|Melody Supreme, 115 4th St. SE, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902|
"Oh, yeah. Oh hell yeah, man."
The hand of fate recently contrived to deposit both Derek and me in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the same time for two different engagements. When I called him from what was probably only a five-minute shuffle away (you can walk anywhere in that town) to ask him if he wanted to run over to the Downtown Mall to interview Gwenaël Berthy of Melody Supreme, I could have mouthed his response as he said it.
"Oh, yeah. Oh hell yeah, man."
Cut to Melody Supreme on a beautiful Spring Saturday, a cup of coffee in one hand, microphone in the other.
"You're going to want to leave that coffee on that table, away from the records," the guy behind the counter suggested.
My eyebrows raised, and I smiled. Respect.
Derek and I looked at each other; this was decidedly the man we were looking for. Over the next hour, we were treated to a tour of the store and a funny and revealing conversation about Gwen's journey from France to America, where he opened his knockout record store. At the end of that hour, Derek left with the pristine copy of Mary J. Blige's 1999 LP Mary pictured above, and Square Zeros walked out with a great interview.
We can't recreate the sunny Charlottesville afternoon, but we hope you'll enjoy the interview as much as we did. Thanks, Gwen.
So you moved here a couple years ago?
Yes, four years ago now. And I opened the store in the last couple years.
Originally I'm from the west of France, Brittany. I lived there until I was eighteen, and then I moved to Paris, and I lived twenty-five years in Paris.
When I arrived from France we moved to Richmond. I used to go every day to Plan 9 record store. It was just Christmas every day. Coming from Paris, it was just crazy. In Paris, it's different. I'd say it's more pricey, just crazy pricey. People in the U.S. don't realize how cheap records are compared to Europe. It's just amazing. Records here that are ten bucks would be twenty bucks in Europe.
Plan 9 has amazing choices. I got the impression in Richmond they have a lot of music. People bought all kinds of stuff. Soul to indie rock to punk, and even French stuff, I found a lot of that.
What inspired you to open Melody Supreme?
I wanted to make a lot of money [laughs].
Why'd you pick Charlottesville?
That's a good question. The story is, first, I was a photographer for twenty-five years. I used to work for magazines in advertising. I was traveling a lot. After a while, I was just tired of my work. I wanted to change. My wife is American, and she's from Richmond. I was just never there — I was living out of my suitcase. My goal was to go to New York and work there as a photographer.
I worked a little bit here as a photographer and people would ask me for the same thing I was doing in Paris. I was just tired about that. So I decided to open a record store. Not in Richmond, because at first I didn't like it. And at the same time, two record stores opened in Richmond, Deep Groove and Steady Sounds.
My family-in-law lives here, and when I was coming to Charlottesville I never found anything. I've been collecting records for thirty years, and each time I came here I wouldn't find anything. So I opened it here.
How did you go about buying records?
I bought for one year before I opened. I had one year to find used stuff. When I moved here, I left my collection in France. I just moved with twenty records from France and that's it.
Do you specialize in anything here?
I don't specialize at all. I've got almost everything from classic rock to techno music — I've got everything. The store, it's in my image. In my collection I've got all kinds of stuff.
Are there bands here in Charlottesville that you like?
That's pretty tough to say. But yeah, there are a few. There is New Boss. That's the last thing to blow my mind a lot.
Have your tastes changed since you've been in the U.S.?
|Gwen and Derek.|
It's funny, because I began to listen to punk, and since I've been in the U.S. what I'm listening to the most is psychedelic. Sixties, Seventies. That's what I love the most. All the rare stuff from the Sixties. When you listen to the older Sixties stuff, these people were more crazy than they are now. I love Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees. They are great. But it's always the same thing.
You know what I'm dreaming of? I'm dreaming of the revival of psychobilly. If I can send a message, I'd love to see a revival of all the psychobilly rock. The mix of earlier rock, garage, and psycho — like The Cramps, The Meteors, The Vibes, The Stingrays, stuff like that. We had this folk revival [gag]. And we have all kinds of psychedelic revival. But I'm really hoping — I think it could be great for the entertainment.
Let's turn your story around: if you had to move back to France tomorrow and could only take twenty records, what are a handful that would be among them?
Parachute and S.F. Sorrow by Pretty Things. The White Album by The Beatles. Not all my Krautrock albums, but mostly Can and Harmonia, maybe. Probably Forever Changes by Love. The Zombies. And Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.
It's weird because I've got a lot of records — too much in my collection — but if I had two albums to bring with me it would be Pet Sounds and The White Album. It's terrible [laughs]. I'm almost fifty years old, been collecting records for thirty years, and my top two are Beatles and Beach Boys [shrugs].
We got in touch with Thomas Dean from Charlottesville's New Boss, and we're excited to bring you a Square Zeros exclusive: "Do I Have To (demo)". New Boss is currently mixing a new EP, so stay tuned for a future release.