“Overnight Success,” chortles Paul Cook, the unassuming, Kyuss t-shirt clad brains behind Heartland Records as he glances slyly sideways at twenty-five years worth of stories from behind the counter. All sarcasm aside, it is clear from the moment you step inside that Heartland is run by a man who has been able to not just maintain his love of music, especially the vinyl format, but be sustained by it.
Pulling up stumps and shuffling around the corner to the Victoria Street address four years ago was a timely move for both the business and it’s owner. “That had kinda run its course you know; the walls were closing in on me,” he says of his original hole in a wall across from the Queen Victoria Market. 20 years is a long time to stay in one place, and moving into a bigger floor space was an opportunity to expand the scope of the enterprise. What better time than with popular opinion swinging fortuitously back in the direction of the big, black disk. “People used to look in the door there and it sort of looked a bit bleak. I thought ‘I’m not going to do the same thing’, and so shelves were filled with a wider variety of new and used vinyl, an extensive CD collection, select turntables and audio equipment as well as curios and oddments from just about every era of music history.
Since then, Heartland has been steadily on the up hand in hand with the general populace’s refreshed love affair with the liquorice pie. The customers have stayed just as weird though; our conversation was filled with stories of film companies wanting to buy records “by the meter”, customers stopping to mull their purchase over in the middle of the road, being unaware of the type of rig necessary to actually hear their new purchase and people throwing hundreds of dollars at one band just to figure out which song it was that’s been stuck in their head. Far from being the surly stereotype that he remembers from his youth, Cook seems to delight in reliving these instances as if the collection of stories was as important to him as the stock.
He remains cautiously optimistic about the favourable upturn though. Sure the reign of CDs as preferred format of the 90s was rough, but there is the omnipresence of inept corporate price gouging that takes the sheen off what should be glory days. “I didn’t make as much money, but it was a hell of a lot easier,” he remembers in reference to the ceaseless emails and re-issuing of legacy artists entire back catalogues that spew forth constantly from the dinosaurs of the industry. Not that it really fazes him, he’s not going to let a healthy distrust of corporate greed get in the way of his absolute love of music. There’s a glint in his eye as he talks about some of his prized possessions, including an original pressing of Nirvana’s first 7” single ‘Love Buzz’ which, he’s sure to mention, does NOT live in the shop.
Asked if there was one that got away he is realistic in the way only a true collector can be. “Nothing I regret really, I regret accidentally selling my copy of something but there’s not really that many things you can’t find again… If you really want (any particular record) you can just go on eBay, but I’m not really a big fan of doing that. I like to find things. Especially if you find it cheap.”
Heartland is a place for the newly initiated and propeller-heads alike. “We have the second hand racks as well but most of our stuff’s new, I’m much more comfortable with that.” It’s quality over quantity with records as well as equipment, which is why he leans towards the Audio-Technica gear when people come in looking for advice. “I just like them, I think they’re very stylish” and they sell themselves, “If you’re gonna spend $300 on a (lesser brand) one you might as well get one that’ll last you 20 or 30 years.” So it’s a marriage of convenience and he knows that, as with everything in stock, he’s not going to sell you a dud and have you come back in for an argument.
I personally have been digging through the racks at Heartland for a few years now and I really must say that it is refreshing to know that the man at the helm is as realistic, altruistic and in love with his trade as I’d hoped. The years have not dulled his interest one bit and it’s this simple joy that carries a business like this through drought and abundance.
Heartland Records is located at 420-422 Victoria Street, North Melbourne. For more information visit heartlandrecords.com.au.
For more details on the range of Audio-Technica turntables they stock, head to audio-technica.com.au.