A ten record series of compilations of Heavy Rock spanning the years 1968 to 1972 (roughly) called Brown Acid and fourteen years of selling music as Permanent Records have stemmed from the same person, Lance Barresi, who you might have caught hanging out with us on our Tower Instagram Livestream show.
We invited Lance back to talk to Tower's PULSE! and give us a little more detail on each of those projects, and also to be held accountable for the resurgence of vinyl. Somebody has to take the blame/credit, right? Lance took the time to talk with us between selling large amounts of vinyl to needy souls on Instagram for Permanent Records and moving the entirety of the record shop to their relatively new property, the Permanent Records Roadhouse, which will now house both their shop and music venue.
Hannah Means-Shannon: We definitely want Tower’s PULSE! to have an aspect of music history, so thank you for being on our Live Show previously and thanks for talking to us again today.
Lance Barresi: Of course. Sometimes the story behind a record is better than the record itself.
HMS: [Laughs] That’s really well said. There are some crazy stories. I thought it was really interesting that some of the people you approach for Brown Acid and haven’t thought about their band in years have different reactions. Some of them are now religious and have given up the music life, for instance. That’s such a human factor I hadn’t considered.
LB: I hadn’t either until I went down that road. To be stonewalled by someone who’s on the phone with you, taking that stance, means there’s nothing more I can say there. At that point, until they change their mind, there’s nothing more that can be done, and the record has to get lost in the sands of time, unfortunately.
HMS: I guess that’s the gamble. You’ll get a certain percentage back, but not others. Then there must be struggles even getting contact information for these bands, and at some point you must have to give up so as not to drive yourself crazy.
LB: For sure, the experience totally runs the gamut. I’ve had the scenario that someone I’ve been trying to track, by the time I reach them, they’ve passed. Maybe my search started in 2015 and it ends in 2020 when I finally get a phone number and find out that person is no longer with us.
Sadly, I’ve also had situations where I’ve licensed a track by a band member, but just before the track actually got released, that band member passed. I was lucky to have made that acquaintance before we lost them. It’s a little bit of a race against time. I do the best with what I have and make things happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.
HMS: Do you ever feel like a music private investigator?
LB: Absolutely, yeah! Some of the sleuthing techniques you use aren’t illegal but can be creepy. I looked at an obituary to try to find a next of kin’s name for a band from 1971. That’s a weird thing to be doing, but it’s sadly one of the few ways to get a landline phone number for someone who might be in their 70s.
HMS: You have to follow these things around, and sometimes you ask the wrong the person the right question.
LB: Sometimes luck is just on your side. I don’t know if you know the story behind the band 29.9 which was on The Ninth Trip. That band existed as a garage band and they recorded some material but they never released it until John Harrison, who was in the band, included a track from his high school garage band on a film soundtrack that he did in 1980.
Finding that is pure luck, and the only way I found out about it is that my girlfriend’s stepdad acted in the film so we watched it to see him perform, and while we were watching this B horror movie in 1980 and they just happened to throw this song in there. They needed some material to use without having to pay for it. The chances of me coming across that are less than one in a billion, but here we are. Only a clip of it was in the song, but now the whole 6 minute song is available everywhere. Now more of the work by the band is going to be released that John Harrison did before he went on to do Creepshow.
HMS: The internet being what it is, I have seen people occasionally say that if one digs up a song, cleans it up, makes it available, what if it’s actually not very good? I feel like a song doesn’t have to be the strongest musically to have been important in some way. The ideas, or the sounds, or the innovations that might be there could be really important.
LB: Yes. I can see why someone might say those things, but the whole point is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Brown Acid, like any other curated compilation series, isn’t for everyone, and they aren’t even for everyone who likes mainstream Rock. These recordings are really rough around the edges. These people that went into the studio did so at a time when it was really difficult and expensive to make that happen. And pressing up a record now is a cakewalk compared to what you had to do back then.
All of the things that went into even being in a band back in the day were difficult. You couldn’t just go online and get a bunch of equipment delivered to rural Kentucky. You had to be dedicated enough to actually procure things, and you couldn’t go on Youtube and learn to play back then. The fact that these songs and albums were even made back then, independent of any backing from any record label, with absolutely no independent distribution channels, shows that these people wanted it to so badly. That’s palpable on these recordings, for me.
They are putting their heart and soul into it. Earnestness is a huge factor for my involvement in music. To me that means a hell of a lot more than virtuosity. I can appreciate that as well, but the story is better than the film that gets made, usually. The reason any great work of art is great isn’t necessarily about the fine-tuning, but about the big picture.
HMS: Thank you for saying that. Do you think that the fact that these bands were operating independently without influence or control from labels contributes to their originality?
LB: Absolutely. There are mistakes made and kept on these records that would have never been allowed in a million years, but there’s also creativity and a lot of risks that got taken that would have fallen outside what major records would have been willing to take.
Extended guitar solos that make tracks 6 and ½ minutes long on a 45 is not something a record exec would get down with. They would have said, “Give me a hit.” You can say that Led Zeppelin had carte blanche, but Led Zeppelin was guys from The Yardbirds who had paid their dues already. Session musicians who had proved themselves. You can’t do that as a no-namer in a studio.
HMS: So far, we’ve been talking about Brown Acid, really, but how much does this all also apply to your label Permanent Records?
LB: Up until recently when I put out the Stonewall LP, the material I’ve reissued on Permanent has been of a different variety, for sure. Stonewall is one of the few complete, outstanding, Hard Rock or Heavy Psych LPs that have not already been reissued. There haven’t been many that I felt strongly about reissuing on my own. The record label has always been a side project for us.
I’ve issued the music of friends whose music I’ve thought was good, but they didn’t have a ton of interest. If no one else was knocking down their door, I’ve been happy to help them with that. Usually that means it’s an informal arrangement, and Permanent became a stepping-stone label. Bands have started out with Permanent, then moved on to bigger labels. Now I see it a little different. At some point when time allows, when we’ve moved into the Roadhouse, I’d love to explore doing a label more seriously. Up until now it’s been a side project with decent success.
HMS: I was going to ask you about moving into the Roadhouse. So my question is: have you blown out your back yet loading Instagram orders, or have you blown out your back yet moving your entire shop to the Roadhouse?
LB: [Laughs] Six of one, half a dozen of the other. It’s been a wild ride. The whole time I’ve been doing this has been a wild ride, but right now is a fast-forward button being pressed. If you rewind just back to October, we had three locations of Permanent in LA. We moved into the Roadhouse, and out of one of the locations in Highland Park. That was calculated. We didn’t need two locations across the street from each other. In February, our lease came up in Echo Park, and we decided to move into the garage on the lot of the Roadhouse and expanded our hours there.
Then the pandemic hit, and we were shuttered. I then realized I don’t think with the Roadhouse and mail order going the way it’s going, that we need another physical location. So seven months after moving into the Roadhouse, we’ve closed three other locations and have the Roadhouse as our flagship. But that’s my long-term vision for the future of Permanent anyway. We own the building and we don’t have to battle landlords over rent-hikes. I’m happy with where we are, but I’m blown away with how much moving we’ve done with limited staff.
HMS: Well, kudos for at least appearing to keep calm about it all.
LB: Thank you. You accept the things you can’t control and take them as they come because that’s life. Things, good and bad, will continue to come your way, and I think that’s what life is about: how you react to what comes your way. Everyone is good at living well when times are good, but the people you want to surround yourself with are those who know how to live well when times are bad.
HMS: So, are you saying that in an apocalypse, you would be one of those weird chieftains out there in the badlands, keeping everyone alive?
LB: [Laughs] I’d like to think so. I’m doing my best to protect myself and the people closest to me during this time. That’s a pretty good goal. I think if our leadership was thinking about better ways to protect each other right now, we’d all be in better conditions.
HMS: For sure. I was going to ask you, “Is the survival of Permanent Records due to a constant state of adaptation?” And I feel like you’ve pretty fully answered that question.
LB: The existence of Permanent has all been about adaptation, from 2006 when the store was started, and a local reviewer described it as a “clandestinely picked over thrift store”, to the expansion of the shop into a fairly sizeable mail-order shop, to a huge transition moving out West and focusing primarily on used and rare records, all of the 14 years have been about going with the flow, and changing with the times. I’m always trying to stay ahead of the curve, since that seems like the best way to stay afloat.
HMS: It seems like the personality of the brand is developing over time too, like a child growing up.
LB: It definitely feels like we’re learning as we grow. It’s been trial and error, and trial by fire, too. Part of the reason we succeed is that we put the actual work into it. I’m not looking for the easy way out, but the best, most lucrative way to do it, no matter how much work it takes.
HMS: You probably get asked this a lot, so I apologize, but in your mind, what is responsible for the resurgence of vinyl and cassettes?
LB: It seems fairly simple to me. People love music too much to let it just be an intangible thing that sits on a device. Like books and like art, people like to be surrounded by things that they love, and that reflect their personality. There are a lot of arguments to be made about the fidelity of records, but the short answer is that people like to have physical things. When the digital age came upon us in the early 2000s, and CDs were doomed to begin with due to easy replication, people that really cared about music began to feel like they were missing something.
Records are the best possible way to fill that void since they aren’t easy to replicate. Vinyl records fill that void, rather than a shitty piece of plastic that you could make on your computer. It’s a collectible, large-format thing, and it rewards you also in the collectability and investment aspect. If you buy things that you like, you may end up sitting on something that’s worth a lot more than you paid for it. Then you can sell it and support the habit.
HMS: Yes, exactly.
LB: I made a whole living from buying and selling records, since I was 24 years old, and here we are now. From one store in Chicago, to three venues, to one venue and bar in LA, it just proves that if you put work into it, into anything, even if the odds are stacked against you, that you can make it happen.
HMS: Personally, and not as a shop owner, when you want records for yourself, are you looking for perfect condition only, or if you see something that’s messed up, but still represents a certain time period, is that still appealing to you?
LB: Absolutely. The condition is important to me only in that the record is playable and enjoyable beyond any kind of condition issue that might cause too much “noise”. Of course, whenever possible, I choose records in good condition, but that’s secondary to me choosing a rarity that plays well. If there’s a 45 on my want list that I need a master audio for for Brown Acid, then condition only matters to me if it won’t play well enough. Either to be a master or to play for a DJ set.
I’m not a condition freak, though I understand why people are that way. Sometimes that’s detrimental to peoples’ real enjoyment of music, which is the most important thing about record collecting to me. I like records because there is music on them. I don’t just like records because they are records. That is totally fine to collect for investment or fidelity, but that’s not my bag.
HMS: People are also at different budget levels. If I can find a first issue of The Who or The Rolling Stones, even if the sleeve is ripped, I’m happy, and I’ll listen to that. I’d rather have that than a reissue if the sound is good.
LB: There’s a lot more soul in the thing. There’s history there. That’s important. Also, would you rather own a hundred great records, or one incredible record? That’s something that everyone has to figure out on their own.