On Sunday, Aug. 2, a large crowd gathered inside Mobile Records to browse the store’s vinyl selection and watch Birmingham-based band The Freaky Deakys perform. For one of the more recent in an ongoing series of in-store concerts, the garage rock band played for an hour before nearly selling out of their tour merchandise.
Keith Glass, the owner of Mobile Records on Sage Avenue, is by no means a native son. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Glass has worked as a musician, producer and journalist in the Australian music industry.
While living in Australia, Glass performed the lead role in the Australian production of “Hair,” ran a record store in Melbourne for 14 years, recorded solo albums for Virgin Records, played in bands with international followings, wrote album reviews for national publications and produced records for artists such as Nick Cave under his record label, Missing Link.
When asked why he moved to Mobile, Glass responded that the reason was primarily marital.
“I was playing a little musical engagement down in Gulf Shores and I was introduced to my now wife.”
Glass moved to the United States in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he decided to open up a record store.
“I had suspicions that there was a new youth movement that would probably come in but I didn’t really think that that would be the lifeblood in the day-to-day operations.”
Although Glass’s predictions ended up being correct, he had backup plans in case the record store business did not turn out to be as lucrative as he imagined.
“A lot of record shops kept going through the dark days by putting all of their stuff online, and I thought that if I have to do that I could, but it hasn’t worked out that way … it’s blown up, with nothing to indicate that it’s going to stop anytime soon.”
As for the decline of CD sales because of the return of vinyl, Glass is not very disappointed.
“I was never a big CD fan anyway. Weirdly enough, I had a lot of CDs because when I was reviewing stuff in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, I would get about 20 or 30 CDs a day in the mail.”
Mobile Records is not a heavily staffed enterprise. Besides Keith, the only other employees are Nick, the store manager, and Bindi, the Roomba.
According to Glass, a bindi is an Australian term for “a little thorn that can get in your feet while you’re walking in the grass. Steve Irwin named his daughter Bindi.”
The first performance Mobile Records hosted coincided with Record Store Day 2013. Record Store Day is an annual event on the third Saturday of April in celebration of vinyl records.
“We had a pretty good lineup of acts at the time that were just making a bit of a ripple in Mobile, like the Sunshine Factory and 20,000 Leagues [Under the Sea].”
Shortly after the Record Store Day concert, Mobile Records hosted its first in-store concert with Houston-based rock band Featherface performing. Glass said in-store concerts are natural because the store has the necessary resources and local interest, and they’re easy because musicians will play for free.
“They don’t get paid because it’s a promotion for them … Most of the acts that come in here do manage to sell a fair bit of merchandise and some of them get a percentage of the people that come to the afternoon shows to come to their nighttime gigs.”
On Aug. 2, The Freaky Deakys played at Mobile Records before a night gig at The Blind Mule downtown. Part of the reason bands have started to play in record stores is that their tours are self-funded.
“They seem to be doing self-funded tours, which is the way groups increasingly have to work now, without booking agents … That’s why record shops have come into play because on the day off they can find a pretty good store to play in that gives them that extra bit of publicity that they otherwise might not have had,” Glass said.
Although in-store concerts bring in customers, a record store can, Glass believes, host too many concerts.
“It’s becoming a little bit more regular, but not as regular as it is in some cities. We’re probably going to keep it special rather than normal. There are some shops in Los Angeles that have in-stores three times a week … I think every two or three weeks is maximum.”
In-store concerts can also become too large and interrupt the commercial setting.
“It’s a record shop and that’s what we do: sell records. If it blows everyone out the door, we don’t want to do it.”
Although most of the bands that play at Mobile Records are rock bands, Glass encourages other acts to call and book a show as well.
“It’s been mainly rock but it doesn’t have to be … we’ve had DJs, we’ve had some country, we’ve had bands playing out in the parking lot … psychedelic bands, punk bands.”
One event the folks at Mobile Records plan to host in the future will take place on Halloween. In celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, the record store will become haunted with the aid of local party entertainer The Reeper.
“We’re planning a bit of an extravaganza for Halloween … We’re going to go all out with lighting, smoke machines, music … Rack-browsing will be down to a flashlight. If people want to bring their kids along, it will be a bit like the haunted castle type thing.”