We would have profiled Jason a long time back, but he kept putting it off: in addition to a genuine chariness to talk himself up, it proved impossible to pull him away from his records. Even when we finally sat down to talk, he was sorting a box of 45s that had just come in the mail, peppering his answers to my questions with a running commentary on the vinyl in front of him: “This has got to have a break on it: why don’t I have it listed as ‘funk breaks?”; “Damn he’s got this one?”; “Heard this? It’s from Atlanta: arguably cheesy but really catchy, too.” I’ve never met a more detail-oriented, driven record person than Jason. Which is not to say that he doesn’t know how to have fun (he has a delightfully goofy sense of humor), just that everything in his life is mediated by his passion for music and collecting it.
The past six-and-half years have seen Carolina Soul grow from Jason’s hobby to a business employing twenty people, with a large international customer base and a brick-and-mortar store in Durham. In the meantime, Carolina Soul has also grown into a well-knit social unit, become a sponsor and host of local dance parties and concerts, programmed a monthly radio show in London, and even weathered a direct hit from a tornado (2014) in the process.
Looking back, I was wondering what Jason made of it all. His answer was surprisingly impressionistic: “a dream that was not dreamt. I started only wanting to find North Carolina records in a systematic way, and the rest [of Carolina Soul] has organized around that.”
If building Carolina Soul has felt like a waking dream to Jason, perhaps it’s because he never set out to be a boss and business owner. He described the process more as a series of improvisations in response to the needs of each successive moment: you are finding more records so you need more staff, you get close to collecting one region’s soul records, and you need to go elsewhere; you start developing an online customer base, and you start incorporating their needs into your calculus.
If there has never been a grand plan, this doesn’t mean Jason is just flying by the seat of his pants: he’s the most professionally conscientious person I’ve ever met. He describes himself as lucky to have turned his passion into a vocation, and surprised to find himself “interested in running a business” and “cut out” to do so. In a new position of responsibility to “his employees and customers,” and the institution of Carolina Soul itself, he’s happy to now be “surrounded by a group of intelligent, hilarious employees who share his passion and interest in music.”
Now selling thousands of records every month for a living, a certain deprogramming of Jason’s initial collecting impulses has taken place: he claims now to be “more inspired by those letting go of their records” than anybody else. And in general, he says he likes to “work backwards” from standard ways of doing things, only filling in the gaps later. So he started as a hunter of private NC releases, but he’s now also filling in his knowledge of slept-on major label gems, talking up stuff like A Brother’s Guiding Light’s “Getting Together” on Mercury and Freda Payne’s “Got to Find a Way” as we chatted. No snob, he also wanted to make sure I mentioned his abiding love for artists like Usher and Willie Hutch, too…
As Carolina Soul grows, Jason hopes it remains “a sustainable workplace where people who want to work for a longtime can do so, while still valuing those who want to do it for shorter periods of time.” And while his desire to hold onto everything he finds may have slackened, he’s still obsessed by the “seemingly endless” supply of records still rolling into our offices and still to be found out there “in the field.” Over ten years into “vinyl revival” hype, Jason has every reason to remain sanguine about Carolina Soul’s future.