ALEXANDRIA, Minn. Almost everybody likes music, but some people take it a little more seriously than most.

These would be the record collectors.

While most people are satisfied downloading a song or album onto their phone or iPod, the record collector wants a physical copy of that music. And they want to do this for every album or song that they like, their collections swelling into the hundreds, sometimes even the thousands.

"I would say I probably have a smaller collection than most," said Rexford Sweetwater of Alexandria, Minnesota. "I have about 300 or so. I know people that have up to 2,000. Those are the kind of people that collect everything. And who listens to 2,000 albums? There's no time in your life to do that.

"I don't buy anything, and I never have, that I would just buy for the sake of having it. It doesn't make sense. It's very important to get exactly what you want and take care of it. All of the albums that I had from when I was a teenager I still have in great condition. … No scratches, perfectly taken care of, because I love albums," he said.

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Rexford Sweetwater sits with a sampling of his record collection, which runs to about 300 titles. (Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press)
Rexford Sweetwater sits with a sampling of his record collection, which runs to about 300 titles. (Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press)

Alexandria resident Kirsta Siems loves albums, too, and still has the first one she ever received, "The Barbie Christmas Album," which entered her life when she was 5.

Today she would estimate her collection is at least 600 strong — so many that when she moved recently they took up half of a truck bed.

"I didn't really start collecting until I was probably in my twenties, and then it was just thrift store finds and anything I could get my hands on," Siems said. "It just became this."

Sweetwater started buying albums much earlier, when he was 11, with money he earned for mowing lawns. He also admits to "liberating" various titles from his parents' collection.

Most of the albums he owns are heavy metal, a genre to which he is so dedicated that he has his own radio show devoted to it, "Yesternight" on KX92 radio in Alexandria.

"I still have everything else that you can think of: Motown, Neil Diamond, Santana. It's not every genre. I'm not into some things. But the heavy metal is probably 80%," Sweetwater said.

Siems' collection is more of a mix.

"Most of it is '70s rock, but I've got Ray Charles, I've got a lot of Johnny Cash, country, and I have started buying new vinyl, too," she said.

Neither Sweetwater nor Siems have a favorite album — it's too difficult a decision — but they do have favorite artists.

"Iron Maiden," Sweetwater said without hesitation. "They did a lot of great stuff in the late '80s and early '90s. Not so much the greatest stuff over the last 20 years, but I just bought a new one a week or so ago."

Siems' choice isn't quite as heavy.

"I listen to a lot of John Prine," she said. "He's probably my all-time favorite."

While many collectors use the Internet for their purchases, Sweetwater and Siems both still enjoy going to actual record stores.

"You can smell the vinyl, you can smell the jacket," Sweetwater said. "Just being with all the other people that are also there, because even if they're looking for a completely different genre, we are all there for one reason, and that is to buy vinyl. It's quite a thing."

"I go thrift shopping quite a bit and I usually look through them, but now I have so many I don't even look through them there," Siems said. "If I go to the Cities or a bigger town, though, I definitely stop at a record store and I usually get one. I always have a limit, because otherwise it gets out of hand."

Sweetwater keeps his options a little more open in that regard.

"If I'm going to drive all the way to the Cities to shop, I usually have a short list, but then the list doesn't really matter at the end of the day because I will probably pick up three or four things that I didn't even have on my list," he said.

Both of them also have advice to give on how to start collecting vinyl. Sweetwater's is to get the right equipment.

"The turntable is the key," he said. "I try to keep all my (gear) from the late '70s. that would include the receiver and the turntable, and the speakers might be from the early '80s. They're the things that you can count on the most. … I think the companies cared more about what they were offering and what they wanted to sell."

Siems said people should just go out and start looking.

"I would say to start your collection, go thrift shopping and buy albums you've never heard of," she said. "Sometimes you'll be like, 'Wow, that was amazing,' sometimes you'll be like, 'Oh, that's going back to the thrift store,' but it's fun to just go nuts because you can get so many for so cheap. It's just nice to be able to expand your mind with music."