As one of the brains behind the Crown Ruler record shop and agency, Jeremy Spellacey is considered one of the foremost collectors in Melbourne. With a particular penchant for sounds from Africa and the Caribbean, Spellacey has consulted on a number of acclaimed reissues, recently started up Crown Ruler’s in-house label and has curated an outstanding new compilation for Space Talk. We spoke to him about a life spent collecting records, which accompanies a 90 minute vinyl only mix.
Crown Ruler Sound is out 14th July – buy from Bandcamp. Jeremy will be coming to the UK this summer. Check his tour poster at the bottom for more details.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I grew up listening to Hip Hop and Reggae, my mother’s partner when I was young was heavily into music and listened to all genres, he played guitar in a Punk band in Wellington and was the hype man in one of NZ’s first rap groups Noise ’n’ Effect. My grandmother (RIP Ruby!) was an avid listener of music, she wads a funky grandma, her favourite artists were George Michael and Michael Jackson. She was a member of a music subscription service and was sent new stuff on a monthly basis, through that we would choose music as gifts for Christmas and birthdays. As a gift for Christmas, she got me Cypress Hill Black Sunday on cassette the year it came out, I remember my older brother laughing at the title of the songs and wondered if she knew what Hits from the bong was actually about. My parents weren’t heavily into music, my father had a small but nice collection of classic rock that I didn’t look through until later on in life. I returned to NZ in my 20s and went through them and asked if I could take some, he told me I could have one! I got a copy of J.J. Cale Troubadour that day and it’s still one of my most cherished records. I used to play ‘Hay Baby’ as a bridge from reggae into other music and I think that was one of the first records that prompted me to look outside the square.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
As a teenager I started going to dance parties and raves, around 19 it was every weekend with my best mate Cam, we were starting to get into DJ culture. We had a guy move into our flat that had turntables and he invited me in to have a go one day, I was instantly hooked and went out and bought a record the following day. Cam and I moved to London soon after, bought some turntables and were buying every week. A few years later we started a night with Brian Morrison and Will Bartlett which we ran for seven years or so. Brian and I started to dig together on a weekly basis and that’s when it got serious. Buying records for me was always motivated by DJing and having something different in my bag. These days its not so much about DJng but music that makes me wanna dance is what excites me the most. Overall I’m always searching for something different, something I haven’t heard before. A different beat is what keeps me hungry.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I rent a studio to run the website out of, most of my records are there but I keep some at home. I file my personal collection by region and then have labeled crates for all my stuff I have for sale. I listen to my records a lot and it can be tough keeping order, there are always piles of records on heavy rotation. Once a year I usually I go through them all and file everything where it should be.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Haha next question
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Andy Westbury of Eldica Records in Dalston deserves some light shined on him. I used to call in there every week when I lived in London and shopping there schooled me in a way. He doesn’t like selling online so you have to visit his shop to listen to his latest finds. I kept him secret for years and there were only a small group of heads that knew about him. I hipped a friend to him a while back and he got a copy of the Shadow D’Hardest 12” off him, a photo went up online and the secret was out. I am happy for him though, the record game is tough and if more people visit his store then it’s a good thing. Chris Bonato of Left Ear Records is also someone that deserves a mention, a very knowledgeable and hard working digger that often surprises me. Having him live down the road from me keeps me on my toes, we all need people like that around us, its inspirational.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
There are many! I don’t know if I’ll ever own a copy of Outlaw Four Million Dollar Legs… Maybe in a trade one day.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
A bit of both. I head out on my own locally once a week and like to take my time. Heading out with friends is also great, you can put each other onto finds that you may have missed. If I am in a different country its always good to head out with a local, anyone but your girlfriend (or boyfriend!) is good.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I don’t find it daunting at all to be honest, I find it exciting. It depends on the spot, if its all curated and carefully organized I’ll quickly check the new arrivals followed by local releases then head to the cheap bins. If the store is a complete mess I’ll be methodical, start at one end and finish at the other.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Massive, it needs to get your attention. If the artwork catches my eye I’ll be prompted to look at the year, label, credits, instruments played etc.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
This was recorded at my studio in Brunswick I spent a couple of hours combing through records and picked put some bits I’m feeling at the moment. Some I have picked up recently, some I have had a while and revisted. Aside from keeping the tempo down there is no real theme to it, initially I set out to not put any afro music in there as that seems to be what people expect from me these days. I couldn’t help myself though and pulled a couple!
We asked you to keep the full tracklist secret, but could you disclose any standouts in the mix?
Supermax is one of my favorite groups and I have most of their early records, Ganja Generation is all time for me. There are a couple on there off my forthcoming compilation on Spacetalk, the deep, seven minute extended instrumental of Costa and Chyps – Detroit City Cats and an edit I did of Kosmik 3 – I’m Gonna Pack, a hypnotic Nigerian anti-love song lead buy reggae artist Emma Ogosi.
Crown Ruler is the record shop you run out of Melbourne. What have been your three most satisfying finds from this year?
Tough question. It’s been a quiet year of buying for me, I have had a lot on my plate the last few months and am going to be in Europe for a month over July/August. I have been gathering some bits and pieces so second half of the year will feature some great records. I’ve had doubles of Jay U Experience – Enough Is Enough pass though my hands, I picked up the Shadow – Soca Boat 12” locally. I found a crazy unknown Italo-wave-like Australian 45 that I am working on more copies of, hopefully that will feature on the website later in the year.
The compilation you’ve curated for Spacetalk contains a lot of your previous “secret weapon” records. How hard was it letting these go and intro the public domain?
There are certainly a few secret weapons on there but some are just hard to find pieces that you might hear when Jamie Bennett and I are out playing records together. There is always going to be some secrecy surrounding the record game, it dates as far back to the 60s when Jamaican soundsystem DJs were scratching the title and artist off their 45s. Personally I think it’s about balance, I do keep some things secret and not knowing everything is half the fun sometimes, the intrigue keeps you hungry. At the same time I love sharing music with people and published playlists on a radio show here in Melbourne for an extended period of time. Working on a project like this is the ultimate form of sharing music – licensing, remastering and rereleasing so the masses can listen to it whenever they want. I am always searching for new music and there are always more secret weapons to be found, letting some go is a positive thing. It’s only a record after all.
As a dealer of second hand records, do you think digging culture is becoming overly fixated on rare and obscure as a mark of a record’s merit, detracting from the democracy around sharing and buying music?
There has always been an element of searching out the obscure, especially from a DJ perspective. From the aforementioned JA soundsystem DJs to those digging for breaks in the 80s, its’ always been there, some get caught up in it, some don’t. Personally, I like the idea of having an (almost) exclusive as a DJ. You make a name for yourself by breaking a tune so people should work hard to find something that has been overlooked in the past, especially in this digital age where so much is available at the click of a mouse. Even for someone that digs for records and isn’t necessarily a DJ, there is an undeniable buzz that comes with finding something ‘unknown’. In my opinion, this shouldn’t detract from wanting to own something just because 60 own it on discogs and 300 have it in their wantlist. A records merit is up to the individual to decide, let the music do the talking and trust your ear. The subjective nature of music is a beautiful thing.
How did you find curating your first compilation? What were some of the biggest challenges?
It was a learning process to say the least, being surrounded by seasoned professionals like Danny McLewin, Simon Purnell and Paul Murphy made the process easier. I think its fair to say it’s collaboration between Spacetalk and Crown Ruler. I supplied the music and was involved in the decision making from a creative perspective but Simon did most of the legwork coordinating everything and Danny spent day and night combing through various images for the artwork. There were thousands of emails and going back and forth, living in different time zones was a challenge at times. Choosing music that was cohesive but not too much of the same is part of the process, I think we found balance and I’m delighted with the final tracklist. Licensing is tricky on a project like this, it can be tough reissuing an LP by a single artist so dealing with fifteen different artists/labels/publishing houses can cause its headaches, Simon dealt with all of that though and I take my hat off to him, he did a fantastic job. There were a couple of things I would have liked to have featured but we simply couldn’t find them, who knows, maybe volume two!
You enjoyed a pretty fruitful run for your first Crown Ruler label release this year with Focus. What’s planned next for the label?
We have licensed Aaron Broomfield – Boomerang as our next release, it has a great story behind it and we can’t wait to share it. We are in the process of licensing an Afro thing as our third release and are looking at a colaboration for the fourth of fifth. Some nice things in the pipeline
Away from that, what else are you looking forward to in 2017?
I am in Europe for a month touring in July/August. I have some nice gigs lined up and I’m looking forward to seeing some new places and meeting some new people. Jamie has some fantastic stuff planned for later in the year on the event side of Crown Ruler, we just launched the inaugural winter version of Freedom Time and the New Years Day line up is looking incredible.
And finally, as a long distance Tottenham supporter, how do you see the team’s prospects as they move to an unlucky new home next season?
Good question. The home and away phenomenon has always baffled me but the statistics are undeniable, there is a home advantage. I think we will perform a lot better than we did in the Champions League last season as we will be there week in week out. I hope that season ticket holders at Park lane and The Shelf are seated together and will provide a bit of atmosphere. There are a lot of things to get right to have a season as strong as the last and it starts with Poch holding the strong team mentality that we seem to have. If we get that right and do well during the transfer window I think we can have a good season. COYS!