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    Vinyl Records On the Move in New Zealand Capital


Herb's Mobile Record Store is a curated collection of eclectic vinyl, Nintendo games and esoteric Japanese artists.

As Ben James parks his funky FUSO Canter at one of Wellington, New Zealand’s bustling harborside locations, the clear, calm and sunny sapphire sky stretching endlessly overhead. It’s the perfect type of day to drop a classic slice of vinyl records from Pacific reggae pioneers Herbs; the homegrown Kiwi band after which Herb’s Mobile Record Store is partly named.

 “They were the first band I saw live,” Ben explains. “I was eight years old and my dad took me to see them. They were great! I’ve also got this yellow trucker’s cap with Herb’s Inn on the front. I was looking at it when I was trying to come up with a name and it just clicked.”

By midday, office workers flow from Wellington’s city streets towards the glittering waterfront. Seagulls hover in the salty air looking for lunchtime scraps, while music enthusiasts and curious passers-by dig through recycled wooden beer crates, searching for turntable rarities in the back of Herb’s truck.

Like magic, Ben’s 2004 Canter pops up all over the place and is “‘transcendentally dimensional”’ —– or, at least it feels a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. “People are often surprised by how much I’ve managed to fit in here,” says Ben, who has used every inch of the 16sqm box body with inventive efficiency. “They love the whole concept.”

The wooden crates are a nod to classic Kiwi culture (an unofficial national holiday involves sharing a crate of beer on the first Saturday in December to mark the start of summer), but they also work perfectly to hold the stash of vinyl records in Ben’s collection.

Each box is an eclectic mix of off-the-beaten-track sonic adventures, covering everything from swamp rock and psychobilly to epic synth-inspired space jams and music that is just too hard to pigeonhole —– and all the better for it!

“I’ve curated the collection through my own taste and interests,” explains Ben, who has been in a number of bands himself.

“I listen to everything before I buy it. I don’t want to be just another record store selling the same mainstream music you could find anywhere.”

Ben prefers to promote lesser-known bands such as Wellington-based Orchestra of Spheres, which he describes as “an exploration of energies and atmospheres, from intense futuristic funk to windswept reflections from a far-flung corner of the world.”

“I realized I could free myself from being tied to one place…by going mobile.”


He also has a collection of esoteric Japanese artists and soundtracks, along with some Nintendo and Sega games that reflect his childhood and ongoing interest in Japanese culture.

“I’ve always liked the way Japanese musicians put their unique spin on things; also the technology and crazy animation. It’s awesome! I’d love to visit one day.” For now, Ben is enjoying putting his own Kiwi spin on a Japanese classic.

“FUSO trucks have a great reputation for reliability; as soon as I decided to create a mobile record store, I only wanted a Canter.”

The idea for a store on wheels materialized after two previous ventures were thwarted by the bricks and mortar they were housed in —– in more ways than one.

“I opened Evil Genius Records in Christchurch in 2011. Seven days later, a major earthquake destroyed the shop and everything in it,” Ben recalls. “My insurance application was still being processed at the time, so I wasn’t covered for any of it.”

He moved to Wellington in 2012 and reopened Evil Genius, followed by Death Ray Records in 2014 “but the rent just got too expensive and, eventually, I had to close.”

“I realized I could free myself from being tied to one place, and to the whims of landlords, by going mobile.”

I just figured it out as I went, fitting all the hardware myself and then making sure it looked dope.


Ben spent seven months looking for the right truck before the 2004 Canter 4×2 appeared on an auction site. “It had been used as a clothes store and was full of heavy cabinetry and steel rails, but it had a single-entrance door, which I wanted for security, a futon for sleeping in overnight and a skylight to let natural light in.

“It looked perfect, but because it was in Auckland, I couldn’t check it out myself or even find a mechanic willing to go and give it a closer inspection. I just had to take the seller at their word.”

Ben flew to Auckland to collect the Canter and drove it 650km back to Wellington, with an overnight stop at Lake Taupō. “It was a bit slow going, but otherwise it drove like a dream.”

Back home, Ben went about converting what looked like “a sterile white fridge” into the kaleidoscope of good vibes and musical delights it is today.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I’m pretty practical and I have a side hustle in graphic design, so I just figured it out as I went, fitting all the hardware myself and then making sure it looked dope.”

Working alone during New Zealand’s Covid lockdown, Ben stripped the old components and rigged up a solar unit to power an electric fan, music system and payment terminal, plus a diesel heater with floor vents.

Herb’s recently celebrated its first anniversary and after adding around 10,000km to the odometer, Ben is still having fun with it. “I’d quite like to get to 400,000km; it had around 320,000km when I bought it. I even get flashed by other truck drivers as they go past in their big rigs!

“I’ve got a few ideas for the future, I might even have to get a bigger truck at some point, but it’s good for now. I’ve grown pretty attached to the Canter, and I never expected to make my fortune doing this. It was always a lifestyle choice; about visiting different communities, meeting new people and hopefully bringing a bit of joy into their lives. I’ll keep going while it’s still fun!”

Long may that continue.