Searching for CDs or mp3 players makes the music industry's changes over the last two decades feel very real. These days, Virgin and Tower megastores are just Wikipedia pages. Record execs still scratch their heads about the digital revolution that ruined profit margins forever because, as it turns out, selling plastic discs at insane markups never was a sustainable market strategy.
There is one music module that's withstood the test of time, though: The local record label.
Perched cross-legged on a chair in the center of his Seminole Heights record store Microgroove, Keith Ulrey can talk circles around the topic. The red-bearded, bespectacled 43-year-old is the head honcho and general do-it-all force behind beloved local imprint New Granada Records, which celebrates its 20th anniversary with a three-night concert Dec. 25-27 at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
The label boasts nearly 50 releases over the last 20 years, and while many have been long out of print, Ulrey is candid about the less glamorous details of running the operation full time. A room in his house is dedicated to unmoved product, and Microgroove's New Granada listening post stands next to a box of label releases he can't give away (it should be a crime not to add a free copy of New Roman Times' 2008 indie-rock masterpiece On The Sleeve to your shopping bag).
Select titles are teetering on sold out, but he still can't hide subtle, solemn looks of disappointment while waxing about what consumers are missing out on when they don't buy physical.
"If I'm a painter, people come see my painting. Only one person can buy it, but you experience it," he said. "With physical product, liner notes, graphics, packaging — that's the art."
Ulrey knows a thing or two about making good versions of that art. The last year alone has seen New Granada utilize nearly every format to handle multiple releases. There are colored and transparent vinyl 7-inch singles from young, talented locals like Alexander and the Grapes and Atlantic Oceans. St. Pete alt-waltz quintet DieAlps! moved nearly 100 CDs at a recent release show, and Orlampa songwriter MRENC released a soundsmith's wet dream on cassettes dressed up in hand-cut artwork.
Screenprinted sleeves from Pinellas avant-punks Permanent Makeup adorn their 7-inch, and more local artistry is featured on reimagined artwork for a re-release featuring midwest emo legends Braid. The crown jewel of New Granada's anniversary releases, however, is hand-cut vinyl from the Maccabees and Pohgoh, which are manufactured one by one in Jacksonville by Jonathan Berlin, who plays in New Granada psych-freak folk outfit Sunbears!.
Pohgoh — the label's flagship band — enjoyed a dose of popularity following their debut in 1994, and a Christmas night reunion show finds the emo outfit joined by original singer Kobi Finley, who went on two tours and played on three 7-inches before Ulrey's future wife Susie eventually took over vocals. Finley, 36, will play three songs with the group. Richardson will sing during the rest of the set, and all five members of the band have recorded new music together, marking the first time they've been on the same record together.
"It's exciting," Ulrey explained, "but also, we're already nervous."
That energy grows stronger when Ulrey is queried on why someone would commit half his life to such a laborious passion project. He mentions loaning bands equipment when they're in a pinch. He'll do anything to help anyone on the roster succeed, and he says he feels the most fulfilled when a band gets as excited as he does about the way things are happening.
"It could be a good show, or press, or an Instagram," he said. "When they're stoked, I'm stoked."
There are still more releases being rolled out for the big anniversary, and as he excitedly rattles off details, it doesn't look like Ulrey wants to stop anytime soon.