With her father’s record store as her playground, Marlein Parlevliet lived practically her entire life surrounded by vinyl. Tessa Pals, on the other hand, learned all about the art of collecting through Marlein and developed her love for vinyl at a later stage. Their varying yet complementing perspectives make them the perfect partners for Swordfish & Friend.
What started out as a record store that combined art, design and music in Utrecht has now grown into a strong network of over 800 retailers in 28 European countries. With their wide portfolio of record players, record accessories and record storage, all Tessa and Marlein want to do really is to make it fun, affordable and easy to play analog music & start a vinyl collection.
What’s the inspiration behind starting a business that revolves around record collecting?
Marlein: It mostly grew from our own interest in vinyl and the difficulties around how to start collecting. The first challenge is where to find a record player that is affordable and easy to connect with everything. When we couldn’t find it, we started to import it. Next to that, my collection is also expanding, so I was always outgrowing my storage. We thought this can be done better with a storage that grows with your collection.
How does your personal record collection look like?
Marlein: Shall I start with this question, Tessa?
Tessa: Go ahead!
Marlein: I really like to focus all my attention to one particular genre. When I go to a record store, I go straight away to the soundtrack section and look for horror soundtracks from the 70s. I don’t really go to my local record store in Utrecht every week, though. I almost never do that. It’s mostly when I travel. I always check which record stores are in the city I’m going to. That’s mostly how I buy my records. It’s really connected to traveling for me.
Tessa: For me, it’s a little bit different. I see myself as a moment collector. I only buy records when I meet people, when I see concerts, and when I get in touch with new music outside of record stores. Mostly it’s when I like a band, I want to see them live, and then I buy the record.
And how did you get into collecting horror soundtracks, Marlein?
Marlen: From the movie, Cannibal Holocaust. It’s a cruel movie, but the soundtrack is so beautiful. Especially if you listen to it without the images, it almost feels very peaceful. That’s really how I started to collect them. Most of the time, horror soundtracks are just very beautiful with a little dark edge.
How do you categorize your music?
Marlein: I now arrange my vinyl alphabetically and I also have a separate section dedicated to horror soundtrack. I’m thinking about changing it, though. My collection is growing and I’m really finding it hard to find something easily.
Tessa: I only have around 250 records, so I don’t have enough records to make full blocks of categories. I can easily search through what I have, but the biggest section is probably records for my children.
It’s cool that you’re starting them young. We feel that a lot of people are still intimidated with vinyl as a format. How do you tackle that with your endeavors?
Tessa: I think that’s what Crosley does really well because it’s not that expensive to start and you don’t have to have technical knowledge to be able to play a record. It’s just very easy to use. I’m a starter myself and I learned how to collect from Marlein actually. Having the two perspectives is really helpful for our business, because most of our customers are also starting and we want to teach them that it shouldn’t be intimidating. You don’t have to be an expert to start.
We also know that our customers are not the real audiophiles and we mostly sell our record players on lifestyle stores or furniture stores, where you typically don’t see record collectors, so that also makes it less intimidating to begin with.
How do you reconcile everything you’re doing with the trend that a lot of people are mostly listening to music digitally?
Marlein: A Dutch girl recently wrote a book about it and called it “auxiety.” I think it’s a very good term to describe the feeling of not knowing what to play online because there are too many choices and it triggers some sort of anxiety because you just don’t know anymore which song to play. With vinyl, it’s very easy to look into your collection, see an album and pull out a record you haven’t played in a while because you suddenly feel like listening to it. It’s also a lot easier to discover your music again.
That’s a good point. Being able to rediscover your music is definitely one of the joys.
Marlein: Yes, and also really taking the time to listen, instead of just playing it in the background.
How do you take your time to listen to vinyl?
Tessa: My favorite is listening to it alone and playing it very loud.
Marlein: I always put records on when I’m playing cards with my friends and just drinking wine. Especially during these lockdown moments, listening to records with each other has become one of my favorite things to do. It’s also fun that they get to choose which records to play next, so it’s also a fun way to rediscover my collection.
You also brought the concept of Record Store Day in the Netherlands. What was the idea behind doing that?
Marlein: When I was working in a record store, I once received a “Happy Record Store Day” email from a colleague. I thought, hey, this is cool, we should have this in the Netherlands too! And that’s how everything started actually. It started from me working in a record store and then organizing Record Store Day all the way to realizing that if people were to collect vinyl, they’d need a record player too.
Do you still participate in that?
Marlein: With Crosley, it’s difficult because a lot of collectors think Crosley is a bad record player and it’s not good for your vinyl. A lot of collectors don’t understand why we do Crosley, but they don’t see it from the perspective of just wanting to spread the love of collecting and making it affordable for young people. Nobody starts with a very expensive hi fi turntable. You need to start somewhere.
And have you tried doing any efforts to debunk that behavior?
Tessa: Yeah. We tried it in the beginning. But it’s almost impossible to change their minds. So not really. Most of the collectors have so much knowledge about music that it’s very hard for them to understand that somebody is just starting.
A slightly different question: how do you navigate around the industry given that it is still predominantly male-dominated?
Marlein: It’s definitely a men’s world. Especially when I was working in the record store, it happened so many times that they would ask to speak with a male colleague.
Tessa: With Crosley, we mostly sell to women between 18 and 25 years old. That’s also for us a very good reason to sell Crosley. It’s really nice to get more women into collecting and just appreciating vinyl, in general. It’s definitely a big barrier that Crosley lifted.
You’ve done a lot to promote record collecting in Europe in the last years. What do you hope to achieve next?
Marlein: I would really like for our storage to be available in the rest of the world as the best vinyl storage you can buy. I also think because of the name ‘For The Record’, there are plenty of ways to expand it to other stuff around the vinyl culture too.
Tessa: We just got the first feeling of having our own label and creating our own products because before we were just mostly importing from America. It’s really nice to experience how to build something from scratch or to design your own products and make it your own way. We would definitely like to do more of this in the future.
Marlein: Now we are planning on introducing some accessories for the storage. In the long term, it would be nice to have the other products as well.
And have you ever been compelled to work on your own vinyl?
Marlein: We’re thinking about it. We’d definitely love to start our own label someday. It’s again with the mindset of making it more accessible for young people to enjoy. Especially nowadays, we feel that the choice is mostly between going for a premium vinyl or listening to it digitally. There’s still a lot to win in between for people who are just starting.
Any idea what music it will be?
Marlein: Definitely music that young people between 18 and 25 will like. Maybe not really our taste, but just to make it accessible for everybody. The idea of course is that if you have a collection, you can always continue on with other music styles.
Tessa: We have to think about the future. All the young people who are just now starting to love the format will be like us in ten years.