This week we have the pleasure to introduce you to Jennifer Klein, the co-host of the Maplewood Record Fair, an awesome event that happens twice a year in November and May in Maplewood, New Jersey. Be sure to mark your calendars as the next one is coming up November 12th and you will get a discount if you mention Women in Vinyl! The fair hosts about 25 vendors with 40 tables of vinyl, CDs, cassettes, stereo equipment, musical instruments, comic books, vintage clothes, and more. Plus a lot of vegan and vegetarian food prepared by the family. Outside of her work on the record fair, she is also a teacher at Hunter College and a talented musician playing in a few different bands that put out vinyl; more on that below.
In her free time, Jennifer still plays music occasionally with her friend Adam Nathanson (of the newsletter New York Shit Show!). “I love exchanging ideas even though we’re working too much to do a lot with them. Thinking about bands, songs and music is still a big part of where my brain goes during down time. I am mostly reading and writing for work but when I’m not I play tennis and tend to have a lot of dogs, records and children in my house at all times. It’s a constant battle between attraction to chaos and quiet.”
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
As a kid my punk rock older sister Dusty got me into music. She passed away when we were younger, but I’ve carried our mutual interest in music with me through adulthood. There was an active all-ages music scene in Baltimore, where I grew up, and I spent as much time out of my house as possible at shows at local colleges, Unitarian churches and places like the Loft and The Hour House, which I found my way to on the bus. I saw great bands live like Jawbox, Lungfish, Fugazi, and Circus Lupus, which was pretty formative for me.
I also went to a school that encouraged art, music, weirdness, and blurred lines in general. A lot of people I went to school with ended up doing creative things either related to music or film; Animal Collective, Yeasayer, Guy Blakesly from Entrance Band, Matt Weiner who created Mad Men, etc., all went to my school. We had classes on things like Hitchcock, hung out with our teachers on the weekends, called them by their first names and performed Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. It was weird and great. I moved to NYC just before college and wound up playing in bands that loved and recorded vinyl. I never wanted to do music for money, so I can’t speak very much to the industry.
What is a day in the life like?
There is regular life, which includes my teaching at Hunter College and everything that goes with that, then there are the weeks leading up to the record fair twice a year, in November and May or June. About two months out we are distributing flyers, pricing records, arranging vendors, advertising, and coordinating everything to make the record fair successful. I’m always thinking about the playlist too.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
There are many favorites for different reasons. Thinking in chronological order about vinyl specifically, when I was 19 I put out the 7” for my first band Your Adversary (link to cool podcast about record we put out here) with support from my first guitarist and good friend Chris Jensen. Chris was one of my first introductions to doing an independent record label, putting out records and making cool stuff in our apartment ourselves. He did a label called Mountain Cooperative and was probably one of the most feminist and DIY people I’ve ever played with. Your Adversary was involved with abc no rio, a collective music space on the LES of Manhattan, and we played with some great bands during a relatively short-lived existence: Saetia, Yaphet Kotto, You and I, Aus Rotten, Cave in, Pg. 99, Ire and World Inferno Friendship Society (RIP Pete V), to name a few. I met my husband on my 23rd birthday just after a Your Adversary practice and had heard of him because he was running Gern Blandsten records which was and is (in my unbiased opinion) one of the best independent record labels that has ever existed. He was putting out amazing bands (Chisel, Rye Coalition, The Van Pelt, Ted Leo, Rorschach, The World Inferno Friendship Society, Trans Megetti, Dalek, All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, and Radio 4, to name a few) and so eventually living together and sharing interests I got to see how he worked, and worked on some stuff with him in the early 2000s.
We also worked together to book bands for the Pat Duncan show at WFMU for a number of years and I got to help out Diane Kamikaze, who is a woman of many talents: sound engineer, record peddler, tattoo artist with setting up equipment for amazing bands like Leatherface, The Slits/Ari Up, Misfits, Riverboat Gamblers, etc. so we would get to watch them play on air very intimately which was great. After Your Adversary I played in a garage band called the Plungers. Highlights of that band included touring Japan and getting to play with some of my favorite bands like Teengenerate, The Avengers and J Church. The coolest thing we did during that time period, for me, was a split vinyl release with J Church with Chunksaah Records. I love everything Lance Hahn ever did and miss him.
More recently I loved the vinyl and art for The Green Dragon records I played on, and especially loved the collaboration and creative process of our early years playing in my basement with no audience in mind. My friend Nadir did the early art featuring hand-drawn dragons of course but also as much male nudity as female nudity, which as far as I’m concerned is a trend that needs to continue in metal. Mike Dubisch, an insanely talented comic artist, also gave art to Green Dragon for our full-length. Nate Wilson, the original drummer for Green Dragon, is a punk veteran and good friend who did Gloom Records and knew a lot about putting out vinyl and cassettes. I learned a lot from him about vinyl as well.
My favorite thing to do related to music now is the Maplewood record fair. It doesn’t get any cooler than being with family and old friends walking distance from our house in the town that we love surrounded by music and people who love it. I’m proud that we’ve made something on our own terms, and that all types of people feel welcome. I work the door, our daughters Avery and Mira help out with everything from accounting to food— they are definitely better at charging people at the door than me— and Charles sells vinyl and communicates with the vendors. We try to keep the Record Fair as friendly and inclusive as possible. Admission is free for anyone under 18 and we do our best to encourage a family-friendly atmosphere. My sister-in-law Deb makes and sells delicious vegan and vegetarian food.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Navigating tensions that come up playing in bands is difficult. A lot goes into writing and making records with a group of people who have their own creative vision, schedules, and personal lives. Covid inactivity was brutal for musicians and watching deterioration of mental health and community across a lot of spaces a few years ago was awful. Internal pressure to record vinyl, stay active and try and make things during peak global pandemic and stress sort of broke my last band Green Dragon.
The record fair has helped me stay involved with music in a way that’s better for me than being in an active band. That said, any collaborative endeavor that’s worthwhile can be difficult sometimes.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
If you want to play music my best tip is to play along with bands you like by ear and do the opposite of whatever the guy at Guitar Center recommends.
If you want to start a nonprofit, a record label or a record fair, just get involved. Volunteer, ask a ton of questions and learn the do’s and don’ts from someone whose output and ethics you respect. Make it your own, make it inclusive and fun.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
No. I do own a record player and buy vinyl at shows to support touring bands but was never a collector, like I don’t know which of my records are valuable and I don’t take good enough care of them. I did marry someone who is a serious collector and we sell some of his records at record fairs. The line between serious collecting and hoarding can be murky, but the fair helps thin things out.
I’ll give anyone reading this a discount on his records if you mention Women in Vinyl at the next fair!
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.
For my day job I’m a professor of literacy. I used to make analogies between practicing reading and practicing a musical instrument and at least half of my students had experience playing a musical instrument and could totally make the connection; practice is important for building fluency in anything. None of my students play musical instruments anymore. None. I can’t tell you how much that freaks me out.
Also, one of the things that worried us with the “resurgence” of vinyl was that it was cost-prohibitive, with new vinyl sometimes costing like $30-$50. We counteract that concern at the record fair pretty well I think. You can find valuable stuff but also walk in with $20 and walk out with a nice stack of music to listen to.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
Everyone involved with the record fair grew up and were influenced heavily by the canon of independent labels. For me Dischord was probably the most important in terms of understanding what was possible. I loved the music but also the ethos, sense of community and presence of cool women like Kim Coletta (Jawbox) and Arika Casebolt (Circus Lupus). Also SST, Touch & Go, Alternative Tentacles, Gravity, Vermiform, Ebullition, Vermin Scum and Gern Blandsten Charles’ label, all important and inspiring.
Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to:
I think Jillian Taylor from Ruby the Hatchet is an amazing front person. She seems like she has a musical theater background and I love how she mixes it with metal. If I could play in or see any active band it would be Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. I also love Witchcraft.
We went to see Danzig in Atlantic City recently and he sounds as good as he ever did, if not better. I was sort of a Danzig groupie in high school and he was a perfectly nice guy backstage in spite of the horror stories. This week I’ve been listening to Danzig’s first two records again on repeat. Timeless. I mostly listen to classical when I’m grading or writing for work.
One other thing I wanted to mention even though it’s not a question, vinyl is heavy and there’s been a lot of loading in and out of record fairs over the years. Even when my husband was recovering from surgery we were able to do the fairs thanks to the amazing support and pure brute strength of Paul Bayer, Ava and Jason Stenick, Will Tarrant, Adam Nathanson and Avery and Mira Klein-Maggio! It’s definitely the least glamorous part of shows but load in and load out is huge and there wouldn’t be fairs or shows without the heavy lifters. Also, people can reach out to me if they want to get involved or volunteer at the record fair and help us carry stuff.
Record Fair: @elusivesoundsnj
Events: Record Fair