May 1st was an important day in the young musical career of Sebastian Ortiz, as it marked the release of his single, “Every Day She Comes Back.” It’s brand-new music from an up-and-coming artist, whose breathing new life into indie rock with his classic folk-inspired take on the genre. Ortiz brings an experimental approach to a genre that traditionally hasn’t necessarily allowed for much experimentation. But he relishes the challenge of that experimentation and the high of starting with nothing and winding up with something unique and rewarding, unlike anything he had originally envisioned. Ortiz is currently finalizing his debut EP, which you will hear in the coming months.

Ortiz is a first-generation American, a son of Colombian-born parents, a cultural background that has had a tremendous influence in shaping him as a person and a songwriter. He grew up listening to salsa, reggaeton, and classical music, and that, combined with the American and British indie and folk, has really helped shape who he is as an artist. Ortiz is a graduate of Boston University and has now settled in New Jersey, where he is confidently and gradually starting to build an audience. It’s the process which he loves, which is why he has decided to fully commit himself to music and make it both his life and his career.

As you may expect, considering its rich musical history, New Jersey has some outstanding record stores. Today, Ortiz joins us to share with us his five favourite record stores in and around his hometown that have helped shape him as a songwriter and also as an individual.

1. Rhythm Central (Google Maps)
Address: 511 Central Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07307
Phone: (201) 705-4570

Record stores are dying. The few that remain each have their own distinct character. I visited Rhythm Central on a rainy Saturday afternoon for this photo-op. Rhythm Central is located in the Heights of Jersey City, a diverse community. Storefronts with Arabic and Spanish populate the main street. I walked into Rhythm Central to an older Hispanic guy playing the conga in the back. He was tapping lightly to some Latin music he was listening to in his office while the two other patrons in the store checked around for records.

What first struck me about this place was the abundance of Spanish dance records. Probably 70 percent of this store were old salsa and merengue records, plus a mix of whatever other Spanish-language music there was from the ’60s to the ’90s. I perused the catalog of the English-language music, but didn’t really find anything good except for this Bernstein/NY Philharmonic Record of Copland (which turned out to be a lot of fun). The GREAT find that I got was a Claudia de Colombia record, a Colombian singer from the ’70s whom my mom was named after. I’d never listened to her music, but I recognized the cover and knew I had to buy it.

This store was inexpensive. The two records were 3 to 5 dollars each. The owner, Angel, gently tapped on his conga the whole time I was there. He was kind enough to take these two photos of me.

2. Iris Records
Address: 109 Brunswick St, Jersey City, NJ 07302
Phone: (201) 222-9515

This place was COOL. Like many record stores, this one was tiny. Unlike many record stores, this one was PACKED. The store was probably filled to 50 percent capacity with buyers of all ages perusing the milk crates of records. Of all record stores, this one definitely boasted the best variety. I’d never seen a record store sell house music records.

Since I work at house music label, I knew I had to get some. More than house music, though, this record store had an array of jazz, punk, psych-rock, and alternative music. There were a few pop records, but like Jersey City, this record store seems to cater to the underground and to the hipster. Though I didn’t come with pockets full of money, I know I’ll be coming back in the future to get some good jazz records (free jazz anyone?).

Sebastian Ortiz Vinyl Variety

3. Tunes
Address: 225 Washington St, Hoboken, NJ 07030
Phone: (201) 653-3355

Tunes in Hoboken! Right on Washington street, somehow this record store can manage to pay the rent in this large space. This music store was divided into a CD section and into a vinyl section. My favourite thing about it is that it was so neatly organized. The other record stores were organized too, but something about this one made it so easy to find so many relatively obscure records that I was genuinely interested in. Tunes had a great variety of classic rock, pop (modern and older), and unlike the others, a lot of folk/country!

Being a folk and country fan, I felt I was in a little Northeast music heaven. I was able to get some great Chet Atkins records, Kingston Trio, and Pete Seeger. These are already some of my favourite to put on while cleaning up the house. There’s something artistic and whimsical about vacuuming to Pete Seeger’s forlorn voice in “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Nevertheless, I love it.

Sebastian Ortiz Vinyl Variety

4. Music Country
Address: 728 Anderson Ave, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010
Phone: (201) 943-1045

“The oldest record store since 1934.” This is a bold claim, but I’m inclined to believe it. The couple who run this record shop look like they’re probably in their late 80s or sometime in their 90s. This is the record store to go to for any of your classic rock needs. They have a bunch of really cool imports (such as the Velvet Underground record I’m holding here), 45s, posters, and memorabilia in a tiny store that probably can’t fit more than 10 or 20 people.

This is the first record store I think I went to in my life where I got a Doors record. Though the prices are a bit expensive, it holds a special place in my heart for this reason.

Sebastian Ortiz Vinyl Variety

5. BB’s Records
Address: 24 S Front St, Bergenfield, New Jersey 07621
Phone: (315) 677-1849

No photo here, sorry.

This was the last record store I visited on my little sojourn to find my five favourite record stores, which by the way, there were only about six in the area.

Nestled on a cozy, quiet corner in Bergenfield, this record store seems to present the Bob’s, the owner’s, personality. There are life-size cutouts of the Beatles and Elvis. The records here are a good sampling of classic rock and pop music from the ’40s to the ’90s. The record I copped here was Duke Ellington’s greatest hits, which has now been a favourite of mine to play when guests are over (I need more jazz records). I recommend this store to anyone looking for a variety of pop music throughout the years (side note: isn’t it so interesting how big band music used to be pop?)

Sebastian Ortiz ‘Everyday She Comes Back’ album artwork
Sebastian Ortiz ‘Everyday She Comes Back’ album artwork

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