In an era where any song is just a few taps away on your preferred streaming app, independent record stores feel like a relic. So when Jason Figel decided to retire after running Music Matters in Park Slope for 22 years, he was prepared to simply shutter the neighborhood mainstay. Then Chris Lentz walked in and changed the tune.
Lentz, 45, was a regular customer who was looking for a new project. Originally from Hicksville, Long Island—Billy Joel’s hometown—Lentz moved with his family but returned to New York to attend Columbia University, studying art history. A career in art installation for the fashion industry was abandoned when he became a stay-at-home dad eight years ago.
After a brief stint in Los Angeles for his wife’s job in advertising, the family moved back to New York in 2015. “New York always seemed like home,” Lentz said in an interview with Bklyner, shortly after taking over Music Matters on April 1st. “Like a boomerang, I’ve always come back here.”
Now, as the shop’s new owner, Lentz hopes to “nurture a home base for the community,” especially after the unpredictability created by the pandemic. “I recognized the need in the community for Music Matters to keep going,” said Lentz, who also has a garage rock band, The Branchbreakers, with other Park Slope dads. “If you have a place to go, even if it’s a tiny record shop, there’s an element of certainty.”
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you end up owning a record store?
One day I joked to Jason about opening a shop nearby and potentially putting him out of business. He said, “Actually, I’m thinking about moving on. Would you be interested in taking over?”
I said, “Ha! Not a chance, I have no idea how to do this.” It seemed like a bizarre notion. Then I went home and told my wife, and she was dead serious: “What are you talking about? That’s obviously what you should do.”
She recognized that music is very dear to my heart. I’m a musician and an avid record collector. So I looked at it in a new light.
Did you have any doubts during the process of buying the store?
I was very nervous. Was it a good idea to open a business during COVID? Was it a good idea to open a business at all? What about Spotify? What about Amazon? What about all of these forces against the independent record store?
Then I was walking my kids to school one day, and I see this woman with a Music Matters bag, and I could see the outline of a vinyl record. I asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you bought?” She pulled out David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. She said, “I just had to pick this up because I needed a little boost. It was a hard week, and I needed Bowie to take me to the other side.” It was like therapy in a bag. And just that little interaction, I thought, “This can’t go away.”
Is it jarring to be running a business after not even working for eight years?
Absolutely. It’s very tiring interacting with the public all the time and getting a business off the ground. It’s incredibly detailed work to launch a business, something that I’m still in the midst of. Today my kids were in the store for the first time. They’re five and eight, so they’re puzzled by the obsession with these artifacts, records and CDs. We talk about records a lot. Certain covers have die-cuts, like the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls; we were digging that the other day and they were totally into it.
That’s the relationship the younger generation has with record and CD players. I think the reason vinyl is in vogue again is that people are back in touch with the mechanical nature of stuff. They’re like, “It’s so easy to get what I want on Spotify, but I don’t own it. I don’t interact with it other than playing with my phone, which is what I do in every other facet of my life. Now I have a relationship to an entirely different thing, with an arm and a needle.”
What will change at Music Matters?
The name’s going to change to “Psychic Records,” meaning the Greek origins of the word—psychic as in “of the mind,” rather than the clairvoyant or paranormal nature of that word.
The relationship Music Matters had with the community is really important, but a chapter has finished, and it’s time for a breath of fresh air. I’m also going to probably spruce up the interior. I haven’t done anything yet, because I hit the ground running, so the transition will be slow. But that’s good for the community. I don’t want to come in and change everything.
How can a record store stay relevant in the modern era?
Every day people state that they want to support me, they want to support local businesses, to steer away from Amazon. They recognize that they’re too dependent on it, so they feel refreshed getting something from a local business. So just by making sure that it’s there and curated in a way that it’s still interesting to people, which is harder than it sounds because there’s a lot of music out there, and there are just 295 square feet of Music Matters.
I’m going to focus on things that are already hot. Right now, vinyl sells a lot more than CDs, so I will have a plentiful supply of delicious vinyl records, vintage and new ones. People still buy CDs and we’ll continue to support that, but I’m going to focus more on vinyl, which is new to the store.
Have you thought about hosting performances when it’s safe?
Absolutely. It’s a small space, so it’s going to be tight, but I would definitely pursue those sorts of things. I was thinking about having a YouTube channel, having local musicians pick what records were significant to them and talk about them—a promotion for the store and the band.
What music do you listen to?
I fell in love with The Beatles at 11, and there remain few musical experiences as riveting as discovering The Beatles for the first time. But a lifetime of adventure awaits anybody willing to explore all that music has to offer.
Right now, I like to explore avant-garde jazz, stuff that might sound like noise and cacophony. To me, it sounds like the spirit world. I enjoy figuring out why people do things like that. It’s like the abstract painting. Pollock, say, could paint a regular representational portrait, but he got to the point where that was no longer what was coming out of his brain. It’s the same with Pharaoh Sanders or Sun Ra, jazz guys who could play like Duke Ellington but chose to go way out into the nether regions.
What I’ve noticed about running the store is how much new music I missed because I was focused on older things. I’ve listened to things like Billie Eilish and Post Malone and I was pleased with what I found. There’s not enough time in life to explore all the stuff that’s out there.
The store’s address is 413B 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215, and the hours are 10 am to 7 pm every day, except Sundays, which are 11 am to 6 pm.