Jason Leach knew he was going to die.
It was 2006 when the British musician began seriously ruminating on his own mortality. For most of us, such deep thoughts are accompanied by religious consultations, tough conversations with family, or lengthy personal explorations.
For Leach, it came with very specific thoughts about what he wanted done with his physical form when he, then a healthy middle-aged man, expired. Some want to be buried next to loved ones or to have their ashes scattered at a favorite location. Leach had a more unusual idea: He wanted his ashes pressed into vinyl records.
“It was never intended to be a commercial venture. It was an idea I had for something that I wanted to do for myself.”
Finding it difficult to turn to friends and loved ones to have such a difficult (and somewhat odd) conversation about his own mortality, Leach turned to the internet.
“I put a website up that explored the whole concept of doing it for myself,” Leach says, “I was making records. I was having a bit of fun with the idea, and it was more about me dealing with the reality of it all.”
Soon, various media outlets discovered the story, and it garnered Leach a bit of press for his idea. Oddly for Leach, the public response was overwhelmingly positive. As it turns out, he wasn’t the only one who was interested in spinning into eternity on the turntables of friends and family.
“It was never intended to be a commercial venture. It was an idea I had for something that I wanted to do for myself,” he says, “It suddenly got picked up by the media and sort of became a real thing. I started doing interviews and getting inquiries and I thought, ‘crikey, this is something people actually want.’”
It took a few years to get off the ground, but in 2010, Leach began what he calls And Vinyly, a service that presses up to 30 records at a time with the ashes of deceased loved ones. The records are produced on a press that is co-owned by Leach and musical friends — who purchased a record production setup together to press small runs of their own records before And Vinyly was a blink in Leach’s eye.
Having access to a small record production system is one of the keys to And Vinyly’s viability, as there are very few commercial presses that would likely feel comfortable pressing human remains into their plastic discs.
The process itself is simple: Right before a plastic puck is squeezed by a record press into its final, groove-laden shape, Leach sprinkles on a client’s ashes, embedding them into the finished record. The resulting vinyl is actually shockingly beautiful, with little speckles of grey-white ash forming a human constellation across the surface of the disc. Hey can make up to 30 copies of each ash-laden release.
But adding human ash to records has its downsides in terms of fidelity. It’s essentially adding embedded dirt to the surface of the vinyl, and leads to interesting pops and scratches when played back. In fact, it took Leach a while to develop the best method of making sure And Vinyly’s albums functioned properly.
“The material we’re usually trying to keep out of the workplace, we’re bringing in and actually trying to put into a record, and still have a record that plays,” he says. “We had to do a fair amount of trying stuff out so that we have something that’s playable on both sides.”
So what exactly is he pressing onto vinyl for the friends and family of the deceased to hear?
“Often it’s spoken word — if they have anything with their voice on it — or, for example, silence, so they can just hear the pops and crackles,” Leach says, “Then there’s often a lot of people who were involved in music, or made music themselves, or just music people loved. When it is that, we contact the musicians themselves, or the publishers.”
We realize how much responsibility you’ve got when you do something like this.”
Leach says that And Vinyly has been remarkably successful in reaching out to artists to include their music on his short runs of discs for mourning clients, saying that in most cases musicians don’t mind as long as the music is serving its intended purpose.
To date, And Vinyly has produced somewhere around 50 different projects for clients in the UK, United States, Mexico, Norway, and Australia, among other places.
Making a good quality, heartfelt, product is something that Leach takes very seriously.
“You realize very quickly the responsibility that comes with it,” says Leach, “The people who like the idea, obviously it means a lot to them.”
Despite the notoriety that And Vinyly has brought him — and the at-times massive number of requests for records — Leach still refrains from taking on more orders than he can handle at any given time.
“We just want to keep it personal, because we realize how much responsibility you’ve got when you do something like this,” he says, “We love vinyl and music and sound, and most people who are having this done or doing this for someone they loved, they’re often cut from the same cloth.”
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