Dave “Noise” James ran Noise Noise Noise Records in Costa Mesa, Calif. for fifteen years, earning him a loyal following of record collectors. Since Noise’s closing in 2006 he has held record sales in the driveway of his parents' home in Costa Mesa, worked for another local record store, got clean, and in April 2010 opened up Factory Records in Costa Mesa.
Factory might be one of the smallest record stores around—about the size of a one car garage—which even Dave will admit. But like anything that’s genuine, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. He frequently has parking lot sales where you can find all kinds of gems for spare change. I’ve pulled some pretty amazing records from his store and can honestly say he carries a very eclectic mix of music. Like the song goes, “You wanna be where everyone knows your name,” it’s nice to walk into a shop and get that Cheerstreatment. And if you fancy a beverage, there’s a bar less than a bottle’s throw away.
I chose to interview Dave because, for one, his record store is the closest one to my house, but more than that, he’s a good guy. If the person behind the counter has nothing to say about what I’m buying or has that too cool vibe about them, I’m not motivated to come back. Dave genuinely seems to like what he does so it makes for a good experience.
Ryan: When did you open the shop?
Dave: In April 2010.
Ryan: What made you decide to re-open a record store?
Dave: My landlady runs the barbershop here and I’ve know her boyfriend for years. He came over to the record store I was working at and asked if I wanted to open up my own record store again. I asked him where and when he told me I was like, “No way, that place is too small.” But I ended up going over and poking my head in and started to picture how I would set it up. Also I still had all the old racks from Noise, so that part was pretty easy.
Ryan: What’s the best part about owning a record store?
Dave: I get to wear whatever I want, listen to whatever I want, and I get to make my own hours. Which is great during summer because I work six hours, close up, and hit the beach, so that’s probably one of the highlights. While other people are stuck in a cubicle all day wishing they were having fun, I’m at the beach.
Ryan: What’s the worst part?
Dave: Just all the little stresses that I can’t push off on other people, like when something breaks or fall apart. I’m responsible for everything. There’s no manager to unload all that stuff on. But there’s not a ton of terrible things about doing this, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.
Ryan: What was the first vinyl record you ever bought?
Dave: When I was a kid, my mom gave me Beatles records and my dad had early Johnny Cash records. Then I started going to garage sales and bought different records. I got a butcher cover—one of the most rare Beatles records—when I was about ten or eleven years old for fifty cents at a garage sale, which later got stolen when I turned into a tweaker. There was a record store across town called Music Market, which was the record store. The first record I remember buying was The Specials eponymous record with money I saved from my paper route.
Ryan: Does your shop specialize in any particular genre or format?
Dave: I do a ton of classic rock, which is the thing that keeps the doors open, like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin. We’ve got a really healthy jazz section. But you name it and I’ll stock it. I love having a wide variety… reggae, prog, psyche, and dancehall, punk, the weird metal stuff. I like selling the weirder stuff. You can go into chain stores now like Target and Kmart and buy records, but I want to have the stuff that you’re not going to find in there. That’s what I’ve always been about. You go into Urban Outfitters, you’re not going to find most of this stuff.
Ryan: A lot of record stores start as labels or eventually become labels to help local bands. Tell me about the records you’ve put out in the past.
Dave: At NNN, I had a record label called InstaNoise. It was myself and a guy named Lob who used to work at Vinyl Solution. We did quite a few records, mostly 45s. It was a lot of pop punk and some hardcore. We did a Sublime 45 that sells for hundreds of dollars now, and a band called Homegrown. They became really popular. We also did some dub, some funk stuff. Basically, if we liked it, we put it out.
Ryan: What happened to Noise Noise Noise?
Dave: People loved that shop. The last couple of years were just a drugged up nightmare, but, for the most part, it was just amazing. But, basically, I got evicted and the landlady put in one of those massage parlors. You know you’re fucking up when you get the boot and they put one of those in. But it had a legendary run. We were the store to go to for fifteen years.
Ryan: What are your thoughts on Record Store Day?
Dave: You know, I always hate it and pull my hair out beforehand because it’s such a stressful mess. It’s a ton of work, you know. Then, literally, the day after, I count the money, I’m like, “I fucking love Record Store Day.” It’s killer. Part of the reason I can have this lazy summer is because of RSD. I’ve been going on vacations and going to the beach everyday and short hours and it’s because of RSD, so it’s rad. It’s a month or two before you start stressing, wondering if you’re going to get this or that, and I’m screaming at my distributors and they all think I’m an asshole. I think everyone screams at them so they’re used to it, but I feel like a dick because I’m not normally like that. I always kiss ass afterwards and they tell me not to sweat it. It’s part of the routine. Literally, the last two Record Store Days in April have been the best days ever and I’ve been doing this since ‘91.
Ryan: Okay, so I have a bunch of scenarios written here and I want you to tell me what soundtrack would best suit the situation. Hype music.
Dave: AC/DC” If You Want Blood.”
Ryan: Scare customers away.
Dave: Usually I’ll just go to the industrial section and just grab some weird noise record. Something that I don’t even know what it is. I’ll just grab something and turn it up. The yodeling records don’t work anymore; people are drawn to that.
Ryan: Panty dropper.
Dave: Funk and Soul, but Barry White’s probably the dude for that. Nobody wants to hear some skinny white dude singing to them. You gotta get the brothers out for the panties to drop.
Ryan: Dance party.
Dave: The Phil Spector '60s bubblegum stuff works best. Once it’s midnight and everybody’s liquored up, just throw the basics on and it’s a dance party.
Ryan: Knock boots.
Dave: You gotta go back to all the funk and soul stuff.
Dave: I don’t cook, so whatever’s in the CD player on my way to Wahoo’s.
Ryan: Make your neighbors think that you’re playing Nintendo at full volume.
Dave: Nineties techno records like Aphex Twins or any of the Warp Records stuff.
Ryan: Body surfing.
Dave: Nothing. I go out there to get away from all this shit. I just want the sounds of the waves. I want it as quiet as possible.
Ryan: Who’s the most famous person you’ve had come in?
Dave: I’m horrible at recognizing people. At Noise, Stereolab came in, Jonathan Richman came in; that was pretty rad. Sublime came in. A lot of DJs like the Beat Junkies. They were all just kids coming into the shop back then and now they’re doing all these big things.
Ryan: What’s the best place to eat around here?
Dave: I always ask what they like, but my favorite place is Wahoo’s. I love, love, love Wahoo’s. I’ve been going there since the ‘90s. It’s the original. It’s still in that old house. Tell em’ Dave sent you.
Ryan: What advice do you have for anyone out there who wants to open a record store?
Dave:I think the best thing is—you have to be in business to make money not to be a museum. If you have all of the cool stuff on the wall for a ton of money, it’s not going to sell. You have to get a good reputation. My main asset these days is having an amazing reputation—which is weird because I look back and go, “Whoa, I’m this fucked up junkie who ruined this store (Noise Noise Noise).” But, for the most part, people know I’m a polite guy, I’m fair, and I’m willing to negotiate. I get people who saw a review on Yelp and they say they heard I was the guy to go to. You can’t get better advertising than that. Reputation is huge. And you have to have the ability to let things go.