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VMP Interview with Ben Blackwell, Third Man Records

On June 20, 2015

picture via Notre Dame University

by Hilary Saunders

Smell-o-vision has finally infiltrated the world of audiophiles. In the past few years, scented vinyl has become a choice collectors item—from experimental rock band Black Moth Super Rainbow’s 2008 Dandelion Gum that smelled like bubble gum to actual bubble gum pop girl Katy Perry’s 2010 Teenage Dream that smelled like cotton candy. Even last month, the Ghostbusters 30th anniversary soundtrack super deluxe reissue generated buzz because it smelled like marshmallows.

With this vinyl trend growing, we decided to check in with one of the cleverest tastemakers in vinyl ideation, Third Man Records. Always ahead of the curve, Third Man released a limited edition of Karen Elson’s 2010 The Ghost Who Walks that smelled like peaches, and Ben Blackwell, Third Man’s Psychedelic Stooge (so says his business card) let us in on a secret: it’s not actually the wax that smells.

VMP: Who came up for the idea for olfactory vinyl? How?

BB: I’m pretty sure the scented vinyl idea was Jack [White]’s. Karen’s album was “ripe” for scented vinyl because it had the recurring peach color theme in all of the artwork. We never disclosed how many copies we pressed…I seem to remember we sold it exclusively online and that it crashed our website!

VMP: How do you produce scented wax?

BB: Our scented wax was a little bit of a trick…we actually had the idea so last minute that we weren’t able to figure out how to scent the vinyl. So instead, we scented the sleeves. I’m not sure if anybody noticed. This was all with the help of our trusted pressing plant, United Record Pressing.

Immediately after Karen’s record we tried to make the Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards LP motor oil-scented, but that didn’t work. There’s no stock motor oil scent you can buy from a manufacturer who would have all the other commercially available scents (like lavender, pine, or peach, for example).

VMP: How did you get involved with Third Man Records and what’s your role?

BB: Third Man started in March of 2009 with Jack White, Ben Swank, and myself. I had run my own label, Cass Records, since 2003, and in that time learned the process of how to release, manufacture and distribute vinyl. I’d been working for the White Stripes in one way or another since 1997, so it was a no-brainer for me to come on board for Third Man Records, as the original intention was to only reissue White Stripes albums.

I handle all of our vinyl manufacturing, approximately 1.1 million pieces of vinyl in the past five-and-a-half years, across 250 titles. There’s a little bit of A&R involved as well (if there’s a record on Third Man Records by an artist from Detroit, I probably had some role in bringing it to the table). And I’ve been known to take out the garbage occasionally too.

VMP: What upcoming Third Man Records releases are you excited about?

Third Man’s upcoming album with Danny Kroha titled Angels Watching Over Me is really quite special. That will be coming out in January 2015. And when folks see what we cooked up for the LP pressing of Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail I think they’ll be stoked.

About the Author (Hilary Saunders the Rad)

Hilary Saunders writes things, often about music. Follow her on Twitter @Hilary_Saunders.


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