BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Dan Drinkard was in Memphis, Tennessee, a college drop out playing in a band, practicing photography and running a “hobby” record label, when he had the urge to open a vinyl record store.
In the pre-internet era, devoid of curated Spotify playlists, Drinkard would scour records he liked to draw connections to other artists. One had to take matters into their own hands when it came to finding new music.
“When I was in high school, CDs were the big thing and I would just spend hours in my room just listening to CDs and laying on the floor and looking at the liner notes and the artwork,” Drinkard said. “I always wanted to know who recorded the record and what studio did they record in and what other artists did they thank in the thank you notes.”
His first introduction to vinyl records was in high school when his then-girlfriend’s dad gave him some of his first records. Drinkard said he was drawn to the larger size of the vinyl records, and how they distinguished themselves from CDs as the lesser-used medium of the time.
Fast forward to 2013, Drinkard was producing vinyl records for his band and his friends’ bands under his “hobby” label when he decided to move to Birmingham.
“There were already some really good record stores in Memphis and there wasn’t really a need for another one, in my opinion,” Drinkard said. “So when I moved (to Birmingham), I was a little underwhelmed with the ones that were here.
“They’re good in their own right, but not really the kind of music I was looking for. They didn’t really carry many new artists and new releases.”
The store’s first location was a rental in Avondale situated next to a scuba diving shop.
Drinkard said prior to opening he combed through records, seeking inspiration for the store’s name. That’s when he ran across the song “Seasick” off of The Jesus Lizard’s “Goat” album.
Paired with the store’s location, “Seasick Records” just made sense.
Later, Seasick moved to a Crestwood location, then back to Avondale in March 2020. They closed to the public two weeks after opening their third location in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Eventually, Seasick fully reopened for business and this November marks their 10-year anniversary.
The Allure of Vinyl
For a medium of music that was created in the 1940s, it may come as a surprise that an independently owned vinyl store has achieved such success. However, Drinkard said he has seen a wide age demographic coming in over the years, from older men to kids under 10 walking through the door.
“There’s a really wide range of music buyers now,” Drinkard said. “And I think by design we try to cater to all of them.”
For the older generation, Drinkard alluded to the nostalgia of having music you can hold.
“I think people have missed having a tangible format, especially people that are older,” Drinkard said. “But younger people that didn’t grow up with records, they’re also intrigued by them as well because I think the format is maybe more sexy than a CD.”
Beyond the aesthetic nuisances of a vinyl record, Drinkard let on that modern buyers also buy with the purpose of supporting their favorite artists.
“I think now more than ever, music fans, they are aware of streaming royalties and things like that,” Drinkard said. “Streaming royalties are very low in comparison to what you make on a record.
“So I think a lot of times if you love an artist and you want to support them, then you buy the physical version because they make more money off of it and you get something in return rather than just listening to a file on a computer.”
It’s a connection that seems to draw people to vinyl – connection to a physical object, connection to an artist – and it seems it’s that connection that drew Drinkard to open a store.
“I really enjoy sharing music with people and I really enjoy the customer interactions,” he said. “I think that one of the goals that we’ve had from the beginning was to be a welcoming place for everybody.”
A welcoming place that has seen the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and Jim James of My Morning Jacket walk through its doors.
However, for Drinkard, it was the arrival of the guitarist and drummer from American punk rock band MxPx in his store that was one of his favorites.
“That band is probably the main reason I’m involved in music,” Drinkard said. “I was trying really hard not to be a super nerd around them. I had to gush a little bit.”
Since 2013, Seasick has made waves far outside the state, connecting with artists and independent companies as far away as New York.
Founded in 1997, Secretly Distribution works with over 600 indie record stores, and has been working with Seasick since its inception.
“Dan and the staff over at Seasick, they are huge champions for independent music,” said Mary Moorey, U.S. direct sales and account manager at Secretly. “They are always willing to promote the things that they like, engage with their customers, and they’re just big believers in the smaller guys.”
Shelly Worcel, head of physical sales and marketing in the U.S. and Canada for Secretly, praised Seasick for always being willing to “go above and beyond.”
Worcel said two of the most important things a vinyl record store can do is engage with the community and be proactive in evolving – both of which she sees Drinkard doing.
“The fact that he’s able to create such a community that makes people want to go into that store and support them and be a part of it and go to their events, that is always just so exciting to see,” Worcel said. “He just stays really proactive and his enthusiasm is contagious.”
Moorey said Seasick’s “wide variety of music” is, in itself, welcoming to people. She said people want to go into a store where they feel like they can find something they want, and if they can’t find what they want, they can get a recommendation.
“It’s ten years later and they’re still continuing to evolve with the industry,” Worcel said.
Not only has Seasick brought in bands and musicians from around the nation, it has also integrated itself into a network of Birmingham musicians and venues.
During their 10th anniversary weekend in early November, Seasick celebrated a night at Saturn, a live music and event venue in downtown Birmingham. Drinkard said he’s known Brian Teasley, the owner of Saturn and The Satellite, since his days with Bottletree Café.
“It’s one of my favorite venues in Birmingham, but also in the entire country,” Drinkard said. “It’s such a great place to see live music.”
While Drinkard is no longer in a band, he still plays on occasion and stays connected to the Birmingham music scene.
“It’s not a huge scene, but it’s a really good quality scene,” Drinkard said. “There’s a lot of really talented people here that are making music and touring and recording records.”
Apart from Seasick itself, Drinkard and his business have made other marks on the Birmingham music scene. This year, for the first time, they hosted The Get Down, a free music event at Avondale Park – once in September and once in October.
“It was packed out,” Shaheed said. “The October show was incredible, being that the kids from the Firehouse got to perform what they’ve learned.”
Years prior to October’s event, Shaheed and Drinkard met at a house party, and later filmed a video together with local high school students for a Sidewalk Film competition.
“And from there, we have always loved working with Seasick,” Shaheed said.
With a decade under their belt, Drinkard said the goal for Seasick is to “keep growing and to keep trying to do things better,” expanding their anthology of music in the coming years.
If you walk in this month, you may just hear Drinkard playing tracks from Slow Pulp’s newest record, “Yard,” his current vinyl of choice.
Seasick Records is located at 4420A 4th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222 and is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.