Updated: Mar 21, 2019
As you walk down the hallway of the long building located way out in the factory district of Athens, GA, in a building now reserved for local art-type businesses, you hear the sludgy, grungy, doomy, fuzzy guitar sound emanating from the beautiful vinyl spinning in the room which is Shadebeast...a vinyl store owned and run by Joe Eldridge which caters to metal and heavy rock. And before you think they'll stock popular stuff you can find in any average store, think again. Joe was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
1) Shadebeast Records originally was run out of your house. Tell us a little bit about how you got started, and why you decided to open a record store.
JOE: I worked at Tower Records in San Francisco for a brief period of time when I was 19 and it was really the only job I ever had where I was completely unaware of the time. Stocking, working the register and advising customers wasn't really work to me at all. Since then I'd always dreamed of one day opening a shop, but for various reasons felt like it wasn't something a working stiff could afford to do, much less have the time to devote to. In late 2016 I decided that I was going to get rolling towards at least a flea market booth or table "in a few years". The first step was to start putting together some kind of inventory. Once I got a retailer tax ID, I started making very small orders from some indie metal labels. I set up an online shop to officially declare that we were in business, and advertised through social media. In the meantime, I built some record bins because I knew I'd need them eventually. Once a few hundred records were sitting around in bins I took pictures of that as if they were in a physical retail space. People online saw that and asked if they could come and shop. It occurred to my wife that maybe we could run a simple store out of an office space in our house. That phase didn't last long though, because people coming to our house at odd times and in the evenings wasn't really practical. But we were making enough sales to afford to move to the spot we're in now, so that was the logical next step.
2) You have one of the coolest selections of vinyl in your store. Tell us the genres of music you stock and focus on.
JOE: I started out really focused on underground doom, sludge and stoner metal because those were the styles I was personally into. Psych metal and stoner rock are close relatives, so I started stocking a lot of that, too. With the prompting of some of the people who I consider advisors, we broadened into faster stuff (thrash/death/grindcore) as well as the vast and murky realm of black metal. Now we carry anything one would consider "heavy", but it's still very much indie and underground releases. I really have no interest in stocking mainstream metal or carrying stuff simply because it will sell.
3) What is the vision you have for Shadebeast?
JOE: As far as being a vinyl shop, the plan is to just keep on doing what we're doing, only increase the volume and quality of our selection. Because of limited time and money, Shadebeast works better as a curated boutique type of place rather than trying to be comprehensive. I also don't keep restocking a perpetual back catalog. We're very new release oriented. Once our allotment of new releases are gone, we generally just move on to what's next. I'm also trying to establish our t-shirts as an apparel brand, especially our artist series designs. I've watched a lot of street-wear brands rise out of the underground hip hop culture, but never seen one that represents underground metal culture. I'd like for us to be that. I also envision moving to a space that will service as a heavy art gallery/lounge. Selling original prints, posters and other flatstock would be fun.
4) Where did the name come from?
JOE: Just from brainstorming for something that sounded cool that wasn't taken. I had lots of ideas that wound up already being band names or some other kind of business. I conjured Shadebeast in my head and then found out there is a role playing game that has a creature in it's universe called a 'shade beast' but as two separate words. I always liked the double entendre aspect of the name Southern Lord. Does it mean a guy in a white suit on the porch of a Louisiana plantation... or the devil? Shadebeast is like that. It could mean a fat cow lounging under a tree, or it could be something horrible lurking in the shadows.
5) What are the advantages of running a small store? How much would you like to expand?
JOE: Our rent is super cheap and we don't have to pay employees. Myself and Zach work here for a record or two per shift. I started this with the acceptance that it would be a hobby that costs money each month. For that reason, we're failure proof. I'm probably going to be an old man in my 80s behind this counter talking about dope riffs to whoever wants to listen. I don't want to be a huge online retailer, but we do need to expand the physical shop into a larger space eventually. From a reputation standpoint though, and getting our shirts on the backs of metal fans, our plan for expansion is: TOTAL GLOBAL DOMINATION! haha
6) What do you feel separates Shadebeast from other stores in your genre of music?
JOE: There are only a handful of stores worldwide that I'm aware of that specialize in heavy stuff. I think The Heavy Metal Shop in Utah would be the oldest surviving, and Crypt of the Wizard in London is a newer excellent one. If anything sets us apart it's that our selection is an extension of our own musical taste. Aside from Zach and I, there's a wider group of people who feed us tips on a daily basis. Finding out about cool shit from your friends, who are way into it, is the best way. We're really just an organized group of people doing that, for the joy of spreading the faith.
7) What types of bands helped shape your musical tastes? I understand you have an affinity for punk and hardcore also.
JOE: Yeah, being turned on to that stuff when I was 14 in 1984 was a big bang moment for me. I'd been into classic rock and MTV music since I was about 10 but hearing DOA, Fear and Black Flag cracked open my mind. The directness and aggression of that music spoke to me, but more importantly the fact that it was something being made by regular people driving around in vans playing basements was inspiring. Even now, the metal I like most is the low budget, unpretentious stuff. Because of punk rock, I can hear the "ethics" in recordings. Which is why we carry Conan, No Funeral, Necrot, etc and not 5 Finger Death Punch.
8) You've told me before about your impressive 45 collection of early SST releases, and you sold them years ago (which brings a tear to my eye, by the way). Is it difficult to be surrounded by vinyl in your store, or is it actually a way for you to be able to get your vinyl fix listening to it while the store's open? Do you miss having a larger personal collection?
JOE: The records that people used to own, let go, and now regret parting with is a very popular topic of conversation at the shop! I sacrificed a lot of my own records to get the shop going but I don't regret it. Doing the buying and stocking for Shadebeast is actually a good substitute for my own vinyl addiction. It's ALL mine until it sells! Seriously though, it is fun staying abreast of what's coming out, placing the orders and trying to catch the important releases in time. I have less than 4 feet of records of my own right now, but a lot of beautiful stuff passes through my hands, so I can't complain.
9) If you could only listen to 5 albums for the rest of your life, regardless of genre, what would they be?
JOE: Wow, that's a heavy one. I have to pick ones that have had the most significant meaning in my life.
1. Iggy & the Stooges - Raw Power
2. Patti Smith Group - Easter
3. Husker Du - New Day Rising
4. Lloyd Cole - Rattlesnakes
5. Neil Young - Harvest
10) On a final note, what would you like to tell everyone about your store that hasn't been covered?
JOE: There's no money in running a record store! People thinking what you're doing is cool is the only reward. haha
We try to support the culture as much as possible and take part in a lot of benefit campaigns to keep the music rolling. Our next location will have enough room for meet-ups and for bands to play, regardless of whether anyone shows up or not. We're about art, music and fun, not cash. /,,/
Shadebeast is located at: 160 Tracy Street, Athens, GA
Open most weekends