Art. Sound. Language.
These three words embodied what Florida native Peter John “PJ” Brownlee loves about records, leading him to the name of his newly opened record store, art sound language, in the Washington, D.C., section of Chevy Chase.
Art sound language opened Wednesday in the Chevy Chase Arcade at 5520 Connecticut Ave. NW. The shop offers a casual shopping experience, offering records in wooden bins, shelves of books, and cassettes on the sales counter.
In honor of its grand opening, art sound language will host live performances in Chevy Chase Arcade by local performers The Caribbean and Raven Bauer Durham from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Brownlee said he played with the idea of opening his shop for about seven years, but the dream didn’t begin to come to fruition until the COVID-19 pandemic began.
From 2006 to 2021, Brownlee worked for the Terra Foundation of American Art in Chicago, first as a fellow and then as a curator. Still thinking about opening his own record shop, Brownlee said he continued to buy records, sell some online, visit Chicago record shops and ask owners questions.
Once the pandemic occurred and caused the closure of museums and cancellation of shows and exhibits, he decided it was time for him to move on.
Brownlee, who graduated from George Washington University in 2004, said he and his wife decided to move to the Washington, D.C., area with their two daughters because they owned property in Chevy Chase on the Maryland side, her family is in the area and living there would be easier for his family in Florida to visit. The move worked out perfectly for Brownlee, who knew there would be too much competition if he opened a record store in Chicago.
“There were a lot of shops already,” he said. “It’s well-covered territory, I wasn’t going to try there.”
Brownlee said he wanted to offer a fun and neat concept through the layout of his store.
“You say you’re opening a record store, everybody kind of has a different flash in their head of what that might be for them,” he said. “I’m glad to put forward what I want to see in a record store … it’s the kind of stuff I want to see, these are the kinds of labels I want to see, these are the kind of prices I want to see, the vibe I want to go into.”
Brownlee said he is interested selling products that illustrate where art and music meet, such as albums and books including Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Uwe Schütte and The Beauty of Everyday Things by Yanagi Sōetsu. And he said he enjoys the hunt for something new and exciting as much as he hopes his customers do.
“I just got a shipment in … it’s like Christmas every day,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of new records that I’ll be putting out as soon as I can. It’s just flipping [through the records], you never know what’s coming next. You’re always kind of going to the end of the bin until your fingers get tired, so it’s like what are you going to find next? That’s the beauty of the search.”
The shop is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Brownlee said he hopes to continue to host performances and offer a speaker series in the future.