Last August I took a trip to Maui, during which I drove the Road To Hana, proposed to my girlfriend, and went hunting for records in the basement of Wailuku’s Request Music, the only record store on the island. It was there I met Brendan Smith, the shop’s general manager. With Record Store Day now nearly a month behind us, I decided to spend more time getting to know Brendan, his involvement with Request Music, his awesome #sleevefaceoff contest idea that (unfortunately) no one entered, and his take on the annual frenzy we call Record Store Day. Note: an edited version of this interview appeared in the Metro Honolulu weekly.
Brendan Smith, general manager of Request Music in Wailuku, Maui.Please give me a brief background on yourself and your involvement with Request Music. I had been shopping at Request since I was about 6 or 7. Eventually I was there so often they offered me a job. Joke's on them, I probably would have done all of this for free. I've been working at RM since 2003 and became general manager circa 2008 or 09. What's the history of Request? Request was started back in 1990 by Vince Mendez, first at the local swap meet, where he would sell used music out of an old mail van. Shortly thereafter he moved into a small space and, approximately a year later, into a larger store on Market Street, in Wailuku, where we still hang our hat to this day. The shop changed hands three years ago to a friend named Joe Alueta, who has helped hugely to remodel and rejuvenate the business, as well as expand it to include comic books. Outside of Oahu, yours is the only record store still in existence in the islands. Why Maui? And what helps Request meet the needs of its community today? Mauians tend to not have their finger on the strongest of pulses and that's okay. It allows us the unique opportunity to stock more of the music we truly believe in and less of the stuff stores like ours are expected to have for the sake of cool points and what have you. We know our customers really well and pride ourselves in being able to cherry pick music for them. Record Store Day is now over. From the looks of it, you guys pulled off a great event with tons of attendees and lots of awesome performers. Being the only record shop on Maui, how do you guys make it extra special for your customers? And would say it was a big success? Yes, I'm still recovering from RSD. To say it was successful would be a huge understatement. I think everyone walked away with at least one of their wishlist items. Maui being it's unique self, we actually still have a few goodies sitting on our shelves and have made a few peoples days this week. The news of our appearance on Rolling Stone's website has really spread like wildfire, too.
Rolling Stone featured Request Music on Record Store Day 2015. Brendan's wearing the shop tee, top right.Did visitors attend RSD at RM, and if so how did they react? We had well over a dozen attendees from out of town, here on honeymoon, vacation and for friend's weddings. The general consensus being "I can't believe you guys still have this!" and "People are probably fist fighting over these in my hometown!" How was the #sleevefaceoff contest? Would you ever consider making it an all-island contest with entire made via Instagram? (Hint, hint). Although people have been loving my contributions to the #sleeveface community the contest was a bit of a flop this year. People knew about it but were somehow too embarrassed to try taking their own. I'd like to try it again, perhaps first at a Wailuku First Friday party. I've definitely had an all island contest in mind and even seeing what the great folks at Record Store Day would think about doing a nation wide thing, not necessarily as a contest but just a fun viral meme during RSD.
DJ Joralien does a great Gordon Lightfoot sleeveface.RSD is a relatively new idea, coming into existence many years after Request made its mark on the community. RSD has been criticized for being over-commercialized—in some ways it reminds of the complaints made about First Fridays in HNL Chinatown. What's your take on the RSD madness? For those stores and label saying that RSD is nothing but big labels manufacturing fake collectibles for large profit, I totally understand where you're coming from. With that said, shut up and enjoy. The limelight it has shined on all of us (independent record shops) has been a huge boost in business with long lasting effects, well after RSD. What's the nightlife like out there? Where do you go to have fun? Maui's nightlife leaves much to be desired, especially by y'all city folks with your nightclubs and what not. Every once in a while we have a good show or fun party, though. Not to toot my own horn or anything but my monthly 90's Night is one of Maui's most successful monthlys. I host it and my man DjBlast holds down the tables. If you've ever seen photos or videos on my Instagram you know what I mean. Nothing like hearing 250 people sing "Hit Me Baby, One More Time" in unison. I also help organize a bi-annual all vinyl party we call Vinyl Frontier. Any last remarks? Love the music you want to love. Even better, BUY the music you love. Also, your iPod might be portable but it sounds like crap. Tangible music til I die! Aloha! Check out Request Music in Wailuku the next time you're on Maui (and make sure to carve out extra time to dig in their basement!).