On this long weekend where so many are on the road I’m looking forward to introducing you to Arielle Stevenson the owner and operator of Hello Darlin’ Records, a mobile record shop and DJ booth out of her 1972 Volkswagen bus. I met Arielle through social media and was immediately interested in her shop. I used to own a 78′ VW camper and have a soft spot for them so I loved seeing the combination of the bus and records.
Arielle was born and raised in Pinellas County, Florida and is also a longtime freelance journalist and writer, with a master’s in Florida history. When she’s not spinning and selling vinyl, she’s currently working on a memoir about bringing her abuser to justice (note: this is touched on slightly later), as well as cooking, reading and gardening.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
My parents are both jazz musicians, mom plays flute and sings and dad plays upright bass. Music is basically the entire reason for my existence and always central to my life. I started working in radio when I was 16 years old at Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM. Reporting came first, then engineering and then programming. By 18, I had my own late-night/early morning show called Artful Dodgings and a massive record collection at the station to pick through. I got into records more and more. After going back to graduate school, I picked up at gig at Bananas Records cleaning, pricing and selling vinyl.
I got more obsessed with vinyl.
After grad school, finding full-time employment was tough so I grabbed another gig running a shop called St. Pete Records. I left there for what I thought was full-time employment in non-profit, but that job fell through. I talked about starting my own shop way down the road but [when] I talked to my Dad (the OG mechanic of gods) and he said, hell yeah! I figured I’ve got a Volkswagen and a huge collection, let’s start a shop on wheels. I named it Hello Darlin’ after my favorite Conway Twitty song, made famous by my favorite lady Loretta Lynn. And it worked! That was two years ago this December.
What is a day in the life like?
Everyday is very different. Because I’m mobile, my garage and apartment are where I take in, process and organize all my inventory. I’ve always been a picker and always gravitated towards the crate. I go hunting across the state for vinyl treasure. I feel like this keeper and matchmaker of forgotten records. Somedays I wake up to boxes of vinyl dropped in my alley in the middle of the night. There were a lot of records that weren’t “cool,” enough for the standard record shop vibe. I like those records. I love un-cool. I want to make folks feel comfortable to love what they love unabashedly (unless it is some racist bullshit, then we have a conversation). Country, folk, Dad rock, rock, gospel, classical, jazz, old soul and r & b. I really do have a hard time hating most music. I used to want to be the coolest, now I just don’t care. I get the privilege of going into so many spaces with the intention of making folks feel good with my bus, my vinyl, and my terrible dance moves.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
This project kind of started because I was going through such a long and hard time in my life. I was in a really abusive relationship and it took a long time working with authorities to close the case and get some closure. I didn’t mean for Hello Darlin’ to my antidote but it really became that. I could separate the sadness and pain from what I’ve gone through and just inspire joy in myself and others. It’s been really powerful. My Dad always says this work saves lives, he is usually talking about me. I have some really dark days but this concept/project/business truly keeps me going and helps me bloom. Kids are especially drawn to the bus and music and it fills my heart. Hello Darlin’ became this unintentional mobile sanctuary.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
I don’t get as frustrated by this as I used to but if there is a man standing anywhere near me, folks assume my bus and vinyl must belong to him. My partner laughs because he has to handle this question constantly at my gigs. He points to me and folks look dumbfounded, I’ve got the headphones on or just jumped out of the cab. It’s not just men that do this, all walks of life assume I couldn’t possibly know how to drive a stick or work a turntable. It’s like I’m a dog walking on its hind-legs. Most older DJs are incredibly supportive, seriously! But there’s the occasional skeptic that walks up thinking I have something to prove to them. I don’t. I put a record store in an old bus and started spinning with a suitcase turntable and a bass amp. I’m scrappy, not ego-driven. Other difficulties are Volkswagens require a lot of physical labor to keep running with the amount of gigs I do. We do all our own work and restoration. Wear and tear take their toll on a vintage car in modern traffic. Everything from the steering to the brakes to the shifting is fully analog. But it’s all part of the fun overall.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Do it because you truly love it and not to make money. Do it on your own terms and not to fit a mold. Do it because it’s your heart and soul and you’re afflicted and can’t help it.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I’m an obsessive vinyl collector that’s gotten very apt at giving away my most precious records because I know they will help someone. It also allows me to endlessly dig. I’m trying to get better at keeping some back for myself nowadays, especially since djing has become a bigger part of my life. Our home collection is a lot of 45s, I love 45s for spinning because I was trained as a disc jockey and it’s designed for that quick, one-song-punch. The bulk of our records are jazz, punk (mostly my partner who has an incredible background in that scene), metal, and then my country, rock, soul, African, and the essential weirdo pile. Errol Garner‘s Concert by the Sea was my Papa’s favorite record and I listen to it weekly.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I’m worried about the eco-footprint of vinyl pressing. I know it is taking its toll on the environment and it pains me because it is so exciting to see vinyl pressing in such full force. This is one of the reasons I sell vintage vinyl, it’s upcycling what is already out in the world and keeping it viable. I think we need to work on eco-alternatives and I hope to do so as I explore pressing music for my own label someday.
Tell me what are you listening to right now?
George Michael. I can’t stop listening to his catalogue and being overwhelmed by how his music touches so many people so deeply. Also, Lizzo and Missy Elliott are ruling my life for getting pumped before a gig.
Hello Darlin’ Records: @hellodarlinrecords
Hello Darlin’ Records: www.hellodarlinrecords.com/