Darren was one of the first people who came to mind when I had the idea to do these record store interviews. He’s an interesting guy and his store is legendary at this point. He’s always supported the punk bands I’ve played in as well as a long list of other local bands. I remember having this feeling that any record I ever made wasn’t officially out until I played an in-store record release show for it at Vinyl Solution in Huntington Beach.
In 1983 Darren O’Conner was accepted to OtisParsonsArtCollege on a scholarship right out of high school but a semester at the time cost $2,000. His grandmother decided to put her house up to help foot the cost but Darren chose music over art: “They wanted me to take math. I don’t believe in math, math is like Jesus Christ.” Through high school he lived with his father in Glendale, CA. “I have one hero in the world, my dad. My dad was born in a bar in Los Angeles and my mother was a bra-burning liberal.”
After Darren finished high school, his father sold his house and rented a room, forcing Darren to find a place to live. Turning to a life of music, he discovered Neal’s Records but working for credit and swapping out punk records for cash didn’t cut it. So Darren told the owner, Neal, that he was offered a forty hour a week job at Licorice Pizza. Neal bought it. At eighteen, Darren got his own apartment, started working thirty hours a week at $3.75 an hour, and took over all of the ordering at Neal’s. Neal was making bootlegs and selling stolen merchandise and got busted for the second time. Darren went to the store to get his records and stereo. The cops met him there and gave him an ultimatum: rat out Neal, go down with him and keep the merchandise from the store, or leave. He left. After selling whatever belongings he had left to get money, he called up his mother for help and moved to OrangeCounty.
Darren and I spent the afternoon in his shop talking over Pabst Blue Ribbon. We listened to most of the records that are talked about in the interview. The only difference in this visit from any in the past is that I recorded our conversation. Conversations and experiences like these provide proof that going out and buying records is a much greater experience than streaming and downloading. I hope you enjoy.
Ryan: Can you give me some background on how things started once you moved to OrangeCounty?
Darren: I wanted to move to La Jolla and open a record store; there was a great college scene there. But my mom was like, “You need to be on Beach Blvd. There’s about half a million people who drive down it everyday. You need that kind of traffic.” So I opened this store in ‘89. When I opened the store I had all these kids coming in surprised at all of the stuff I had. I wanted all of the English stuff like from Sisters Of Mercy to Discharge. I didn’t just want used records; I wanted full catalogs, everything by the Varukers, everything by the Cramps, and everything by Discharge.
These kids would come in and write down these records with a pencil and I would call my distributor and order all these old records. Then the Neal’s (record store) thing came back to bite me in the ass. The attorney said that everything in my store was stolen property and they closed the store. They took everything out. On top of that, my grandmother died. So I brought in everything I had: my private record collection, furniture, and dentist stuff my grandfather left behind, doing anything I could just to stay alive. The store was like a goofy museum.
So two days later I reopened the store with all of this stuff, and from that point on this store was a mecca. We used to give away RC Cola, waters, and Pabst Blue Ribbon to the customers as you walked in. You got a choice of one of three things. When you came into Vinyl Solution, you had every record that was in print—and if it was out of print I was telling you it was out of print and what pressing—I was giving you the story of my fucking life. There was no internet back then, I knew from books I read and the way I collected.
Ryan: How did the David Lee Roth-themed bathroom get started?
Darren: It started as a joke and became a world famous thing. There were things I was going to do when I opened the store. One was—we weren’t going to carry three bands: the Beatles, Metallica, and Van Halen. Those were the three bands that I thought ruined music. If they all didn’t exist, music could be really fucking good. So the story with the bathroom was my buddy Tom D. Kline started it as a joke. Then we started doing store credit for any David Lee Roth stuff. Tom turned it into a milestone.
Ryan: Of everything in there, what stands out the most to you?
Darren: My favorite is the quotes. And my favorite quote is the one in there next to you when you’re taking a piss that is perfect David Lee Roth. They ask him what his own personal favorite quote is and he says, “Quit throwing shit at me or I’m gonna come down there and fuck your girlfriend. And I did.” Only David Lee Roth could do that. Even if he’s drinking Jack Daniels bottles and it’s ice tea in there—but he was definitely doing the coke and partying. Another thing that I learned was that he had a license or contract or something saying he’s not responsible for any pregnancies, they had to be terminated. This was like a million dollar contract.
Ryan: Through the ‘90s, you released a lot of great punk rock records under the Vinyl Dog name. Can you give the readers a little background on how all that started?
Darren: This is how it happened. When I lived in Hollywood, I knew Duane Peters and Mike Lorman (The Stitches), not by name. When they walked into record stores, we used to laugh. We called them, “The class of 76’.” The fucking kids just didn’t want to let go. They had the safety pins and the pegged pants. By 1983 I’m into the Psychedelic Furs and OMD and stuff like that. I went to a 999 show and Lorman was there, wasted and got thrown through a window. But he got up and walked right back in. Those kids brought me back to punk.
And In 1989 I had the first in-store show we ever did at Vinyl Solution with Olivelawn. So Duane shows up and he’s pissed his pants, he’s wearing Dodger blue sweat pants, combat boots, no shirt, missing teeth, and he’s shiny bald. He was wasted on Kessler and I said, “That guy is not coming in the store.” People were saying, “Don’t you know who that is?” I didn’t care. Fuck that guy.
So a few weeks later O, one of the guys in Olivelawn, comes over with a Transworld Skateboard magazine and there’s a news update in there saying, “Duane Peters spotted at Vinyl Solution in Huntington Beach.” I was like, “Whoa, I got some press there. Who the fuck is this guy?” Next thing I know he’s in a band called the Exploding Fuck Dolls and he’s sober.
Lorman and I go to Club Nazi (Club Mesa in Costa Mesa) to see Duane. I always wanted to start a label, but they were the first band that had the image and brought it back to the Sex Pistols. He hated OrangeCounty. He was against everything that OrangeCounty is and he drew everyone back into the meaning of punk. So after the show, Lorman and I are getting wasted and I said, “I want to start a record label,” and he said he wanted to start a record store and a band. I told him to do it, “What’s the worst that can happen? You fall on the floor, have a heart-attack, die, or you have to get another job.”
Mike named his store Underdog Records, which was the other name I was going to use for Vinyl Solution, so we combined the names, Vinyl Dog. There were three things you had to do to be able to put out a record on Vinyl Dog: you had to skateboard, love punk rock, and drink. So we did it, we made 1000 Exploding Fuck Dolls records; we put a poster in it and made everyone sign it. Then we did the Stitches, Naughty Monkey, and U.S. Bombs and the… if you want to get another drink they’re in the bathroom. The last one I did was the Starvations. After that, Lorman and Johnny Witmer took off with it.
Ryan: Your new label is Black Vinyl. How did that start?
Darren: I gave Duane a job at Vinyl after I heard the Exploding Fuck Dolls and U.S. Bombs. It was the only job he’s ever claimed to have had. It was pretty dirty. After hearing what Duane could do with those bands, I always thought how great it would be if he did a Tom Waits type of record. So when the U.S. Bombs were in Germany he got all drunk and the band left him there. He calls me and tells me what happened and says that there’s a band out there that wants to put him in their dungeon and record some songs.
One of the songs he wanted to do was a Tom Waits cover along with a Nuns cover. It came out as a 45 and that was it. A few years ago, Duane started The Great Unwashed with Greg Kuehn (T.S.O.L., the Church, Bob Dylan) getting back to that slowed-down Tom Waits style. I booked their first show and John Lucero (Black Label Skateboards) came with me. I wanted to put out a record for Duane. Lucero had wanted to do something since the Vinyl Dog days but didn’t want anything to do with Duane until he heard the songs. We put out the LP and so far it’s been our only release. We fell on our ass with it. Duane did what he always does—threw everything in the trash and walked away. One of our plans with Black Vinyl was to put the title track on the B-side.
Ryan: What was the first record you ever bought and what was the last?
Darren: First record with my own money, not counting the records my dad bought me. My first two records—I bought them both in the same week—David Bowie Young Americans and Queen A Day at the Races. I was ten years old. Those two albums changed my life. The last record I bought was yesterday, Branca Symphony No. 6. I’ve had it on cassette but never owned the album in my life. Everyone knows who he is that’s into proto-punk. I’m going to put it on. Hearing Branca was like the first time I heard Kraftwerk. I just wanted to get on my bicycle and ride twenty miles.
Ryan: What are you thoughts on Record Store Day?
Darren: I thank god that the guy from Licorice Pizza or Tower or wherever invented it, but it really pisses me off. As you see today—we’re in November—nobody’s going to shop. They’re in the three-point stance and they’re waiting for Record Store Day. They’re all waiting for those records on that day that big mama puts out. Nothing is independent on RSD. Everything is given to a one-stop, the one-stop sells it on that day and you want your Bruce Springsteen RSD release? Sorry, you’re not going to get it. You have to go to Amoeba and be there at 7 AM to play the game. I don’t like people getting in their fucking Dolphin shorts and their Speedos and getting in the three point-stance and running in like a track star at five in the morning and wanting know if they can get their Neil Young 7”. To me, RSD is every day. For the last three years, I’ve stopped RSD on me. I don’t play the game. There was a Fall 7” that came out on RSD three years ago and I wasn’t able to get it. I collect the Fall. I have every record they ever did. I want every record they ever did but I couldn’t get it. When that happened, I quit everything on RSD.
Ryan: Where is the best place to eat around here?
Darren: I’m always going to say Mexican food. I would recommend the taco truck on the west side of Slater and
, but they may not find it. So the next place is La Capilla Mexican Restaurant for happy hour. I would always say Native Foods, but that’s in
Costa Mesa and I don’t want to freak you out if you’re not into health food. And if you’re not from the
Los Angeles area, you have to eat at Tommy’s. I try to eat there once a month. It’s something you have to bite into if you just want the best burger. Ryan:
I’m going to give you a scenario. You tell me what record would best suit the situation. Start a party.Darren:
The Waldos, Rent Party
Incite a riot (we’re in
Huntington Beach, come on).
The Dead Kennedys.
Make a customer leave.Darren:
The one we always used was “The Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle and “Helium Bar” by the Weirdos. I used to have a cassette, ninety minutes of each song over and over again. Ryan:
Make a customer ask, “Who’s playing?”Darren:
Townes Van Zandt. But it depends what they’re holding in their hand. If they’re holding
Cave, I’m going to play them Tom Waits. If they’re buying Led Zeppelin, I’m going to play them the Doors. It’s chemistry.Ryan:
Roxy Music, Avalon
Make dinner to.Darren:
Roxy Music, Avalon
Make your neighbors call the cops.
Public Image. Ryan:
Circle Jerks, Group Sex
Deal with traffic on the 405 freeway.
The Pogues. Ryan:
John Cale, “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend.”Ryan:
Who’s the most famous customer you’ve had in the store?Darren:
Who’s that guy? Corey Feldman? He was wasted and out of his fucking mind when he came in here. He asked for something really embarrassing, too. I can’t remember what it was. It was a boy band or something like that. I’ll go with him because other people know who he is. I wouldn’t have known but somebody else told me who he was. They also told me he had a friend down the street he was doing speed with, so that’s why I believed it was him. But Mike Martt from
Tex And The Horseheads and Funeral played here and I love him. Nikki Sudden, which was so fucking amazing. We sat at the bar with him and got him wasted and he was really rude to the crowd.