An Interview with Alex Rice of Bandbox

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Bandbox vinyl is a vinyl subscription service which has been around for a couple of years now. In truth, these days, if you’re a vinyl fan, you have a few of these to choose from now, but in my opinion, Bandbox, which was founded by Alex Rice, is a little something different from the rest. First, the price is much more affordable and within the range of the average collector. Second, it comes with a great booklet (it’s really an old school zine) of information regarding the artists of the month, and lastly the quality is really top notch. In short, the people at Bandbox are good people, they’re indie and they’re doing it right. At the end of the day, you don’t have to take my word for it. The best thing you can do is head over to their website here, and see what they’re all about for yourself. Sub for a month or two and see if it’s for you. I think you’ll be happy you did. Once you’ve done that, give this interview with the founder of Bandbox, Alex Rice, a read. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Alex, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? How have you been holding up?

Alex:
It sure has! I feel like I haven’t even processed how weird of a year it’s been and probably won’t be able to until life is somewhat back to normal. I’m just thankful that my wife, daughter and I haven’t been sick. I’ve been holding up well, but only because I’ve been able to completely immerse myself in running and growing Bandbox. I’m used to going to 100+ concerts a year all around the world, so without being able to dive into the company, I don’t think I would’ve handled 2020 so well.

Andrew:
How did you get into music? What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Alex:
My music nerd journey began when my parents bought me the Space Jam soundtrack when I was seven. The first band I ever became obsessed with was Incubus, who by dumb luck played my mid-sized hometown of Peoria, Illinois twice while I was in middle school, and that’s what introduced me to the wonderful world of concerts. I got even more consumed with Weezer in high school, and that’s what led me to discovering all the music I love now. I still love Weezer, Incubus and the Space Jam soundtrack, by the way.

Andrew:
Bandbox hit the scene a few years back, right? How did the service get started?

Alex:
Bandbox is completely unrecognizable from my initial conception of it from just two years ago. My first idea was a vinyl rental service – the Netflix of vinyl. Some quick research revealed that somebody had tried that already and that it’s illegal to rent records (except libraries, I think). That feels like one of those weird anachronistic laws that no one has bothered to change in the last 100 years, but thank God that’s the case, because that wouldn’t work at all. From there, I conceived a $49 monthly box featuring two albums by the same artist, a career-spanning zine about them and a listening guide for one of the records. I wanted to simulate the way that I consume music as much as possible. That’s the model Bandbox operated with for the first eight months, before we hit a wall. It was clear that people loved the immersive aspect of Bandbox, but $49 was too high for a monthly mystery. So, each Bandbox was cut in half and subscribers were given the opportunity to choose their album each month and still get the zine (for $29 per month), which is how Bandbox works now.

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Andrew:
There are a few of these vinyl sub services. What sets Bandbox apart?

Alex:
I think our zine is the biggest defining factor! Our team of writers and I work really hard on making each 16-page zine feel like it covers an artist’s entire career as much as possible. We always try to do so in an offbeat and creative way, so that you don’t feel like you’re just reading a Wikipedia page. When possible, we try to get work in tandem with and get interviews with the artists, who always provide us with great insights and exclusive content. Another differentiator is our exclusive pressings, which we started offering in July. We did five exclusive releases in 2020, including Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans on coke bottle clear vinyl (its first-ever color pressing) and Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud (Pitchfork’s #2 album of 2020) on translucent blue/red. It’s an honor to be able to press such classic records on such beautiful wax! Another thing that sets Bandbox apart is that it’s only a subscription if you want it to be, since every album in our catalog is available as a one-time purchase.

Andrew:
When did you know you wanted to start Bandbox? Was it one singular event, or was it a series of events?

Alex:
Work (videography) kept getting in the way of life (music), so eventually, I needed to find a way to do the stuff I did anyway (buy records, go to concerts, write and read about my favorite artists) professionally. I soon found that by best chance was to start my own company. If your ideal job doesn’t exist, create it!

Andrew:
Do you personally collect vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Alex:
I own over 500 records, at least 50 of which are by R.E.M. I still have my old CDs and tapes from when I was younger, but they’re the only band I actively collect on those formats. I keep digital copies of all my music in iTunes so that I can track play counts, and occasionally I’ll listen to something that way. I’m usually met with looks of bewilderment on the rare occasion I divulge that fact, but how else would I know exactly how many times I’ve listened to “Gospel” by The National? I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and my favorite stores here are Electric Fetus in Minneapolis and Agharta in St. Paul.

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Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists?

Alex:
Here’s my heavily-deliberated-upon Top 10, in order: R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, U2, Weezer, The Hold Steady, Ride, Neil Young, New Order, The National and Catherine Wheel.

Andrew:
What are some of your favorite albums and why?

Alex:
Out of the thousands of albums I’ve heard and the hundreds I love dearly, there are two that exist on a different plane from the rest – Fables of the Reconstruction by R.E.M. and The Joshua Tree by U2. The Joshua Tree is rightly celebrated as one of U2’s greatest (its huge scope and pristine melodies are the distillation of everything that’s great about the band), but it breaks my heart Fables of the Reconstruction is sorely underrated, even by my fellow R.E.M. diehards. Similar to The Joshua Tree, it’s a record firmly rooted in the southern U.S. (although the southeast vs. the southwest), but I think the relatively muddy production and lack of immediate melodies turn a lot of people off before they’re able to appreciate it. It probably doesn’t help that the band members themselves have never exactly sung its praises. Fables was one of my least favorite R.E.M. records when I first discovered them, but over repeated listens, its strange beauty began to mystify me in a way that no other ever has. I still discover something new about Fables every time I listen to it.

Andrew:
What does vinyl, and music in general, mean to you?

Alex:
Music means everything to me. I met my wife while watching The Killers at Lollapalooza 2009 (and six years later had my bachelor party there), I’ve bonded with all of my favorite people by listening to and talking about music, and I’ve had some of the most incredible experiences of my life at concerts and festivals. I think I’ve fallen even more in love with recorded music during a time that I can’t go to concerts. Vinyl is clearly the superior form of recorded music – from the sound to the physical presentation. Staring at the cover and digging through the liner notes of one of your favorite records while listening to it is an experience that simply can’t be replicated digitally.

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Andrew:
2020 was a weird year, but we still saw a ton of great music released. What are some of your “must have albums” from this past year?

Alex:
There were so many albums released last year where it was like, “Shit, I wish I could hear these songs live!” All of 2020’s great records made me miss concerts that much more, especially Letter to You by Bruce, The New Abnormal by The Strokes and Re-Animator by Everything Everything, whose mind-blowing virtual reality concert was the second-best I attended all year, next to being in-person for New Order in Miami way back in January.

Andrew:
What’s next for Bandbox in the new year?

Alex:
For the past year, each month we’ve added two new artists to our catalog. We’ll continue to do that, but starting in March, we’ll be offering at least one exclusive pressing per month! We’ve also got a couple of projects in the works where the music isn’t currently available on vinyl, so we’re very excited to enter that world.

Andrew:
Last question. What have you learned in your time running Bandbox? What advice would you have for anyone wanting to start their own business within this industry?

Alex:
I feel like I’ve forgotten more in the past two years than I learned in the previous 30. You have to earn your customers’ trust to have any chance at success, and that’s not something that happens overnight. My advice for anyone entering the music industry is that you should be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice and, most importantly, wear your passion on your sleeve!

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Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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