Joey Cahill has wanted to open a record store his whole life. “When you’re a kid, you say you want to grow up to be a baseball player or an astronaut, or whatever. I was always saying I wanted to own a record store. I never thought it would happen,” he says.
His store, Wanna Hear It Records in Watertown Square, just celebrated its first year in business on Dec. 12, and Cahill is riding high. “I’m drowning in vinyl,” he laughs. “It’s amazing.”
Born and raised in California, Cahill started collecting vinyl at age 14. “Back then, an ideal night for me and my friends was a trip to Amoeba Records,” he says. The famous Los Angeles shop made an impression on the young Cahill, and he’d go on to work at another store in the area in college. “Favorite job I’ve ever had,” he says, smiling.
He met his wife, a Watertown native, in Long Beach, and in 2016 followed her back to Massachusetts. Cahill wasn’t a total stranger to the bustling, hardcore punk and indie rock scenes of Greater Boston. Through his label 6131 Records — which he founded in 2006 with friends in Los Angeles — he had already met several bands from the area like Kindling from Easthampton and Rat Tally of Boston.
Still, he was surprised by the sheer depth of the do-it-yourself subculture in the community. “It’s different here,” he explains. “For one, there aren’t so many DIY venues in LA. Most of the houses there don’t even have basements. But also, there’s no neighborhood like Allston where it’s basically all college kids and punks and you can get away with having a show every weekend.”
“In all my time here, I don’t think I’ve been to the same house show twice,” he adds.
At first, Cahill focused on his label duties and being a father to his two sons, but as he attended shows and patronized the local record stores he realized that there was a part of the market missing. “There are some great shops around here, and especially hardcore and punk, has been cornered by Armageddon [Shop], but there was a distinct gap in emo and indie representation.”
A plan slowly formed, and it became apparent to Cahill that his longtime dream could become a reality. “The kids got older and didn’t really need me around anymore,” he jokes. “I needed something to do.”
Watertown was always his town of choice, ever since he’d moved in he’d loved the area. “It’s a bit cliché, but it feels like the next Somerville. It’s still semi-affordable, and there’s so much opening up,” he gestures to the cozy shop he stands in. “I looked at other places because I felt like I had to, but I knew this was it.”
Wanna Hear It opened during an uncertain time, to say the least. A large surge of COVID-19 cases was just beginning to level off, and a vaccination still wasn’t available.
“It was scary, for sure,” says Cahill. “But at that point I think a lot of people were yearning to have a place to go and we made it happen. The community turned out for us.” At first, much of their business was done online through the online vinyl marketplace Discogs and via a consistent stream of appointments. Now they’re open every day except Monday, and it seems there are always at least two enthusiasts browsing the stacks.
Cahill’s bet on indie and emo music has paid off, but he’s made sure not to box himself in. Even though space is a premium in Wanna Hear It, Cahill has managed to squeeze in healthy doses of pop, hip-hop and classic rock, despite his hardcore and punk favoritism.
He also isn’t a purist, a quality that can be rare among record store owners. He can carry on at length about Lorde and Taylor Swift, and just as easily turn around and gush about famed post-hardcore act AFI. That open attitude speaks to his completely unpretentious and humble view of himself within the community, “I just want people that want records to get their records.”
“I get kids coming up to the register saying, ‘I never thought I’d see this on vinyl,’” he says. “That’s exactly why I opened the store.”
He’s also embraced social media, garnering a rabidly active fanbase checking new release videos for their next pick-up. The videos are simple: Cahill leans a stack of records against a wall, and one by one pulls them away revealing each successive title. In the comments, dozens of collectors call dibs or ask questions about a specific press. Cahill answers every one.
You can tell when he’s working the register because Wanna Hear It’s Instagram story will feature an entertaining 20-plus posts ranting about Jimmy Eat World, No Doubt, or Blink-182, his favorite tracks and associated memories.
In a short year, Wanna Hear It has become a mainstay for vinyl and music fans in Boston. “It’s amazing, there’s a nonstop flow of people bringing their stuff to sell. I’ve had to start turning people away because we’re running out of space. It’s a good problem to have.”
They’ve moved into hosting live shows, becoming a bit of a DIY venue themselves. Portland-based indie rock trio Weakened Friends played an acoustic set there to celebrate their newest release in November. Acclaimed Boston-based punk band and fans of the shop, Rebuilder, played a set to celebrate the first anniversary of Wanna Hear It on Dec. 12.
With a successful year under his belt, Cahill is starting to look toward bigger things, literally. “We’re running out of space here. We grew way faster than expected, and our lease renewal is coming up so we’re thinking about moving,” he admits with a smile. “I definitely want to stay in Watertown though. This is where I want to be.”