Permanent resurrects Clone Records' dead stock

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A couple weeks back, I was one of many recipients of a Permanent Records e-blast emphatically titled "Clone Records Warehouse Find!" Unlike Permanent's weekly store and label updates, which detail new stock, recommended restocks, and the like, this one discussed nothing but releases from very much defunct Akron label Clone Records.

Nick Nicholis of the Bizarros founded Clone in 1977 and ran it till it folded in '81. The label worked to document the scene in Akron, 39 miles south of Pere Ubu's Cleveland, and released more than a dozen records from bands such as Tin Huey, the Human Switchboard, the Waitresses (who counted Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams among their members), Unit 5, Teacher's Pet, Gray Bunnies, and of course the Bizarros. Nicholis shuttered the label because of family obligations, and the pressings suddenly entered the cloudy world of vintage dead stock. (The label, or at least its name, resurfaced in 2003, when the re-formed Bizarros released their first new album in 23 years, Can't Fight Your Way Up Town From Here.)

Lance Barresi, co-owner of the Chicago and Los Angeles incarnations of Permanent Records, caught wind of the rare Clone releases when a regular Permanent customer discovered a few pieces of vinyl at Square Records in Akron and gave him a holler. Barresi got in touch with the store, bought a few, and quickly figured it was worth going to the source for more. He contacted Nicholis, and since then the Clone stock—housed for years in Nicholis's mother's basement—has found a new life at Permanent, where it's selling like crazy.

I had a quick chat with Barresi about the Clone Records find and what motivates his never-ending search to track down dusty boxes of records from long-forgotten labels. (Barresi also recorded a thoroughly informative, 25-minute interview with Nicholis about Clone Records and the Bizarros, and I've posted it below the interview that involves reading.)

How did you and Nick Nicholis get in touch?

It all kind of started when a former regular, this guy named Jason, moved to Cleveland and saw some copies of those Clone releases in an Akron store called Square Records.

How long ago was this?

Late last year. We got in touch with him, and it took a while, but we eventually got a few copies of each of them. Some of that stuff we couldn't even hear online, so we were being a bit conservative at first. And then once we got to check them out and hear what we couldn't hear online, we got more excited. It's like, wow, that's actually mint and well preserved.

It was in his mom's basement, and he had no other real reason to hawk it other than "I have all this stuff I don't need anymore"?

He didn't have any kind of impetus at all—he was just selling them there in the local store. The Bizarros have their own website, but none of that stuff's actually for sale up there.

He was just taking them to the record store and selling them through consignment?

Just selling them little by little over the course of the last three or five years.

It's been that long?

Since Square first received them, yeah. And they were selling them in their store, but they don't have an online store to put them in. We got in touch with the store first, bought a few from him, and then realized we were gonna want way more. The owner said, "You know, if you're going to be ordering a quantity like this, you should probably just go straight to the source."

He gave me Nick's info, and I told him I wanted to talk to Nick about the label, and that's kind of how that conversation got started. Then he started telling me a little bit about the label, and then I was like, well, this story is good enough to be told in a short interview [again, you can listen below]. We ordered up and the problem was I was ordering ten or 15 of some of that stuff and we were trying to get descriptions together, because a lot of times you can just grab old reviews and build around them, but this stuff hadn't been written about online at all.

It's too obscure.

Totally. Whatever reviews existed in print, Nick doesn't even have them. We asked him to send those along and all he sent was Bizarro-related stuff. So we had to build up our own descriptions in the middle of doing what we already do.

And that's why the "warehouse find" had its own update.

Exactly. We were selling out of the stuff without even having descriptions. We had to do like a couple different restocks before we were like, OK, let's order big so some of this stuff is around. And then we sold out and oversold a bunch on the Web and had like anywhere from two to ten special orders for some of the stuff we sold out of. And that's with having like 15 and 20 copies on hand.

How much of the dead stock does Nicholis have?

I think he's got like thousands of some of the later releases, but he's virtually out of the Bizarros singles. We'll be lucky to get any more of those, you know? So it varies. Some of the stuff sold really well on release, and he only had a few hundred when he dug them up. Then some of it he's just got the majority of the initial pressing. He kind of went big on some of the later things too, building a name for himself or whatever, had good distribution, and then all of a sudden he had all of these familial obligations to attend to.

Are you guys actively seeking dead stock?

We've kind of been doing it over the years little by little. There's been so many little things. This is ideal, though. I would love to come across more stuff like the Clone find, but it hasn't worked out like that yet. But little by little over the years, we have sealed copies of a 1985—you know that Chicago band End Result? They were contemporaries—they played with Ono a bunch back in the day. They were too weird for the punk crowd.

The weirder the better, right?

Yeah, so we've had that stuff in stock forever. We have original stock copies of the Da! single, which at one point was considered super rare until people realized that Terry Nelson from Autumn Records—the guy who put out the Busted at Oz LP—had like hundreds of copies of that sitting in his garage. Prior to this we featured a bunch of out-of-print Shimmy Disc LPs by bands like Jellyfish Kiss and Uncle Wiggly and all these weird indie-rock bands from the early 90s. So we did that with ten or 15 different titles. Shimmy Disc has like 200-something releases, and that stuff's just not around. It was sitting at an actual distributor.

It's all about finding the right thing and putting it into the right context and giving people all the information and audio clips and stuff. There's loads of crap that's from big distributors. Revolver has dead-stock titles from the early 90s, but it's dead stock because it's terrible. I'm not gonna buy 15 copies of something and feature it because it's old. It actually has to be good for us to be interested in dealing with it. So even though one of my west-coast distributors has dozens of Shimmy Disc titles we could've featured, we literally went through and picked all of the ones that we actually liked and wouldn't have to lie about to try and sell them.

And here's that Barresi interview with Nicholis:

When I spoke with Barresi, Permanent was sold out of the Clone releases, but fear not—I just got an update that select titles are back in stock. Just in time for Record Store Day. Quite the coincidence.

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