I’m sitting on a weathered brown couch at the Sacred Bones headquarters; a loft space in industrial North Brooklyn that’s part inventory storage and part “open concept” workspace. I’m here for the unwrapping—the unboxing, if you will—of Townes Van Zandt’s first album, For The Sake Of The Song, which Sacred Bones is releasing on their new 8-track label, Sacred 8.
The entire office is quiet—rapt with attention, I'd argue—as Bones founder Caleb Braaten peels off the plastic wrapping and stuffs the 8-track confidently into a Weltron 8-track player; a high-tech, multicolored button-y device that looks like it belongs on a spaceship rather than a window sill cluttered with plants. The title track plays.
“Just drink it in. You ever hear music this good? Listen to how good that sounds,” says Braaten, who is tall, thin, and bearded. Dressed in a black collared shirt, black wranglers, and black boots, like a gothic apprentice to ZZ Top, he glances approvingly at the Weltron.
“Yeah, the haunting quality of the warble,” agrees longtime Bones staffer and black eyeliner aficionado Gabby Edelman, who’s listening from her desk nearby.
“This is the best way to consume music,” Braaten says. “I mean, what do you think? What other ways are there? You could listen on your telephone—but that’s weird. Records are really flat…you have to flip them over, that’s a lot of work.”
What about regular tapes? “Regular tapes are cool,” Braaten says, lost in thought for a moment. “But you have to flip them over still.”
So you don’t flip an 8-track? “Well, they’re on an infinite loop,” Braaten says. “It’s really good for lazy people.”
But I read in an encyclopedia that you also can’t rewind an 8-track, either. “Yeah, there’s no rewinding,” he says. “But you can fast forward them. 8-tracks are really future thinking. So, do you have the Weltron? Which one do you have?”
It’s embarrassing to admit, but this is my first time experiencing this profound audio format. Forgive me: they stopped manufacturing 8-tracks in the late ’80s. Braaten reckons the last one was something by Don Henley. [Editor’s note—the final commercially manufactured 8-track is a topic of great debate online. Most seem to agree that Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits from 1988 was likely the last.] Stores like Radioshack continued to sell 8-track blanks into the early ’90s, but after that, there was nothing. The format is finite.
Braaten says that anyone who’s making new 8-tracks now—like Sacred 8—is actually just dubbing over old ones, or they’ve somehow gotten a hold on a stash of blanks. “There’s another thing for you,” he says. “8-tracks: very sustainable. Because they are not making any new parts for them, so it’s all recycled!”
So who exactly is supplying Sacred 8? Braaten hesitates. “Couple of nice folks… named Dan and Kathy. They’re the premier 8-track manufacturers—but I don’t really want to give up all my sources.”
Braaten appears to have been prepared for the fact that I’m an 8-track ignoramus. He steers me towards a nearby coffee table that’s strewn with the things, as well as a few 8-track players. This guy’s a connoisseur.
“I brought some for us to look at—also here’s some cookies,” he says, pointing to a bakery box nestled between the 8-track players.
“So there’s some original Townes Van Zandt… And for the kids, you know,” Braaten gestures to a copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, “This is what the kids are into.”
The coolest looking are a couple of Black Sabbath bootlegs—one bootleg clue being that “Sabath” is spelled with only one b. “There was a huge bootleg culture,” Braaten explains, of the early 8-track days. “Because basically 8-tracks were made for cars, that meant that it really got translated to truck drivers. So truck drivers were really the biggest consumers of 8-tracks for a long time, and so there were all these gas station 8-track bootlegs. There’s tons of them. And they had so much cool fuckin’ art.”
Braaten says Townes Van Zandt felt perfect for a first release. “Since the medium…became a big thing with truck drivers, country music was like the best selling genre,” he says. “8-tracks and country really go hand in hand. For my money, there's no one better than Townes. And how cool is it to get to work with the Townes Van Zandt family?”
I ask him, what did the Van Zandt family say when you proposed putting out this album on 8-track?
“They couldn’t believe it took this long.”
"For however many years it’s been, there’s been a hole in the market, and we’re here to fill it."
There are five more Townes albums to come after For The Sake Of The Song, as well as a Blaze Foley album, and a release by the ’70s cosmic Americana outfit Jimmy Carter and Dallas Country Green. Some have never been on 8-track before—if you can believe it. “For however many years it’s been, there’s been a hole in the market, and we’re here to fill it,” Braaten says.
And Sacred 8 wants to work with new artists, too. “I’m sure that people will be knocking on our door soon enough. Ultimately, that’s what we’re doing, we’re letting people know there is a better way.”
Townes continues to warble in the background, as our conversation pauses. It’s true that the 8-track has a warm, grainy sound that definitely feels specific to the medium. Commenting on that, Edelman again pipes up from her desk: “There’s this episode of Wonder Years, in the first season, where [Kevin Arnold’s] sister is listening to Jimi Hendrix on an 8-track and walking through the kitchen being like, ‘Whatever, parents!’” she says. “The first time I got my 8-track player and put Neil Young on, I thought, ‘Ok, this is what it really sounded like in the ’70s.’ For a teenager, this is what it sounded like, and it has a certain vibe. The warble of the 8-track, it adds another level. Certain records sound better on it.”
CREEM agrees. The future of music is back from the past and is the future again!