A walk through Wooden Tooth Records
Over the past few years, Tucson has seen young people opening their first stores or restaurants on 4th Avenue to varying degrees of success. Kellan Fortier, 32, and Jake Sullivan, 25, noticed a gap on the strip — there was no place for record collectors and people who still buy music to go after the December 2013 closing of the seminal punk haven Toxic Ranch Records.
Fortier and Sullivan, both former employees of Cafe Passe, 415 N. 4th Ave., found themselves in a position to rent the Cafe's underused back room, and turn it into a record store where they would want to shop and socialize, called Wooden Tooth Records.
In addition to new and used vinyl, Wooden Tooth will also sell records, cassettes and CDs from local and regional artists and labels, as well as stereo equipment. Along with occasional in-store live performances, Fortier and Sullivan will be hosting listening parties for new releases, the first being for Giant Sand's upcoming new album on May 9.
I came to the shop to talk to them as they're working around the clock to prepare for this Saturday's grand opening.
When and how did you get the idea for Wooden Tooth?
Fortier: "On New Year's Eve at the Chicha Dust show, I kind of brought up that this back room was empty. I was still working here [at the Cafe] at the time and was throwing around ideas about what we could do with the back room and realized there wasn't a record store here on Fourth Avenue."
Sullivan: "We both know the potential of this room and we're both record collectors. We just kind of drunkenly came up with the idea of opening a record store…"
Fortier: "...And he actually called me the next day, like, 'were you serious about that?' I said, 'well, kind of!'"
Has it been difficult logistically to start this kind of business?
Fortier: "Fortunately, a lot of the logistical stuff has just been, like, building the shelves, figuring out the accounting and that side of it. But as far as finding records and what we wanted the shop to be like, that just fell into place."
Sullivan: "We know what we like in a record store, so we want to take those ideas and implement them here. And Fourth Avenue really needs something."
Fortier: "We wanted to make a nice record store. A lot of record stores are just kind of trashy and we wanted to make this almost like a community space — people can come here and hang out, have a beer, eat a sandwich, sit on the back patio. And also listen to live music. That was another thing we wanted to do — we wanted to bring live music back to Cafe Passe [which recently stopped hosting live events]. We wanted to make it our own dream record store, which we'll grow into. We still have a lot of learning to do."
Sullivan: "To me, one of the biggest selling points is that you can hang out here, even with your family. I went with my whole family to Old Paint [a record store located in Old Town Artisans, next to La Cocina], and we all bought five or six records, and then went on the patio, had some drinks and a great time. So, that's what we're doing: It's not just a shopping experience. It's a place to go socialize, talk about records."
Basically, you want this to be a place where bands are formed and relationships are started.
Fortier: "Yeah, exactly. It's just your friendly neighborhood record store."
Sullivan: "It's a place where you can come in and one of us will probably be behind the counter. That way, if you're looking for, say, Gene Clark albums, you can tell us and we'll keep our eye out for them."
Who are you getting records from right now?
Sullivan: "Right now, all of our used collection primarily has come from just two different people, basically selling their personal collections. We got lucky because they had good taste and also, they didn't just have, like, one Neil Young album. They had everything he ever put out.
"We bought a collection of 4,000 records and a collection of 2,000 records. That, plus the new stuff we got from distributors is pretty much our starting inventory.
"We have a really good selection of '60s psych, which is really popular right now, so I think people will enjoy that. Our soul section is amazing — we got really lucky with that."
Fortier: "We have some cool punk and hardcore stuff, too. A little bit of metal. We're pretty loaded up on old country — we're kind of all over the board. … And we'll be getting more hip-hop, more Latin and more old dub and reggae stuff."
It almost sounds like the perfect record store for tastes that are sort of specific to Tucson.
Sullivan: "That's probably just because that's what both of us are really into."
Fortier: "One of the collections we got was from a guy who's been in Tucson since the late '60s and we're going through it and finding a lot of obscure Tucson bands from that time, which was really cool. It's a lot of country-rock from the '70s."
What are three records — for each of you — that have personal significance and that you have here?
Fortier: "For me, I'd say "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators," which we have the original pressing of. My mom turned me onto the 13th Floor Elevators. She's actually taking me to Austin Psych Fest, which is super cool.
"Depeche Mode's "Violator" is probably my favorite album of all time. I saw Depeche Mode when I was 12 or 13. My uncle took me to see them. That same year I took a road trip with my family — and they have super cool musical taste — and we listened to "Violator" almost the whole trip. So, I have these vivid memories of driving across the country to that record.
"And "Tago Mago" by Can. That's a really important record. It's just got that groove to it that you can't compete with…"
That groove never ends…
Fortier: "It's one of those perfect albums. The drummer and bass player just lock in so well together."
Sullivan: "We actually just listened to Gram Parsons' "Grievous Angel." It's not one of the most collectible albums we have in there, but it's just a staple of all time for me. … My dad is a huge fan of his. We actually had paintings of Gram Parsons in my house growing up. I probably tortured everyone when I used to work in the Cafe from playing it so much.
"There's The Cramps, "Smell of Female." They're amazing. Once I started getting into them it completely changed what kind of music I listened to — it got me really into '50s and '60s rockabilly. It made me really want to start collecting old 45s, seek out obscure stuff. So many of the songs The Cramps would cover or talk about in interviews are just one-off bands that never released an LP. They just have, like, three 45s. So, that one's definitely up there.
"The third one would probably be "Back From the Grave" from Crypt Records [a now-classic compilation series of the most obscure and abrasive '60s garage singles]. Luckily, we were able to get the whole series. For me, I like Volumes One and Three — either one of those could be one of my favorites in the shop. All those songs are so good and a lot of those bands or songs you'd never hear if it wasn't for that compilation, because they probably made three acetates of a song on there. The guy from Crypt has two of them and the other one was destroyed or whatever. I'd recommend that to anyone."