FIVE years ago, I was leaving the Savannah Record Fair with a gaggle of fellow vinyl lovers. As we moseyed into the parking lot with our treasures, Furious Hooves label founder Ryan McCardle told us, "My buddy just moved here to open a record store near Desoto Row."
He was an indie label guy from Chicago named Ryan Graveface. We hadn’t met him, but we definitely knew his work: the Graveface roster included noteable indie-cred bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow and The Appleseed Cast. After years of touring and pressing albums, Ryan Graveface felt an attraction to Savannah’s dripping moss, spectral shadows, and sordid history. So he moved the label’s headquarters right here and opened up a retail shop.
Did we want to check it out?
Well, yeah. We couldn’t get to the car fast enough.
We’d all enjoyed a drink and a show at The Wormhole, scarfed down a Back in the Day sandwich, and attended art gallery opening receptions on Desoto Row.
The Starland District was billed as “up-and-coming”—still, many businesses came and went, largely due to a lack of foot traffic. Opening a record shop there sounded awfully risky.
We parked and entered a room filled with moving boxes and Halloween décor. Flipping through records and cassettes, we cooed over vintage Star Wars toys while enjoying complimentary pie. Ryan McCardle introduced us to Ryan Graveface, and they caught up as I perused the Graveface label releases, marveling at the beautifully detailed packaging.
We left the soft opening with some goodies (a Marshmallow Ghosts album for me, a Shannon & The Clams cassette for a pal) and hoped aloud that Graveface would succeed: we’d found our paradise. Soon, countless others did, too.
In five years, Ryan Graveface has hosted all-ages shows, thrown an annual Record Store Day celebration, offered tarot readings and taxidermy workshops, and promoted local music. That’s just a fraction of it. And that’s just in the actual physical part of Graveface Records & Curiosities.
Besides the shop, Graveface is running the Graveface label and its horror movie soundtrack imprint, Terror Vision; creating the first Graveface Magazine; running an underground supper club, Haxan; building up his VHS collection to open a rental company in the shop; playing, recording, and touring in multiple bands; opening up Graveface Annex, a venue, additional retail space, and tattoo shop inside Southern Pine Company; starting an apparel line; handling all his own printing in-house, and looking for space to open up a restaurant.
“For better or worse, I’m not the type of person who has an idea and doesn’t execute it,” Graveface says. “Any idea I have, I’ll make happen.”
He still longs for the shop to become a true community hangout, a place for collectors, artists, and music geeks to meet, mingle, and stay awhile.
In 2017, Graveface Records & Curiosities will have a beer and wine license and a seating area in the courtyard behind the shop; there will be spots for browsers to stash their beer so they can sip while flipping through the stacks.
Since Graveface opened, new businesses have sprouted up throughout the Starland District, including Gypsy World Vintage, Starlandia Creative Supply, The Vicar’s Wife, House of Strut, and The Vault. The neighborhood’s a bit of an obsession for travel writers, and the New York Times and New York Magazine are particularly fixated on its shopping and dining options.
Certainly, the great work of Art Rise and the boom of First Friday Art March has brought new energy to the area, but Graveface, whose boots have been on the ground for half a decade, still feels there’s room for improvement in order to make a truly affordable and safe Starland District.
“I think it’s gotten worse,” Graveface says of the area. “I’ve been shot out twice. This was shot out in July.”
He motions to the shop’s large plate glass window, freshly painted with a new Graveface skull logo.
“And my warehouse [the adjoining space where Graveface conducts his label business] was shot out three weeks ago.”
The perpetrator—12, maybe 13 years old—walked up to the window at two in the afternoon and fired directly at the logo. Wiry Graveface tackled the shooter himself, called the police, and waited for them to arrive.
“When they got here, I asked, ‘Where are you? Where are you ever?’” he says, his voice rising.
“There’s no police patrol around here, even though there’s a police station just blocks away on Bull. Not to mention the kid that was shot in front of The Wormhole last week, the two girls who were raped a few blocks away.”
“I love this neighborhood,” he says in earnest. “I want this neighborhood to work. I just think we’re all living in fantasy-land being like, ‘Starland’s up-and-coming.’ The buildings are too expensive for anyone but SCAD kids to live in, so no one plants seeds. And it’s very expensive now. Will that breed animosity for a family who grew up here who’s pushed out because now they can’t afford the neighborhood they’ve lived in their whole lives? Sure. It’d piss me off. Yet it’s all premature. The prices don’t need to go up right now. That’s where this tension comes from.”
Graveface suggests that more retail or restaurant spaces throughout the block (currently, some businesses are appointment-only, while other properties are apartments or office space) would promote foot traffic.
He also believes affordable dining options will help; it’s something he’s looking into himself.
“I would love for this neighborhood to be what everyone is saying it is,” he says. “I think I can have a role in that—I think I do. I bring a lot of tourists to town, people who come visit the home of the label. They’re like, ‘Where do I go eat now?’ I would love to say, ‘Go down to my restaurant, it’s three dollars for a taco that will literally end your life it’s so good.”
For a record shop, Graveface’s prices are surprisingly low. That’s intentional.
“Just because I can retrieve a certain amount of money online based on a perceived value, does that mean we have to disrespect each other that much?” Graveface says.
“Why can’t I price it in a really fair way so another person is like, ‘Yeah, done’? That’s what I’m going for.”
To celebrate five years of record-slinging and community-building, Graveface is throwing a block party in collaboration with First Friday Art March. Local artists and vendors will peddle their wares down Desoto Row, and 40th street will be blocked off with a stage on Bull. There will be an arcade game section and a pop-up record fair along 40th.
Expect flash sales throughout the day, and tables of “super-good shit I haven’t let the public touch yet,” Graveface reveals.
The musical entertainment includes The Marshmallow Ghosts, Richard Leo Johnson, COEDS, Miggs Son Daddy, and more to be announced.
“I started reaching out to people who I felt were more or less integral to me being here and sustaining,” Graveface explains.
“That’s my approach: locals who have inspired me.”
It’s been a long, strange journey, and Graveface looks forward to building toward the future and helping his beloved new home grow.
“Five years is a long time,” he says. “I feel like if the record store can survive five years, it can survive 10. It can survive as long as I want it to continue. And I want to be here my whole life.”
Graveface Records 5th Anniversary Block Party
Friday, Nov. 4, 5 p.m.