Faster Than Sound: Love Wheel Records Rolls In

Austin music mainstay Mike Nicolai retails vinyl and Indoor Creature parties at the Ballroom


Love wheeler, vinyl dealer: Mike Nicolai. (Photo by John Anderson)

Just off Burnet, North Austin stop Love Wheel Records opened in late April nestled between a nail salon and barber shop. Joe, the three-legged shop dog, greets vinyl patrons in the cheery green and orange store. I left with a few very reasonably priced vintage wares and a complimentary Joe coaster.

Love Wheel, named for the gushy Daniel Johnston track about a "love wheel spinnin' round round round," offers new and used vinyl across genres, with some books and CDs too.

"The first time I moved to Austin I was 26 – I had come here on tour and sort of fell in love with it," says owner Mike Nicolai, who runs the Brentwood store with wife, Nancy. "I've been in and out of town, but I always come back because this feels like home. We're real happy here, so it seemed like the place to do this."

Minnesotan Nicolai, known as the house sound engineer at Hole in the Wall for some 12 years, has collaborated with artists like the Replacements' Slim Dunlap and the Gourds over decades of clever, weathered musicianship at the edges of rock and folk. In 2017, the Chronicle decided his solo work "marries bar band melodies to lyrics that sound stream-of-consciousness, but affirm their craft through multiple spins." The alternative lifer, who's played shows with everyone from Jonathan Richman to Willie Nelson, tag teams with Nancy's years of retail experience at Wheatsville and music shops.

"My intention was to be eclectic," says the owner. "I came up in the Eighties punk rock and post-punk era, but lately I listen to a ton of jazz. I want to pay particular attention to local stuff and music on the more experimental and challenging side and have something for everyone."

Landing on the right little lease, the couple made a leap of faith in debuting just as in-person retail reemerged. Following a busy last Saturday of non-official Record Store Day participation, Nicolai reminds that Love Wheel's buying vinyl too.

"The clientele's interests will really determine what we have," he says. "Their tastes are all over the place so far – some people want the new Taylor Swift, others want Sleep records. There's every musical persuasion in the neighborhood and I love that."

Indoor Creature Gets Oceanic

Local indie-pop troupe Indoor Creature gained a following in recent years for grand, groovy live shows under the memorable exclamation of lead singer Caleb Fleischer's saxophone. The band's last LP – 2017's Windows, by founding members Fleischer and multi-instrumentalist Travis Kitchen – conversely covered much cozier, electronically sourced territory. New album Living in Darkness zooms out on the full sixpiece's lively musical landscape, covering shadowy themes with beachy blasé.

After debuting last week on Kansas City label The Record Machine, the band celebrates tomorrow, June 18, at the Ballroom (formerly Spider House) with Eyelid Kid and Lainey Gonzales.


Indoor Creature (Photo by JB Bergin)

"Before, for live shows, we would give the guys the chords to come up with their own parts," says Fleischer. "After practice, Travis and I would go, 'Man, these are better than what we wrote. We should probably get over our little ego and embrace it.' It's so refreshing."

Backing vocals shared amongst, recruits are keyboardist/guitarist Mason Ables, bassist Marcus Bell, guitarist Terrence Kiser, and percussionist Zach Muller. Fleischer and Kiser share jazz training – the latter handling guitar solos, like the bustling conclusion of "Born in the Water." The release show grows Indoor Creature further, with a special vocal section of Kendra Sells (BluMoon) and Lili Hickman Waldon (Flora & Fawna), as well as horns from Wyatt Corder and William Wright of Big Wy's Brass Band.

"It's come a long way," Fleischer reveals. "Our first shows, I was really confused because I had never played outside a jazz combo. We would do stupid skits and make waffles onstage. One time we had a guy watch The Matrix."

Fleischer moved to Austin on a whim to make comedy sketches, dropping out of collegiate studies in evolutionary biology. Ecology makes an unlikely appearance in Living in Darkness track "Ocean Blue," complete with a charming music video about falling in love with the ocean.

"I'm really infatuated with ecosystems," he says. "It makes me so sad to watch one of my favorites, the ocean, slowly deteriorate just because of capitalism. I tried to think, 'How can I make this more palatable, where people might think it's just a song about how fun it is to be at the beach?'"


From left to right: Electric Church co-owners Nathanael Rendon, Jeff Wallace, Jese Hernandez, Levi Murray, and Fez Moreno (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The Electric Church’s Rehabilitation

Earlier this month, the Electric Church suffered thousands in losses after gear and other equipment was stolen from the Eastside DIY space. The venue shared on social media that they later caught the thief in the act and were "heartbroken" to find it was a local musician suffering from addiction and homelessness.

The venue furthered: "[Austin Police] gave us the option to press charges which would enable them to look for and reclaim our stolen items. However, because of recent convictions, this person would then [face] a long time in jail. Unfortunately, this country's system of incarceration is focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation. We do not believe that putting a sick person in jail will help anyone's situation, so we have decided not to go that direction."

Instead of retribution, the psychedelic haven launched a GoFundMe ("Electric Church Robbery Recovery & Support SIMS") to help cover losses. Within 24 hours, the supportive scene surpassed the $10,000 goal. Fundraiser ongoing, a portion of proceeds go to the SIMS Foundation and to the musician-in-need's family.

Crosstalk


Coconut Club stacks specialty lineups this weekend. Shared Frequencies Radio kicks off with a 12-hour Juneteenth Benefit, Saturday from 4pm-3:30am. A percentage of sales supporting Austin Black Pride, experience DJ Shani, 9th Sage, DJ Lavish, and influential Chicago dance deep-diver Mark Grusane. Next up, Sunday at 4pm, local collective Brown State of Mind rounds up 15 acts to celebrate four years of curation and education. Assembly includes local singer-songwriters Christelle Bofale, Jay Wile, and Midnight Navy, alongside go-to spinners DJ Eye Q, Joaquin, and Soy Ella Ella.

Harold McMillan, community force behind Kenny Dorham's Backyard and DiverseArts, earns his own city-officiated day this Sunday, June 20. At last Thursday's City Council meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison recognized the historian as "a go-to in Black arts and cultural heritage in Austin, Texas, for nearly 40 years ... undeniably a keeper of Austin's art, soul, rock, funk, blues, and all that jazz."

Jad Fair, Austin founder of Half Japanese, releases a remixed edition of 2017 album A History of Crying in the U.S. for the first time. In collaboration with NYC artist Kramer, the LP also features guitar from Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary. The album lands on Kramer's longtime indie label Shimmy-Disc, former home to iconic Austin acts like Daniel Johnston and Adult Rodeo, which relaunched last year in partnership with Joyful Noise.

Project ATX6, locally sourced roving documentary project, premieres its latest film tomorrow, June 18 at 8pm, on KLRU. The 2020 class – including Moving Panoramas' Leslie Sisson, Urban Heat's Jonathan Horstmann, Alesia Lani, Altamesa's Evan Charles, Kathryn Legendre, and Pocket Sounds' Mike St. Clair – made their way to Toronto and Thailand before facing the pandemic's onset. Hear more from filmmaker Chris Brecht on the Chronicle Daily Music blog.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mike Nicolai, Nancy Nicolai, Indoor Creature, the Electric Church, SIMS Foundation, Slim Dunlap, Replacements, Daniel Johnston, Jad Fair, Chris Brecht, Moving Panoramas, Leslie Sisson, Jonathan Horstmann, Alesia Lani, Altamesa, Evan Charles, Kathryn Legendre, Pocket Sounds, Mike St. Clair, Harold McMillan

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