A month after moving from New York to San Francisco in 1996, Kelley Stoltz shook hands with the man behind the counter at Jack's Record Cellar in the Lower Haight. It was Roy Loney — the original vocalist of '70s garage forebears and cult heroes the Flamin' Groovies. Only, Loney was ill. "His nose was literally dripping snot," Stoltz recalls, sunken comfortably into a couch at his Mission District home recording studio. "I shook his hand ... and got really sick." Stoltz smirks. "I caught Roy Loney's cold!"
Now Stoltz works in a record store, having peddled vinyl at Grooves on Market and Octavia for the past 12 years. The full-circle nature of this evolution is clear to Stoltz, who grins and admits, "Yeah, I've infected a few people." Boasting seven solo albums since 1999, production credits on countless local releases, and having pioneered the use of recording gear now closely identified with the Bay Area garage scene, Stoltz is a pillar of his community — and he may have Loney's germs to thank. After he released three albums on the esteemed indie label Sub Pop, Stoltz's latest, Double Exposure, arrives Sept. 24 on Jack White's Third Man Records.
The journey has been long: In 2001, Stoltz self-released the album Antique Glow in an edition of 300 LPs with hand-painted covers. Fraught with ramshackle melodies and intimate vocals, Stoltz's homespun psychedelic pop drew comparisons to '60s luminaries like Syd Barrett. Eventually it landed him on Sub Pop, where Soltz released a string of excellent but little-noticed albums. After 2010's To Dreamers, Stoltz bought a home, built a recording studio in the garage, and invited locals to break it in. Locals like the Mantles, whose Stoltz-produced Long Enough to Leave appeared earlier this year on local imprint Slumberland. "I'm a reclusive guy," Stoltz says, "But this is my way of keeping involved and lending a hand."
He's being modest. When Stoltz bought a Tascam 388 eight-track tape recorder in 1998 on Ebay for $300, the machine was a clunky relic of the 1980s. Yet, he recorded Antique Glow on it — the album that landed him on Sub Pop. The Tascam's mid-fi recording quality lent itself to jangling melodies and fuzz-laden guitars, and local musicians took note. Soon Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, and The Fresh & Onlys also owned 388s. "I'm happy to take credit for being one of the first people around here with one, but it was just a happy accident," Stoltz says. Today, the machine's mystique is engrained in San Francisco's upstart rock culture. "Now I can't afford one!" Stoltz jokes.
At 41, Stoltz is a gregarious and humble character. He's worked alongside esteemed artists like Rodriguez and Echo & the Bunnymen, toured the globe, and swapped one coveted record label for another. He's more eager to chat about new bands than discuss his own career, but Stoltz's influence reverberates throughout San Francisco. It's easy to imagine a young transplant finding Stoltz at work in Grooves, shaking his hand, and catching whatever it is that inspires a career in music.