“I went to Catholic school in Des Moines, and I guess my way of rebelling was to be a total snob about records,” said Good Morning Midnight frontman Charlie Cacciatore. “Some people are in debate and others play tennis, and me and my friends survived in that ecosystem by taking on that kind of identity. Every weekend, we all went to ZZZ Records and Jay’s CD & Hobby, and we’d go to record shows. We were totally obsessed. At that time, the idea of working at a place like that was such a lofty notion that it seemed out of reach, like being a rock star.”
Born in 1997, the soft-spoken guitarist is a third generation Italian American whose great-grandparents immigrated to Des Moines, where his family owns Italian restaurants and a grocery store. But it was the record store life that sparked his imagination. One path into music was through his father, who Cacciatore described as a Gen X new wave kind of guy who had a tape collection that he dove into while growing up.
“I got super into U2, and I had a friend I met in first grade who I played with through high school, until we graduated,” he said. “It was Andrew’s dad who introduced me to the Pixies, Replacements and Paul Westerberg’s first solo album, 14 Songs, which was like the first ‘cool’ album that I was into when I was 12 or 13.”
After discovering Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes, Cacciatore gravitated to left-of-center indie rock groups like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, along with Black Flag and other early hardcore punk bands. Finding a Reagan Youth compilation album whose cover featured the Pope shaking Adolf Hitler’s hand felt like a radical experience while shopping at a record fair in a Des Moines Holiday Inn — especially because their Catholic school bishop would praise certain football players by name during mass and a new teacher was fired days after being hired because he was gay.
Cacciatore played in a Des Moines group named Grand Champ, and some of those songs made their way into the first Good Morning Midnight album, Basket of Flowers, released in 2017.
“When I graduated,” he said, “I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, or if I wanted to go to college, but I knew I wanted to set out on my own. I ended up enrolling at the University of Iowa, mainly as a way to get from one place to the next, but I didn’t stay in school for long.”
“The main reason I wound up in Iowa City was because we recorded Basket of Flowers at Luke Tweedy’s Flat Black Studios, just outside of town in Lone Tree. We were some of the first people at Flat Black, and it didn’t even have air conditioning yet. It was July and I was kind of like a snotty kid about it, but Luke was literally in the process of building the studio. Looking back, a really interesting aspect of those sessions was being sweaty and cranky, but being OK with it despite being uncomfortable, because it was my first time in a recording studio.”
Cacciatore returned to Flat Black to record the second Good Morning Midnight album, Both Neither and Both, as well as the group’s most recent album, Songs of Violence, which was released on vinyl in early 2022. Through those experiences, he began developing a relationship with the people at Flat Black, which gave him a peek into the wider regional music scene that developed around the recording studio. The more Cacciatore recorded there, the more he felt that he was part of a community, which was really important to him.
“There’s an environment at Flat Black that encourages bands to make the exact record they want to make, on their own terms, without the influence of an outsider trying to assert their idea of what the music should sound like,” he said. “This is a really good environment for a young artist to develop their own voice and their own style. As a young person creating music, which is a very vulnerable process, working with an experienced engineer like Luke, who is from an older generation, has helped me come into my own skin, and there’s no doubt others feel the same way.”
Soon after Cacciatore finished the first Good Morning Midnight album, Tweedy sent him a cryptic text asking about his employment situation. He had been working as a seasonal painter for the Iowa City Community School District — a job he hated — so the musician was elated when he got the news that a job was waiting for him at Record Collector. Before he knew it, Cacciatore was standing behind the counter with his mop of long curly brown hair spinning Built To Spill records, and he remembers thinking, “All right, that’s it. I’ve made it. My life begins and ends now.”
“Working there has been a huge influence on me,” he said, “but more importantly, I think when I moved to Iowa City, I was really looking for community. It was like a dream come true having the guy who owns a studio where I was recording hook me up with this awesome job where I can sort of do band stuff and run a miniature record label between ringing up customers and filing away records. Record Collector has been a really supportive place for me in that way.”
Good Morning Midnight put out Basket of Flowers and Both Neither and Both on independent labels, but Cacciatore decided to self-release Songs of Violence because going the indie route still required him to cover most of the costs involved in making records. To get that album pressed on vinyl, he received some help from Record Collector’s owners, who gave him a loan in exchange for including an advertisement in the LP’s insert sheet.
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“What’s ironic is that this is the first one that I’ve self-released, but it’s also the only one I’ve had financial help with,” he said. “Plus, I was excited about the idea of having a Record Collector ad in my record. I think that’s really cool, and I’m very proud of it.”
Cacciatore characterizes being a record store employee as a cross between attending a school where you learn about a wide range of music and being a sounding board for the eccentric customer-characters who gravitate there.
“Honestly, sometimes working there is like being a therapist,” he said. “Which is sometimes great and is exactly what I want to do, and sometimes it’s pure torture. I guess it just depends on the person and the kind of day I’m having.”
Record Collector’s other two employees also play in bands, and Cacciatore sees it as a place that gives back to the community by sponsoring cool things around town. In his experience, the store provides a support beam for young musicians by helping them make a living and by serving as a gateway into the infinite, mysterious world of music — a vastness that is echoed in Good Morning Midnight’s swirl of influences.
Songs of Violence distills Cacciatore’s knack for hooky melodies, fuzzed-out guitar riffage and moody melancholia in ways that contain traces of his inspirations without sounding derivative. It is probably no accident that some of his favorite acts, like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, are populated by record collectors whose music is more than the sum of its parts, something that is reflected in his group’s playful bio:
Good Morning Midnight began spontaneously, like a trip for ice cream or human combustion, when a record store in Iowa became sentient and began immediately devouring itself. The psychedelic folk music was gnashed to bits with every mouthful, the country records ended up smeared in dissonance from a stack of 90s rock albums someone set aside but never bought, the expensive Brian Eno reissues tried to sneak out with the barrelhouse piano LPs before they became their own snack.
Cacciatore is pretty sure that the person he hired to write that prose didn’t even know that he worked at Record Collector, so it was flattering to have that aesthetic come through to a total stranger — especially because record stores are such a big part of his identity as a musician and fan.
“Working at Record Collector kind of goes back and forth between being like, ‘Oh, this is a retail job’ and ‘Wow, I’m a member of the community.’ Yes, it’s a store and they pay rent and have to meet the bottom line, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a place where people genuinely connect with one another.”
Fun fact: Kembrew McLeod’s first job was as a bag boy at Big Star, a Southern grocery chain that inspired the name of a ’70s cult band beloved by music geeks, and just before his 16th birthday in 1986, he was offered a job at his local record store — which can be seen as a cosmic lateral move. This article was originally published in Little Village’s April 2022 issue.