Boneset Records is a haven for music lovers

Maggie Denman opens subterranean record shop on East Johnson Street.

There’s a moment in “High Fidelity,” the cult 2000 film about the romantic trials of a down-on-his-luck record store owner, that Maggie Denman is especially fond of. In the scene, a snobbish store clerk (played hilariously by Jack Black) berates a co-worker who claims to prefer Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels’ version of the song “Little Latin Lupe Lu” over the original by The Righteous Brothers.

There’s a winking self-awareness to the scene, but whereas another record store owner might identify with Black’s character, Denman finds his reaction a little ridiculous. “It’s like, how is it bad to state a preference?” Denman says, echoing John Cusack’s store owner. “It’s a preference!”

That sense of egalitarianism is pervasive at Boneset Records, the subterranean record shop Denman opened in August in the burgeoning Eken Park neighborhood on Madison’s east side. A Madison native, Denman, who uses she/they pronouns, spent the past decade working at the now-defunct Sugar Shack Records, where they became close with owner Gary John Feest. Under Feest’s tutelage, Denman learned about artists like Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom and the Grateful Dead. They also learned the value of kindness and not to ridicule other people’s taste in music. “It’s a very vulnerable thing,” Denman says of music preferences. “There are always going to be so many people who know more about it than I do. There’s so much music out there.”

In February, when Feest learned that his 41-year-old store’s lease was ending on Atwood Avenue, he donated his entire inventory of vinyl, tapes and CDs to Denman so they could open their own shop.

“He’s just one of the nicest people in the world,” says Denman.

For a store named after the work of an esoteric folk singer-songwriter (Diana Cluck, whose 22-minute-long 2014 album is called “Boneset”), the shop is surprisingly approachable, if a bit difficult to find. Guests enter through a discreetly marked door on East Johnson Street before descending a carpeted staircase into the space below. As a result, walking into Boneset Records can feel like visiting the basement of a friend whose parents have excellent taste in music. Right now, the inventory skews heavily toward rock and pop, but Denman says they want to add more metal, hardcore, reggae and punk. There’s also a wall of VHS tapes and multiple racks of vintage clothing from Milwaukee retailer Return to Odd, as well as a coffee station where customers can fill up for a small donation if they bring their own cup.

“It was really like a light switch went off when a friend told me it’s a lifestyle store,” Denman says. “I want it to be something that people want to frequent versus just coming in once and buying a bunch of stuff.”

A touring musician — Denman has played in Madison bands including No Question and Proud Parents, in addition to the solo project Margerat Dryer — Denman says they would eventually like to start a label to put out the music of other Madison artists. For now, though, any grander ambitions will have to be put on hold while the business gets off the ground. It’s a dream they’ve had since first seeing “High Fidelity” as a teenager. “[Record stores] have just always been a comfort for me,” Denman says. “Having a bad day? Go to a record store.”

Jeff Oloizia is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine.

Boneset Records 6

Desert Isthmus Discs
Maggie Denman’s essential albums from Madison artists

“Side A” by We Should Have Been DJs (2019)
“Midwest emo at its finest. I feel biased since I record backup vocals on every album, but we became friends because I went to all their shows. Mike Pellino is a sight to see on guitar.”

“TIPPY” by Tippy (2016)
“Another Mike Pellino project, but this album is dear to me. One of the best shows I ever went to was at Shitty Barn in Spring Green about four years ago. There was a severe thunderstorm and tornado warning, so we all had to run across the field to the fire station for safety. Once the warning was lifted, everyone was soaked from the rain, and Tippy played the most magical set.”

“Active Adult EP” by TS Foss (2015)
“Before we were bandmates in Proud Parents, Tyler Fassnacht released this lo-fi EP. I’m a huge fan of gritty, sad and raw folk, and Tyler captured it in this solo project.”

“Blood Moon Rise” by Jex Thoth (2013)
“Each member of this band is so kind and talented. Jex works very hard to create an environment, a feeling, a vibe — a true experimental doom metal creation.”

“Super? No, Supa” by Supa Friends (2020)
“I first heard Supa Friends during a livestream they hosted for the Social Justice Center Jubilee a few years back. Each member was super funny and the energy they brought to the stage was something I hadn’t seen in a while. A true Madison gem everyone should see at least once.”

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