Interview by Jamison Harvey Photos by Eilon Paz
An excerpt from the full interview featured in the second edition Dust & Grooves book
hen a window opens in Questlove’s schedule—even if it’s very last-minute and on July 4—you take it. As drummer for the legendary hip-hop band the Roots, bandleader for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, professor at New York University, and round-the-clock DJ, Questlove rarely gets a break in his schedule. Just minutes after getting word of his availability, I found myself speeding down the Turnpike with Eilon toward MilkBoy Studios in Philadelphia to interview one of the hardest-working men in showbiz since James Brown. We had an hour to photograph him and his vinyl collection—just enough time for him to open up about his love of music and lifetime quest for records.
As you were growing up, your dad had a pretty sizable vinyl collection. Did you consider yourself a collector when you were younger, or did that come later on?
I didn’t consider it, not until I built this [record] room. Once I had enough money to really buy my first house, I opted to build this studio instead of a house. I remember working on [D’Angelo’s] Voodoo record when Q-Tip lost all his records in a fire. That scared the living bejesus out of me. Imagine this hoarder level of collecting, but inside my residency! We’re talking about the living room being all records. The kitchen, all records. My bathroom. I kept the best records in the bathroom ’cause it was like, “Where do I keep the gems at? Oh yeah, I’ll keep ’em in the bathroom!” It’s easy to remember that they’re in the bathroom. My Grammys are in the bathroom. There’s also a turntable in there. But there came a point when I started cracking records, you know, trying to navigate from here to there like Indiana Jones—one, two, three, [crackle noise] as I tried to jump over stuff. By the time I cracked the 20th record, I was just like, “Man, I gotta do something. Q-Tip’s house set on fire!”
What do you consider an important record in your collection?
Average White Band’s Person to Person LP is very important. As I said, I literally grew up on the road with my parents and that’s all I knew—adults. So when they tried to explain the concept of not going on the road with them, staying at Grandmom’s house, going to this thing called school with other kids—that’s the first time I felt like an actual kid. It was the hardest thing. I cried every day. Didn’t like it much in the first few months, but I got used to it. They would basically have to bribe me with records and record bingeing. And as a sort of congratulatory, last-day-of-school present, we did a $300 record-shopping binge. One of the records they bought me was Average White Band’s Person to Person. This singlehandedly changed my life. This is the record that I applied the 10,000 hours of practice to. This was basically a record I practiced to in the basement from the age of 6 until 21. I still practice to this record as a 43-year-old. If I had a top 10 record list, this would probably be my No. 1 record.
“I kept the best records in the bathroom ’cause it was like, ‘Where do I keep the gems at? Oh yeah, I’ll keep ’em in the bathroom!’ … There’s also a turntable in there.”
What records scared you growing up?
Rare Earth’s Ecology, which is a record my mother loved. I was a little creeped out by the long version of “I Know I’m Losing You.” Any songs with long echoes creep me out. Rare Earth was a psychedelic band, and I didn’t know what psychedelic was. I just knew they used a little too much echo. All of Norman Whitfield’s productions were borderline creepy. I wish I could find that Sky’s the Limit record by the Temptations. There’s a version of “Smiling Faces” where they’re laughing at the end. Oh God, I couldn’t take that! As a kid I used to always run upstairs and hide whenever Melvin Franklin laughs. To be a 4-year-old listening to that …
The full interview with Questlove is featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.
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