With a little effort, Louisville could grab the title of Independent Music Town, USA, according to Brett Ralph.
Louisville could be “kind of what Austin used to be before it became the new Vegas,” said Ralph, a teacher, artist and soon-to-be record store co-owner.
Austin, Texas has been known among music lovers as a mecca that celebrates independent and local bands, but nowadays, the rise in convention business has changed the Southern city, Ralph argued.
Meanwhile, Louisville still has a strong local, independent music scene. Venues such as The New Vintage, Haymarket Whiskey Bar and Gerstles Place have a regular rotation of musicians playing through the week and weekend.
And despite the closure of ear X-tacy, small vinyl record shops have gained a foothold in the city’s retail market, which is good news for Ralph and his business partner Bill Barriger. The pair are opening a record store called Surface Noise sometime in November at 600 Baxter Ave.
“It’s a good corner,” Ralph said, noting that the intersection is heavily trafficked because it leads to several popular neighborhoods nearby. It also is right across from Magnetic Tape Recorder, which repairs turntables and sells audio equipment.
Signarama Downtown owners Maggie Payette Harlow and Brian Harlow own the building and will renovate the space before handing the keys over to Barriger and Ralph next month to decorate and set up shop.
“He’s going to make a really cool, laid-back place,” said Barriger, who calls Ralph the ideas man. “It’s not going to be an everyday record store.”
The shop will stock roughly 70 percent records and 30 percent books, which they will separate into themes rather than genres. One theme may be sex, death and revolution, Ralph said, as an example.
Barriger and Ralph connected through selling records and mutual friends. They separately sold records during the early days of Flea Off Market and have continued to sell records from their collection here and there. Louisville punk rock fans may also recognize Ralph from his time in bands including Malignant Growth and Rising Shotgun; at one time, Barriger was roommates with Ralph’s Malignant Growth bandmates.
Ralph, who also has taught for more than 20 years, said he was looking for a new career to fund the second half of his life and was looking to move back to Louisville as well when Barriger suggested opening the store. Ralph currently is a liberal arts and social sciences professor at Hopkinsville Community College.
“It just seems like an ideal time to be looking for a way to make a living because I am not real enthused about the direction academia is going,” he said. “In a record store, all I have to do is talk about what I love.”
Surface Noise will offer “higher quality” and “heavily curated” records, Ralph said. “You’ll have to get your Eagles and Billy Joel somewhere else.”
While it may not carry certain popular artists, Ralph added that he wants people to feel welcome to shop and hang out with friends. He likes to place sticky notes on records to give people an idea of what a
He wants Surface Noise to be Louisville’s new Twice Told Books, which owner Harold Maier decided to close in 2005 after about 23 years in business. The store was “a creative nerve center” on Bardstown Road, Ralph said.
People would regularly hang out there. When Ralph would go into the store, Maier would always update him on friends. It was a way to keep in touch with people before the internet age, he said.
Similar to Twice Told Books, Ralph wants Surface Noise to be “as much a salon and nerve center as it is a space of business.”