Coco Hames and Poni Silver opened a record store once before. It was a big hit — a popular emporium with a cafe and a devoted clientele. It went so well they decided to try it in real life.
Back then, the frontwoman and drummer for garage-rock trio The Ettes started an all-purpose retail outlet called The Stone Owl. Only they did it between gigs on the virtual-reality video game The Sims, using what Hames remembers as a "janky old laptop," to break the tedium of road trips. The store, the town and even the world may have been imaginary, but their desire for such a place in the analog world was real.
"All of us grew up with a record store with a dude who knew everything about music, the kind you'd stand around waiting Saturday morning for it to open," says Hames, who also plays in the band The Parting Gifts and writes the "Cahiers du Coco" DVD column for the Scene's Country Life blog.
Now Hames and Silver are about to become "that dude." With their fellow partners Ettes bassist Jem Cohen, artist and printmaker Rachel Briggs, and recent Austin transplant Jeff "El Jefe" Pettit — whose 20,000-plus LP collection is providing the initial stock — they're putting the finishing touches on Fond Object, the latest addition to one of the coolest crossroads in Nashville, Inglewood's Riverside Village.
"It's all about community involvement," Hames says. "Nashville has become this thing where everybody's doing these little boutique operations and choosing the local stuff. That's what I want for Fond Object."
Out the plate-glass storefront window at 1313 McGavock Pike, there's the Villager Pub across the street, where the partners have been blowing off steam after three straight months of 12- to 14-hour days. Catty-corner, that's Mitchell Deli and Watanabe. Just down their block, there's a salon and a tattoo parlor, then neighborhood favorite BBQ shop Bailey and Cato. (When the proprietor strolled by to introduce himself, the partners squealed, "THE Bailey?")
Fond Object's own space served most recently as the pet-grooming shop A Bark Above. After getting the lease last September, the partners, all of whom have been close friends for years, painted over the pawprint decor and burned sage to ward off a vibe Hames describes as "angry dog." Then came a long cold winter of remodeling and sweat equity, watched over, ironically enough, by Hames' Bichon Frisé Maxine and Cohen's "schnoodle" Lenore.
The end result is rather aptly described by Hames as "like a tree house, except we're adults who've done this stuff on our own." Briggs, who served for seven years as American Songwriter's art director before going solo as a graphic artist, video art director and printmaker, compares the shared space to the kind of workplace a group of kids might devise, each stocking it with their dream components — comic books, DVDs, clothes, a petting zoo.
OK, the last is an exaggeration — but not by much. Just as the germinal 1990s all-ages hangout Lucy's Record Shop had its emblematic mascot — Lucy, owner Mary Mancini's gentle, sad-eyed Weimaraner — Fond Object has Dottie, Hames' 8-month-old pot-bellied pig, who snuffles up to visitors to check for concealed fruit. Her domain is the store's long, narrow fenced-in backyard, big enough that it includes a small yellow house.
Right now the yard is a lumpy carpet of low weeds, from which grass tufts erupt like Whac-A-Moles. Come Saturday, however — that's Record Store Day (see the related story here) — it will be the site of an outdoor concert celebrating Fond Object's grand opening. Along with Cheap Time and DJ sets from Sparkle City DJs and Joey Plunket, the lineup includes two groups produced by Cohen, Promised Land and JP5, as well as JP Harris' acclaimed country act JP Harris and the Tough Choices. Harris has been putting in time as the shop's carpenter, and for him, the performance will be the payoff for weeks of cutting, building and painting the store's black-and-white plywood record bins.
"I wish I could keep finding musicians with projects like this, so I could work on a slacker schedule constantly," says the woolly-bearded, tattoo-sleeved Harris, whose 2012 LP I'll Keep Callin' received top honors in the Scene's Best of Nashville issue (and who used to run a contracting business). He got the bin production down to such a science (roughly one per hour) that the partners call him "the hipster Bob Vila."
So what will it carry? Visitors will walk through a small lobby (careful with that deer pelt on the floor) past the fashion studio of Silver, whose budding side career as a couturier includes her Black by Maria Silver line (a hit at the recent Nashville Fashion Week). Turn left, and you enter Briggs' studio, nicknamed the Department of Goods and Services, where she concentrates so intently on her hand-lettered posters that friends have literally seen her fingers bleed. Go straight, and you reach the biggest area, the record showroom, which will serve as the store's centerpiece.
The stock comes from Pettit's own private collection, which he amassed while working at Austin's late, lamented Cheapo Discs. You won't be seeing his prized collection of soundtracks, especially not his Ennio Morricone and Claudio Simonetti LPs. (No word on his two Beatles butcher covers.) But he does show off one jewel: an exceedingly rare 1969 promo-LP box set for The Kinks' God Save the Kinks, replete with T-shirt, Union Jack pin and replica bag of weed. Even on eBay in 2009, it fetched $660.
Closer to the partners' hearts, Fond Object will carry a full slate of releases by Sympathy for the Record Industry, the revered indie label that has put out records by The White Stripes, Rocket from the Crypt, Billy Childish and even The Ettes. It will also carry releases by The Ettes' own Fond Object label — already responsible for issuing The Ettes' Wicked Will LP and "Teeth" single — operated on premises by Cohen.
In the harried days leading up to the opening, the odor of fuming pup and wet fur is gone, replaced by the smell of sawdust and fresh paint. Briggs is readying the store's sign, its surrounding gooseneck lamps standing ready in the backroom. Pettit pores over inventory lists as the eerie throb of a record by Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore resounds off the concrete floors. Out back, Hames, in overalls, a tight striped sweater and 3-inch heels, serenely feeds Dottie an apple, which the bristly little pig downs in anxious bites.
"It's baby steps," Hames says, gathered later with her partners at the plywood table in Briggs' studio that serves for now as a conference room. "You can't call this a money pit, because all the money buys something we need." Besides, she reminds everyone, she and Silver did so well running their shop on The Sims. Silver just laughs.
"There are no cheat codes in life," she says.
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