Claudia Saenz, Chulita Vinyl Club founder
Photo: Mariana Gonzalez
Record Store Recs: Chulita Vinyl Club On The Best Music Stores In L.A., Oakland, Austin & Beyond
With the unprecedented global disruption of 2020, it's important to support the music community however we can. With our series Record Store Recs, the Recording Academy checks in with vinyl-loving artists to learn more about their favorite record stores and the gems they've found there.
Texas-born, San Jose, Calif.-based Claudia Saenz originally founded Chulita Vinyl Club to share her love of records—especially Tejano, ranchero, Motown and soul—in a fun, tangible way. The collective, a crew of female-identifying Latinx vinyl-spinning DJs, has grown to seven chapters across California and Texas, including the (Northern California) Bay Area Chapter, which Saenz, a.k.a. Chulita Tear Drop lives.
The fabulous record-spinning DJs of Chulita Vinyl Club have brought their joyful, soulful music to parties around the country, including Coachella 2018! Twice a month, they release all-vinyl mixes from the squad on their SoundCloud, the most recent (listen below) coming from la jefa Saenz herself.
We caught up with Saenz and one of her fellow Bay Area cohorts, Los Angeles-born, Oakland-based Mar Velez, a.k.a. DJ Marvelouz, for the latest edition of our Record Store Recs interview series. Read on to find out where they get all their great vinyl gems from, and learn about some of the indie labels, artists and new records they have their eyes on.
Please pick three to five record stores you love. (The links below have online shopping options.)
Breakaway Records in Austin, Texas
Janie's Record Shop in San Antonio, Texas
Needle to the Groove in San Jose, Calif.
Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Calif.
Record Jungle in East Los Angeles
VAMP in Oakland, Calif.
Mar Velez & her vinyl collection | Photo: courtesy of artist
What do you love about these shops? What kind of goodies have you've found there?
Saenz: I started devotedly collecting records while living in Austin, in about 2014. I was living on my own, working my first big "real" job, a post-grad trying to make ends meet. I had my own place for the first time ever, but I couldn't afford wi-fi and didn't want it either. Collecting records and surrounding myself with music became my new obsession. Breakaway Records, a cherished record shop in my neighborhood, became my second home.
They have records for sale on their website now to help their sales and keep the shop afloat during these times. They have a 45 grab bag that I would totally get if you were looking to start your collection or add to it. I would trust Gabe and Josh's hand-picked selection.
If you're looking for a historic West Side San Antonio establishment for tejano, norteno or conjunto jams, Janie's Record Shop is the place to go. You walk in there and you're surrounded with tejano history in the form of records, tapes and CDs and, not to mention, say hi to the legendary owner Juanita Gonzales, aka Janie all while tejano jams are playing on the shop speakers. I have shopped there many times and felt giddy with joy with all the records they have in stock.
Needle to the Groove is one of my favorite records shops in the Bay Area. I got the Leonor Gonzalez Cantos De Mi Tierra Y De Mi Raza record there and it's been one of my favorite buys. The record shop has a wide selection of all carefully selected genres and the owners and clerks are super helpful with finding what you need. They've also got a great shop online with the same great collection.
Claudia Saenz selects a record | Photo: Arabela Espinoza
Velez: This might be an obvious favorite for a lot of music lovers, but I grew in South Central Los Angeles and every time I took the bus or got a ride from friends to get to Hollywood, a trip to Amoeba was an entire adventure for me. The hour and a half journey was worth it because what awaited me was rows and rows and rows of music to discover. Amoeba has just about any possible genre you could be looking for and of course your mainstream standards.
One of my most treasured finds is the El Gusano record that I got at the Amoeba in Hollywood about ten years ago. The band is from San Antonio. I liked the name of the  album, Fantasia del Barrio, and loved the story behind the album. The album was inspired by one of the member's deployments to Vietnam and him fantasizing about returning to Texas and his Chicano upbringing. At the time, I don't know where I could have found this album that opened me to a Chicano experience out in Texas. The album is a dreamy psychedelic treat.
Record Jungle is a community treasure in the east part of Los Angeles. I love how quickly the records change in the store. I could dig there one weekend and literally the next weekend they have a whole new stock of albums. The owner is super dedicated to keeping records rotating in the store.
VAMP is a groovy little store in Oakland run by Fernando and Misty. The store specializes in vintage clothing and vinyl from soul to reggae to rap. Fernando and Misty have both been collecting records for a long time. They themselves are DJs and spin at some of the local bars and music venues in Oakland and the Bay Area. I particularly love how they carry a great independent record label out of the Bay Area called Discos Mas.
Discos Mas is pushing out vinyl from some of the greatest names in today's Latinx music scene, including cumbia sonidera giants Los Daddys and local [San Jose] artists like Philthy Dronez and his quebradita, "Vamos a la Playa." The music and artists that Discos Mas is featuring and releasing really capture the nostalgic sounds of timeless Latinx music genres like cumbia, salsa, rancheras and put a contemporary twist that is a stamp by today's generations. It's an incredible label and VAMP is the place where you can get the latest.
For at least one of your favorite shops, share a recent record you bought there and what you love about the record/artist.
Saenz: At Janie's Record Shop, I got a 45 record of Los Aguilares on the Joey record label. The Aguilares are a legendary conjunto group from San Antonio. I also unabashedly got the record because one of the sides of the record was titled "Claudia." It is a really nice tune to dance to and I am so glad I picked it up.
Velez: I've picked up several Discos Mas records from VAMP recently [see photo below], including Los Daddys' "You Soy Cumbiambero," Philthy Dronez's "Baila Mi Vida" and Los Guapos Sensibles' "Cumbia del Amanacer."
Discos Mas scores from VAMP | Photo: Mar Velez
What's an upcoming or recent release you have your eye on?
Saenz: Lido Pimienta's Miss Colombia was recently released and it was a bright sound that was even stimulating to hear during these quarantine times. Miss Colombia is a beautiful collection of songs of resisting and dealing with healing all through Lido Pimienta's angelic voice. I have of course already heard the album through streaming platforms, but I can't wait to get the record to add to my collection.
Velez: A release that I am looking forward to is one by a longstanding cumbia sonidera group out of Mexico City, Grupo Kual?, "Amor Regresa Ya." Musica sonidera originated out of cumbia Colombiana. Mexican sonideros made their own style of cumbia by slowing down the RPM when they played the vinyl records, many from Colombia. Over the years, the genre has expanded.
One of the most notable groups is Grupo Kual, that came from the lineage of one of the greatest architects of the sound, Alberto Pedraza. Nearly all of cumbia sonidera music is on CD. They're the kind that you buy in the flea markets or swap meets where there's like one hundred songs on a CD. However, thanks to labels like Discos Mas and a new label called Discos Rolas, whose releasing it, Grupo Kual is releasing their first-ever 7" album [via Discos Rolas].
What were the first CDs and first vinyl you remember purchasing when you were younger?
Velez: My first-ever CD I purchased was Britney Spears' …Baby One More Time. My dad took me to Best Buy to get it when I was like in fifth grade. Surprisingly enough, I still have it. And I recently bought it on vinyl as well! Beautiful clear vinyl for this amazing pop album.