So I have this friend, Heather Gmucs. Heather’s an extremely cool lady with an extremely cool job—since 2010, she’s run the presses at Cleveland, OH’s Gotta Groove Records, the record pressing plant near where I live. Somehow, and thank the gods for it, despite Record Store Day’s semi-annual pigpile of fake collectibles keeping pressers nationwide really damn busy all the time, she still manages to allot the time and resources to experiment, explore new techniques, play around with color, and generally just figure out what it’s possible to do with pressed vinyl as a visual medium. She often posts her successes on her Facebook page, and I always look forward to seeing her work whenever she has something new to show off. She does some utterly, brainfuckingly wonderful stuff.
Heather, who served in the oughts as the bassist for the excellent band HotChaCha and currently plays in the also quite superb Goldmines, will tell you she’s not an artist, and with the utmost respect, I couldn’t disagree more. And indeed, in a perplexing but happy defiance of her own denial of artistry, she and her co-worker/protégé Sarah Barker have begun an Instagram called “Wax Mage,” devoted to their custom color vinyl experiments. The pair intends to soon establish Wax Mage as a boutique label dedicated to custom color pressings of curated V/A compilations, and to the sale of some of their exploratory test pressings as art objects—consider me first in line, bug-eyed, manically waving a wad of cash around when this happens. The vinyl renaissance of the last several years has been accompanied by a wider investigation into the creative use of the record press itself, and if you’ll forgive me for seeming biased in favor of a pal, Gmucs and Barker are doing some of the coolest work I’ve seen.
Heather was kind enough to take time out of her day to talk with DM about her work:
Dangerous Minds: You had a manufacturing background before Gotta Groove? I dimly remember at practice you mentioning factory work. (Disclosure: Heather and I played in a band together for ten weeks in 2008, which is a long story in itself.)
Gmucs: Yes. I’ve always done warehousing and manufacturing. When I found out that HotChaCha had their first record pressed in Cleveland, I just HAD to see the operation, I knew I had to work for GGR. Like I didn’t have a choice. They weren’t hiring so I lined up a “tour” of the factory and walked in with my resumé.
DM: Nice! So the record pressing industry is busy as hell lately. How do you even find the time to do so many experiments with color?
Gmucs: Vince Slusarz, the owner, is probably the coolest guy I know. He encourages it. Whenever we create a new cost effective/repeatable design he tries to sell them. The whack shit we’re doing now has been built on those early experiments, learning to do splatter and 1/2 ‘n 1/2 records in the early days. Those are like an industry standard, we want to set ourselves apart from the normal wax.
DM: Yeah, I have some splatter vinyl from the 80s, I know that pre-existed. But what you’re on about is totally different. I kind of had a light bulb moment when I got that incredible looking Unconscious Collective album and assumed you made it, and you told me you didn’t—I realized that you’re a part of something that’s happening all over your industry, now that plants are revving up again and there are younger techs doing that work, there are lots of new techniques that seem to be happening. But I wonder—since the technology of physically stamping out records one at a time hasn’t changed at all, why do you think that kind of experimenting you’re doing didn’t happen in the psych era? Seems like that would have been the natural time for all the crazy experiments to happen in vinyl! What’s different about today that it’s happening now as opposed to then?
Gmucs: Honestly, I think we’ve come from a digital era where nothing seems really tangible anymore. We are experiencing massive amounts of life from all over the world and never leaving our houses. That information and imagery is filling our brains but we still have nothing to hold. I think thats one solid reason for the comeback of the vinyl industry in general, but also a comeback for the artist, musician, and record buyer. It’s something to hold, to see, to hear. As a press technician putting out 5000 records a day I get a lot of crazy ‘what if’ thoughts—I still want to try to press a slice of Spam and eat it for lunch—what if I mix this color and that color, what if I don’t heat this material at all, what if I could make this record a different color on each side… No one at GGR has ever done anything like this before so I think that’s why Vince wants to push the limits. Record labels are asking the plants if they can do certain things with vinyl, I think that’s how it started really, with the labels wanting certain designs/colors and plants are responding to that.
DM: Does some of it have to do with the quality of colored vinyl itself improving? I remember in the past it was always a truism that black was the high mark for sound quality, and you took your chances with color. But now color seems like half of what I can buy, it’s everywhere, and people are seeking out the most insane-looking stuff.
Gmucs: I think that back then it was more of a commodity and treated as such, like an assembly line, MAKE AS MANY WIDGETS AS YOU CAN AS FAST AS YOU CAN! I do think though that, chemically, the color formulas are better, allowing for better flow in the plates which equals better sound quality in the end product. The materials are still quite different from one another though, and it requires a lot of know-how to make them sound good together.
DM: I see, thus the need to make time for all the experimenting.
Gmucs: Yes, and what’s been happening lately is that people are requesting me to press for them and requesting a handful of whatever I come up with. That’s what really is allowing the experiments.
DM: Do you have a single favorite experimental color record you’ve ever pressed?
Gmucs: Yes, I have a fave. I can’t recreate it either, I’ve been trying for over a year. I made it for the band Mr. Gnome. I know exactly how I did it, but can’t make that design happen again like that.
Um, hell yeah, if that was reproducible I’d probably request that, myself.
If you should happen to be getting records pressed at Gotta Groove, it’s possible to request that Heather or Sarah press your run and see what you get. It could very well be something like the following:
More wild-ass colorful vinyl after the jump…...