In 2014, musician Alex York opened Torn Light Records in Newport, Kentucky, before moving to the Ludlow’s Gaslight district in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2019. In the subsequent two years, Torn Light has emerged as an essential hub for crate diggers, local artists, traveling musicians, and filmmakers. We caught up with Alex to talk about the state of the neighborhood record store at the end of a tumultuous 2021.
Q: What are your earliest memories of appreciating music? How did these early experiences inform your fandom today?
I loved R&B and oldies on the radio when I was a kid in the early 90s. I also have very fond memories of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Misfits, Metallica, etc. from my older cousin Mandy. She was deep into underground music culture, grunge, punk, etc. I hold her responsible for my love for music.
Q: What was/is your favorite record store? What made it so important to you?
My favorite record store would be hard to choose. Growing up it would have been Everybody's Records. Several people there helped me on my journey to getting into deeper stuff. I had a specific memory of someone there taking a stack of CDs out of my hand and saying, "You should grab this stuff instead."
"I know the music industry is 'fickle' but if you're a lifer... you're going to be doing it either way. "
Q: How did you pivot from being a mere music fan to deciding to open a business?
My old band [White Walls] had gone on three tours and after the third our roadie (Dan, my business partner) and I were like . . . Damn . . . Cincinnati needs a new shop. We traveled the U.S. and all of Canada playing like 60 gigs or something. We stopped at dozens of stores and were really stoked seeing shops that were carrying cool things. Huge metal sections. Noise tapes on the walls. People ordering true DIY hardcore 7"s and having them IN THE FLESH. It broke down the dull feeling of the internet age and really showed how out of touch a lot of shops are about things we personally are into. Something that's in tune with our peers felt more than needed around 10 years ago.
Q: How has it been running an independent store in an industry as fickle as the music business?
I've always been broke and worked for myself, so it's nothing new to me. Torn Light has released over 70 releases, editions as low as 20 copies that took a year to sell, some things into the thousands that took two months to sell. We now have over 10 labels that we manage, distribute and run. I know the music industry is "fickle" but if you're a lifer . . . you're going to be doing it either way.
Q: What has been a highlight of your time running Torn Light Records?
We have worked with a lot of artists I look up to and put on screenings of incredible films. All in all I would say the day Jonathan Richman came in and hung out with us for six hours before his gig next door felt like something of legend. He even asked a question that felt like a song title of his . . . "What's the best way to get to Milwaukee?"
Q: Best case scenario, how do you envision a store like yours interacting with local venues and record labels?
I think it would be great if local labels put more love into their local shops. Do a color variant for the local stores, something special, [collaborating with] venues. I would say communication would be nice. Doing in-stores or promotions together would be cool.
Q: Favorite three records of 2021?
Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Made Out Of Sound
Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt - Lucy & Aaron
Words and interview by Andy Hittle
356 Ludlow Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45220
Monday - Saturday: 11:00AM - 8:00PM
Sunday: 11:00AM - 5:00PM