Hello friends of A Different Drum! It is time for another update, and another installment of A Different Drum’s history. I hope that you’re enjoying the history segments.
But first, here are the NEW ARRIVALS…
The Voice In Fashion “The Moment of Truth Re-Loaded” (2CD) $15 — This is a new import from a classic synthpop act, featuring the album “The Moment of Truth” with a bonus CD loaded with remixes for a total of 23 tracks! You can see the complete track list and order the 2CD here :
Jens Bader “Second Life” $15 — Hot on the heels of the Unisex CD release, this is another collection of remastered and remixed songs by the prolific German synthpop act. You can see the track list and order the CD here :
Tenek “Another Day” (CDEP) $12 — This is an exciting new selection of new tracks leading into the upcoming Tenek album! Tenek has a connection with the old days of A Different Drum’s label with Geoff of THE NINE and ALIEN#SIX13. You can read about this new material and pre-order the new EP here :
As previously announced, these re-issues by ANYTHING BOX are available for pre-order and will ship to anybody who orders as soon as the CD’s arrive from the label:
Anything Box “Hope” Pre-Order Here
Anything Box “Worth” Pre-Order Here
Anything Box “Recovered” Pre-Order Here
Anything Box “Volumen One” Pre-Order Here
HISTORY OF A DIFFERENT DRUM - PART 3 - REDISCOVERING SYNTHPOP
As mentioned in the previous installment of A Different Drum’s history, the company first began as a special-order business that focused on hard-to-find, international music, with the bulk of the sales in Latin music. The first incarnation of the physical store carried almost all Latin music on very few shelves. The 2nd physical location, which was the first in its own building, saw an increase in space for inventory. Customers could walk into the store and find both ethnic music and popular music from many countries, as well as musical genres generally ignored by the mainstream. I had a fun time in that store, and it was there that my constant searches for unique products led me back to my musical roots. While seeking rarities and imports, I found that quite a few of my old band favorites like OMD, Alphaville, etc. actually had new albums that I didn’t know about, because they had been completely abandoned by the market in the USA. I ordered new albums by those bands, both to sell, and to add to my own collection. I figured that they could find a welcome home in a store that was focused on international CD’s. Since my business was small, and customers were not frequent, I had plenty of time each day to dig around the globe, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours running up phone bills. Looking back, I miss the personal connection that I was able to make with the artists, labels, and people behind the scenes, as well as with my customers, in a world that had not yet completely turned to virtual methods of communication.
Though I don’t recall exactly how the pieces came together, the discovery that my favorite bands from my youth had never quite vanished, but had merely been deserted by American labels, eventually led me to sleuthing out contacts for more and more of those artists, including American bands like Anything Box, Red Flag, and Seven Red Seven. Those bands had also continued releasing CD’s on their own labels once the majors deserted them. For some, the abandonment of the major labels felt like a sort of liberation, allowing the artists to take their sizable fan bases and sell independent CD’s for a larger profit margin than they could have made with the labels. For others, it felt like a slap in the face to see their support unceremoniously pulled away. Some bands had barely even recorded debut albums, only to see them quickly sold as cut-outs and forgotten. I saw that while my interests had expanded and my focus had changed for a while, I could not turn my back on the music I’d loved during my youth, even if the larger market had already forsaken it. I not only felt that I could expand my store’s selection by taking in some of those import and independent releases from what was now an underground scene, but I also felt a sense of obligation to reclaim my roots, embrace my old dreams, and even lend a hand if possible. Sure, I was just one guy in a small building with very few visitors, but I was sure I could contribute in some way. Soon enough, there was a little corner of my front counter with a small CD rack that carried titles like Anything Box “Hope”, Red Flag “The Lighthouse”, Seven Red Seven “Bass State Coma”, and Cosmicity “The Moment”, along with imports like Alphaville “Prostitute” and OMD “Universal”, among others.
One thing led to another. My phone conversations and explorations led to new contacts with small labels in Germany and Sweden, where synthpop had not been as roughly treated as in the USA. I talked frequently to a man named Dennis who ran a label called October Records. We shared similar backgrounds and similar aspirations. I talked to a man in Germany named Lorenz who managed what was one of the synthpop underground’s favorite bands in the mid nineties called De/Vision. I started interacting with other folks online, connecting with people that had formed an underground synthpop network in Australia, and posting comments on a small, internet newsgroup called alt.music.synthpop. I conversed with a wonderful woman named Jeri who had worked passionately to not only run an Information Society fan club, but also kept a series of printed newsletters going and put together some early CD compilations of new synthpop bands from the underground– bands who might never have been heard otherwise. I found a man named David who publushed a wonderful magazine that not only focused on the 80’s roots of synthpop, but actually reviewed and interviewed new bands. There were other magazines in Europe that included synthpop in their pages, but only as a spring-off of their main industrial and gothic focus.
One day a man named Gary walked into my store and saw my little collection of imported and independent synthpop on the counter-top. “What?” he exclaimed with surprise. “You carry Anything Box? Alphaville? Red Flag? I thought nobody had this stuff!” It turns out that Gary had come into my store to scout out what kind of establishment I had, as he was also starting up his own retail outlet. He was starting a business called New Wave Records, with a focus on new wave and synthpop rarities. We fast became friends and never once thought of each other as competitors. He opened a very small store in a basement room in an office building, which was an odd location for retail, but it was basically a base of operations. He had some CD’s, both used and new, spread out on tables. Our conversations and sharing of resources quickly resulting in collaborative efforts to bring a couple of our favorite synthpop bands to Provo, Utah for concerts. Those efforts may have been poorly conceived, but were fueled by a passion that we both shared, and soon enough we were organizing our first events. We put together a concert with Anything Box, with an opening performance by a local synthpop favorite, Agnes Poetry. We also organized a show combining Red Flag, Seven Red Seven, and Cosmicity. I remember spending all of my evenings for a few weeks spreading flyers around dorm complexes surrounding BYU in Provo, hoping that the right people would notice. I don’t think those flyers had any effect, but how could we know unless we tried? We also paid for a few radio ads, and I remember both Gary and I becoming quite angry with the local alternative radio station for nearly mocking our shows right after the ads. There was one time when an ad for Anything Box ran, and then the DJ said something like, “Wow, that should be a great concert– with only one song!” Gary called the station immediately and told them, “We’re not paying for that one.” They apologized..after all, it was their job to hype the show, not mock it. I shall elaborate more on these initial concert events in my next update. Suffice it to say for now that we didn’t make any money on either of those two events, but at the end of each show, Gary and I would look at each other and say, “That was the most fun I ever had losing $1,000!” (or whatever the amount had been).
My passion for synthpop had been rekindled. I continued to build my selection and opened a very simplistic, online store so that the CD’s I carried could be ordered from anybody, anywhere in the world. Orders started trickling in as the fans who roamed the internet supported my effort to bring the remnants of the scene under a single roof. Though the CD’s could have been ordered from each artist individually, it seemed that people liked the idea of a store that carried a larger selection, and business steadily grew. I remember when I reached a point where I would sometimes sell more CD’s through online orders and phone orders that I had sold to any customer actually entering my physical store. The business was still very young, but it was growing steadily.
Inspired by the “Cat Compilations” released by Jeri Beck in the USA, I put together my own collection of songs, gathered from American synthpop bands both new and veteran, hoping that it could act as a sort of exploratory tool for would-be fans. It was then, in 1996 that I put together the first release to carry my store name of “A Different Drum”. The CD was called “Rise! America’s Synthpop Underground” and it quickly became my best-selling synthpop CD as orders trickled in from around the world. My associates in Sweden and Germany wanted to import a few and sell them to their fan-bases as well, and I could see that there was a small market for such compilations. I quickly began planning more. Why stop there?
During those early days of mailing CD’s out of my little store, I met some very good customers who became long-time friends. Folks like Sal A., Sean N., and Ken D. (among others) would call frequently to find out what new titles I’d brought into my store, and I spent many hours propping a phone next to my stereo speakers so that they could hear the latest tunes. It is with a smile that I think to those days of telephone sampling, and how costly it must have been to spend one or two hours with a single customer flipping through tracks for horrible sound quality. But they kept calling, kept buying, and kept wanting more. Even today I enter into regular contact with some of those early customers, but not to listen to music over the wire. Instead we talk as friends and share our personal experiences and feelings. Sal is a particularly prized friend who calls often to see how my family is doing or to share political opinions. Even if there isn’t as much music to buy from A Different Drum as there used to be, we’ve watched each others families grow and we’ve shared wonderful memories. He probably has purchased every synthpop release I’ve ever stocked in my store, from the early days until the present, but I believe that it isn’t even about the music as much as it is about supporting his friends, which is something I cherish. Let me tell you a quick story about Sal, as it brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it– and there are many more stories about this great man.
Back in those early mail-order days, I often had to wait for paper checks to arrive as payment for CD’s, and then I’d mail the CD’s to the customer. Debit cards were not as popular then, so things had to be done the “slow way”. One particular customer called and ordered quite a few CD’s, which he claimed that he needed quickly for some upcoming event. He asked if I could ship the CD’s immediately, and he would mail the check at the same time, and the two would “cross paths” on the way to our addresses. I agreed and shipped the CD’s. Weeks went by, and no check arrived. I reminded the customer that I was waiting, but the check never seemed to come around. One day I was talking to Sal, and I mentioned that I had a customer who was not paying. I believed it would be my first loss to theft with the mail-order part of my business. Sal was quickly frustrated that somebody would do such a thing to a young businessman who was sacrificing so much to support synthpop. After all, every CD I stocked was with my own money, and not a small cost in some large, seemingly intangible entity. Stealing CD’s from my store was really the same thing as walking in and taking cash from my wallet. Sal lives in New York and has an Italian family background, and though he’s as honest and gentle as you can imagine, I’m sure that a certain tone in his voice when angry could shake somebody a little bit.
“So, Todd, can you give me this guy’s number?”
“No, don’t worry about it Sal, it’s really not a big deal. I just know better now about sending large shipments with a payment first.”
“Seriously man, I’m not going to do anything stupid. I just want to talk to him.”
“I don’t want him to think that I’m after him. It might look bad for me, as a business. What if the guy never orders from me again?”
“Who cares if he never orders again? He isn’t paying you anyway!”
“OK, here’s the number, but don’t do anything crazy.”
“Look Todd, you know me. I’m not going to do anything that would make you look bad. I just want to let him know that he needs to be honest with you.”
Well, within a couple of days, I received a priority letter with a check enclosed, and the customer called long enough to ask, “So, did you receive my payment OK? I told you I’d send it, and I have.” I never heard from that guy again.
I called Sal and asked, “So…buddy…what did you say to that guy?”
“I just told him that I understand he owes you money and that you’re my friend, and he better send it to you, right away, because I don’t like people stealing from my friends. Something like that. Why? Did he pay you?”
“Yes, he paid right away…express.”
“Great! So, no harm done?”
I don’t really know what went down on that phone call that Sal made to the guy, but I imagine he was forceful, yet polite. But that is the way Sal has been from the beginning. He has been extremely passionate and even protective of the entire synthpop scene and A Different Drum. He has the largest collection of CD’s I’ve ever seen in one place, and he treasures them, just like I treasure his friendship. He has often asked me, “So Todd, how many CD’s to you have now?” I just laugh and reply, “Not nearly as many as you do.”
“Oh, come on! You have tens of thousands of CD’s!”
“Yes, but I have thousands of copies of the same thing. Hundreds of this one, hundreds of that one, a thousand of another. But every disc is unique in your collection.”
“True, true. But you still own them.”
There is also Ken D. in Canada, who I’ve been privileged to meet in person and who has called and talked to me all these years. He also has a huge collection, complete with concert bootlegs and videos that I have never seen before. He is more selective than Sal, but feels a very compelling drive to fill any hole in his collection if it comes to a band that he loves. He and others like him have filled their lives with music, and have shared parts of their lives with me. I remember a customer who used to mail me mix CD’s that he made of his favorite songs and artists. Then he asked me what kind of music my wife enjoyed. When I told him, he then made her several mix CD’s of just the kinds of things she liked. It was his little way of giving back and sharing the music that brought him joy. With one CD that he mailed, he included a note that thanked me for all the CD’s he had found and purchased from my store. He told me that he had been diagnosed HIV positive, and that the music had kept his hopes and even his body alive at times when he had thought the end was near. He felt like the music was better than any other medication, and he had been grateful to have found A Different Drum. At the times when I felt like I was throwing my life away and risking the well-being of my family because of my belief that I could make something of my business, it was letters and comments like that which kept me going. It convinced me that the financial side didn’t always have to add up, as long as the human side did.
There are many more similar experiences that began with quick emails and telephone calls from that little store. I’ve laughed myself to tears in lighthearted conversations about not only music, but about life, all because I was chasing a dream, and was too stubborn to quit. That is probably why I’m still here, typing this update and this history– because despite the fact that A Different Drum has faded from its prominent position in a synthpop scene that may itself be fading into the noisy background of a myriad sounds that flood the internet and the airwaves…I’m too stubborn to just close the door on that old store completely.
Next time, PART 4 - BRINGING A SHOW TO TOWN
Thanks for reading