Vinyl specialist Gearbox Records is known for its high-quality releases of many previously unheard recordings by a number of jazz greats as well as, more recently, some award-winning contemporary artists such as Binker & Moses. The rapid growth and success of this label, since its foundation in 2009 by drummer, record collector and all-round entrepreneur Darrel Sheinman, is reflected in the general resurge in popularity of music on vinyl.
In an interesting new development, Gearbox Records has decided to release five of its recordings on CD. Darrel Sheinman explained. Interview by Leah Williams:
LondonJazz News: Gearbox Records is fast becoming one of the leaders in high-quality vinyl recordings, how did it all get started?
Darrel Sheinman: It actually all started at an N.E.R.D. concert. They were so amazing live and it just gave me this spark of an idea about how great it would be to be able to produce their music on vinyl, which is undoubtedly the best sound quality you can get. Of course, they weren’t just going to hand over the rights to their music to me – at that stage Gearbox Records wasn’t even a thing! – so I decided to start up by producing recordings of music that is definitely meant to be heard on vinyl: that of the jazz greats.
LJN: Where did you start with that?
DS: Well, I concentrated on getting the rights for famous jazz recordings that were aired as radio broadcasts back in the fifties and sixties but never actually released as recordings. This developed a good relationship with BBC Worldwide and we managed to buy some great recordings through them from legends such as Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott. Those albums sold out within a year and the Gearbox Records name was officially out there; the potential just continued to grow from there.
LJN: You’ve got your own cutting and mastering studio now?
DS: Yes, in 2012 I let go of my other enterprises to work full time on the label, hired Adam Sieff (former Sony Jazz Director) to come work with me and we moved into a studio in the Tileyard Studios complex near King’s Cross. We built it up ourselves, sourcing and restoring some of the finest vintage equipment in order to ensure that we could produce the highest quality recordings possible.
LJN: Do you find that the older equipment is significantly better then?
DS: Definitely. A lot of the modern stuff is made for mass production and commercial use and it just doesn’t have the same construction and sound quality. The vintage equipment is built like a tanker using only the best components. The only downside is the amount of maintenance that it needs but I was lucky enough to learn from Sean Davies, one of the original recording legends, how to cut, master and maintain it all.
LJN: Priding yourselves on releasing high-quality vinyl recordings that “put the ritual back into music listening” is obviously the main ethos of the label, why then have you made the decision to release some of your recordings on CD?
DS: Well whilst it might seem like a bit of an odd move it felt like a natural progression of what we’re trying to do here in some ways. Alongside promoting vinyl and aiming to produce the best high-quality recordings on that format, we also want to simply give people the opportunity to access and listen to as much great music as possible. A lot of the jazz recordings that we have were previously unreleased and so are unavailable on any other format. By giving people the option to buy that music on CD we are helping more people listen to great music, it’s as simple as that.
LJN: Do you not worry that CD production might somewhat dilute your label’s message though?
DS: Of course, but at the same time we are not just producing regular CDs. We’re keeping the essence of vinyl – being something special and collectable with great sound and aesthetic quality – alive with these CD releases. In short, we’ve aimed to keep it “sexy”. We certainly wouldn’t have considered mass producing CDs or presenting them in any other cheap, plastic way. Our CD releases come inside little paper sleeves with the full sleeve notes of the record and housed in good-quality, durable card casing featuring the same unique artwork as their vinyl counterparts. They’re pretty much like mini vinyls.
LJN: And how has the idea been received by fans so far?
DS: Really well, actually. We’ve got a lot of pre-orders for the CDs already. One of the main reasons we saw this as the right development for us was because we were getting so much demand for it. It’s not going against our fanbase’s wishes but catering to them. Whilst our main concern is, and always will be, the production of vinyl recordings, we didn’t want to be so constrained by this that we inadvertently became a bit elitist and excluded anyone from being able to enjoy the music. A lot of the jazz recordings especially are artists who are loved by a generation who grew up with vinyl but then moved on as technology did. Perhaps they don’t want to buy a new turntable at the moment – with these CDs they still get the chance to hear these unique recordings and that’s what it’s all about.
LJN: Word on the grapevine is that Gearbox Records are actually in the process of designing their own turntable?
DS: That is underway, yes! We wanted to come up with a design that has a really great design aesthetic with a small footprint but that still delivers on quality. A lot of these small, stylised turntables you can get now aren’t durable and don’t give the sound quality your vinyls need. So packaged within a really smart design, we are producing something that will still be top of the line in terms of sound and endurance.
LJN: Sounds great! When will we be able to get one?
DS: Well, in the not too distant future if all goes to plan. We’ve got a working design prototype now so it’s a matter of logistics really. We’re hoping we might be able to get it into production early next year.
LJN: Apart from all the above, is there anything else exciting on the horizon for Gearbox Records?
DS: Well, it’s still very much in the planning stages right now but we’ve got an exciting project that will hopefully get off the ground early next year called Gearbox Sessions. The plan is to get a group of 10 or so artists, who we really love but who aren’t necessarily signed with us, to do some recording sessions here at the studio, which we will then film and release on YouTube. The culmination of that would potentially be releasing an album featuring the best of these sessions so that’s pretty exciting.
LJN: Can we cut to the chase please…what is the key date, and which are the five CDs in the Mini LP Replica CD Series?
DS: The release date for the CDs was October 21st, and the five are:
– Michael Garrick Sextet with Don Rendell & Ian Carr –Prelude to Heart is a Lotus (Recorded 1968)
– The Jazz Couriers – Live In Morecambe 1959 – Tippin’
– Binker and Moses – Dem Ones (2015)
– Mark Murphy – A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn (Recorded 2012)
– Nucleus With Leon Thomas – Live 1970
LJN: One last question: of all your albums, which is your favourite or the one you feel has give most exposure to the label?
DS: Well, funnily enough Binker & Moses’ debut album winning so many awards has really shone a light on the label and it’s actually their second album, already recorded but not due for release until February time next year, that is undoubtedly the best thing we’ve produced here so far in my opinion. It’s really different and exciting – we can’t wait for everyone to hear it. (pp)
– The new CD releases are available at Gearbox Records’ online store
– Darrel Sheinman will be at Hidden Rooms in Cambridge, playing vinyl as part of a Japanese-style “Kissaten” listening session during the Cambridge Jazz Festival on 23 November at 6.30pm. (TICKETS)