Top Five: Browsing for Beats in Austin

Words: Chase Hoffberger
Photography: Chad Wadsworth

Live music and late-night secret joints might be the city’s gaudy window dressing, but it’s the record and gear stores that power the city’s music scene. Here’s a collection of our favorites.

Austin’s reputation as a music town is built on the backs of onstage performances held between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., but its passion for tunes runs round the clock.

You see guitarists at your coffee shops; get waited on by dudes who play in synth bands. Record stores line the streets in ways they simply don’t (anymore) in other towns, and if you look hard enough you can usually find somebody walking down the street with a guitar. There are bars that boast record labels (The White Horse) and record labels that book shows (Nine Mile Records), and record stores that also host in-store performances. It’s hard to keep track of all the combinations.

Knowing that often the first bands don’t go on at Beerland until past 10 p.m., you’ll want to keep track of all the ways to get your pre-performance music fix. Below’s a list of five of the city’s best options, ranging from record stores to guitar shops to top-flight jukeboxes full of deep cuts. May you find your needle in the haystack soon.

Exploded Records 

4500 Duval St

This record shop, which carries one of the most carefully curated collections of local music and late-’90s souled-out hip-hop, is actually located in a small alcove inside a JuiceLand on Duval Street. It’s run by Andrew Brown, a local DJ, and opened in June 2013. Just this April it released its first-ever compilation, a 7-inch that features work from local turntablists Soundfounder, Kinder, Lo Phi and Sampler & Son. The store’s also got a deep collection of all Pau Wau and Raw Paw samplings. Tack on more J Dilla and Black Milk vinyl than you could ever wrap your hands around, and it’s the perfect spot to browse through while you’re sucking down your kale smoothie.

Austin Vintage Guitars

4306 Red River St.

Back in the day, AVG was the spot musicians would hit when they’d come back to town from tour. Charlie Sexton and Hayes Carll would hang there and noodle while one of the shop’s veteran staffers fixed a Gibson neck. Store locations have changed, and the shop is now found on Red River Street, but the story inside’s the same. It’s where Max Frost goes to buy a new amp for distorted vocals, or where Gary Clark Jr. gets his truss rod straight. It’s got every guitar you need, and all the others you want.

Deep Eddy Cabaret 

2315 Lake Austin Blvd / 2207 Justin Ln

They’re both dive bars that virtually never host a set of live music, but each comes blessed with a jukebox good men would kill for. Lala’s, that Christmas-themed hole in the wall at Burnet Road and Justin Lane, doesn’t have anything that dates past 1962, while Lake Austin Boulevard’s Deep Eddy specializes in old blues and Texas soul. You could spend whole happy hours sorting through all the deep cuts available. And like both bars, neither juke’s changing soon.

RVRB Records

2404 E 7th St​

Waterloo’s the big kahuna, and End of an Ear gets the nod as the record shop in Austin that boasts the most diverse collection of vinyl whatsoever, but there may be no more intensely curated cull than the one available at RVRB Records, the East Austin record shop owned by Austin Psych Fest proprietors the Reverberation Appreciation Society. A truly boutique shop, RVRB specializes in releases from their house label, like Christian Bland & the Revelators’ The Unseen Green Obscene and Joel Gion’s Apple Bonkers, as well as the classic psychedelic rock albums that helped shape the scene. In-stores from folks like the Black Angels and Chris Catalena happen intermittently, and you can even shop for threads there—or guitars. RVRB doubles as the only brick-and-mortar retailer for Pure Salem guitars.

End of an Ear

2209 S 1st St​

Since 2005, End of an Ear on South 1st Street has served as a haven for vinyl junkies in need of a rare fix. The small record shop’s got a welcoming vibe from the moment you walk in, with low ceilings, meandering walls and a knowledgeable staff that’ll hear out your interests and point you in a new direction. It’s the kind of place where “New Arrivals” have just as much to do with old Jayhawks reissues as they do with Sun Kil Moon. Plus, they’ve got in-stores—great ones ranging from locals like Tele Novella and the Golden Boys to Flying Lotus and ex-Austinites Brazos. An audiophile’s dream.

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10 2014

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