On a busy Friday night on Denton's Courthouse-on-the-Square, just two weeks before the kickoff of the four-day 35 Conferette, Mark Burke was holed up in his yet-to-open independent record shop, Mad World Records.
"I know I have to open before [35 Conferette] starts," he says, pausing from a day spent hurriedly unpacking boxes, checking in merchandise and setting up fixtures and racks for T-shirts, CDs and LPs to give a few folks a tour of the spot left vacant when Elements of Design, a home décor and boutique apparel shop, closed in December. Taking over this location means that Mad World Records occupies a prime spot in the center of Denton's historic downtown square, right between Denton Hamburger Company and Beth Marie's Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Soda Fountain.
And, on this Friday night, nearly every passerby—young and old—gawked in the windows at the 2,200 square-foot record store, which will soon showcase stuff ranging from old radios and phonographs to life-sized Frankenstein statues and Fisher-Price record players. These pedestrians alone far outnumber the kind of foot traffic that his last record shop, CD Addict in Carrollton, saw on any day or night of the week in years.
Mad World Records
Pinebox Serenade, Brent Best and Dim Locator perform Saturday, March 12, at Mad World Records in Denton, which will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday, March 10.
For nearly eight years, Burke owned and operated CD Addict. Before that, he managed record stores for seven years. And he knows that not opening before a festival like 35 Conferette would be tantamount to the average retailer missing a major holiday shopping weekend.
Yet, two weeks before the festival, Mad Worlds' poster-less walls, painted two-tone golden delicious apple, were as bare as most of the store's shelves, rack and fixtures. The "button wall" and the "vinyl nook" look good, and a blue listening station that will feature local bands and touring acts playing shows around town that week sits front and center near the shop's huge window. Still, Burke admits he's "way behind" on everything from hanging posters to checking in inventory to creating a Mad World Records Twitter account or Facebook page. The large spot on one wall reserved for local selections is especially lacking.
"I haven't had a single band stop by with posters or CDs yet," he says.
(In fact, the only current show posters he'd received were from Dirtnap Records promoting their SXSW showcase, which features a number of Denton acts.)
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He says he's not discouraged. After all, this is far from his first record-store rodeo. At 18, Burke moved to Dallas and landed a job at Sound Warehouse. By '96, he'd moved to Denton and was playing an active role in the DIY scene, eventually moving into The Bonnie Brae House with his brother, Marked Men co-frontman Jeff Burke. He also played bass and sang in The Chop-Sakis with his brother and Riverboat Gambler frontman Mike Wiebe, and later with The Potential Johns (which featured several members of The Marked Men).
Burke's 37 now. For all but two of those years since he turned 18, he's been selling music, working (and managing) for the big chains and various local shops with "CD" in the name. After he and his wife Maria decided to open a shop eight years ago, he started scouting locations.
The two met in Denton's DIY scene—the guy even proposed on the square, years before the Great Migration east of Carroll Boulevard.
"I looked around Denton," he says. "And, back then, it was clear that it was hurting. At least I didn't see it being able to support a record store."
So, he opened CD Addict in a strip-shopping plaza anchored by a Target.
"CDs were still selling OK," he says, "but, even then, people thought I was crazy to open it."
Nonetheless, he liked the location, a narrow spot then recently vacated by a CD Warehouse (in the same plaza as the late, great K29 Records). And for the first four years, he says, business stayed static.
"Then, about three years ago, it was like, 'Boom!'" Burke says. "Everything changed."
His theory goes like this: Gas prices soared that summer and many of his customers flocked to blogs and download sites to fill their thirst for MP3s.
Still, he says, "I've watched all the other stores go out of business over the last few years. And, I'm not beyond mistakes—I've made plenty—but, before I opened my own place, I'd had years to learn from watching my bosses and their bosses' bosses make mistakes."
The silver lining, of course, was increasing vinyl sales, which Mark had stocked at CD Addict since day one. The store's vinyl and local selection is what kept folks like Chris Welch, guitarist and singer for Denton-based band The Pinebox Serenade, shopping at CD Addict.
"When he told me he was moving to Denton, it was like a dream come true," Welch says. "It's what this town's needed. I believe that, very quickly, the store's going to be become a huge part of the music community here. Recycled [Books, Records and CDs] is great for used music of new local CDs, but for new stuff we either have to order off the Internet or drive to Good Records [in Dallas]."
Burke hopes that he is indeed filling a void. In fact, he's already planning on as much.
"We'll definitely be having in-stores," he says. "Mostly acoustic sets early on, but my landlord has said he's OK with us doing shows."
Burke's no stranger to putting on DIY shows in Denton, either. The aforementioned Bonnie Brae House lasted more than two years and, during its heyday, it would host two or three shows a week, from local punk and DIY acts to up-and-comers like Braid, At the Drive-In and Jimmy Eat World.
Mad World Record's first in-store, put together by Welch, is planned for 35 Conferette weekend. A pretty impressive line-up, Welch says it will feature an acoustic set by Pinebox Serenade and a solo acoustic set by Slobberbone's Brent Best, as well as a not-so-acoustic performance by Dim Locator (the new project from Will Kapinos of jetscreamer, Spitfire Tumbleweeds and The Make Believers).
The event's not an officially sanctioned 35 Conferette event, but festival head Chris Flemmons is well aware of the show—and, of course, the new record store, too.
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In fact, after meeting Mark for the first time that Friday night two weeks ago, Flemmons was feeding Mark phone numbers of helpful Dentonites—artists who would want to have their work featured in the shop's dressing-room gallery.
"It's really exciting to see," Flemmons says of Burke's new store and its big hopes. And, he agrees, it will most likely fill a void. "In Denton," Flemmons adds, "people follow music the way lots of people follow sports."
Burke's no dummy. That's exactly why he chose to open Mad World Records there in the first place.
"We always wanted to get back to Denton," he says. "We never should've left."