Trail Mix: Melvin Dillon’s Soul Step Records

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Melvin Dillon and one of his Soul Step pressings.

A bit over a year ago, my dad went rummaging around in a closet and dug out my meager vinyl collection, which dated back to my high school days. Since investing in a CD player in 1991, I hadn’t touched vinyl. But, for some reason, I had gotten interested in tracking these old records down and firing up a turntable, and my dad was able to locate them. I headed home from that trip to my folks’ with two old turntables from the attic and a pile of records, ready to spin a 33 rpm trip through nostalgia.

Alas, all was for naught. Technical issues kept me from getting a system hooked up and the whole idea took a backseat to other pressing concerns for the next year.

Then, just a couple months ago, a good friend was looking to unload a turntable, receiver, and speakers. How could I say no? This system was looking for a good home and I had a home to provide. I tossed it all in my car, brought it home . . . . and it didn’t work.

I was crestfallen. My venture back into vinyl seemed destined for failure. But, determined not to fail, I cobbled together a more-than-adequate sound system with the bits and pieces of stereo equipment I had collected. A thirty year old turntable from my dad and the receiver and speakers from my buddy suddenly sparked to life. I had records spinning. Music that I hadn’t heard in twenty years was bouncing around my den.

And I was hooked. Vinyl. I had to get some. More. And not just any vinyl. I wanted old vinyl. Jazz and blues. The older and more obscure the better.

I quickly diagnosed myself with Vinyl Acquisition Syndrome, a condition dangerous both to the wallet and a healthy marriage.

Someone well acquainted with my newfound malady is Melvin Dillon, a native of Big Stone Gap, Va., and a current resident of Cincinnati, Ohio. I had run across Melvin many years ago when he was a touring musician and I pointed him towards some venues in the Bristol area.

After mentioning my rediscovery of vinyl to a colleague at work, she mentioned that a buddy of hers from high school had started his own label and was pressing records.

Turned out that the friend was Mevlin, and we have since caught up to chat about his label, Soul Step Records, why vinyl is such a unique medium, and what exactly I can do for my V.A.S.

BRO – What is your best advice for a vinyl noob?

MD – Buy the records that mean the most to you. Vinyl is a more intimate relationship than listening to a CD or digital files. You’ll deepen your connection by being able to play the records that you know the best. That’s when you’ll hear it differently, and then you’ll be absolutely hooked.

BRO – What was the inspiration behind founding Soul Step Records?

MD – I found myself getting frustrated every time I went to a record store because I couldn’t find anything new. I then thought about all the records that I wished were on vinyl. My very next thought was that I wished someone would’ve helped me put my music on vinyl back when I used to tour. That’s where it began. Now, I’m finding ways to make records happen that didn’t exist and present a business plan that is more beneficial to the artist than anything else out there. I’m proud to not only make records, but to support incredible artists at the same time.

BRO – For you, the creation of a record is both a visual and auditory experience. Why is that?

MD – I think that is true because of a couple different factors. I think the auditory side of things explains itself. That’s the hook. However, part of the charm is the artwork and the special vinyl we will do for each release. The artwork truly gives the active listener a chance to hold the music in his hands. I love Pet Sounds, by The Beach Boys, more than anything on Earth. Looking at the artwork on a computer screen is one thing, but holding it in my hands as a 12 x 12 is something else. It brings me closer, makes it more significant. I’ve been very lucky to have the talents of some incredible artists on my records, and we’ve even been honored by Pitchfork for some of our artwork. And with each release, I try and do something special for the first 100 vinyl I press. I’m a fan of special variants of vinyl as a collector, and I think sometimes the allure of these special vinyl can bring new fans of the medium into the fold.

BRO – If you could press a record for any artist, who would it be?

MD – Wow. So many names pop into my head. First come all the ideas of the albums I particularly want on vinyl. But my gut says Tom Waits. What an unbelievable songwriter and artist. I would probably retire if that happened. How could that be topped?

BRO – What was the last vinyl discovery that made your heart skip a beat?

MD – Natalie Prass. She is a Virginia gal via Cleveland and Nashville and Richmond. I’ve been aware of her by connecting in the Nashville scene. I knew she had a record, but it never came to light. Recently it was released and it was like hearing Joni Mitchell with a horn section behind her. Such a strong album. I dropped the needle on the first track, “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” and I was taken away.

BRO – Is there an antidote for Vinyl Acquisition Syndrome?

MD – As a long time sufferer of V.A.S., I have yet to find a cure. I can only attest to the bug growing stronger with each record I acquire. When it comes to V.A.S., it’s truly not about finding a cure but finding a way to contain it.

To read more about Melvin, the artists he is working with, and how you might grab some of his vinyl, point your browser to Soul Step Records.

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