December 13, 2012

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Elsewhere, limited-edition cassettes are tied in to conventional CD or digital releases, as with the recent release Apocryphon by American metal band the Sword, who offered fans a cassette copy (while supplies lasted) if they bought a CD or vinyl copy.

The people involved in buying and producing music on cassette these days, Sterne says, are not the ones who remember rewinding cassettes the first time around.

“I don’t listen to cassettes,” Sterne says, “but I’m old enough to remember when music was released on cassette. If you don’t have the baggage I have, it’s easier to see it as an interesting artifact, as a collector or music lover, because in my experience, it was always a compromise.” Of course, if his favorite band released something only on cassette, “I would get over it pretty quick,” Sterne says.

But one musician who does recall the waning glory days of cassettes is still issuing his own recordings on cassette. Peter Stubb, the psuedonym of Gary Dewayne King, just issued his latest collection of songs under the title “Cassette Legend.”

Stubb, 39, is a Dalton, Ga., native and something of an outsider music legend whose life and music are documented in the short documentary “I’m Like This Every Day,” and who has recorded and laborioulsy hand-labeled and designed more than 100 cassettes of his own music since the late 1980s.

“I just don’t have the money to produce CDs,” Stubb says earnestly while visiting his friends at Mayfield’s All Killer No Filler, a new independent record store in Red Bank that carries a wide selection of Stubb’s music on cassette.

Not given to lengthy introspection, Stubb says he feels the format works well for him. He says can purchase a 20-pack of his favorite blank cassettes (he prefers Maxell’s Duplication Series) on eBay, then records and plays them back on one of four tape players he owns to check the sound. Any of his collections of songs—cassettes are jam-packed with as many as 25 Stubb originals, with titles such as “She Choked on Her Own Fart Smell”—can feature as many as five different covers featuring artwork contributed by friends or photographs he photocopies at his local UPS store.

“Sometimes I can find an artist who wants to illustrate a cover,” he says, “or I just hand letter them. But I use a typewriter to list the songs, since most people have trouble reading my handwriting.”

Stubb sells the cassettes himself at infrequent live performances in Chattanooga, but they’ve also wound up in such far-flung locales as New York, San Francisco and in Europe, where other bands and record stores trade cassettes to spread the popularity of grind, Stubb’s current genre.

Josh Mayfield, a friend, fan and supporter—also co-owner of Mayfield’s and co-producer of the Stubb documentary—says Stubb’s music and cassettes have developed a healthy cult following—but not because of anything Stubb has done.

“I remember when he used to leave his cassettes in the bathroom of Walmart,” Mayfield says.

Stubb is not alone in his practical obsession. The fact that you can create your own cassettes, sequence songs and produce unique mixtapes, the scholar Sterne says, was vital to their initial popularity.

“The average person didn’t have a record lathe,” Sterne says, “But people could make or assemble cassettes. There was a more involved relationship with recording.”

At the same time, cassettes had a particular sound, one that even shaped some musical genres (lo-fi, for example). And like all analog products, you have to take care of them. “You can’t just leave them in the car in the sun or they’ll warp or melt,” Sterne adds, “although that becomes part of the sonic experiment.”


December 13, 2012

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