On the Record with Mike Davis
On The Record is a series of conversations with New York’s most lauded vinyl spinners interviewed by musician, DJ, and GrandLife music director Alix Brown.
I first met Mike Davis in 2007 when I moved to NYC and landed a job at Academy Records on North 6th Street in Williamsburg (the store has since moved to Oak Street in Greenpoint). I never knew Mike’s whole backstory, so decided to ask him if he would be interested in doing an ‘On The Record’ interview.
I discovered that Mike has been collecting records since growing up in Hong Kong in the ’70s. Upon his arrival back to New York in ’78, punk and funk were hitting the streets as Mike delved headfirst into bands like The Damned, P-Funk, and James Brown. He got a job as a bike messenger and soon discovered a store called Academy Books on West 18th Street that sold records in the back. They were mostly focused on classical but had good, cheap selection of rock, jazz, and oddball records mixed in.
After shopping there for eight years and getting to know the staff pretty well, Mike casually asked Teddy (who still works there today) if they were hiring, and it so happened the main pricer had just given his notice. He got the job.
After a couple of years, he helped open the music-only store next door and the records really started to take off with Mike handling everything but classical. This was the mid-90s, which was a golden age of collection buying. Everyone was getting rid of their records and they would receive 10 or so calls a day from people selling off entire collections.
Eventually, they obtained a small warehouse full of records that were coming in faster than they were ever going to be able to sell them. It was in the year 2000 that Mike first had the idea to start his own vinyl-only store, which was something almost nobody else was doing back then. He found a storefront in the East Village, made a deal with the landlord and approached his then-boss with the idea that they could be partners in a new store where he would sell the records they had amassed. His boss agreed and Academy was opened on 10th Street on April Fool’s Day in 2001 (coincidence he swears) and stayed there for six years until moving to its final resting place at 415 East 12th.
What brought you into the world of record collecting?
Mike Davis: Just loving and wanting to hear music. I had an older brother and sister and I think they got tired of me playing their records.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought or were given?
Mike Davis: I do. It was the Shocking Blue Venus/Hot Sand 45 I bought when I was about seven. I soon grew to like the B-side better. I had a crush on Mariska Veres even though I had no idea what she looked like! Amazingly enough, I still have it, not sure how that happened.
What is the rarest record you own?
Mike Davis: Well, I have a number of unreleased one-of-a-kind acetates, so strictly speaking it would be those. I have a record called Stuffed Pug that seems to be an elaborately pressed document of a wasted birthday party from 1970 only given to those who were there. Nobody I’ve asked knows anything about it. As far as things people might know, maybe the O’Seis 7″ (though I sold it last week) or the Flavio Kurt 7″.
What is your most coveted record?
Mike Davis: Honestly, I spend very little time thinking about records I don’t have.
Which record is your guiltiest pleasure?
Mike Davis: I have no musical shame at this point and therefore no guilt. Also, when you’ve been wrapped up in music as long as I have, nostalgia and association can play a pretty big role in how you respond to a song. I was in Hawaii on vacation when “Baker Street” broke and I heard it 10 times a day on the radio while I was there driving a rented convertible and smoking some native crop, so I’ll always go back to that time whenever I hear it.
Any record in particular with a good backstory on how or where you found it?
Mike Davis: So many! Back in the mid-80s when I would spend weeks on the road in my VW camper, I was driving deep on the logging roads in backwoods Maine when out of nowhere there was an old junk shop in a dilapidated wooden shack. Of course, I stopped to check it out just ’cause, not really expecting any records. There was one old crate packed with the usual hammered chud but right in the middle was a NM [Near Mint] original press of the second Cluster record, which would have been unusual even in the NYC shops I usually went to.
Which record pulls on your heartstrings every time you hear it?
Mike Davis: Oh man so many, I’m a pretty big sap at this point.
What is your favorite New York City record store, past or present?
Mike Davis: Well, of course I’m biased. So many great ones over the years, Venus, Free Being, etc.. But I guess I’d have to say Sounds in its heyday just because so many records would pass through there and almost everything was under $10. Those damn price tags, though!
WORDS Alix Brown
PHOTOGRAPHY Mike Davis pictured with Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda of WITCH. Courtesy of Mike Davis.