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My Favorite Merch: Lauren Traczewski

It’s good to go with your gut sometimes. So when I decided I wanted to have a recurring page about band merch, the first person I reached out to was my friend Lauren. Lauren grew up going to hardcore shows in the Kansas City metro and then in Chicago during her time there as a student. As we discussed during our Zoom call, Lauren always manages to get ahead of trends by seeking out items and niches nobody else is thinking about yet. (I’m pretty sure she was the first person I saw rocking Crocs a few years back before they became trendy again recently.) I’m always excited to check out the playlists she makes and I quickly open every newsletter she sends -- her holiday shopping guide this past winter was more than helpful. Read below about a few of her favorite items from her collection.

I wanted to know a bit about how you got into punk and hardcore and I guess maybe just music in general before that.

Yeah, I mean, I've always loved music since forever. My first favorite anything was Hanson and Nsync and all that like '90s pop stuff. Like superfan, had all this shit all over my room, floor-to-ceiling, posters all over the place. And then as I grew up, I just got into weirder music probably through watching skateboarding videos. For some reason I thought I was like a skater chick, even though I have not stepped on a skateboard maybe one time, like to try to ollie in my basement or something, but was too chicken to actually go do it. But I just watched skate videos all the time, like X-Games, you know, and go to like, Zumiez at the mall, pick up the Warped Tour soundtrack and thought I was super cool.

Yeah, 'cause you were.

I mean, I had a long metalcore phase, which was not very cool. But what can you do? You're in the Midwest, that's what's around you. And it was really popular at the time. So it is what it is. After boy bands I got into Blink-182 and Fat Wreck bands, that kind of stuff. I was on a semi-cool trajectory, then I dated this dude that was into metalcore and was way too old for me and took a hard left turn into this, not a good detour, and then started listening to Hatebreed. Because that was like an easy leap. You know what I mean? Like metalcore, but then there's like something extra. Interesting.

And I kind of got back into the shit I liked in middle school, like Saves The Day and Jawbreaker, so I was on a cool wave that way and then just like found out about a bunch of different bands that were related to that kind of stuff to get more into old stuff. I heard Gorilla Biscuits. I think it was like, it was like Hatebreed, Gorilla Biscuits, and then it was like, the rest is history.

Then I started doing my homework; Minor Threat was a big one. Like all that Dischord band stuff. I had dated this guy in college who was really cool. He showed me a lot of cool stuff. I credit him a lot to getting me over this loser stuff and into really cool stuff, and he did it completely without judgment. Really kind person. So you know, he got me into Piebald, so there's this weird connection, like Piebald, Dischord Records bands, cooler older hardcore bands, you know Black Flag, Minor Threat, like I said. I was already kind of edging there, but he really helped me do that. And that was fun.

Then I moved to Chicago and started going to little hardcore shows. I was already doing that in Kansas City, but Chicago obviously, way bigger scene. It was really popping then. And I showed up to Chicago already cool. I got all the dumb stuff that I maybe would have been embarrassed about out of my system. Made a ton of friends, went to every show I possibly could, and that's pretty much it.

So music has definitely been like a common thread through my whole life and I just like it. Great way to meet other people, it's fun, the history is dope, there's lots of fun stuff to look at, lots of stuff fun stuff to collect, and what's not to love about that?

I love it. The Hatebreed-to-Gorilla Biscuits Pipeline. Also, you talked about being into the boy bands as a kid, and I guess being obsessed with those bands got you ready to collect hardcore merch because of how much insane merchandise they make for those bands.

And I have it. I still have it. My mom recently gave me a box of all my old Nsync stuff. She got rid of all the t-shirts, obviously, years ago. But yeah, absolutely true. I have a giant Nsync pencil. I used to have necklaces with all of their names on it separately, you know, you'd go to Claire's at Independence Center or whatever and just freakin' load up on stuff. I loved it. That was the first concert I went to, like 1999. I saw Nsync, Britney Spears, and this girl group from Ireland called B*Witched. It was crazy. It was at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, so it was super tiny. I was in fourth grade. It was life-changing.

I love that.

Yeah, that's probably what turned me on to live music. I was like, "Wow, this is quite the show."

I was wondering if you think you'd be able to describe your personal style. What sensibilities in fashion and decor attract you?

Great question. I feel like I don't think about it that hard. It's like I see something and I know that I like it. I feel like I'm very aesthetically motivated just in general. I like stuff that's ugly. I feel like if there's an element of it that's gonna offend someone maybe or be like, "Oh my God, did a kid make that?" then I probably like it. I like weird cartoons. I like a lot of outsider art. And I think that's why I like hardcore music, too.

So something really that was different when I got into punk and hardcore and underground music was I was like, and I've heard this in interviews with, you know, people who were involved in those scenes originally, it's like, "Oh, it's finally music that sounded like I could make it." You know? And I think that there's definitely something about that, that I just appreciate about things. Like not too polished, super weird looking, maybe it's overlooked. You know, people don't think it has value and then I'm over here like, "Well, everyone's looking over here and ignoring this thing and now it needs some appreciation and I'm here to do it." So I don't know. That's probably the common thread, just like accessiblity. You know, I love plenty of high end snooty shit, of course, but I think that balances it out. You know, high-brow low-brow, definitely into that. Two ends of the spectrum only. Nothing in the middle. No Olive Garden, but I will eat there.

One thing I think you were early on this time around was the resurgence of Crocs in the last few years.

I feel so seen by that, because you know, it's true. I mean, I feel like I love clogs in general. I've always loved clogs, since I was little. I remember my aunt brought me home a pair of Crocs when I was in eighth grade. She went on vacation to Colorado, my cousins and my aunt, and she bought me a pair of these Crocs in eighth grade and I loved them at the time. And then I wasn't confident enough to be like, "No, these are still cool." Put them away for a long time and then I was like, "You know what, I think Crocs are kind of sick and I feel like they're gonna make a renaissance." And now look, it's crazy. So I'm already trying to find the next ugly footwear thing. I was on Amazon today looking at bootleg plastic gardening clogs or something on Amazon you can get for like $12, so I don't want to like blow up my own spot, but that's the prediction.

Spring/Summer 2021. Plastic gardening clogs.

From Amazon. Or weird sellers on eBay. You know, like stuff direct from China, that kind of thing. Unbranded, pretty ugly, probably gonna fall apart, but then they're only $12 and you can afford like three pairs.

Tell me about your eBay habits.

They're probably unhealthy. I will say it's really hard to find stuff on there anymore. The t-shirt market is basically completely blown up. I hardly even play the game anymore. It's really hard. What did I just get? I get something on eBay like all the time. What am I looking for now? Hand-knit sweaters from South America I'm pretty into. Or hand-knit sweaters that somebody's grandma made and they didn't have enough respect for it, so someone sent it to the thrift store and then some eBay seller had the kindness in their heart to go and scoop it up and put it on eBay so some crazy person like me could find it.

Got a lot of saved searches. I think best practice is to search as few terms as possible and then you just have to look at every single listing. And that is how you find the deals. You got to do the work to find the deals. So that's my advice. Everything's on there. T-shirts, I mean, unless you want to pay $300 a t-shirt, you're not going to get one anymore. I hate to say.

Is it better picking on Depop or another platform right now?

I don't even try, to be 100% honest with you. The actual cool shit is in the hands of somebody who's going to charge you $500 for it. That sucks. So is the actual cool shit even actually cool anymore? Because, no. I mean, all it is is like a flex now, like a sneaker would be, or something, like, "I paid a ton of money for this ratty t-shirt." And that's not cool to me.

Has that led to you buying more bootleg merch instead?

I think I have shifted what kind of vintage tees I care to buy. Like music stuff obviously is completely blown up. You can find a decently priced t-shirt here and again, also search for it occasionally. But I am not nearly as like -- I mean, you can see my Neil Young collection. I'm not going to show all of them obviously, but I have like stacks of Neil Young shirts. Probably almost 40 shirts. There's some in the wash still and some that don't fit, so I put them away in storage. But that's a lot of shirts, and to a person who thinks that the market has always been what it is now they're like, "Oh my god, that's like thousands of dollars." It's not thousands of dollars in shirts, because I'm smarter than that.

But like, when's the last time I found a decently priced Neil shirt? It's been a really long time, you know, and I was getting shirts three days a week in the mail. Not happening anymore. So, you know, and I started doing the Neil stuff when the hardcore t-shirts just completely went off the rails, because I couldn't afford to do that either. So, you know, I'm into deals, I'm into paying very little for something that costs a lot. I like that with furniture, too. So you know, when everybody's looking right? I try to just see what's over here in the left, and make that a cool thing and get ahead of head of that stuff. So I'm into weird cartoon t-shirts. I've been collecting Mickey Mouse t-shirts. I think I have one on now. Five dollars at Savers. And now these are even getting too much, so you have to act quickly. That's all I can say. Whatever you're into, just type that and a t-shirt and cop as many as you can in a short amount of time.

Awesome. So show me your first item you dug up.

I'll start with one of the first old shirts that I ever bought. When I was living in Chicago, I bought two shirts on eBay. I'd only been buying shirts at shows that I had been to at that point. And then I was like, "Oh, you can get on eBay and there's used shirts for like $2 or $3 of older bands and that's cool." Not like actual old shirts, but like bootlegs, like mall print stuff. I bought an Insted t-shirt and a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt from same seller who turned out to be my friend Zack. I didn't know him at the time, but he's grown to be my friend now and I've known him for like almost, I don't know, 10 or 12 years now. He used to run Moshers Delight. He's from DC. He's in bands like Intent.

So in a really nerdy move, I was cool -- this is like before Instagram or anything like that. I didn't have an Instagram ‘til late in life -- I looked him up on Facebook. I was like, "Oh, cool, another person who's into hardcore." And I recognized him in Chicago at a show, he's doing merch for some band. Being really cool I was like, "Oh, are you so-and-so? I bought some shirts from you on eBay." And he was just like, "Yeah, okay." I'm sure he thought it was so weird, but he was really nice about it, you know, because he loves t-shirts. He's a huge collector also, if you've ever seen him on Instagram, he only posts t-shirts. He's one of the biggest collectors that I know. So I bought two of his t-shirts size small, just whatever. Not very special. Just reprints from probably the early 2000s. Then I was like, "Okay, these are super cheap, and that's fun." Like, I can rock a Gorilla Biscuits tee instead of whatever was current at the time.

Revelation Records did that 25 year anniversary tour or something. They came to Chicago and they turned it into a whole weekend. So there was a record swap, there were a bunch of people selling their stuff, and some guy had a box of t-shirts and I’m looking through the t-shirts and there's this one [Killing Time bootleg t-shirt].


Killing Time t-shirt

It's on Screen Stars. I found it in this box and I was like, “Oh my God, I have to have this. It's so cool, I've never seen one like it, Killing Time is one of my favorite bands, holy shit.” And also the shirts are like $5-10 dollars or whatever. So I hold it up like, “How much for this one?” and he goes, “I'm gonna have to charge you 30 for that one.” And I was just like, “Yep. Bye.” So that thrill of just finding this really cool shirt. It is a bootleg I think. I've never seen one like it again.

Yeah, no, I feel like that's not like a normal colorway that you'd see of it maybe.

Yeah, it's weird. There's this weird overlap here. It's like, the red goes over the black line, you can see. I'm pretty sure it's a bootleg. This dude didn’t know where he got it from. He's like a dad from the suburbs in Chicago. Chicago is weird like that. I don't think I ever saw him again. But, you know, it's like a cool thing for a decent price. And then after that, I was just like, totally hooked. I was like, dude, that's so cool. I can get something that was like actually a piece of what was happening when these bands were at their prime and in their peak, you know, and like, something that I can have as part of the era and also shows like, hey, I'm into this stuff. And then somebody can come up to you and be like, “Oh my gosh, I like that, too.” And then you can make a connection. That, in a very naive and pure way, was kind of what I thought was dope about it.

So yeah, this is one of my first gets ever. I don't think I will ever part with it. I love it. It still fits great. Super cool. I saw Breakdown once and I wore the shirt, and Rich, who played in Killing Time and Breakdown, he just passed away, came up to me and was like, “Where did you get that shirt? I've never seen that before. We didn't make those,” and thought it was so cool. And that's such a nice thing, that you can just have this connection based on a piece of cloth that you're wearing.

Yeah, I think I think I remember you posting that. That was a really sweet story.

It was nice. It made me feel cool and seen and understood. And then I could get the scoop on what the shirt was about because I had always been wondering. People would ask me and I wouldn’t know what to say. He was like, so thrilled. You know, all those older guys are thrilled that people still like their band. So that was great. That was like what started me on my journey of old stuff, right? And then I will move into something that I don't know that I've even shown a lot of people only because it's a sports bra. Which is kind of weird, but it's a Rampage sports bra.

Rampage sports bra


It says “Physical Therapy” on it. It’s got a little skull guy lifting weights. So this one I actually bought at a show. This is official Rampage merch. I think there are two in the whole world. I think the other person who has one is Morgado from The Wrong Side. I think his girlfriend has one. And we're the only two people. I don't know her. I saw him post about it once, that his girlfriend had copped one.

I don't know him personally or anything like that. But I think that's the lore, is that there's two. So I was at Chaos In Tejas -- R.I.P., best fest that's ever existed, ever. I only got to go one time. Rampage played. I just happened to walk past the merch table and there it was on the table, and I was like, “These are for sale?” And the chick selling it was like, “Yeah,” and I was like, “Okay, I’ll have one,” and it was $10 and it's cool. And I wear it all the time. And I think I picked that one because it's rare, which I like. Who doesn't like that? Rare, unattainable, that's like obviously a huge draw. Anybody who says that they don't care about that is lying, because it feels dope to just have something special.

And I bought it at like probably my peak era of show-going, you know, where I was flying all over the place to go to gigs. I had so many friends at every show I went to. I mean, like all of Chicago went down to the fest that year. So cool. Free Spirit played, Raw Nerve played, the Omegas from Canada played, Youth Of Today, The Rival Mob, all on the same show. That was 2011, 2012, something like that. Really fun time, really good memory. I think about it every time I see this item and I wear it to the gym. So like, everybody listens to Rampage at the gym, so I wear my Rampage sports bra to the gym. So you know, it's fun to actually use it. I don't like to put my stuff away in a place, like in a little glass box. You know, I want to get my wear out of it.

Is there any merch that's beyond wearing for you?

Yeah, I have a Bad Brains shirt that was one of the most expensive shirts I bought before things got really expensive. At the time it was very expensive to me, but it's cheap compared to what is happening now. And that was one where I had like a mental list and I was like, "I gotta have this shirt." I don't really do that anymore. But it's a Quickness '89 tour tee and it's like completely see-through and I just hang it up in my room on a hanger, which is probably making it worse, but it looks cool. But definitely, like completely see-through. But I wore it until it turned that way.

Next up? 


Neil Young CDs

So I have all these Neil tees, but when everybody's looking right, you have to look left. So I’ve been collecting Neil Young bootleg CDs, specifically from Japan, but not exclusively from Japan. And one of the first ones I got was this Neil Young & Crazy Horse 2001 A Rock Odyssey CD. You can see there's a ticket stub in here, completely unrelated to the actual recording of what's going on here. So what I think happened -- I bought this in Chicago at an antique store. It would just happen to be on a table. I was like okay, cool. The setlist is really good. It's a two-disc thing. Only one disc in here, the other one’s in my car.

So this recording is in Ireland or something from 2001. The actual ticket stub is at the United Center in Chicago from 2003. So I think this was probably sold in the parking lot at that show and whoever bought it put the ticket stub of the show they're attending in the case.

It’s kinda like when you buy an old book or something, and it has a cool item in one of the pages.

Yeah, that's what it felt like to me. That's like a cool, nerdy fan thing to do and I think that's pretty cute. So I think that's really special. Neil is also famously anti-bootleg, if you've ever seen that video of him on the internet where he goes in that record store and he confronts the record store clerk, not even the owner, about these bootleg LPs that they're selling, and he's like, “Who authorized these?” So, love you, Neil, but I'm collecting the bootleg CDs.

Yeah, he really gets in his bag sometimes. I can tell just from reading about his MP3 player in articles way back.

Would I get a Pono? Like, absolutely, yes. Am I gonna spend $500 on it? Probably not, but also like would and probably like, they're just gonna continue going up in value because they're such a weird novelty. But discovering the CD, then I started learning about all these bootleg sets' setlists that are kind of famous in Neil circles, like forums that I read and old people Facebook groups that I'm part of -- the only reason I get on Facebook. That and to find chairs for my home.

And then occasionally, I buy stuff from Japan, which I'm not going to elaborate on that because that's like my little -- I haven't blown up that spot yet. But I buy things from Japan. And to make it worth all the shipping, I'll add like an easy thing like a little CD. And there's all kinds of crazy ones with like cool covers and like different pictures.

So then I started learning about all these famous little live sets that he's done and it's expanded my Neil world. So I think that's really cool. And then CDs, no one can ever take those away from me. You can't just take those off of Spotify. He's releasing a lot of them officially now, like Citizen Kane Junior Blues I extremely recommend; you can find the set on YouTube, but I think he's also officially released it or is planning to very soon. But like that's like a whole extra Neil layer that I didn't know about before because I stumbled upon this weird CD from 2001. It has "Piece Of Crap" on it, which that's like a deep cut. I can't believe he plays that live, out of like his whole catalogue, he's gonna pick "Piece Of Crap?" I'm sure people fucking hated it. That's why Neil is cool. So, Neil, bootleg CDs -- that's my shit right now. There's a lot of them and they're fun. People do that with the Grateful Dead I think, like a Dead Head/Neil Young type thing or whatever, but I don't really care about the Grateful Dead.

It's funny how Facebook is still around but only good for a few things now, and groups being one of those things.

I'm by far the youngest person that's even in the group. It's just a bunch of old people. But occasionally, I love people who don't really know what they've got. You know? They don't really know how special they really are and there's a lot of that behavior in that group. I'm just like, "Aw. You know? That's like actually so cool and you don't know that it's cool. And that makes it even cooler." So it's fun for that.

Have you ever hoped to compile a zine or do any kind of Neil writing?

I don't think I'm the one to do that. I like Neil. It's a hobby for me. It's an escape from doing stuff that I have to do. I truthfully don't think I know that much about Neil. There's people who really, really, really, really know a lot about him. There was like a fan group zine type thing that was circulating for a long time; I cannot remember the name of it. Someone was posting about some issues in that Facebook group, actually, semi-recently. You can get them on eBay pretty easily. I can not remember the name of the publication, but you could get like a little Neil fan club official card to put in your wallet and it's so cute and so cool. And it's like people are about it and I'm not even on that level whatsoever. So no, I'll leave it to the experts.

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[This article first appeared in Issue 1 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to read more about the issue and find your copy.] 

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