An Oral History of the Disc Exchange by 25 years’ Worth of Former Employees

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There once was a time when the purchase of new music consisted of more than just a click of a button—it meant being part of something bigger than yourself and your cellphone. Back then, you didn’t just go buy a record like you would a box of detergent. It sounds unlikely now, but going to a record store could actually be exciting—if not for the actual disc you brought home, then for the experience of simply being among people who knew and loved music as much as you did.

At the best record stores, the act of buying a record also meant joining a community where friendships were made and things happened: live performances by bands big and small, midnight gatherings for important new releases, long discussions over whose music really mattered, parties that linger in memory. Record stores were resources for communication and community building.

With the announcement that the Disc Exchange will be closing after 25 years, Knoxville faces a gap in its cultural scene that probably won’t be filled any time soon. Owners Allan Miller and Jennie Ingram created a local institution that furthered the lives of countless musicians and music lovers, and helped build a music scene. Here are firsthand accounts of those years by just some of the former employees of the Disc Exchange.
—Coury Turczyn, ed.

 

COVER_0825_SouthStore_Early2000s_2Courtesy of Lisa Graves

I moved to Knoxville in the summer of 1992 with some friends. I had the intention of giving the South a try for one year. I got a job at the Disc Exchange, a cute little funky record store with styrofoam panels keeping the store sectioned. Somehow, 24 years later, I am still in Knoxville and at the DE. I have been through all the reconstructions, upgrades, downgrades, and everything in between during my time here. But to me the DE is so much more than brick and mortar—it has a personality and soul. It has blessed with me lifelong friends and my husband, whom I met 21 years ago through a coworker. My now-16-year-old son toddled around this place and helped out on days off from school after he knew his alphabet and could put away CDs.

I am not sure what direction life is pulling me towards next but the DE will always have a place in my heart

(In the early days, when we started to replace the card racks with fancy display racks, we decided to use header cards for each artist, with labels made with a new Dymo label maker. An eight-hour shift making labels is torture. I’m pretty sure I’m the one responsible for “Megadeath”)
—Paula Yeary, 1992-2016

Jesse GravesCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Jesse Graves

In 1994, when I started working at the Disc Exchange, downtown Knoxville had not yet undergone the transformation into the vibrant urban center one finds there now. The DE was a great cross-section of the city. We sold tons of rap albums and metal albums and country albums, sometimes all to one wide-ranging person but mostly to people who did not ordinarily shop in the same stores. Anyone interested in music, from the casual radio listener to the connoisseur, came there to buy the album they wanted, and we almost always had it in stock. The DE gave the city a great place to spend an afternoon, to discover something new, and maybe to run into an old friend.

For me, the closing of the store is more personal than all that. I met my wife Lisa there; a picture of our daughter, the first of several Disc Exchange babies, has been taped to a support beam above the trade counter since 1998; I made more friends there than at any other time of my life, the kind who let you know they are thinking of you after your father dies. The Disc Exchange was the perfect place to be young, to grow up, and to come home to when we lived in upstate New York and later in New Orleans.

Many of our friends from the store moved away as we did, to Texas, Oregon, Indiana, and so many other places. But Lisa and I never visited home without contacting at least one DE friend. We would call Lisa Morrow, our favorite-ever concert companion, or Brian Johnson, the store’s longest-serving manager, who started working there the same day as me, or Chad Pelton, who later designed the covers for my poetry books. These were the first people we told about expecting our daughter, even before our parents or siblings—the essential friends of our lives.

Like so many of the store’s employees, I was a college student trying to make enough money to eat and pay rent, and also to buy a few CDs and go to a few local shows. I think of my time at the Disc Exchange as giving me a parallel education to what I was learning in my classes at the University of Tennessee. Some of my in-store teachers were coworkers, because who knew more about jazz than Dave King and Ben Phillippi? Who knew more about industrial and art rock than Ryan Collins and Shawna Pate? And who in the world knew more about bluegrass and country music than Benny Smith and Shane Tymon, of Soppin’ the Gravy fame? Occasionally, customers were the experts, like Ted Olson, who later wrote a book on the Big Bang of Country Music, or the owners would hire someone, like Tom Simpson, to develop the “Classical Room.” That phrase alone should reveal something about the ambition of the store to be truly great and inclusive—a whole room designated to classical music, with a “Jazz Room” on the other side of the store and an excellent selection of almost every other genre.

Technologies change, but what people care about stays remarkably consistent through time, and music has always been, at least since the ancient Greeks, an essential element of human lives. Music brings people together and gives them a common bond. It reaches across a range of emotions, and whatever mood or taste one might feel, a piece of music has been recorded to reflect it. A great record store is a community center, and the Internet cannot replace that, because it does not replicate the personal interaction. The Disc Exchange was the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round of its era, and anyone who cares about music in East Tennessee should feel a tinge of sadness as it closes—and more importantly, a sense of gratitude that it existed for us for such a good long time.
—Jesse Graves, 1994-1998 and summer 2001; he is an associate professor of literature and language at East Tennessee State University, as well as its poet in residence.

***

My most profound memory of Disc Exchange is that before I moved to Knoxville in February ’94, I lived in the Washington D.C. area and worked at the now-no-longer record store behemoth Tower Records. But I was thinking about relocating here—I wanted to be closer to family and maybe finally finish school. Maybe. But I knew I wanted to work at that cool record store I had visited the previous August ’93. What a cool little store.

Sure enough, 20 days after my arrival, I was being interviewed for a position. At some point, owner Allan Miller asked me if was thinking about finishing up school and getting a degree. I said yeah I’m thinking about it. He said, “No, you need to get your degree.” Not like you need a degree to work here but like “Dude, get your fucking degree.”

Allan and Jennie took amazing care of the people that worked for them and it’s certainly one of the best places where I’ve been fortunate enough to work.
—Dugan Broadhurst, 1994-1995; he is now a graphic designer with Scripps Networks Interactive.

COVER_0825_JohhnySCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Johnny Sughrue

I was that guy—long-lost regulars would walk in after a few years’ absence and see my face and yell, “You still working here?”

My typical answer: “Well, of course. The country section is over there now.”

The Disc Exchange wasn’t a store, it was a community. It was a community of music lovers, people looking for the next new thing, collectibles, the latest reissue, or maybe that old gem of an album the public and industry had long forgotten. If we didn’t have it, we’d find a way to get it.

Lots of crazy characters and many awkward misfits—they all seemed to make a regular stop. A few of ’em smelled pretty bad, too. But if you asked them about their favorite band, they could talk for hours. We couldn’t avoid ’em.

It was an education, too. I learned so much about every genre of music—rock, post-rock, metal, too many types of techno, hip-hop, jazz, classical, and lots of bluegrass, too. All of our CD collections grew and grew.

Being musically knowledgeable was encouraged. It was a huge source of pride. I learned a lot in my nearly 20 years there.

I gained other valuable knowledge, too. I learned how to patch drywall, how to attach cove base, how to build a CD rack. I learned the in-and-out mechanics of a small business. I learned that if you’re going to haul a thin fiberglass sign in the bed of a pickup and you didn’t strap that sucker down, it’s going to get airborne and shatter all over the highway. I learned the fine art of navigating a left turn on Chapman Highway during rush hour. Even walking across the street to get lunch at the Shoney’s salad bar was a practiced skill.

The Disc Exchange put on many great shows. National touring acts, large and underground, from every genre, stopped by to play in that little corner through that tiny mix-pack PA. It was a really intimate way for artists to connect to the public, to the community—a treat that you just don’t get every day. And we could all tell you who was cool and who was an asshole. (Secretly, they were almost always cool.)

People say the CD is a dead format. They said the same about records and cassettes many years back. Cassettes?

You should be upset when any local business closes down. That’s another hole in the landscape, another hole in the local economy, another set of dreams closing. So, thank you, Al and Jennie, for so many great memories and the misfit community of music lovers you created. Thank you for providing a haven for us misfits and musicians that allowed us to avoid real jobs for so long. It’s hard to imagine what that spot on Chapman Highway will become—like the west store nearly 10 years ago, just another building. It’ll be sorely missed.

Enjoy the downloads, folks.
—Johnny Sughrue, 1995-2014; he now works as a paralegal in Atlanta.

Chad Pelton (left) and Shane Tymon.Courtesy of Lisa Graves

Chad Pelton (left) and Shane Tymon.

Besides meeting many of my best friends, having the best (and worst) customers, and making new relationships out of both at the DE, here are a few of the memories I have:

1. Shane Tymon dancing on top of “Trade Island” to the Backsliders album Throwin’ Rock at the Moon while we closed up shop and drank a shift beer. We were probably all getting ready to go to a show at the Mercury Theater. We were always getting ready to go to a show after work.

2. Sitting on the couch late at night after we closed, listening to new releases before they came out: the V-Roys’ first album, Wilco’s Being There, the Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin, and Radiohead’s OK Computer are just a notable few.

3. The countless stream of new records that I got to listen to and learn about, and the free samplers that would be given out at monthly meetings, after they served their time on the Listening Bar. Moving them was terrible, but I always had new music.

4. Working on Sundays was always fun. When it was slow we played a game we called gumball, which was a sort of soccer/skee ball combo played with gumballs that the store bought from the machine at the front door—usually while listening to outlawed music, such as Marvin Sease’s “Candy Licker.” I’m sure we ticked off a lot of parents and broadened the vocabularies of a lot of children.

5. I loved our regular customers: Metal Mike and his buddy Top Hat were like heavy-metal cartoons, and you could always count on their weekly visits, asking about new Kiss dolls or wrestling tickets. The DE was a constant source of hilarity. Tons of laughs were had on that floor.

6. Saturday customers always smelled like beer and weed.

7. I did my entire senior design project on the Xerox machine in the back office. The night before it was due, I had that concrete floor filled with copies and laid out my entire process book before assembling the final product. I still have a copy.

8. A coworker and I both had broken cars at the same time. He had a buddy pick us up in a limo one Saturday morning on Highland Avenue. We rolled up to the front
door of the DE in style,  got out in front of a giant line waiting for Garth Brooks tickets to go on sale, and unlocked the door and started our day.

9. Taking Polaroids of shoplifters.

10. The day an employee chased a shoplifter across Chapman Highway, up the hill behind Shoney’s, and dropped him to the ground like a hammer, dragging him back across the highway and calling the cops.

11. Going to eat long lunches at Ramsey’s, Southern Vittles, or King Tut’s in the summertime.

12. Standing out back on break one night, I saw a box come flying out of the Chinese place next door. The box hit the ground, tipped over, and a groundhog came running out into the kudzu. Those things were all over that back hill.

13. Weekly new-release quizzes that employees took to keep up with what was coming out. Employees who did well on the quizzes could earn credit towards buying records in their hold boxes.

14. A kid of maybe 8 or 9, upon seeing a small novelty smoking baby toy: “Aw, mom, that smoking baby’s off the ching-chong!” That quote is still in regular rotation.

15. For a while you could make employee purchases and the money would be taken out of your next paycheck. So dangerous.

16. The early Christmas parties were fantastic. There was normally a house band made up of employees. I’ll never forget hearing a cover of “If I Needed You,” sung by Charlie Susano, at my first Disc Exchange Christmas party. I knew I was in with the right group of people. A couple years later, I’d manage the courage to sing a cover or two myself.

As silly or corny as it may sound, the Disc Exchange reminded me of the shops in Empire Records and High Fidelity. Every employee had the music they liked, the albums they played, the bands they were in, and the personalities to match. Together, we were a family of total misfits that had the love of music in common. Regardless of the genre, we all blended together to make a pretty fantastic place, and a pretty fantastic family. It will be missed.
—Chad Pelton, two stints between 1995 and 2005; he is now a graphic designer at Scripps Networks Interactive.

Lisa Graves and Ben PhillippiCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves and Ben Phillippi

I began working at the Disc Exchange the summer after my second year at the University of Tennessee. At the time I lived in Old North Knoxville, with Jennifer Montgomery, a Knoxville treasure in her own right. She studied Historic Preservation and Urban Planning at UT, and she played an important role in adopting Knoxville as my hometown. She took me on bike rides through the city and introduced me to the history, architecture, and culture of Knoxville. Jen worked at the McClung Collection downtown, and I would visit her there to look at old maps of the city. She collected vintage city directories, and even had the obituary of a man who had once lived in our house on Eleanor taped on our refrigerator.

For two years, as a student 7 hours from home, I had been learning my new place–reading Jack Neely’s columns, listening to the college radio station, visiting Watson’s Bargain Basement or the Printer’s Mark bookstore on Market Square, and frequenting all the music stores in town. I had a part-time campus job, but decided that I might need extra money to afford to see music on the weekends. I had arrived in Knoxville with a small cassette player, and would buy tapes occasionally at Underdog and Lost and Found, and “shopped” at the Disc Exchange before I owned a CD player.

At first I spent most of my time at the listening bar, something that seemed revolutionary—getting to hear music before it was released—but soon began collecting my first CDs from the Disc Exchange. The employees would always have a recommendation and seemed to know everything about music. Their faces became familiar, as I often saw them at shows at the Mercury Theater or Flamingo’s. I began to understand that the Disc Exchange was more than a music store, and that it was as vital to the city as other parts of its preserved heritage. It supported and encouraged music in every way for all who passed through its doors. I put in my application to be part of a place I already loved.

I interviewed for the job with Scott Partin, and told him that as a kid, when no one else was home, I would get out all of my parents’ records, mostly from the 1960s. I would look at the album covers, read the titles, and decide which ones to listen to. I remembered how sometimes I would come across an incredible song and would play it over and over and over. When I mentioned a particular title, he turned around, typed something into a black and green screen and was able to tell me who wrote it and list several artists who recorded it. At the time this seemed like magic. And so were the years I worked at the Disc Exchange.

On Friday night closing shifts, we locked up the store and usually gathered again at some music event, and on my Saturday opening we told stories about wherever we had been. So many moments, friends, customers, and songs are woven into the fabric of that time in my life. Working the midnight sale for the V-Roys’ Just Add Ice album was certainly one of the highlights. There are too many stories and memories to tell, but I have loved sharing some of them over the past few weeks with those who were there, since we all learned that the store would be closing.

I want to say a sincere thank you to the owners of the Disc Exchange for their generosity and vision for the store, and how they fostered an amazing family of employees. I am thankful to have been part of it, and to have remained in that circle. The people I met through working at the store are the most important part of my experience, and I will forever have a soundtrack in my head for the days and nights that I was there.

I remember one particular time working with Tim Stutz, a former member of Knoxville’s own, the Judybats. It was only my second day on the job when I put on a Flamin’ Groovies record as my “employee pick.” I overheard Tim ask “Did she play this?” to another employee, who answered, “Yeah.” “Cool,” said Tim. Then he took a long pause before adding, “Well, she’ll be a whole lot cooler when she leaves here.”
—Lisa Graves, 1996-1998, summers 2000 & 2001; she now works as a nurse with the school system.

 

Jennie Ingram and Allan Miller, co-owners of the Disc Exchange

Jennie Ingram and Allan Miller, co-owners of the Disc Exchange

Al and Jennie are the most wonderful people for whom I have had the privilege of working. Not everyone is responsible with success, but they did it right. The way we were treated as employees was nothing short of incredible, and I mean that from the heart.
—Carey Balch, 1997-2001; he now works at Wild Chorus and plays drums in Warband.

COVER_0825_SouthStore_Early2000sCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Employees from DE’s south store, early 2000s.

Why did I quit working at the Disc Exchange? I’ve asked myself this question a lot lately. I was in college and worked at what I thought was the coolest place in the world. Then, I remembered that I didn’t quit. I was fired.

For throwing a party after closing one night.

I wasn’t even fired for that really. It was the watermelon.

In the late 1990s, I was an art student at UT. I was really into this woman I went to school with. To impress her, I decided to invite about 15 or 20 people to the Disc Exchange West after closing to help me make a movie.

I really didn’t have a plan. Beer and weed was probably the extent of that. Some flirting went on. Some filming went on. And lots of beer got drunk. At some point, no more movie happened and I decided it was a good idea to climb up on the counter and jump down on a watermelon. Choices.

That watermelon exploded on the floor and draped the CD racks, stickers, and patches on the wall. After getting some help cleaning up, I was driven home. Party over.

The next day, I was called in by Jan, my manager, for the inevitable. She was crying. It seemed difficult for her to do it. She told me that I wasn’t fired for the party but because they had had the floors cleaned the week before and that watermelon had irreversibly stained the carpet. How could she ever explain it?

For years, I would go back to the store and show people the stain.

“I did that.”
—Chris Lowe, 1997-1999 (west location); he is now a graphic designer and manages a copy shop at UT

Angela Sellers and Jesse GravesCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Angela Sellers and Jesse Graves

For most people, working at the same job for 10 years means you actually enjoy what you do. Working at the Disc Exchange was certainly no exception for me. I was employed at the south location from 1998-2008. During that time I met many wonderful appreciators of music, both coworkers and customers. And my own husband of almost 15 years.

I must say I feel very fortunate. I worked the day the awesome Foo Fighters did the in-store and got to hang out with them at Manhattan’s after the show. I enjoyed the excitement of midnight sales back when you really had to wait until an album’s actual release date before you could own it. A couple of memorable ones include Radiohead’s Kid A and an Insane Clown Posse release that brought in die-hard face-painted fans—quite a sight. Record Store Day was a great day of live music, limited releases, great food and fun swag. You knew you’d see all of the local folks out at some point to take part and support local music stores.

One of the strange things I took slight joy in was catching shoplifters. Hearing the ripping of a wrapper, the pop of the plastic CD shell, the beeping of the metal detector—there would be a customer who gave the deer in the headlights look hoping I’d let this one slide. Oh, no. Not at the Disc Exchange. We took great pride in cuing up Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” and taking a Polaroid of the perpetrator to be filed away in the tattered “Shift Log,” which was a black binder full of updates, noteworthy news, and invites to local shows or parties.

Each shift, employees got to play disc jockey and choose what was to be played in the store. Some days you could come in completely happy and prepared with what your choice of music would be. Other days you would be the guilty one blamed for the dead air until you could find a pick. I always enjoyed the days we would choose themes for the daily playlist. Some days were a stretch and others became a beautiful challenge. A few examples could include soundtracks, bands that have colors in their title, bands that have state names in their title, supergroups—you get the picture. One of the many fun perks.

The closing of the Disc Exchange has brought a sad lull for many. It has been such an amazing establishment of folks enjoying a common interest. We share our love of music with others and receive a key that opens an amazing door. That open door can be a gateway to multiple doors—and stronger friendships. I will miss that store. But the friends I have made and the appreciation of multiple musical talents will remain forever.
—Angela Sellers, 1998-2008; she is now a teacher at Garden Montessori School.

Josh Staunton, rightCourtesy of Josh Staunton

Josh Staunton, right

The Disc Exchange closing its doors after nearly 30 years almost feels like the Sunsphere being demolished. It’s been such a cultural icon for so long here in Knoxville. As a former employee, it’s beyond emotional for me. The years I spent at the Disc Exchange have informed the rest of my life. My love of music was honed there. Some of the best and tightest friendships of my life came out of that store. Truly, some of my fondest memories are from those years.

I was able to experience the tail-end of the Golden Age of the CD. I remember selling hundreds of copies of Eminem’s latest record in the first week. I lived through the days of midnight sales (I’ll never forget the insanity of TOOL’s Aenima and Radiohead’s Kid A—parking lot OVERFLOWING at midnight!). I was there for the very beginning of the “vinyl revival” and the rise of digital music.

Working at the Disc Exchange was a badge of honor. You had to fill out a music-knowledge quiz on the application. I remember thinking I didn’t do too well, but was so happy when Jan Brady hired me on after I graduated college in 1997. I ended up getting a “real” job shortly after that. A few years later, I realized that the “real” job was terrible, and Disc Exchange took me back. I stayed for seven years, eventually becoming a floor manager and then later managing their online newsletter and website.

Being immersed in the local music scene during those years was an absolute blast. Shows at the Pilot Light and Blue Cat’s were nearly a nightly thing for us! Heady days indeed. I began to see the writing on the wall before the west store closed and had to move on (getting married sort of prompted that), but all of us that worked there will always be “DE for Life.” It’s in our blood. We’ll always hold the memories and experiences close.

I’m truly sad to see it go, but it was a good run, for a good store. Kudos to Al and Jennie for doing it so long. But for us record store vets, THE MUSIC WILL NEVER DIE!
—Josh Staunton, 1997 & 2000-2007 (west store); he now owns the custom picture frame shop Frameworks.

COVER_0825_LisaM_PaxtonSCourtesy of Lisa Graves

From left: Lisa Morrow, Paxton Sellers, Lisa Graves

have gone through several stages with the Disc Exchange:

Stage 1: Discovery

A friend and I heard there was a place selling used CDs in an old video store behind Shoney’s on Chapman Highway called Parkway Video. We walked in and saw Al Miller behind the counter with a few hundred CDs displayed. We couldn’t believe that we could buy used CDs. At the time, new CDs were pretty expensive and he had used ones for sale for around $8. That day I bought my first used CD, Led Zeppelin IV, which I still have in my collection. From this point on I was a loyal customer to the Disc Exchange.

Stage 2: Music Discovery

As the DE grew, they moved from the video store to across the street. I would go in the store periodically to look for new music. In those days, you couldn’t preview music online, so you had to rely on friends, fellow music fans, and sometimes blind purchases. I would buy albums based just on the covers alone. But DE had a wall in the back of the store in the early ’90s that would have new up-and-coming groups or underground bands that I was interested in. I remember specifically looking over that wall and seeing a group called Nirvana. I thought, “That looks really interesting, and the band name sounds cool.” So I bought it that day, not knowing what they sounded like. Within the next month, “Teen Spirit” hit. Disc Exchange always had the music before anyone else. The staff there knew what was cool, and it was there in the store to buy. It was such a great source for new music. Having that in the early days sent me down a path of music discovery that I have kept going on to this day.

Stage 3: As a Musician

In the mid to late ’90s, I was in a band call the V-Roys. We had worked with the DE quite a bit by helping promote our records and doing in-store performance. They were very supportive of the local music scene in Knoxville and went out of their way to help bands get heard. They especially helped the V-Roys by promoting our music in the store, coming to our shows in Knoxville, and letting us do a record-release party/performance the night our second record came out.

Stage 4: Employment

After my days in the V-Roys came to an end, I decided to go back to college; I needed a job and I had several friends that I knew at the Disc Exchange. I heard that they might have an open spot so I applied. It was not an easy place to get a job. The first thing you had to do, to even be considered, was take a test to show how much potential music knowledge you had. They wanted the most musically knowledgeable people to provide the best customer service. I thought I knew a lot about music when I applied, but I had only scratched the surface. As an employee, you were exposed to so much music all day that you couldn’t help to absorb music. And for music lovers it was a great thing. All the employees had their different tastes and you would bounce ideas off each other all the time. It was a constant discussion of all things about music and music-related topics. Top-five lists, desert-island picks—you name it, we talked about it. Which led me to the next stage.

Stage 5: Marriage

One of my coworkers, Angela Pritchard, was on the other end of the music spectrum from me. I was into indie rock and she was into house music. At the time, I didn’t know anything about electronic music, and she was the go-to person for that. One day, I asked her to explain all the different kinds of dance and electronic music. What is house, drum ’n’ bass, trance, etc. So we would talk about it and over time we got to know one another pretty well. Then she started to get into some of the music that I was into. We went to a couple of shows together. We traveled to Athens, Ga., to see Spoon and Superchunk. One thing led to another and we started dating. Fast forward 15-plus years, and we are still happily married, with two young daughters. One of them just discovered Nirvana for the first time on her own. 25 years later.

Stage 6: Post-Employment/Summary

After marriage, I graduated college and moved on to other jobs, but the Disc Exchange has always been my record-store home. I knew I could always go into the Disc Exchange and see a friend. Not to sound like Cheers, but it’s where they all knew your name. The Disc Exchange, to me, is at the core of who I am. They have been a force in my development, they have exposed me to more music than I can discuss, I have met friends some of my closest friends there, and they were responsible for me meeting my wife, who was an employee for more than 10 years.

All I can say is that the DE means something to me and always will. It will truly be missed.
—Paxton Sellers, 2000-2002; he is now in international logistics for C.H. Robinson

The V-Roys

The V-Roys

The only time I moved back into my parents’ house in Morristown was for two weeks after my freshman year of college. I’d transferred from a private college in Virginia to the University of Tennessee to save an astronomical amount of money, but my family didn’t want their only child moving to Knoxville without getting a job first. After waking up in my childhood bedroom one mid-May morning, I hit up the only places in Knoxville I knew where to get a job: West Town Mall and Target. I made one last stop before turning tail back to Motown: the Disc Exchange West. I filled out my application at the listening station overlooking scenic Kingston Pike at Gallaher View—you had to fill it out on the spot, as there were musical knowledge quizzes contained therein, which surely wracked the nerve of many applicants—and headed east on Interstate 40 without a second thought. Before I’d made it back home, they’d already called to offer me an interview, which went off without a hitch. And just like that: I was in. I had been chosen. I was cool.

To be an 18-year-old small-town girl working at a record store as esteemed as the Disc Exchange was something surely out of a movie. I’d managed to glean a fair amount of musical nuggets from worshiping 120 Minutes and Amp, and my high-school boyfriend gave me my first Autechre and Aphex Twin albums. But working there, among those who had devoted their lives to spreading the gospel of underrepresented bards and beatmakers, the sonic savants of sad bastards everywhere, helped my musical taste to take its true form. My own outlook toward myself changed for the better, too. The recommendations I received from my coworkers and customers alike expanded my aural palate and instilled listening patterns that continue to help my musical discovery process to this day. I learned the importance of record labels, session musicians, and geo-locational affiliations. I learned the proper way to handle a record and open a new CD; I learned how to enjoy drinking beer; and, perhaps most importantly, I learned to not shit where I eat.

My time at the DE was curtailed by the rampages of a love misguided, but that’s just as well. The damage wrought paled in comparison to the personal progress I’d been granted by working in that expansive, thinly carpeted black hole of wonderful weirdos, some of whom are forever friends. I was given the everlasting gifts of self-assurance, self-determination, and several shelves of a kick-ass record collection. The Disc Exchange instilled in me the confidence I needed to see the worth in myself. Even though my DE is long gone, the lessons I learned there reverberate throughout everything I’ve ever done or will ever do.
—Laura Ashley Susong, 2004-2005 (west location); she is now the managing editor of Cityview Magazine.

Foo Fighters' in-store show

Foo Fighters’ in-store show

 

DE's west storeCourtesy of Chris Lowe

DE’s west store

 

Tracy Jackson and Angela SellersCourtesy of Lisa Graves

Tracy Jackson and Angela Sellers

 

COVER_0825_ComputerCourtesy of Lisa Graves

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