Kindercore: Pressing a new culture in Athens

It’s easy to hear why records have become a long lasting retro fad in the last decade: the warm, unforgettable, omni-dimensional sound quality that fills the room. Digital music, while convenient, simply can’t compare to the caliber of sound from a record player.

With Athens own Kindercore Vinyl recently celebrating its one year anniversary, that musical experience is now being pressed here in the Classic City.

On Newton Bridge Road in Athens, past Terrapin Beer Company, sits a small factory on a countryside hill with three large pressing plants inside. A simple look around the building reveals Kindercore Vinyl’s intricate process of creating and pressing records.

Athens’ music scene is nationally renowned for the famous artists and bands that are based here, but Kindercore gives the city something special. There are only less than 30 pressing plants in the United States, and Kindercore Vinyl is one of them.

In the fall of 2016, Athenian musician Ryan Lewis revamped his business after observing vinyl’s resurgence.

“Vinyl is an important part of all of the different ways that we can consume music and certainly my favorite,” said Lewis.

Vinyl records offer listeners an entirely different experience than digital formats.

“Now that vinyl is back, people have realized that there’s something they were missing by not having the art, the greater sound quality, and sitting down and enjoying a record play all the way through an album,” said Lewis.

“Even though so much is digital now, people want to interact with their physical world. They like objects,” said Kindercore’s operations manager, Matt Lewis, Ryan’s brother.

Ryan Lewis explains the process for pressing vinyl. A heated PVC puck gets flattened and then labeled. He pressed his first record on Halloween of 2017. Photo by Tristan Lankford

Kindercore wasn’t always just a vinyl company, starting as a local record label. In the mid-1990’s, Ryan was a college student at the University of Georgia, touring the country with several bands including The Agenda!. He ultimately wanted to put out his music more broadly.

“We were sending our stuff out to labels around the country, but they already had bands that they wanted to sign,” said Ryan Lewis.

Instead of continuing to look for a label that would finally sign him and his bands, Ryan Lewis opted to make his own.

“We decided one day that we would try to put out a compilation, a cassette composed of ten local bands we were friends with. It went really well. It was called the Treble Revolution, and after that, we kept doing stuff like that” said Ryan.

In May of 1996, Kindercore Records was officially established, targeting bands they knew from Athens’ vivid music scene. The genres of music being produced varied, and Kindercore represented a diverse subset of bands across Athens.

“We had loud bands, quiet bands, pop bands, but we become known for having more pop-catchy, 60’s ish bands on the label” said Ryan Lewis.

Most notably, Kindercore Records produced music from prominent bands such as of Montreal, The Mendoza Line, Dressy Bessy and The Agenda!.

All was fine until 2003, where Kindercore lost all their business to “criminals,” as Ryan put it. Signing and forging paperwork, then fleeing the Canada, the thieves completely shattered the prevailing record label, leaving owners Ryan Lewis and Daniel Geller with nothing.

“All of the records we had in stock, his bank repossessed the warehouse and destroyed all of the records. We had no money and no records to sell, so we ran out of business,” said Ryan Lewis.

From 2003 to 2015, Ryan found himself working in graphic design until a conversation with one of his friends, Cash Carter, led to a new idea.

“I told Cash that I wanted to do something new, and he tried to convince me to run the label again. I said ‘no way’, but then he asked about running a pressing plant,” said Ryan Lewis.

“I had this big idea, and he brought it in provision” said Carter, Kindercore’s Chief of Operations.

After about a year of negotiating and finding the right investor, Ryan Lewis finally brought his business to life, pressing Kindercore Vinyl’s first record on Halloween of 2017.

Kindercore is not just pressing records; the label is also finding ways to invest in the Athens community with a conscience. This summer, Kindercore partnered up with the Athens Clarke-County Library to award children a free seven-inch record if they reached the goal of reading 50 books on summer vacation. To Lewis’ surprise, over 2,000 children surpassed the goal.

“That was really impressive and fun to be apart of to spread the love of vinyl to kids,” said Ryan Lewis. “I was actually surprised that most of the kids knew exactly what vinyl was, which goes to show how popular vinyl is nowadays.”

Once a record is flattened, a knife cuts of the excess PVC. Photo by Tristan Lankford

In addition to supporting literacy, Kindercore also works with the University of Georgia’s Music Business program at Terry College, hosting up to five interns from the music business program each semester. Some of those interns continue to work with Kindercore after the program concludes.

Because of the established music scene and intricate ties within a small town, Athens was an ideal spot for a small record pressing plant’s home.

“We all feel grateful to Athens just for being the kind of place where we can live and for being the kind of place where we can do, whether it’s now, record manufacturing, or before when we played music, running a label, putting on shows, things like that,” said Matt Lewis.

“There’s just something about Athens that inspires creativity,” said Ryan Lewis.

Just passing it’s one year anniversary, Kindercore’s owners still have goals they’re pursuing.  

“We always want to increase our production and the number of artists and record labels we’re working with,” said Matt Lewis.

“We would like to get to the capacity for us to be busy enough that we need to get a fourth presser too,” said Carter.

Even if vinyl’s popularity suffers, Kindercore will survive. Independent bands will still want records pressed even if mainstream labels see a decline in sales for physical albums.

“While it’s certainly nice right now to get a lot of attention and get publicity, even if all of that was to go away, we’d still have plenty of business with people that are dedicated to the format,” said Ryan Lewis. “There’s a need out there that we’re going to be able to fill regardless whether the New York Times is writing about how popular vinyl is, or if it just goes back to independent bands.”

Closing out their first year of business, Kindercore’s leadership has the recipe for success: a strong team built around friendship.

“I couldn’t ask for a better partner or a better crew,” said Carter. “This is probably the best team I’ve ever worked with.”