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Record renaissance: Gar Ragland of Citizen Vinyl

The former Asheville Citizen-Times building is on O. Henry Avenue. Photo courtesy of Citizen Vinyl The former Asheville Citizen-Times building is on O. Henry Avenue. Photo courtesy of Citizen Vinyl

Since its opening in October 2020, Citizen Vinyl has become a melodic hub for artists, music lovers and the curious alike. Located in the former Asheville Citizen-Times building on O. Henry Avenue, across from the Grove Arcade in downtown, the property itself has become a beacon of creativity and connectivity. 

Inside is a full-scale record manufacturing facility, where vinyl albums are popping off the production line at a furious pace. It’s another indicator of the rising popularity and incredible full circle moment currently underway for vinyl records — once a dusty memory of the past, now part of the future of the music industry.

The massive property also features Session (bar/cafe), Coda: Analog Art & Sound (immersive art gallery/record store) and Citizen Studios (WWNC-AM radio’s former broadcast station, now an in-house recording and mastering facility). And at the helm of this ever-evolving project is Gar Ragland.

ae Citizen Viny Gar Ragland

Gar Ragland. Photo courtesy of Citizen Vinyl

A longtime professional musician, record producer and label head, Ragland brought WWNC’s legendary Studio A back to life. The studio is a sacred space, one where countless musicians performed decades ago, including the first on-air performance by the “Father of Bluegrass” himself, Bill Monroe, in 1939.

In celebration of Record Store Day (April 20), The Smoky Mountain News caught up with Ragland, to chat at-length about his love of records, what it means to immerse yourself in an album and where Citizen Vinyl stands amid this record renaissance.

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Smoky Mountain News: When you think of a record store, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? To that, growing up, was there a record store you still hold fond memories of? 

Gar Ragland: When I think of a record store, the first thing that comes to mind is, oddly, the smell of a freshly opened vinyl record. This smell takes me right back to my childhood and my first vinyl purchases.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my dad and I record shopping at our local record stores in Winston-Salem. It seems like most weekends we would pay a visit to Camelot Music or the Record Bar to comb through crates of new albums. I saved my allowance and lawn mowing money to purchase records from my favorite artists, most of whom I first heard on the radio.

The first record I ever purchased was an Elvis Presley “Greatest Hits” album around 1977. Phil Collins’s “No Jacket Required” was an early favorite, as was Loverboy, along with most of The Police records. 

I couldn’t wait to get those records home and head straight to my room to open them up and listen for the first time. I savored the smell, look, sound and feel of a new record, along with its liner notes, album credits, lyrics, photos and artwork.

To this day, a vinyl album is a collectible piece of art that engages most of the senses. 

SMN: In all the white noise and distraction of modern society, what is the purpose of the record store?

GR: We currently live in such a digital society and, as a result, the tactile, communal, in-person and analog experience of brick and mortar record shopping is something many of us seek.

There’s a beautiful intentionality surrounding all facets of vinyl culture. From discovering a record store while traveling to new places, to combing through crates of new and used records, to talking about music and listening to vinyl records with other shoppers or a record store employee. 

The practice of listening to music on vinyl records is somewhat ceremonial. It requires a level of engagement that doesn’t exist when listening to music online. Vinyl records are highly collectible art, which celebrate albums as the body of work that the artist intended.

Given their collectible nature, there’s a very social element to showcasing and sharing one’s record collection with others. I’ve been to many gatherings where someone’s vinyl library serves as a great conversation piece.

SMN: What would we be losing if we lost the intrinsic idea and tangible reality of the record store?

GR:  Record stores embody the communal nature surrounding the love of music. For music nerds, like myself, record stores are a safe and inviting place to celebrate a shared passion for music. If they were to disappear, communities would lose important cultural landmarks that bring people together — that’s frightening.

ae Citizen Vinyl Studio A

Studio A at WWNC. Photo Courtesy of Citizen Vinyl

SMN: Now that Citizen Vinyl has established itself as this bastion of vinyl record production, creativity, history and interaction, what’s been your biggest takeaway with how the property has taken shape and evolved in these last few years?

GR: Despite being open for three and half years already, I feel like we’re just getting started. We’re still tweaking and experimenting with the model to best serve our community here in Asheville and Western North Carolina.

From the beginning, Citizen Vinyl’s goal has been to create an authentic, inspiring and inclusive space that celebrates our area’s rich history of music, craft, food, drink and manufacturing. And we simultaneously seek to support our creative community here and now through our events, vinyl pressing services and historic recording studio.

We see an amazing opportunity to help foster new creative energy that’s built upon connecting the dots of our history.

SMN: When you walk into the beehive that is Citizen Vinyl, what do you see, experience and feel when you’re immersing yourself in this dream that’s now come to fruition?

GR: Nothing excites me more than to walk into Citizen Vinyl when it’s busy and alive with energy. Our number one goal is to inspire people. When we’re at our best, there’s a creative energy that’s truly palpable, which is precisely what we set up to create.

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