Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gearhead Records News

Some sad news about one of my favorite record labels and stores (from a local rag):

When the news broke that Woodland's Gearhead Records was closing, I assumed the shop was another casualty of the struggling music industry. It turns out, however, that sales have been good and business is up.

So, why close shop?

“I needed to create space for myself, and explore the possibilities out there,” said owner Michelle Haunold. “The store's been great: I loved it, I'm grieving it ... but at the same time I'm excited about doing something new.”

Gearhead Records opened in 2007 at 39 Fifth St., in Woodland. The store emerged from the Gearhead Record label, which Haunold started in 2000. The store will close at the end of this month, or as Haunold more realistically said, “maybe the week after, depending how quickly I sell my merchandise.”

Everything in the store is 25 percent off. All Gearhead CDs are $1, Gearhead vinyl is $3, 7-inch records are going for $1, and Gearhead T-shirts range from $5 to $10. After the store closes, online shopping will continue at By the time this article sees print, she'll also have a new Davis phone number, for folks who want to make appointments to shop in person: (530) 750-7900.

Haunold has contemplated the closure since Christmas.

“I lost both my employees at that time,” she said. “Heather went back to school, and Emily earned her license to cut hair.”

Since then, Haunold has held down the store and record label by herself.

During Gearhead Records' recent 10-year anniversary party, she had a revelation.

“It was the most spectacular day,” she said. The event was highlighted by a performance from the seminal 1970s punk band, X.

“Exene (on vocals) was my hero,” Haunold and. “She requested to play here! I watched everybody enjoy themselves, saw the community I helped create, and thought, I can't top this. It came full circle for me.

“I could have kept the store running, but it was getting to be too much. Running a store, you can't just close when you want. I've been meaning to go down to L.A. to meet with music supervisors for the past two years, but I haven't been able to.”

She considered hiring another employee, but found it's not that easy.

“It's not just ringing things up. You have to have a historical knowledge of these insanely unique items.”

She laughed.

“I realized I'd have to find somebody like me.”

Gearhead Records isn't just a music store; it includes vintage items, clothing, toys and more.

“I love my store, it's so cute,” Haunold said, perhaps wistfully. “People who like the music, like that stuff as well.”

She warmed to the topic.

“Record stores in this day and age never will survive. This isn't the nicest thing to say, but most record stores don't have a single person who can answer a question about music. They know how to look things up on a computer, and scan a bar code. Armadillo, in Davis, is an exception; they're a classic style record store, with people who make suggestions and actually listen to music.”

Gearhead Records certainly had that “classic” style.

“I had a regular customer who came up from Lodi once a week. He liked to talk in person about the music. I met all these random people who became my friends, because of the store. Every town should have a store that has hands-on experience with people. I love to go to stores, and get to know the owners.

“That community aspect is so important.”

And yet 90 percent of Haunold's sales are online.

“That's what every retailer faces. You can't carry everything, but you can find it online.”

She's unsure what to do with the Gearhead label, but said, “I'm not putting any more records out.”

Like most musicians and labels, Haunold has extensive knowledge of the industry.

“I had to learn the hard way,” she admitted. “I want to teach people how to avoid all the pitfalls.”

This led to her new side job.

“A lot of new labels hire me as a consultant. When something comes up, we do conference calls and work through the problems.”

Today, Haunold is comfortable with her decision.

“I could have kept it open and expanded, but it's not what I want. I created it, and it was really fun, but it's OK to let something go.

“I recently went to Sophia's Thai Kitchen, to see this 12-piece bluegrass punk band, Old Man Markley. They were amazing.

“I've always enjoyed seeing music, but now I'm always working when doing it. It's a really different way of seeing music.

“Before it became my job and my life, it was just fun.”

When working, though, she always has the “analyzer button” going.

“It's interesting and fun, but it changes the dynamic of how you listen to music. I'm looking forward to being a fan again.”

The line that kills me is: “I'm not putting any more records out.”

Sad news indeed.

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