INTERVIEW : BEN SWANK OF THIRD MAN RECORDS

Ben Swank is a former Soledad Brothers drummer, cofounder — with Jack White and Ben Blackwell — of Third Man Records and sometimes Rolling Record Store truck driver and vinyl slinger. He was circling our block at Ace New York in the Third Man Rolling Record Store as our CMJ shindig Notes From the Underground got started — looking for a spot to land for the weekend and shill wax — and he kindly double parked for a moment to chat with us about the state of music and stuff. Catch him in the shop outside Ace New York today from 5pm til around midnight.

Do you have any insider info on the Blunder-Blue vinyl recipe?

It’s a mixture of polyvinyl chloride (CH2=CHCI), salt, oil and polymerized chlorine resin mixed with MK Ultra Blue Tab 25 disco dust.

You’ve been a pretty outspoken advocate for musicians placing their livelihoods over 90s style concerns about indie street cred. Is there anything you’d consider going too far? Would you advise an artist to license their song so that it’s activated by the opening of Big Mac boxes? 

It’s all what the artist is comfortable with. It’s an individual choice in the same way a person may enjoy the disgusting endorphin rush of a Big Mac over the smug self-satisfaction of a nice kale salad. I think it’s pretty difficult to “sell out” these days. It’s tough for up-and-coming bands to get by. It’s probably weird for fans to hear The Strange Boys in a computer commercial or Eddy Current Suppression Ring hawking AT&T… but I just think, at least they are paying some bills. The corporate landscape is different now. There’s rock’n’roll kids working for advertising companies. Sounds silly, but seriously that’s ridiculous. You wouldn’t have heard Tad in a Pepsi commercial (despite having THE BEST song about Pepsi) because in the 90s slackers didn’t work at ad firms. Or work at all. Cause it was the 90s and everyone was depressed and serious. 

Has somebody ever given you a demo when you totally thought the conversation was not leading to giving you a demo, but then it did, but it was cool ‘cause it was actually really good?

That hasn’t happened… but some kid posted on my Facebook page the other day with his band and at first I was pissed about it — the flagrant self-advertising. But I listened to it and it was really good and I kind of learned a lesson that day.

Has the Third Man Rolling Record Store ever gotten a flat? Does it carry a spare and a jack?

Not a flat, but it’s on the road a lot so it has had some issues pop up. Usually, it’s finding a cool mechanic that can sort it out right away that just wants to work on a cool truck. But usually they’re just like, “What the hell is this thing? You sell records?” And then they shake their heads in disapproval at us and shame us.

Will rock’n’roll ever die?

Yes, please.

Photo of Swank in his office by Jo McCaughey on Nashville Scene.


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