Hooked on sonics

Midtown hole in the wall Tone Vendor Records provides a destination for indie-rock aficionados

Tone Vendor Records’ Dan Sostrom, one arm on the record rack. No emo-rock blank-faced earnestness here.

Tone Vendor Records’ Dan Sostrom, one arm on the record rack. No emo-rock blank-faced earnestness here.

Photo By Jill Wagner

The art of Jay Howell, with music by Jay Howell and DJ Iron Steed; 6-9 p.m. Saturday, July 12; at Tone Vendor Records, 1812 J Street No. 1; free.

It was one of those perfect Midtown afternoons. I was sitting in Jack’s Urban Eats, staring out the window, and Chris Woodhouse walked by.

Woodhouse, the closest thing Sacramento had to a legendary indie-rock producer, actually lives in Oakland these days, but he was back in town to practice and record with his band, FM Knives—and after I flagged him down, he said he had time to kill. So, we walked up Capitol Avenue through the recently completed East End Project over to Beers Books, where Woodhouse had left his sunglasses, and then back toward Time Tested Books.

“Been to Tone Vendor Records yet?” I asked.

Woodhouse hadn’t checked out Sacramento’s newest purveyor of indie-rock recordings. So, we headed east to 1812 J Street, just past the Streets of London Pub, passed through a tiny wrought-iron gate and entered a door into a compact, living room-sized space. A rack of CDs, with an end cap of 7-inch singles, dominated the room, and against the far wall was another rack containing vinyl albums and more CDs. A blue couch was placed to the right inside the door, and a matching chair sat in the corner. Posters lined the walls—the Paik, the Jealous Sound, the Aislers Set, most of them from bands passing through that play the Capitol Garage. A rack of magazines—Wire, The Big Takeover, Venus, Tape Op, but not Spin or Rolling Stone—hunkered in the corner. A compilation of 1960s funk and soul percolated in the background.

Near the chair, Dylan Rogers, who looks like he stepped out of the pages of Daniel Clowes’ comic-book series Eightball and who fronts local punk band Sonic Love Affair, was thumbing through the singles, and he and Woodhouse immediately got into a conversation.

Tone Vendor seems like that—a place where fans that have a pathological appetite for the new and different can hang out and talk about music or just finger-walk their way through the racks in solitary satisfaction. It’s open seven days, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week, from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Owner Dan Sostrom opened the store at the end of March, after a spare-bedroom mail-order operation, tonevendor.com, outgrew its cramped quarters. Sostrom and his wife, Heather, had moved to Sacramento in September 2001 from Jacksonville, Fla., after the couple fell in love with the West Coast while touring with Brittle Stars, Sostrom’s former band. They wanted to find a reasonably affordable town that didn’t have a record shop that specialized in indie-rock records—the tangible contributions of a loose amalgamation of hundreds of record labels, from bands self-releasing their own stuff, to small- and medium-sized companies, like Sostrom’s own label, Clairecords, that exist just outside the orbit of the five major-label conglomerates. The overarching theme was the do-it-yourself aesthetic that’s currently revitalizing the music scene, if not the music business, albeit under the radar.

“We just wanted to provide the sort of store carrying the music that we ourselves enjoyed personally and that was somewhat obscure and hard to come by,” Sostrom explained. “And it grew from nothing to this.”

“This” is a far cry from such full-catalog but hit-oriented stores as Tower, or even the longtime local indie store The Beat a block and a half up J Street. Sostrom said he started with American indie-pop and then branched out into indie hip-hop and electronic titles because he figured there was a local market for them. “I got more of the art-punk stuff, which is pretty big in this town,” the bespectacled proprietor added.

Sostrom is starting to feature the occasional event. Tone Vendor had an opening shindig in March, and on Second Saturday this month, it will feature works by Jay Howell, who books the venue Espresso Metro at 11th and K streets and who designs one-of-a-kind art for test pressings from Davis indie label Omnibus Records, along with women’s handbags. Howell will spin sides for the party, as will DJ Iron Steed, a.k.a. Wes Steed, from the duo Park Avenue Music.

“We’ll have the usual refreshments,” Sostrom promised.