The Eyes Behind: Aquarium Drunkard's Justin Gage Playlist & Interview
Records don't just appear online and in-stores. Real people bust their ass everyday to get them there. The job isn't always glamorous, but the people who dedicate their lives and time to getting music out there, deserve to be celebrated. In The Eyes Behind we ask the people responsible for helping us find our favorite music what their job is really all about.
Aquarium Drunkard founder Justin Gage is a notorious prospector, digging through crate after crate of LP's to find the dust covered wax that slipped by on its first release. What started as a passion project nearly a decade ago has spun into a record label, an event series, a weekly Sirius XM radio show, and most recently, supervising music for film. We spoke with Justin about Aquarium Drunkard's humble roots, the day-to-day of running a Drunkard empire, and the perks of blending years of DJing with newfound fatherhood.
What were you doing before the Drunkard got going?
Post-college, I worked in various entertainment editorial capacities at dot coms largely focused around music. I then left Atlanta for California in late 2001, and started AD and Autumn Tone a few years later.
You've been behind some pretty big-time discoveries (Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker to name the most recent). What is the feeling you get when you first find them? Do these bands ever come pay their respects to you?
What appealed to me with those two artists, specifically, was the timeless nature of what they were doing (regarding the early rough demos). In terms of discovering music for myself, it's the same whether it's an old record I've never heard, from 30+ years ago, or an undiscovered artist trying to do their thing in 2014. But yeah, they are appreciative of the boost.
What's the least fun thing about running a record label? The most fun?
The least fun thing? Finding a way to reach potential listeners in an industry landscape that is constantly changing. That and finding a way to get these artists paid, especially the ones who either cannot, or choose not to, go on lengthy tours.
The most fun is the most obvious: finding and breaking new talent. That's what makes it worth doing, and why I continue to do it.
AD has opened up some amazing doors for you, including into film. What do you get from being a music supervisor that you don't get from wearing your other two hats? Are you working on anything right now?
Pairing music with visuals is hugely gratifying/challenging. It scratches certain a creative itch. Music can, and often does, completely color and transform the tone of a scene, something that I am still blown away by with each feature I've worked on. Right now I'm working on a film called Shangri-La Suite. It takes place in 1974, so the music cue opportunities have been super interesting.
You're not just curating your favorite music, you also curate your favorite curators (record collectors, DJ's, etc) where do you find these guys? Who are some of your favorite teachers and co-conspirators? Favorite mixes in recent memory?
Most of these folks are people that I've collaborated with in some way over the years; DJiing, swapping records, putting on shows, working on compilations, etc. But not all. I try and make a point to highlight disparate takes on music online and beyond. Recent mixes include Peer Schouten's primitive 60s garage rock series "Chuck Berry on The Rocks", Chad DePasquale's "Blue August Moon", Paul Dufrene's "Maison Dufrene" series, Derek See's "Wax Wonders" and Tony Rettman's "Electric Fur Trapper Mixtape."
What are the 5 most recent records you picked up and can't put down?
My friend Ryan and I have been playing records out a lot together around LA the past several months. He just hipped me to Flo & Eddie's "I Been Born Again;" Shit is unreal. The Numero Group has a new Ned Doheny compilation out, entitled Separate Oceans," that acted as a de facto summer soundtrack. Also, the new Amen Dunes record, "Love"….the Jan Hammer Group's 1977 album "Melodies"….Gil Scott-Heron's "Spirits," and that Serge Gainsbourg reggae record he cut in 1979, "Aux armes et cætera."
When I was a baby my dad used to sing "Sweet Baby James" to me. What music do you like to play or sing for the little one?
The first music I played him when we got home from the hospital was "Abbey Road," Side Two. Also, during those first four or so months, I played Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way," almost nightly. He like's Steam's "Na Na Na (Hey Hey Hey Goodbye)." It may be his favorite jam. I like singing him Righteous Brothers songs. He just turned two this week – before I know it he'll likely be entering his "Led Zeppelin phase."