In March of 2011, the Flaming Lips released a limited edition collaborative 12" EP with Neon Indian that lit up the internet. It was a fascinating alliance, but the pictures of the actual vinyl records were just as exciting. No one had ever seen vinyl like this before. Every copy of the record had its own unique splatter of colors and there were no labels on the vinyl because they would have obscured some of the incredible artwork.
These records, designed as one-of-a-kind works of art that were only available at Good Records in Dallas and Guestroom in Oklahoma City, were soon going for obscene prices on the Internet. The man behind it all was Dallas native Daniel Huffman, known to many for his one-man-band New Fumes.
Along with Miley Cyrus, Huffman is featured on "A Day in the Life," a track from the Flaming Lips' interpretation of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in its entirety. The covers album is called With A Little Help From My Fwends and it was just released last month.
"She did a great job," Huffman says of Cyrus' performance. "She sounds like she's stoned, just woke up." He goes on to explain that Cyrus and the Flaming Lips are very good friends and have been recording original material together in Oklahoma City. "She is really cool, down-to-earth, very professional and fun."
Huffman, who has long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and wears small eyeglasses, started pressing vinyl records after checking out A&R Records and striking up a rapport with owner Stan Getz. He decided to press copies of New Fumes' debut album with the manufacturer and quickly noticed a few records that had a couple colors splattered together. It was an unintentional effect that sometimes occurs briefly when the color of vinyl being made is switched. But Huffman decided he liked the look and tried mixing colors together all the way throughout the process and somehow managed to perfect his method by the time he completed his first batch of 100 records.
Immediately after finishing his work at A&R, Huffman took the records to The Palladium Ballroom to sell at a show opening for Neon Indian and the Flaming Lips. He gave a copy of the record to Wayne Coyne, who immediately requested his services. Two weeks later, Huffman was working on the Flaming Lips/Neon Indian EP at A&R. He eventually pressed vinyl for a whole series of collaborative EPs for Lips, as well as Lips and Heady Fwends' Record Store Day release, a full-length collaborative album with several artists.
This particular assignment was very taxing because he did 20,000 records (10,000 double LPs) and worked 12 or 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a month. A&R is a small place, cluttered with records, raw materials, and machines that are potentially dangerous if the operator is not cautious. It gets very hot in the plant and the loud noises and fumes can wear a person down. The process also requires Huffman to constantly go up and down a ladder. (It's hard to believe that he's 40; he looks like he could easily be 30.) After suffering long and hard for his art, Huffman was exhausted, sick and had lost his voice. Unfortunately he immediately had to go on tour and played the first few shows without vocals.
Soon Huffman had come up with a new idea. After realizing that fluid could be put in records, Huffman decided to ask Coyne for a blood sample. Coyne liked the idea so much that he asked all of the artists on Heady Fwends to contribute. Erykah Badu, Sean Lennon, Chris Martin, Neon Indian, Bon Iver, Jim James and Tame Impala all contributed. The only ones who did not were Nick Cave, who said no, and Yoko Ono (Sean Lennon did not want to ask his mother). Huffman personally went to Badu's house with a phlebotomist to get her sample. "She was really cool and funny," he says, "even though we had a hard time finding her vein."
Once all the famous blood samples were gathered, Huffman drove 12 hours straight to United Record Pressing in Nashville with Coyne. The business owners would not allow the fluids to be injected into the records onsite because it was a bio-hazard, but the manager of the plant kindly allowed the two to perform the task at the dinner table in his own home. All of the blood was poured into a single bowl and a large syringe was used to inject the fluid into 15 records, which went for thousands of dollars. The records were hand-delivered across the country by a guy in a "blood truck."
Now Huffman's main client is Graveface Records, making 300 records per month for the Graveface Records Club. As the composition of his vinyl gets more intricate, the process is complicated further. Different colors melt at different temperatures and the machines are temperamental, so sometimes more than half of the records he makes are unusable. This can result in wasted materials and delays that hurt not only Huffman but also A&R, which can be booked up as far as a year in advance. "Demand exceeds supply right now in the vinyl industry," Huffman explains. "Every plant in the country is running behind."
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With the wasted materials, unusable records piling up quickly and deadlines being compromised, A&R may have reservations about allowing Huffman to continue creating his masterpieces. But with his services being requested by bands all over the world, Huffman may find himself working at different plants in different cities.
Curiously, Huffman actually prefers black 180 Gram Vinyl. "I like a heavy black record," he says with a laugh. He speaks softly but formally, sits up perfectly straight and keeps still, resting the tips of his fingers on the table. He does not project a single bad vibe, just a real sense of peace. Huffman may have a blue collar approach to creating art, but clearly thinks of it in terms of beauty and happiness. "There's no rest," he smiles. "But I am so lucky to be making art and doing what I want to do. Life is amazing."
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