I really didn't know what pouring vinyl entailed when local musician Daniel Huffman asked if I wanted to sit in on a job last Thursday afternoon. I envisioned the act of pouring, and then an actual record, but the in-between part was vague. I just said yes and drove over to A&R Records on Riverfront Boulevard.
The owner, Stan, was running around, eying machines, monitoring the output. I got situated on my ladder and started pouring into my station, after Huffman gave me a crash course on how to use the colors I was given to make a psychedelic platter. One of my early pieces looked like a one-eyed fish vomiting into a fiery sea. Wait, let me back up.
I was helping pour The Flaming Lips' The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends album due out April 21, a Record Store Day exclusive featuring collaborations with Nick Cave, Erykah Badu and Yoko Ono, among others. Artists I really love. I got a little surge knowing I was playing a very small part in making this album unique, using my own creative impulses and a bit of randomness to make a product. After 30 minutes or so of pouring, you start to get into a Zen state, where the tossing of "vinyl pellets" becomes like meditation, the blues and yellows diving to their fate together —
The Flaming Lips
But every so often, a siren goes off on your station when you're not feeding the machine — an industrial maze of presses and cranks and rungs — enough pellets. You have to go faster, faster, mas vinyl. Twenty-thousand albums must be poured to make 10,000 double LPs, and Huffman has been working 12-hour days, seven days a week, for the past three weeks to make sure it happens, with the help of a revolving door of local volunteers and A&R employees. They were about 5,000 shy as of last week.
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You also get into a rhythm, where you know a bit more of this color and a little less of that color will possibly make a cool shade. Putting all the red, blue and yellow in together just makes for muddled green vinyl, so the idea is to "shock" with different shades, all while keeping an eye on how much the machine needs. It was the most physical activity I've done in months.
My other "good one" looked like an exploded sun. It was all starting to make sense. Was Wayne Coyne in some mirrored second-floor room I couldn't see, observing all the work, handpicking only the most psychedelic to move on to the next round? Me, Wayne! Pick me! It's just like that Hunger Games movie! (Note: I have not seen The Hunger Games.)
So yeah, I may have gotten a vinyl high in there, but it was worth it, as was getting to see the process deconstructed, essentially. Over the weekend, I saw via Huffman's Twitter that other local musicians had sat in and made their own platters with which to play "What do you see?"
As Huffman said the day after my crash course: "Collaborative album, collaborative pressing."