Ben Swank, who also joined us last week for our party at Imogene + Willie, greeted us in the front portion of the shop known as the “Novelties Lounge,” which is filled with a variety of Third Man merchandise and records, a photo booth, “Mold-a-Rama” and Scopitone—all things we’d spend more time examining later.
He took us down a red-lit hallway, where the walls were lined with old records from some of Jack’s musical ventures. He pushed open the door at the end while telling us that photos aren’t permitted beyond that point—they like to keep some things private. Needless to say, we happily agreed, feeling even more lucky to be getting an inside look at the space.
Immediately upon entering, we felt like we had entered the most amazing home and workspace hybrid; we set our belongings down in a kitchen appropriately tiled in black, red and white as we peered into the living room and meeting space filled with taxidermy. At that moment, a group of students from the Grammy Foundation were visiting for what Ben described as “a vinyl outreach program.” That day, they’d hear from Jack’s nephew, Ben Blackwell, who oversees vinyl production for the label. While there, they’d also have a chance to record their own work to be cut into vinyl.
Third Man Records was founded in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they had the physical location in Nashville. The label originally came to be so Jack could retain ownership of his records, and has now grown to include a live room, black and white photo studio and live stage.
For each live show held in the space, a 16-track record is released as part of their live series. For some, the records are mixed and mastered live, with Ben acting as the liaison between the bands and the recording.
We made our way down another hallway, as Ben pointed out details along the way—the entryway for live shows, which includes a door with eye-shaped peep holes at the end, their elevator disguised as a furnace, and the last bit of empty space whose use was still to be determined. We soon realized that no two adjoining walls are the same color or texture, reaffirming that Jack is incredibly detail-oriented.
After climbing down a couple of flights of stairs, we arrived in an open, canary yellow warehouse space. It’s the home of their shipping and distribution center, and storage for all of the merchandise for Jack’s bands. We caught their team during a busy time, as they were packing up their latest shipments from The Vault; by signing up for a subscription, fans receive a package every three months, including one 7″ record, one that was previously unreleased, and one surprise item.
As we were taking a closer look at one of the packages, their shipping manager passed by and said, “didn’t I just see you guys at Barista Parlor?” The community in Nashville just seemed to be getting even closer.
We popped into the Rolling Record Store, painted bright yellow to match the interior of the warehouse. We had seen it briefly when it arrived at our Citizen’s Circus at SXSW last year, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look. In keeping with the rest of what we had already seen, no detail on the truck had gone unnoticed, from the hubcaps to the turntables inside.
Ben pulled a few records from storage boxes to show us, and they weren’t any that we had seen before. Each was part of a spoken word series called the Green Series; it included a piece from an auctioneer, Jerry King, with the A side including an interview and the flip side with a series of different auctions.
We eventually made our way to the back of the building, where live shows are held. There was one thing that we couldn’t help but gape at along the way: a bidet fixed to the ceiling in the bathroom, that can function as a shower. Ben said that no one has tried to use it yet, but he’s just waiting for the day.
The venue space can accommodate nearly 300 people, and when the weather’s nice, they fire up the grill to serve hot dogs and barbecue. Ben pointed out that beneath our feet were limited edition records from Jack’s personal collection—partly for decor, and partly just humorous, because they know it’ll drive avid collectors a bit crazy.
On our way back out, Ben pointed out the Scopitone—a music video jukebox! They were first made in France during the 50’s and 60’s, and their films were like our modern day music videos. Third Man Records acquired one of the few working Scopitones in the world and put their own videos on 16 mm film. As soon as they restore the machine at Third Man Records, it’ll be placed in their Novelty Shop.
Of course, we had to take a few minutes to have hime try out some frames. The Pierce in Greystone was absolutely the winner, and seemed to perfectly complete Ben’s already sharp-looking outfit.
The bus has left Nashville, but if you’re in town, you can check out our frames in our showroom at Imogene + Willie!
Photos by Collin Hughes