And Vinyly is a company that’s taking advantage of the longevity of vinyl records and combining it with the sentimentality of the memories of a passed loved one; SHEKINA TUAHENE caught up with record label boss JASON LEACH to find out more.
Holding on to audio or visual recordings of passed away loved ones is nothing new, and usually simply requires the retaining of a voicemail, a digital file or home recorded footage. However, with the pace at which technology moves, such mementos are at risk of being deleted, corrupted or merely lost over time. One thing that has always remained through the decades is the use of vinyl; regardless of its fluctuating popularity it’s an object that in most cases can be picked up years after its creation and – provided it’s kept in a decent condition – can be used as if it were new.
After his mother joined the funeral trade, Death to Vinyl record label boss, Jason Leach, began thinking about his own death and how’d he’d like to be memorialised. Drawing on his life in the music industry and work with vinyl, Leach considered getting his ashes embedded into vinyl records and set up a website in 2006 documenting how he might go about it. “It occurred to me that that’s what I’d like to do, leave a real record of myself as it were for future generations to be able to play and keep,” he says.
Along with the launch of his website, which was a humorous, punny diary of his idea featuring the Grim Reaper holding a record needle instead of a scythe and a ‘raveyard’, Leach began quietly looking into the logistics and probability of integrating ash into records, practising his method with old record-making equipment and using ashes from fires. Pointing out that usually such materials are something one would want to separate from the creation of a vinyl, Leach says: “In that regard it’s completely different, however, ultimately it’s exactly the same. We are making real records, it’s not something that can be played like a record and looks like a record – it really is a record.”
One of the first jobs Leach got included using ashes created by an Italian artist. The artist would film himself playing various string instruments such as the cello and violin which would be set on fire once the performance was done, and with the ashes from the show Leach was able to perfect his craft, preparing to one day see the method used with his own remains.
Later, Leach found himself turning it into a business after his novel idea started to gain attention from worldwide media including the BBC and Radio 4, alluring customers with a similar mindset who wanted him to do the service for them too. This newfound interest forced Leach to turn the concept into an actual venture and now And Vinyly is in its second year of being an official funeral-adjacent company.
“I never intended to make a business of it at all,” he says. “The initial website was really an exploration into how I might be able to organise this for the people I left behind.” His first ever customer using human remains was a French man, whose wife commissioned the job as he had heard of the company before passing. From then, the public appetite for Leach’s service steadily grew. Since January 2018, And Vinyly has been commissioned 12 times for its services, a steady increase from early 2017. “It demanded my full attention – it almost hounded me into doing it.”
Aside from the media attention, Leach was taken aback by the public’s general response to his idea saying: “In the beginning I was amazed at how closed off everyone was. A lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about [death] at all.” He continues: “It’s part of what intrigued me about it because I was one of them. It would tend to be either people who absolutely loved it or were shocked and horrified.” Leach has since noticed a more open dialogue between himself and those interested in And Vinyly, and while he is not sure whether the company is helping people to further accept the eventuality of death he does recognise the “power” of being able to hear the voice of someone who has passed away.
With support and advice from his mother, Leach learned how to best deal with those who were grieving, a situation he did not have too much firsthand experience with due to his limited exposure to mourning growing up. “I was amazed at how I hadn’t ever really considered or been been exposed to [death], luckily it didn’t happen too much. When family members did die when I was young, we were normally sheltered from it.”
Knowing that large numbers of people already save voice recordings of those who have passed away, Leach acknowledges that his product speaks to those who love and appreciate vinyl as it is or prefer something that will serve as an alternative tribute to their loved one. “It’s something tangible that people can have and hold and keep,” he says, “rather than a bit of audio on a hard drive”. He also agrees that possibly unlike a file kept on a computer, the vinyls can be preserved and potentially used in the future, passed onto generations as a valuable heirloom. “I would love to have [had] a record of my great, great, great, great grandfather – for example – that I could play. I find it extremely exciting and interesting.”
And as much as Leach tries to encourage his customers to make use of voice recordings because “they mean the most to family and probably future generations”, he also receives requests to put other pieces of audio such as music on the record, as they also tend to have sentimental value for those who have passed. “It’s a very good memory trigger, sound. Whether it’s spoken word or recordings of places, times. We encourage it and when people do make that choice, they often get in touch and say how pleased they are that they did that.”
And Vinyly also differs from a digital file because of the artwork that can be commissioned with each record. Following on from the idea of each one being a mini tribute, the sleeve of the vinyl can be designed with the deceased’s image, poetry, photographs or writings to further personalise the memorial. Garnering the help of artists he’s shared studios with over the years, Leach regularly enlists the services of British portrait artist James Hague, who also helped to pioneer the act of blending ash into the paint of artwork – something which has gained popularity among those who seek to use ashes in alternative ways. Leach says: “That’s something that we were offering very early on – I believe first. But some people just purely do that – they got that from us.” However, And Vinyly appears to be the only company making records with ashes inside them.
Despite witnessing the decline and subsequent revival of vinyl over the years, Leach does not assume that this will have a huge impact on the service and product that he offers. He explains: “When I first started doing this it was when vinyl was very close to not existing anymore – it was seemingly on the decline. I wasn’t too sure where it was going and that’s when I first came up with the concept.” He adds that since, vinyl has become “hugely popular” and “fashionable again”, stating that he doesn’t “believe its made any difference” to the demand of his business.
Unlike other ways ashes are used, And Vinyly allows for multiple use, as approximately half a teaspoon of ash is put into each record, so families can still scatter or keep hold of the remainder. Sometimes this means that families who have had ashes for a while can turn to the relatively new company without having to sacrifice what they originally intended to do with the ashes. Differing quantities of records can be requested according to how they may be distributed. Packages are offered according to how many records a person wants, with the lowest price accounting for up to 30. For all the services available, the price ranges from £900 to £3,000.
Usually, Leach’s customers only want a few records, with requests averaging between two to 15 but as his work regularly attracts his peers who also have a career in the music business, it is sometimes seen as an opportunity to distribute the records as a commemorative artefact. “We’ve done one recently where we made 50, that was for a chap who was heavily involved in one of the original hip hop bands. Another one we did recently was for a band called The Idles which is a new punk rock band. The lead singer’s mum’s ashes are in their record – they made 100 and sold those.” And while he has not had such a job commissioned, the small amount of ashes used also makes it possible for And Vinyly to combine the remains of more than one person, even feasibly becoming a substitute to family tombs, befitting for a time when future cemetery space is turning out to be a growing concern.
As And Vinyly continues to attract a wide range of custom from those in the music industry and otherwise, Leach’s next step for the company is to partner with those in the funeral sector on a worldwide scale and launch other services alongside the records. So far, he remains positive and proud about the potential of the incidental venture, concluding: “I’m very pleased to say it’s something I’ve managed to do pretty well.”