson C. Frank, who Sullivan had never heard of before. After hours of online research, Sullivan unraveled the mysterious life of Jackson C. Frank and the cult hero status that followed. Frank recorded that single with the help of Paul Simon, and despite the production of a famous folk-singer, the single went absolutely nowhere. Frank ended up moving to New York, homeless and sleeping in parks, and went in and out of mental institutions for the rest of his life. His major downfall happened when two kids shooting BB guns in a park accidentally shot him in the eye; after that point, Frank couldn’t even hold up a guitar. After Frank died, people became intrigued with his catalogue, one of which is Sullivan who now states that the album is one of his discoveries from working at the store thus far. Sullivan’s discovery of Frank’s story is evidence of just what kind of shop Wooden Tooth Records really is.
Local record stores aren't just another place to buy stuff; an authentic record store blinds us to our differences and combines all the greatest aspects of music. They're special homes where local music aficionados can make friends and form bands; where younger and older generations become blind to age to better understand old and new movements in music; they're an everlasting mixer between punks, hippies, metalheads, goths, hipsters, jazzy folks, and everyone from every fringe and in between. That's what you find when you walk into Wooden Tooth Records.