Walking into Electric Kitsch
on Washington Avenue in downtown Bay City, you could be tempted into thinking that it's, well...kitschy.
In front of the door is a giant, neon pink plastic chair shaped like a hand, and every inch of the store is covered by a different vintage light fixture, lamp, figurine, and scraps of art from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The long narrow room is stocked wall-to-wall with vinyl records, lined up in racks on the floor and on small shelves covering the walls.
While to some vinyl might just be a trend, for co-owners Jordan Pries and Jessica McQuarter, the vinyl records and the rest of things inside Electric Kitsch are about discovery, learning, and belief.
"Really, all I care about the discovery of music. Listening, playing, creating. I have no Western, first-world education in it. I don't have a degree in any of this stuff," says Pries. "Opening a store like this seemed like the most viable way to be able to immerse myself in music and art. You can go to school for this stuff, but once you're out of school, you're not learning anymore. You're put into the position where you just do the job now, instead of learn. Music and art, though, they're endless. Totally endless. Infinite."
Located at 917 Washington Avenue in Bay City, Electric Kitsch opened its doors in 2012. Pries had spent eight years working for B’s Music Shop in Mt. Pleasant, and it shows: on the wall behind the desk where he and McQuarter are sitting hang guitar strings and cables, while record players in various states of repair sit close by.
For some, listening to music off a vinyl record is about trends and nostalgia, but Pries says that it goes deeper than that.
"It's a moment in history that is literally burned into a physical medium. That moment is engraved into something,” he says.
Jazz is playing from a record player while he talks, and at that moment, there's a pop in the sound.
"See, there you go. That was the live tape, that's a mess-up, a human mistake. That's a moment in time that's burned into that record, and we can hear it today."
Everything inside Electric revolves around music, but for Pries, the most important part are the people who walk inside looking to discover something new.
"Really, my favorite part of this are the people that we can connect with,” he says. “That's what it's all about. It's all about sharing."
When the conversation moves into asking Pries and McQuarter about what they think people should be listening to, they’re intentionally evasive.
"You can't force people into music. All we can do is present the information and tell you that it's here, but people have to discover things themselves,” Pries says. “You can't force anybody to like something. That's the big idea of marketing, and I don't agree with that. I want to you find your passion. What you care about. I don't care about the monetary value, I care about the stuff within. I'm just trying to tell people they can find amazing things."
In a store packed with music, I want to know what they listen to.
“Of all the music you have in here, what is the best?” I ask.
"That's not for me to decide," Pries says with a smile.
"But for you, what is the best? I want to know what you think."
"I think is anything that is a true artistic expression. Whatever comes out as naturally as possible. I think a lot of jazz and experimental musicians saw this. Pop music has been manufactured, it's an algorithm now. It's a formula. But when you find people who create music simply to create it for their personal existence...that's my favorite stuff," he says.
"If someone walked in and said, ‘Give me three records I should listen to,’ what would they be?”
"Wow, that's hard...!" Pries says, but immediately gets out of his chair, walks to the first rack of records and start flipping through the stack.
"I would recommend ‘Deaf, Dumb and Blind’ by Pharaoh Sanders. That record seems to have a stream of consciousness - it's all free improv, there's no structure behind. It's free jazz, but it's cooled down free jazz. More like being Zen. It's a powerful record and stays with you.
Maybe for the second, I'd recommend Franco Battiato's 'Fetus', he was an Italian composer. Totally outside the norms, didn't want to compose music that was verse-chorus-verse-chorus, he just wanted to create things that were from him. When you're born, you don't have any outside influences. With this record, he was asking 'Can we get back to that point?'
Third, let's do Betty Davis. The first woman to not only write, produce, and record her own on a major label. Ultimately her artistic integrity was destroyed by the industry and she wanted nothing to do it. She loved making music, but the industry ruined it for her."
Pries becomes more excited as he speaks, feeling more comfortable moving away from an interview and back to what he does best - talking about and helping people discover something new.
"There's always something to be discovered, always,” he says.