Colin Hanks, On the Record

Credit: Larry Busacca / Getty Images

"Yeah, I'm that guy who carries stickers and buttons for his movie in his backpack," Colin Hanks sheepishly admits as he passes out shiny Tower Records buttons to a lucky few at Austin's iconic hotel The Driskill. You can't blame him, the documentary he directed, All Things Must Pass, has been seven years in the works and finally got its premiere during the SXSW Film Festival.

Tower Records, if you're not familiar, was the titan music retailer that thrived during the age of the vinyl and compact discs with stores in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, then expanding internationally. Why does actor Colin Hanks care, you may ask? He grew up in Sacramento, where Russell Solomon started the brand in his father's drugstore back in the 60s, and heard about the mega-chain's humble beginnings during a conversation with a family friend.

"I think I said out loud, 'There’s a documentary there,'" Hanks says. It was easier said than done, but he set to task combing through archival footage and conducting interviews with Elton John, Chris Cornell, and Bruce Springsteen, among others, helped by producing partner Sean Stewart. In All Things Must Pass, Hanks skillfully captured a historical moment in music history, and also opened an important dialogue on how we consume music these days.


Do you remember your first visits to Tower Records?
I was running all over there. I remember buying albums by Public Enemy, EMF's single "Unbelievable." It was a special edition that came in a blue cassette, it wasn't the typical cassette case, so I wanted the special one. There was a disco mix on the other side.

What was the favorite record you bought there?
I think the most influential record of my youth was Blood Sugar Sex Magic, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The artwork was actually square. I bought a lot of CDs there when they were still doing the longboxes. I would cut up the long boxes and put them up on the wall.

How was going to the record store different than how we consume music now?
When you go to Tower, you'd find relationships in the store, you'd be friends with the clerks or the buyers. There are still great record stores out there. People say the personal connection is missing, and that’s true. Sure you could go to a record store and meet a friend, or maybe the person who would become your wife or husband. But on top of that there used to be a connection that you would have to a record store through the music that you bought in there and the experiences in life that followed while you were listening to that music. One of the reasons that I'm here is because I bought those records that changed my life at Tower.

National Record Store day is coming up and Dave Grohl is the ambassador of it, how did he get involved with your doc?
I'm hesitant to say this, but I know Dave Grohl a little bit. Enough to say, "He I'm working on this, would you like to be a part of it." It just so happened that he was going to be at the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony, so I had this little room that I was working out of, filming interviews. He was standing side stage watching Gary Clark Jr. rehearse and I asked him right there. He's been very supportive.

He's done some music documenting himself.
Since then he's made one feature and a whole HBO series. Every time I see him he's asking me, "Where's the doc? You have to finish it." So I have Dave Grohl asking me where my doc is. That put the pressure on.

It's not easy to get the rights to use some of the music that you have in this film.
The publishers were all very supportive, because they are just excited that someone is telling the story of Tower Records. A lot of them used to work at a Tower Records. It's been pretty special to get that reception from that community. They're a core group of our audience.


Where do you go for records back at home?
When I'm in L.A., I love Amoeba Records, Vacation Vinyl, and Origami. There's a great one out of the West Side called Record Surplus. It's a big dusty spot. A couple other ones in L.A.

When you're out working on a new movie or TV show, do you make a point to see their music stores?
When I travel, I'll bring a portable turntable, but I won't bring any records. It's a way to get the lonely actor guy out of the whole. I'll go and have a conversation with the people who work at the store, find out what bands are playing around town. The irony is eventually I have to go back into the hotel room to listen to all the music that I bought. I label every record with the city that I bought it in. I know which job every one came from.

Any of those purchases stick out in your mind?
I was shooting a movie, Lucky, in Iowa. I enjoyed Iowa, but I would have never been there but for this one job. I found fun in going to these dark, damp record stores in Council Bluffs. There was nothing new in there. It's unorganized and you're spending at least an hour there. To be able to say I have records in Tokyo and New Zealand is incredible, but I cherish the one I got in Council Bluffs just as much.

Pick up anything good while filming Fargo?
I got some records for Calgary. I got a Blind Shake record during that shoot.

You dad pops up in popular music videos here and there, how's his taste?
[Laughs.] I kind of make fun of him because he doesn't like anything past 1968. He really likes Dave Clark Five. That kind of pop rock is what he's into. I'll send him music, but not just anything; I have a pretty good idea of what he'll dig.

I peg you as a bit of a mixtape guy.
I do mixtapes for the wife. I've started to play songs for my eldest girl. She's got the music she lives to with mom, which is Top 40. I enjoy that because I get to see her sing along with that, and as a father I get emotional. But then on top of that I'm playing her songs I remember liking when I was younger and rediscover music that I used to love. Right now I'm playing her the Bangles, because I want to show her there are stronger female singers who lead bands out there. The first time she heard "Groove Is In The Heart," she laughed. I'm convinced that's a flawless song.