Interview: Eric Howarth of M-Theory Music

Friday, July 30, 2004, 9:40 —by Joe Crawford
This item was posted in Interviews, San Diego Concerts and Music category and has 3 Comments so far.

Eric Howarth of M-Theory Music, a great music store in South Park at the corner of Juniper and 30th Street. His store was voted Best Record Store two years in a row by San Diego’s editors and readers. He took time out from running the store and record label to answer some of SDB‘s questions.

SDB: What is M-Theory?

M-Theory is a physics theorem that states something to the effect that there are 11 different dimensions to the universe. I came up with the name actually for our record label back in ’98, after reading an article in the SF Guardian (or SF Weekly… can’t remember) about this physics theorem. I liked the “multi-dimensional” aspect of the theorem and thought it would be cool to apply it in different terms for the record label.

SDB: How, when, and why did you start M-Theory?

M-Theory Records (the record label) was started in December. of ’98, after I had just moved to San Francisco from Portland. I had quit the band I was in up there and while adjusting to the new city, wanted to keep myself involved in music. So, I started the label with a couple releases from good bands I was familiar with up in Portland and it went from there. Two years later, I moved to San Diego with my girlfriend and a year after, we decided to open up M-Theory Music, the record store. The big question of why did I start M-Theory is because I wanted to do something I was passionate about and wasn’t finding that in my corporate job working in the PC industry. So I finally left all that behind when the record store opened up and was able to dedicate my livelihood to music full time.

SDB: What makes a great record store?

Everyone has their own opinion of that, but I think a great record store is one that has a great selection of music, but doesn’t confuse a great selection with just having a lot of stuff. Too many record store experiences I’ve had in my day have been going to a store where it takes hours of going through music no one wants, to finally find one thing someone would want. Very important as well is a store that is clean…where you don’t feel like you need to take a shower after going through the racks. Lastly, but probably most importantly, being involved in the music community, creating a place where people can feel connected to the music directly.

SDB: What surprises you most about running a music store?

The most surprising thing from my perspective is how difficult it is to sell some CDs. By saying that, I mean there are so many great bands out there that might not be together any more, that put out incredible albums, but people move on from that and are on to new things. So you could have an incredible band like Seam or Christie Front Drive or a million others that have put out amazing records, but they really only sell occasionally. Being a band with real lasting interest for a long time…the kind of interest that still motivates people to open up their pocketbooks and purchase their CDs on a regular basis, is the real goal for any band I suppose. Being a band like the Pixies, MC5, Gang of Four, Minor Threat, etc. is when you really have long lasting interest.

SDB: What item that you expected to sell like gangbusters but didn’t? And what item sold like hotcakes that you never would have expected?

When we first opened, we had expected to sell a lot more mainstream releases, because we were in a neighborhood with families and others who we thought would have interest in those releases. As it turned out, that wasn’t at all what happened. We still get families from the neighborhood that come in for more mainstream stuff, but not nearly to the extent we thought it would happen.

Items that sold well but didn’t expect? One that comes to mind is Tom Waits. Not to say that we didn’t think we’d sell plenty of his albums, but the extent of how diehard his fans really are was surprising.

SDB: The newsletter M-Theory does weekly is really awesome – it’s a wonderful encapsulation of music in San Diego. How hard is that to put together?

It’s not difficult, just time consuming. And as much proofreading as I do, there’s always some little mistake that someone corrects me on. Oh well… can’t be perfect!

SDB: Tell us a little about the M-Theory team.

My girlfriend, Heather Johnson, co-owns the store with me. We have two other employees right now: Mike and Ramon.

SDB: Anything else you want the readers of San Diego Blog to know?

It’s very important to support independent businesses, in order to help our local economy and keep some real character to this fine city without the homogenization of our neighborhoods. Specifically in regards to indie record stores, there aren’t enough of them around these days. The support of music enthusiasts to keep them alive is very important. This might sound like a self-serving comment, but even just being a music fan, growing up going to indie record stores in Portland, OR, I never want to see them go away.

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3 Responses to “Interview: Eric Howarth of M-Theory Music”

  1. jennifer said on Saturday, July 31, 2004, 8:41

    we personally love M-Theory. i love both the theory and the store. my friend Gordie and his band in Portland recorded their first album on M-Theory Records. their fans are far reaching and for good reason. whenever i go there i find something original, fun and funky that’s really hard to come by in a place as large as Tower Records. don’t get me wrong though, Tower has it’s charm, but when you’re looking for small/personal/non-mainstream music — it’s all about M-Theory. Great interview Joe!

  2. oso said on Saturday, July 31, 2004, 14:49

    M-Theory, along with Lou’s in Leucadia, has become the San Diego cornerstone of independent music. I’ve seen some great (and free!) shows there as well. Please support M-Theory. Stores like this tend to revitalize entire neighborhoods.

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