BEN Leece's love affair with collecting vinyl began at 15 when he'd trawl records shops along Tamworth's main drag of Peel Street.
The vast majority of the Quirindi lad's cash earned from his part-time job moving irrigation pipes on a lucerne farm would be funnelled into music, be it vinyl, CDs or cassettes.
More than 20 years later the Newcastle Americana singer-songwriter estimates he has a personal collection of 4500 to 5000 vinyl records. A number he describes as "modest" compared to some friends.
"Travelling around the world, when you've got no money, it's something to do," Leece says of record shopping. "It's like a museum, almost.
"I can find a second-hand record store in a strange town and I'm good for hours searching through crates of records."
Never in a million years did Leece expect to be standing on the other side of the counter - actually selling music.
Three weeks ago Leece opened Rudderless Records in the old The Edwards Shop space at Newcastle West.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown in March the space, which once housed the coin-operated laundry, had been closed.
After bumping into The Edwards owner Chris Joannou and his former record manager Chris Dunn over a beer at the Criterion Hotel in Carrington, Leece made the decision to take over.
A month later Rudderless Records was open. The name was taken from a Lemonheads song and has also been used by Leece to release his own music independently.
It's been a hectic transition as Leece still juggles his full-time job as a purchasing officer.
There's a very 2020 reason why Leece was even in the financial position to open a business. Before COVID-19 shut down the world Leece had planned to tour the follow-up to his 2018 solo debut album No Wonder The World Is Exhausted in the US in September, and then potentially Europe.
"I'd already started another album, so I had a lot of money saved to be spent and that obviously didn't happen, so I was fortunate to have money in the bank," he says.
Before pushing ahead with Rudderless Records, Leece spoke with Mitchel Eaton, owner of Wallsend's Hiss & Crackle Records.
"I don't want to go head to head with the other stores in town," Leece says.
"I have a good relationship with Mitch, I've been a good customer of his. I sought some advice from him and worked out how to exist in the same space together."
Leece says his point of difference is the curation. He's focused on selling predominantly new music, as well as stocking a large range of hip-hop, soul and funk, a personal favourite for Leece.
"It's important that people understand that, whilst it's a nostalgic medium, there's still brand new music being released on vinyl," he says.
"It's not just Tijuana Brass in the bargain bin or Beatles or Neil Young records. There's new great bands putting albums on vinyl."
So far the theory is working. The biggest seller in recent weeks has been 1000 Gecs and The Tree Of Clues by American experimental electronic-pop duo 100 Gecs.
Rudderless Records is also quickly establishing itself as a meeting place for Newcastle musicians, obviously due to Leece's respected standing in the scene.
In the hour Weekender visited the shop on Wednesday, dave the band drummer Gabriel Argiris and Paper Thin's Spencer Scott were among the customers perusing the shelves and chewing the fat about their favourite new bands.
"I think record shops typically are [a place to hang out]," Leece says. "It's like a hub. Bands form in record shops.
"I love the banter and the dialogue. I can relate to someone 100 per cent and then argue with them in the same conversation about different records.
"It's really that High Fidelity stereotype, the Jack Black and John Cusack characters."
Leece rushed the opening of Rudderless Records to be ready for Christmas, but he plans to do a renovation and have an official launch in February.
The long-term plans are to host album launches, plus acoustic and DJ sets. There's even more creative plans to hold collaborations with The Edwards restaurant.
"We're talking about degustations, like a set menu based around an album," he says. "A fully immersive experience."
That's exactly the experience Leece says that vinyl provides over music streaming services like Spotify.
"I think being home [during COVID] has brought value back to it," he says. "I know having friends over since we've been allowed to, because I don't have a TV anymore, I've played records more than I have since I was a kid."