Interview with Neil Schield: Origami Vinyl Celebrates Its First Anniversary

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Upcoming Events at Origami Vinyl / Photo by Michele Reverte

When Origami Vinyl opened its doors exactly one year ago, even its owner didn't know what to expect. In the months since, the shop has become a major fixture in the Echo Park community. In addition to selling the freshest vinyl records and hosting intimate concerts in its loft, Origami also sponsors community events—such as record club night—and is actively involved with local nonprofit 826LA.

In celebration of Origami's one-year anniversary today, the shop will feature free concerts, free beer and cake, and 10 percent off everything in the store. Yesterday LAist sat down with shop owner Neil Schield to talk about some of the best moments from the past year, the 826LA Chickens in Love project, and the fact that Origami will soon be stocking used records to complement its selection of new vinyl.

LAist: How was the store evolved over the last 12 months?

Neil Schield: It doesn't feel like it's been a year. Parents always say that kids grow up too fast, and I feel like that applies to the store. Initially, I was flying by the seat of my pants. The theme of our first conversation was serendipity—how all these things seemed to fall in my lap and it felt like this store was meant to be.

Looking back, I guess I'm a little in shock about how smoothly things have gone. Financially it's always a struggle, but we survived the first year completely with new product. The store remains self-funded—we haven't needed investors—so in that regard I feel really lucky.

Does the fact that you also function as a box office for nearby venues help financially?

It's not a financial thing. We make $2 per ticket, and those funds go straight to credit card processing fees and the employee time it takes to process everything. But it does help in drawing traffic to our store.

It's interesting how in today's world, where so much revolves around the Internet—the immediacy of things and the instantaneous ability to acquire anything—when it comes to tickets, many people still prefer to come to the shop and buy them in person.

LAist has had the pleasure of catching a few of your free concerts in the Origami loft. How many have you hosted so far?

Probably around 40.

You've had some big names, too. Ben Harper comes to mind…

That was incredible. Ben is a big fan of Echo Park. He grew up out in Claremont, with his parents owning a folk music store, so he was brought up in a very similar environment and he's very supportive of small local businesses.

His friends had told him to check out Origami, because he often visits Two Boots next door. So about three weeks ago, he finally checked us out. He was shopping and we were in the process of loading in a band, and we struck up a conversation. He asked, "So you have bands play here? That's so cool. The space is awesome." Then he said, "How about I play here next week?"

We couldn't believe it. So we set it up, and he did all the legwork, too. He knew we only had a couple of his records in the shop, so he called up his label and got a box of records sent to us. He then promoted it like he would promote playing something big like Bonnaroo.

You must've had a crazy line for that show.

We had a huge line. It was really hard to deal with at first. I was worried, but luckily his fans are a nice, mellow crowd. Forty-five people were inside and we had about 100 outside. When we arrived, he went through the store and high-fived everyone. It was so refreshing to see this famous musician coming in and being so down to earth. Unfortunately, the fire marshal eventually shut us down, but Ben got to play a good hour before that.

It's a great stage. Has anyone who's afraid of heights ever performed up there?

Actually, that just recently happened. This band was setting up and I could tell the lead singer was nervous. So we set them back a little further so he wasn't so close to the edge. After one song, he didn't feel nervous anymore.

A railing is going in very soon because we're putting in a used records section upstairs.

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In a few weeks, Origami will carry used records in its loft / Photo by Michele Reverte
What led you to decide to start selling used records?

A couple things. Initially, we decided to focus only on the new stuff because there are so many new records coming out and I really don't have a ton of space. But as time went on, I realized that if there was one notch against us with the loyal customer base we have, it was the fact that we weren't selling used records.

Over time I realized I should consider it. Then I started to hear the sad news that Territory Records was probably going to shut its doors. It was strictly a used shop, and I talked to the owner, Tony Presedo, about possibly doing consignment for him and selling the used stuff upstairs.

So my head changed about it. Plus the profit margin on used records is nicer and it might actually let us live off of the store a little bit, as well as diversify our collection.

Did you end up working with Territory?

Well, after our initial conversation, Tony called me one day and said that he wanted a change and was going to get out of the used record business completely. I made him an offer on his store and he accepted. So we essentially bought Territory and also started sourcing record collections from other people. We'll probably launch our used record area around April 30.

How many used records do you have now?

I have close to 2,500 records. Obviously we're starting with a base, but as time goes on, it's going to be highly curated. Right now, because we've acquired large collections, it might not be everything that we want, but it'll get there eventually. I don't want to carry collectible stuff; I just want $1-20 affordable used records that are cool.

Have your record club nights—where anyone can sign up to be a guest DJ and play a couple songs—grown over the last year?

Each week there are not enough spots on the list for the "guest DJs" who want to sign up. We started with six slots and quickly realized that wasn't going to be enough. So about halfway through last year, we upped it to eight. But even with that…the list hangs out on the bar and at the end of the night I'll look, and 11 people will be on there!

The coolest thing about record club is how many friends we've made. It takes us out of the element of commerce and puts us into the element of community, where we get to know people on a personal level. For me, that's the most rewarding experience. I've had so many of those people over at my house in recent months.

What's been one of your favorite tracks played by a guest DJ?

It's hard to come up with a favorite song, but there have been some tracks that have led to other things. For instance, one night, someone played a song by Gram Parsons. It led me to realize that even though I knew about The Flying Burrito Brothers, and had heard the story of how his buddy had stolen his corpse and burned it in the desert, I didn't know much else about him.

So I invited a bunch of record club members to my house and we watched a documentary about him. It was great to learn more about music, and it was all triggered by a moment during record club. In the last eight or so months, we've watched a number of documentaries.

Would you ever host a documentary screening in the Origami loft?

That's a cool idea! If someone wanted to do that, we could definitely make a night of it.

Getting back to record club, is there a lot of variety in what people play?

Definitely. Someone brought an ELO record once and I like them, so I thought that was rad. In general, some people bring some really obscure stuff, but then a lot of people bring something mainstream that means a lot to them.

When I first started record club, we knew there were some people who were afraid it was going to be snooty—that we'd be High Fidelity record store music snobs who would judge whatever record they brought. But that's so not us. It took us a couple months to show people that we're friendly, and they felt comfortable after that.

When people show up with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or the Eagles, it makes me really happy. If people like the music, they shouldn't be ashamed to put it on. They're great records, so who cares if everyone's heard it a million times?

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Wall of records at Origami Vinyl / Photo by Michele Reverte

What was your favorite record of 2009?

The release by a local band called Kissing Cousins. It's amazing!

It's cool that you have so many band members working at the store. I heard that Sam from The Parson Red Heads worked your counter for a while last year.

Yeah, that was great. Sean my store manager plays in Nico Stai and Wait. Think. Fast. Plus we just hired a new guy, Brandon, who plays in Future Ghost. I think it's important to have local musicians be part of the store.

As we discussed in our initial interview, you also manage the Origami music label. Even though you previously released digital-only albums, you released Origami's first 7" in December for the band Lilofee. Are there any other vinyl releases slated for the near future?

Yes, we'll be pressing one for an Origami band from Silver Lake called Summer Darling. It'll be a full-length LP and the release date is July 6. We're going to really push hard on it and do some unorthodox things. I'm not sure I want to go through distribution; we'll probably go direct to stores. We're also going to do a record store tour and hopefully get a month-long residency at Spaceland sometime this summer.

Honestly, we were a digital-only label, but for small bands today, I don't really see much of an opportunity with digital sales. We're going more boutique: hand-numbered, very limited vinyl. Then we'll give the online digital albums away for free in exchange for an e-mail address.

Wow! Your business model really has changed.

We'll let people consume the music, and if they like it, they can buy the record or see the band on tour. We want to build up a fan base organically rather than spending tons of marketing dollars. We don't want to be wasteful.

We're making a music video for every song on the album and we've gotten a bunch of local artists involved. It's all being done for free—just because they love the record.

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Chickens in Love - An album benefiting 826LA
Speaking of new music releases, what was your role in the 826LA Chickens in Love project?

Chickens in Love started out as a Battle of the Bands fundraiser that 826LA had done the year before, where kids wrote songs with local musicians. They were performed live at a show at the Echo by six bands, and it all helped raise money for 826LA. In speaking with 826LA's Christina Galante and throwing some ideas around, we decided it'd be great to get some really big bands to cover the tracks and not do it as a Battle of the Bands.

And from what I've seen, the project didn't end there.

We started talking and decided that we could still have a bunch of the participating bands play at the Echoplex. In the end, the true "battle" is between the songs. People can still vote by paying a dollar per vote, and everything goes to 826LA [vote/donate here].

So Christina and I went back and forth on these new ideas and fleshed it all out. Then we got these great local bands to help the kids. We had a wish list of the bands we wanted to cover the songs, so we went out to see who we could get.

Who were the first ones on board?

Almost immediately, Fiona Apple/Jon Brion/The Punch Brothers, Cold War Kids and She & Him signed on. It was a really big deal. With a lot of the songs on this record, some of the lyrics may be campy or funny, but the melodies the musicians have written could easily make these songs hits!

When will the vinyl album be released?

We've been delayed a little bit by the artwork, but as soon as the it's done, it'll go into production. We're only making 500 copies and it looks like it'll be available at the end of May.

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Sample store product: 1928 Recordings has released a creative "Cigar Box Set" that comes with three 7"s from three bands, Tijuana Panthers, Air Waves, and Gray Goods / Photo by Michele Reverte

What do you have planned for your one-year anniversary on Saturday?

We'll have some great free shows by Summer Darling, Twilight Sleep, Kissing Cousins, Future Ghost, and Tricky Sizzler. We've got free beer all day. Nicole, who's in Twilight Sleep, owns a catering company called Fresh Girls Catering, and they've offered to do free appetizers from 3 - 6 p.m.

We're also going to have birthday cake. A local bakery is going to make it using the store colors—black and white—and they're going to try putting our unicorn logo on it using frosting [click here to view the cake]. I think it'll feed 50 people. It's massive. And to top it all off, we're going to give a 10 percent discount to everyone as our way of saying "Thanks!"

Speaking of the unicorn, in addition to being an awesome origami-based logo, it also has a second meaning. Over the last year, have many people caught the reference?

It's an Easter egg. If anyone asks, I'll tell them, but I'd say 3-4 people have come in and said, "That is so great!" It's cool when people figure it out. I also feel like I'm kind of a nerd, so it's nice to know that there are other people out there who are as nerdy as I am. (laughs)

Has the store already nailed down its plans for Record Store Day?

Yes. We've done our best to try to get everything that's coming out that day. Just by the sheer limited quantities of all of it, we'll be lucky to have 50-70 percent of that stuff, but I really hope we get as much as possible.

On top of that, we have some great bands playing, such as Lou Barlow [Dinosaur Jr., Sebidoh] and The Missingmen. We've also been working closely with Sub Pop and are close friends with Dum Dum Girls, who are also on Chickens in Love. Sub Pop is putting out a limited edition 7" for Record Store Day, and it'll feature Dum Dum Girls and this UK band, Male Bonding. So they've decided to have the record release party at Origami on Record Store Day.

We'll also have a local artist named Adam Harding perform. He's not only a musician, but a video director as well. And The One AM Radio, which is on local label Dangerbird, will be holding their record release party here that day.

In addition to all your concerts, I love that this store has also hosted origami lessons and art installations. Can you give us a preview of some of the projects and events you'll be involved with over the next 12 months?

Sure. Even though Origami is a retail shop on the surface, it's become this cultural center, and I want to continue to build on that. Involving local artists is great. We're still doing the art wall. It's between stages right now, but we've got an artist coming in on Sunday. We just want to keep showcasing different things like that.

Probably the biggest thing we've got in the works is something I'm doing with Liz Garo, who owns Stories. We're going to be putting together a Los Angeles print fest at the Echo/Echoplex later in the fall. Our working title for the event is Press and Play.

What will that involve?

Just as an example, it's going to showcase local printmakers who make music posters, local book publishers who hand-bind and print their books, and people who produce handmade and hand-screened records. So it's going to be this whole print festival based around local artists and local print, and how that correlates with music and literature.

Something else we've been asked to do is the Silver Lake Jubilee [LAist article], which is this great two-day arts and music festival. Jack Martinez, who is the creator of the event, asked Mitchell Frank [of Spaceland] and me to curate the main stage both days.

I'm sure a lot of other stuff will pop up in the next year. We'll just try to be involved in the local community as much as possible.

Is there anything else you'd like to add before our interview comes to an end?

I'd just like to say that we're extremely thankful for the community welcoming us and supporting us. That's been the most incredible thing!

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Neil!

Stop by Origami Vinyl (1816 W. Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park) today to enjoy the anniversary festivities. It'll be open from "Noon 'Til Late." Learn more about Origami Vinyl at www.origamimusic.blogspot.com.


Origami Vinyl Schedule - April 3, 2010
2 p.m. - CAKE!!! (the dessert, not the band)
3 - 6 p.m. - Appetizers
4 p.m. - Tricky Sizzler
5 p.m. - Future Ghost
6 p.m. - Kissing Cousins
7 p.m. - Twilight Sleep


Read LAist's original interview with Neil Schield (complete with a photo of Pete Townshend in front of the shop)