Audiophiles I know: Zach Cowie Part Two – Page 2

A living, musical space to chill out and talk – Cowie's loft in downtown Los Angeles.

RA: What's your new-music routine usually look like? For example, I carry ists on my phone of artists/albums/singles I know I'm wanting to track down. Is it word of mouth that leads to lists being compiled and then crossed-off via Discogs, or shoes on the ground while hitting favourite record stores in the LA area, across the country and abroad? Do you have a formula for searching before you start flipping through stacks at a new record store, thrift shop or LP fair? Do you carry a portable turntable and 'phones in your car... just in case you might need it to listen to a rare find somewhere out of the way? How important is to you find decent pressings and do you use a record cleaning machine before letting the needle hit the groove?

ZC: I’m SO LUCKY to be surrounded by a pretty crazy network of friends, DJs, musicians, and fellow collectors. most of the things that are new to me come directly from tips via those folks. I also make it part of my daily routine to read email updates from shops and distros I like, which I find infinitely more valuable than reading reviews of any kind. My 'must-reads' at the moment are updates from Soundohm, 2 Bridges, Seance-centre, and Stranded. Yes, I go to A LOT of record stores all around the world (online and in person) — between dropping a needle on unfamilair things and staff recomendations, I’m learning something new each time…and each new thing you learn opens a door to the next... (and don’t even get me started on the private dealer and deadstock scenes…aka, where just about all my money goes! Haha!)

In terms of good pressings — yes, this is very important to me. I try to only buy things that have discs in decent shape ( I don’t care about cover condition at all). If I find something interesting that’s too chewed, I make a mental note of it and track down a better copy. If I come across something great that's deadly rare and might take me time to find another, I will buy it with hopes of upgrading down the line and trading the beater to a friend as their starter-copy. Yes, I have an RCM and a ritual where all new arrivals go into a bin on my desk and get cleaned/sleeved/logged into Discogs before getting their first spins.

Always spinning with EMT.

RA: How big would you say your record collection is these days, and do you have CDs, tapes or reels – or is at all vinyl and if so, why?  Has the big-tape bug bitten you at all? Have you heard any tape-based systems? I know each collector and DJ seems to have an internal process for putting together mixes, how do you approach your collection when it's time to make a new mix? And lastly, how do you have your album collection organized? Alphabetical? Autobiographical?

ZC: I ONLY have records. I grew up working in shops and at labels where vinyl never went away and I was steered away from any other format by the people who mentored me. My collection has been the same size for quite a while now, about 10k discs —  LPs and 45s. There’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding. I’m a big fan of keeping things tight. The golden rule is: I should be able to pull any record off the wall and immediately know why I have it… if I don’t remember it gets traded, and when shelves get too tight, I go through everything and pull a few boxes worth to trade and make room for new arrivals.

300B, tubed-based amplification via the Shindo Cortese power amplifier and Monbrison preamplifier..

I HAVE heard some pretty amazing tape-based systems and I was very impressed. I went through phases of temptation and seriously considered getting into it but I had to put a mental wall in front of the entire format because I know myself too well. The second I get an R2R machine I’ll get obsessed with finding tapes and I only have the mental capacity (and finances) to go down that road for one format. (But PLEASE invite me over and play me crazy tapes!).

My collection is organized alphabetically and in sections that probably only make sense to me. If i had to describe the headspace behind the sectioning, it’s basically “DJ’ing” vs “home listening.”

My heartfelt thanks to Zach for taking the time to answer so many questions, for opening up both his home and himself to us for this article, and for taking a chance to meet two strangers in a nondescript hotel room to make a recording. Thank you Mr. Cowie.

Art featuring the Yellow Magic Orchestra from Japan.


dadracer's picture

Can you please tell me what these speakers in Zachs system as I cant find this in the article. Excellent read and very jealous of the EMT turntable

Rafe Arnott's picture
There's a link to Part One of the interview with Zach where his whole system is listed.


grantray's picture

...and rad to get a read on his approach to music regardless of genre. Burial to Pharaoh to Crosby to ECM because of the search for the Good? Man, that's the way. Especially because I'm a typical early 40-something recovering art-schooler that, like many of us from that era, spent the better part of the 90s amassing a couple thousand records before the internet became all-powerful.

Then it got even better with the podcast.

Lots of records and rad gear is cool, but Cowie's ability to bridge creativity with managing skills, and to frame those challenges the way he does, is the thing that's really exceptional. That was my favorite part of the podcast. Looking forward to more of these, and his bar is totally on my shortlist next time I'm in DTLA.

jky999's picture

The favorite part of this for me was culling out the herd. That part resonated. That and speakers as shrine. I used to regularly sort through my collection to get rid of stuff that wasn't worthy of a fully-intentioned listen.

I also like the self-imposed restraint. Yes, I have a problem and I'm trying to manage it:)

Everything about this hits a little too close to home.