by Ben Shine
Local Mix Masters is a series where occasionally I introduce people who are mixing it up, making stuff happen and holding down the decks in music around Indy. This time, I got to have morning coffee and talk music in the back office of Luna Music with owner Todd Robinson -- surrounded by 20 years of show flyers, promo posters and stacks and stacks of albums.
Todd is a music purveying powerhouse, and he’s currently rolling through his 20th year as owner of Luna Music. He’s marking two decades of entrepreneurship by putting on a string of star-studded shows and revamping his personal record label. Listening to him tell his story, there’s a clear pattern that I sense: Todd's built his entire career creating something to fill his own needs as a music nerd, and he wants to help other people do the same.
He moved to Indy from Dayton, Ohio, to open Luna in 1995, because he couldn’t find what he wanted in his own journeys as a record collector. He immediately started using the space to create his own record label, program great performances by artists who he personally knew and admired and to connect lots of people to the music he loves.
When I met him in the shop, the normally early riser was a little bleary-eyed and rough-voiced from being up the night before stuffing record sleeves with his wife and prepping Luna Music’s own contribution to this year’s upcoming Record Store Day -- a reissue of Assateague’s Good Morning Blues.
SBW: Tell me about Good Morning Blues and why did you decide to reissue it for Record Store Day?
Todd Robinson: It’s one of those records that just stopped me in my tracks. At the end of the first listen, I turned the record over and played it again just to be sure I heard what I think I heard. My friend knew them, and I asked them for 10 copies and started pushing them on people around here. I turned a lot of heads onto it until the stock ran out, so I thought, This record is so important to me and it pains me that it doesn’t have a physical life. It needs to be out. So I asked if I could re-press the record, and I’m still a little punchy that this whole thing is coming together.
It’s an understated, elegant gem, and I literally listened to it every day for a year. It's the combination of a really good record, but it’s become a personal lynchpin for me to where I was at the time when I heard it. I need to hear it every day like a tonic.
SBW: I say this a lot, but I think Indy’s in the midst of a sort of cultural renaissance. What's changed the most in Indy during your 20 years as a cornerstone of independent music in the city?
TR: I don’t think there’s any shortage now of young, enthusiastic and energetic people here, who, instead of wanting to move away to some place that is already established, are now saying, “Why not do it here and why not make it great here?” I think it’s a longer view than I had when I was their age.
SBW: What’s been the best part?
TR: Getting to know all the people who come through the door. Personally, thinking what a great town to move to, that it was a gem that people in my world weren’t aware. It’s been great to see a city progress and evolve into such a wonderful town to want to get up and be a part of every day. To be around people like Abby Goldsmith and see the next wave of people doing smart things like General Public Collective, it’s great to see it go, go, go, go.
Last week I had a kid come in on his birthday and ask for (John Coltrane’s) Giant Steps. He had never heard it before and had read about it. I thought, “How much do I have to pay to come home with you to watch you have your mind blown?” How would that sound to me now?
SBW: What’s been the worst part?
TR: Dealing with the bottoming out of digital music and people acting like music was free and nobody had to do anything to make it. It was a bummer to try to illustrate to everyone that people are sacrificing to follow their muse and create something that, at the very least you should be respectful of. It’s been really satisfying to see people come in who have an appreciation for the 12” by 12” and have a physical artifact to hold. It’s not just binary code. Being able to have it and hold it in your hand is going to inherently make you think there’s value in it.
SBW: Where do you see this going? Have you hit your stride or will you be happy to have coffee with me here again in 20 years?
TR: I don’t have an end game but I have everything in place. My role will evolve into something new and fresh. I don’t mean something bright and shiny. The older I get, I want to find the interesting things within the bigger framework. Did I think I was going to be up late last night getting our secret project for RSD ready? No, but it’s one of the exciting things about it all too. As long as people want to show up and have coffee, I’ll be here.
SBW: What do you want people to discover at Luna?
TR: I hope they discover a safe place to subtract yourself and immerse yourself and just experience something. A soul quenching respite? We have such an oddball product mix. I hope it’s a place where people come in to talk to like-minded individuals and maybe find a new record or maybe just have a day brightener?
SBW: What’s Record Store Day meant to the traditional brick and mortar record store?
TR. Record Store Day has been a shining light to show that record stores still have their value and are beyond just places to buy music. Through the years that we’ve done it, we’ve always tried to bring friends along for the ride. It’s an important day to really focus on the local and have one more chance to bang the drum for the local business person that’s getting up early and doing it. Having a bigger version of what we normally do.
SBW: This whole vinyl thing, do you think it’s going to stick around?
TR: It think that’s what we’re going to see -- there’s a new dynamic going on. Maybe the vinyl renaissance is just going to evolve what people want and how they want it served. It turned the tide against the digital trend. It made shopping fun again.
TR: Assateague -- Good Morning Blues
Understated, elegant gem. Seemingly effortless. Perfect record, dare I say.
Bobby Womack -- The Bravest Man in the Universe
Very few people, certainly in the latter stages of their career, ever chime in with a master stroke. The bravest man in the universe is certainly that. The collision of more contemporary songwriting and production is a perfect match.
Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
That record is an unbelievably direct look into somebody’s world. Almost flinchingly so. I describe it as a non-acid damaged, southern gothic Oar. When I first heard it I thought, This can’t be this good.