Wax On: Album resurgence and passion for the LP given a spin in CUFF doc Vinyl Nation

U.S. filmmakers Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone admit they’re both a bit too young to have participated in the Golden Age of the Vinyl Record.

“I was klutzy as a child, so I avoided big, flat pieces of plastic that scratched easily,” says Smokler, 47. “I’m a product of the Sony Walkman generation.”

His college friend relates. “My first album,” says the 45-year-old Boone, “was Sports by Huey Lewis and the News — on cassette.”

The two music lovers would later adopt the compact disc as their format of choice, as did almost everyone else in the music-consuming world. But in their 30s, they purchased turntables and, for the first time in their lives, started buying music on vinyl, a century-old analogue format declared obsolete by the start of the 21st-century digital era. They were not alone. Over the past 15 years, U.S. vinyl sales have steadily climbed, from one million units in 2007 to 27.5 million units last year. Vinyl now represents more than a quarter of all U.S. album sales. 

Why and how this is happening are questions addressed in Vinyl Nation, a 90-minute documentary co-directed and co-produced by author-essayist Smokler and screenwriter-filmmaker Boone. Filmed across the U.S. in the spring of 2019, Smokler and Boone interviewed a diverse group of more than 40 people about different aspects of the vinyl resurgence. Consumers, retailers and artists such as John Vanderslice, Kelley Stoltz and Ben Blackwell of the Dirtbombs (also co-founder of Third Man Records with Jack White) talk about why they’re passionate about vinyl. Manufacturers show how vinyl records and their sleeves are made. Women and/or people of colour talk about inclusivity as it relates to the vinyl and DJ communities. The history of vinyl is touched upon, as are its price and ecological impact, and the analogue-vs.-digital debate is renewed. The documentary — the first for both Smokler and Boone — is a veritable smorgasbord of vinyl-related subjects.

“Because the movie is about something getting bigger, I think we wanted it to feel big,” says Smokler. “It was our intention from the beginning to have many voices speaking at once.”

“Our job,” adds Boone, “was figuring out: ‘How can these people have a conversation with one another even if they are not in the same room with one another?’ We definitely wanted to have conflicting points of view, especially when it comes to something like, ‘Does vinyl sound better?’ because there is no right answer.”

There are other, non-people stars of Vinyl Nation. Amoeba Music record stores are prominent, and a segment of the film shows how a decision by lifestyle retailer Urban Outfitters to stock Crosley turntables made listening to vinyl records appealing for young people.

“People just want to crap on Crosley but it’s been a great way to (help) a lot of young fans get into records,” says Boone, stressing that businesses profiled in the film put no money into the project.

Arguably, the highlight of Vinyl Nation arrives near the end when Smokler asks his personal friend and podcaster Ashleyanne Krigbaum what will happen to her sizable record collection when she dies. No spoilers but suffice to say her answer, and the emotions that pour forth, illustrate how deeply some music fans love their vinyl.

“When we called cut, I said to Ashleyanne, ‘Thank you for sharing that story,’ because I knew I had just seen what would be, if not the best scene in the film, one of the best scenes in the film,” says Boone. “We were at the end of our first week of shooting … I told (my wife), ‘We got something today and I think we’re actually going to have a documentary that’s going to be good’ — because of that moment.”

It’s that same passion that inspired two former cassette kids to make a love letter to vinyl.

“We’re both big music people,” says Smokler, “and I think through finding vinyl as adults rather than at the time when it was the only way to listen to music, we’ve both decided vinyl is a kind of expression of oneself as a music fan, and a way to have a relationship with music that is really unique and special.”

Vinyl Nation screens online as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival until May 2. For more information please go to