Death. It's not really a subject matter that we enjoy addressing in our day day to lives, instead observing it rather prudishly as an outsider with little acknowledgment that this is something that actually does happen to us all. It's not something I'd personally given any thought to either until my parents recently made a 'wish list' of sorts as part of their will, in which myself and my five siblings got the chance to choose which personal effects of theirs we'd like to inheret after they passed. A morbid thought (I chose my Dad's violin and a ring passed to my Mum from my Nana, because I like music and, well, I like rings) but one which made me realise with a sinking feeling that death is something that will inevitably happen.
One person who has decided to stare the Grim Reaper defiantly in the eye sockets is Jason Leach- creator of a most unusual way to leave a legacy, 'And Vinyly', a company that will press your ashes or the ashes of your loved one or pet into a vinyl record. What started as a tongue-in-cheek website, littered with death related puns, and as a way to address his own view of mortality has now become the subject of a short documentary, attracted the attention of the BBC and turned into a full-time business. "We went out on small boat to scatter my granddad's ashes [when I was younger] and they blew all over us," Jason tells us, laughing. "Then my Mum started working in a funeral parlour when i was about 36 or 37 and I just started thinking more about death."
Listen to the BBC clip below.
Jason comes from a background deeply rooted in the underground music scene, once running a night called 'Growth' and running the label 'Subhead' in the early 90s, throwing parties in empty buildings and art galleries around Hoxton, Shoreditch and Hackney Wick back when "it was really cool. It was like a playground". The party that got the label out into the collective conciousness of the London club scene was held on a submarine by the Thames barrier. He tells me that he's been making records since the early 90s and decided that that's what he was going to do with his voice and his music- turn them into a record. "It's like time travel," Leach tells me wistfully. "Your great, great, great grandchildren [can listen] to your voice. You're almost back aren't you?"
The first few records made weren't actually made with anyone's ashes. A group of artists who'd heard about Jason scored a piece of music using violins and cellos, set fire to said instruments then sent the 'ashes' and the audio of the muscial score to Jason who then pressed them into a record. I want to know what the process is for the human version of one of these records. "We encourage people to have some audio of them speaking, even if it's just an answer phone message," Leach tells us. "When we work with people who are planning it for themselves it tends to be their favourite music and people love to go through that process of thinking what [track] marks [a period] of time in their lives."
The majority of requests for his somewhat unusual services come from music lovers or the families and friends of people who loved music, made music and collected music. His favourite project so far, and one that he felt an emotional attachment to, was an elderly lady by the name of Madge, who was also the subject of the short documentary. Her son had recorded her for a period time before she died, speaking about her life and her family and family history. "The whole recording is just her talking and it's brilliant," Jason enthuses. "It's quite profound, because you hear their voice shape the air of the room you're in."
There's also the practicality to take into account here. You don't want 'ash' in a pressing plant and there's the delecate process of getting the correct amount of the ashes into the record so that it can still play without jumping. Jason explains the painstaking process: "We have to stop and clean everything down and each record is made individually. It's not done on a manufacturing line." Then it's up to you to choose the sleeve and artwork for your pressing.
With the ressurection of vinyl in recent years, does Leach see his business dying out or perhaps turning to another format? "I love making records," he says passionately. "I think they're brilliant....Vinyl's great because no matter what other [equipment] comes out you're always going to be able to play vinyl. It's an original, consistent and never-ending format."
If you want to live on in the form of wax, check out the website HERE.
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