Adam Cayton-Holland: If You Love Something, Get It On Vinyl

I’m often late to the party musically. The first time I ever heard Built to Spill was only a few years ago. It was at a show at Red Rocks. I had heard of the band, but never actually heard them. Then they took the stage, and my face melted, my knees buckled – all the other clichés. I fell in love. I remarked to my then-girlfriend, now wife, that they sounded like my adolescence, but cooler. Turns out, that was exactly accurate. They had been making what we used to quaintly refer to as college-rock for decades, right alongside the radio tripe I was wholesale inhaling through most of the late nineties/early aughts.

Oh, I thought. Duh.

I think, if pressed, I’d now say that they’re my favorite band. Late to the party, but emphatically there. Finally.

I could tell you similar stories about a lot of musicians. But not Bright Eyes.

Bright Eyes I heard right when I was supposed to. It was Lifted, an album that I now know is several deep into his cannon – not even taking into account the Commander Venus stuff. Regardless, I learned about Bright Eyes exactly when I needed to. Though truth be told, I read about him first. In Rolling Stone. A rave review that anointed Conor Oberst, “the Bob Dylan of the plains.” That quote is burned into my memory. I remember reading that and thinking, “Wait a minute. This guy is making this kind of splash out of Omaha?! Nebraska?!”


I was twenty-two, the same age Conor Oberst was when he put that album out. I had just graduated from college on the east coast and was now back in my hometown of Denver. I had vague notions of doing something in comedy. I also had spent four years conditioning myself in the cauldron of coastal elitism. Most of the kids I graduated with were either in New York or in LA now, steadfast on various paths of making it. Sitting in my childhood bedroom in Denver, no real plan of attack for the future, I felt decidedly in flux. Then I read that quote about this Omaha phenomenon and ran out and bought the album. I listened to it so much the CD started skipping.

Simpler times.

I was hooked. But as much as I responded to the music, I think I was equally floored by the fact that this dude had done it all out of Omaha. Fucking Omaha! A backwater that you could tell he loved and hated, a place that he wished offered more but that at the same time provided everything he needed. Listening to that music, Omaha felt like both an inspiration and a curse, broken yet somehow hopeful too.

I could relate. I was constantly torn about the city I grew up in. I wanted that golden ring – whatever that meant – and I didn’t know if Denver could offer it. Listening to Bright Eyes, seeing the reaction he was getting, I started to see that maybe fighting the creative fight out of your hometown was something worth pursuing. It wasn’t some consolation prize for striking out in bigger markets; it was a noble pursuit unto itself. After all, what are you but a reflection of your surroundings? What’s that adage? Write what you know.

I did a deep dive. I listened to all of Conor Oberst’s music. I learned about the label Saddle Creek. And though I was probably attributing it to them more than they were broadcasting it as an ethos, somewhere deep down, I filed it away that making it out of your hometown was possible.

Of course, like any insecure, self-loathing comic, I talked myself out such a notion for a number of years – the most effective argument being ‘he’s a genius, you’re shit’ – but eventually I came around. There are degrees of success, after all. I moved back to Denver for a writing job, started doing stand-up comedy, built a scene with my friends, and now make a living as a professional comedian, with all the accompanying accolades (occasional free coffee). And I still live in Denver. A badge I wear with pride. I hold no grudge against comics working in LA or New York. That makes way more sense. To try to make it in the entertainment industry in cities where, you know, the entertainment industry actually fucking exists. But still, for me, this is the path I have chosen. And I’m happy on it. Happy in Denver, a city I love. And it would never have happened had I not heard Lifted.

Similarly, I was late to the party when it came to vinyl. It’s a heartbreaking story – one I’ve written about at great length and that I don’t wish to get into here – but after losing my little sister, I inherited her record collection. Obviously, this made for a sentimental attachment. I set up her record player in my living room. and I burned through her records, and I cried a lot, but after all that mourning, a tangential takeaway was why the fuck haven’t I been listening to music like this all along? The crackle of the record before the music starts, the way the act of putting a record on forces the music to take center stage, as opposed to becoming ambient noise, studying the cover art and liner notes as you hold the record case in your hands – all the clichés – I loved it. I still listen to a shit-ton of music digitally, but if I love something, I get it on vinyl. That way, I know I’ll sit with it and properly appreciate it. I’ll savor it.

What an honor, then, to have my comedy album come out on Saddle Creek. I’m the first comic on the label. Twenty-two-year-old Adam is geeking the fuck out right now. So is thirty-nine-year-old Adam. I’ve always wanted to have an actual comedy album, on vinyl, to have and to hold, to honor and obey, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. And to have that album on Saddle Creek is beyond words. The fact that it’s a vinyl reissue of my album Adam Cayton-Holland Performs His Signature Bits, an album that came out digitally on Comedy Central Records in 2018 – another fucking dream – and that I’m extremely proud of, is just too much. It makes me want to retreat to the nearest dark corner and self-flagellate, penitente-style, lest my head swell so large I take flight. So I’ll wind it down before this becomes too grandiose. But I do wish to say thank you to both Comedy Central and Saddle Creek. This is so goddamn cool for me.

My hope is that someday some kid picks up my album, on vinyl, and listens to it and thinks, “Wait a minute? This guy did this from his hometown of Denver?! That means maybe I could do it from my hometown too! I mean, it’s just a bunch of clumsy dick jokes. Anyone can do that!”

Easy tiger. It took a lot of years to figure out how to tell those dick jokes effectively. And you’ll get there too, just put in the time. But if you’re getting overly romantic and thinking of moving to Denver to try to make it, please don’t. The city’s gotten too big. There’s no room anymore. Try Des Moines, maybe Boise or something. You can do it. I believe in you. Saddle Creek believes in you. You’re not late to the party at all. You’re exactly where you need to be.

Adam’s album, Performs His Signature Bits is out on vinyl on Saddle Creek February 21, 2020.You can pre-order Performs His Signature Bits here.

Adam Cayton-Holland is a national touring comic who has appeared on Conan, The Late Late Show with James Corden, Comedy Central Presents, @midnight, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, Happy Endings, Deadbeat, Flophouse, Hidden America and was named one of Esquire’s “25 Comics to Watch,” as well as one of “10 Comics to Watch” by Variety. Along with his cohorts in The Grawlix, he created, wrote and starred in “Those Who Can’t,” which aired for three seasons on truTV. His albums, “I Don’t Know If I Happy,” “Backyards,” and “Adam Cayton-Holland Performs His Signature Bits,” (voted one of Vulture’s Top Ten Albums of 2018) are all available on iTunes, and his writing has appeared in Village Voice, Spin, The A.V. Club, The New York Times, Esquire and The Atlantic. His first book, Tragedy Plus Time, is available everywhere. Born-and-raised in Denver, Colorado, Adam admired Saddle Creek for years as that amazing label in Omaha making the rest of the country come to them. He is beyond honored to be the first comedy artist on Saddle Creek.

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  • Feb 12,2020 at 13:35

    As a relatively young person I would like to say that vinyl speaks to me precisely BECAUSE it is finite, because it is flawed. This might sound strange to older people, but growing up with an infinite offer of digital music, cheap cd’s, youtube, spotify ect. listening to vinyl is somehow very calming. Searching for interesting vinyl releases, saving up to be able to buy some records, having to decide which ones you really want, listening to them at home, putting them away to only rediscover them again a couple of years later, or not and selling them to get some new records, constantly changing and perfecting your collection… I find all of this to be very satisfying, like on an existential level. It’s much more satisfying than the superficial listening my generation is used to. Hopping from one artist to the next in a matter of days, listening only to playlists containing hits and singles, never really taking the time to listen to a song a couple of times even if you didn’t like it right from the start… maybe true appreciation just takes patience. Listening to vinyl requires patience and it slows things down. It makes me stop and appreciate the moment. When I listen to vinyl, I REALLY listen to the music. I know the music I listen to and appreciate it on another level. I know who the band members are, know the lyrics and the background of the songs, know which label released the record, the context in which the music was made, who designed the cover art ect. ect… some pop’s and clicks aren’t going to stand between me and this experience.. So yeah, you’re right. Some kid is probably going to be holding your record some day, feeling intrigued by it and is going to take the time to really listen to it.. that alone was worth releasing it on vinyl.

  • Feb 6,2020 at 19:19

    Have to agree with DerFeindHoertMit- CDs are way underrated these days-I grew up with vinyl and acquired hundreds of records before I bought a CD player in 1989 so I’m not a newcomer to either format.However, I disagree with how one sounds better than the other-I’ve never noticed a CD sounding sterile unless it was a badly remastered analogue recording dating from the 80’s or early 90’s.And I also have the same ‘haptic experience’ when listening to any recording, whether it be on CD or vinyl.What bothers me is when I read reviews for vinyl albums on Discogs or Amazon and more time is spent complaining about how shoddy-sounding the pressings are than on the music itself.(One seems to never hear such things in regards to CDs..) What we do share in common,however, is a deep-seated love of music and a appreciation of some kind of physical format that enhances the listening experience. Furthermore,in regards to Mr. Clayton-Holland’s article,what we listen to and collect helps define who we are in the present moment and becomes a part of our legacy after we are gone.Discovering someone’s Spotify playlist is just not the same.

  • Feb 5,2020 at 12:58

    It’s not all roses in the vinyl world.
    Bad pressings just to feed the demand, the trend, speculators, coloured/splatter vinyl…
    Poison Idea weren’t completely wrong when they named an EP “Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes”.
    I agree that LPs are better than CDs are better than tapes are better than MP3s/WAVs etc.
    LPs sound warmer, less sterile than CDs. That’s their most important advantage besides other reasons like the haptic experience. Putting a record on is kind of celebrating the music, inserting a CD not so much.
    Still after almost 30 years of being quite arrogant and ignorant concerning the CD format I finally learnt to appreciate CDs too. They’re not that bad. Especially today when new records are pricy, and not always of good quality sound-wise.

  • Feb 4,2020 at 19:51

    You are exactly on the money, Adam. I’ve been listening to vinyl since I started buying it (“Pat Boone Sings”) in 1959 (at two-and-a-half years old), and something happened in the middle 1980s when I started buying CDs–I started losing interest in music. It wasn’t that the music was worse, or different, but Stanley Jordan on CD, while a pleasurable experience, and while I enjoyed his playing much more than that of, say, George Benson or Pat Metheny, just wasn’t the same as listening to a RECORD. And one of the few LPs I bought shortly after having devoured the CD, “Introducing the Hardline according to Terence Trent D’Arby,” showed me why.

    You summed it up precisely–” The crackle of the record before the music starts, the way the act of putting a record on forces the music to take center stage, as opposed to becoming ambient noise, studying the cover art and liner notes as you hold the record case in your hands – all the clichés…” and even more. There’s something that the ambience of “playing a record” adds to the ability to immerse oneself in the music–it’s not just light reflecting off a shiny surface, it’s that the sound waves are right there in your room, on that slab of vinyl or styrene or shellac, being amplified for the ears of you and those you’ve invited to participate in the experience.

    Kudos for a point well made, Adam. Now, let’s see…which way is it to the Saddle Creek order page again?

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