Approaching the doors to Vaporized on Jackson Avenue generates the mental picture of shelves lined with tiny bottles of liquid, accompanied by handheld gadgets and contraptions.
In reality, however, you’ve also stepped into a sphere of authentic and captivating artistic expression.
Art pieces sprawl across the walls, from paintings depicting a lip-locked Colonel Reb and Rebel the Black Bear to canvases with intricate detail and vibrant color. Co-owners Austin Wheeler and Tanner Scaggs will accept art from almost anyone who is willing to showcase their passion.
The atmosphere is laced with the sweet aroma of grape-flavored vape juice and contemporary jazz flows from the speakers near the stage at the back corner of the room, a remnant of last night’s performance by Hattiesburg-based jazz fusion band Friends Fly South.
Wheeler and Scaggs moved their vape shop from its original 1,500-square-foot location into a new and much larger space three months ago. They said they recognized their need for more room after noticing more people hanging out and relaxing at the last store.
But the idea of flipping the huge, barren space into a vape store by day and music venue by night started off as just talk.
“We were brainstorming like, ‘How the hell are we gonna fill this space?’” Scaggs said. “It was one of the first nights in here and we were like, ‘What if we put a stage in it?’ It was a joke – we weren’t really thinking about making this happen. But we got the tape out and started lining up where we could put it and how we could logistically make this work.”
With his master carpenter father-in-law, Scaggs built a stage and bar, and said it all seemed to just come together.
“I had the sound system. He had the stage,” Wheeler said. “It was just sorta like, ‘Why not?’”
When they started booking bands via Facebook, email and phone, Scaggs realized artists didn’t really know what to expect when agreeing to perform at The Wall.
“It’s strange, but it’s great,” Scaggs said. “When a band pulls up at night we always like to be watching for them to see their reaction. They’ll do a double take, a triple take. They’ll turn around in the parking lot. They can’t figure out if they’re in the right damn space. Then they’ll walk in and feel at ease. It’s weird.”
But with sheets up at night covering the vape merchandise counter and the main focus on the stage, The Wall morphs into any other venue at show time.
“It’s a very weird dichotomy,” Scaggs said. “One you wouldn’t expect, but it’s no different than a coffee shop or restaurant that has a venue.”
Oxford is home to many businesses that double as stages. Proud Larry’s and The Shelter on Van Buren transform into performance venues after sundown. So, it’s not that Wheeler and Scaggs felt Oxford needed another venue; they just felt it needed a different one.
“We wanted to be able to cultivate a scene around the type of music that is lacking in Oxford,” Scaggs said. “There’s no metal scene in Oxford. There’s no jazz fusion scene. There’s no hugely progressive or experimental music scene. Every once in a while it shows up, but only if it’s a really big act.”
Big musical acts all start out beating the ground at smaller places, something Wheeler and Scaggs understand as local musicians themselves in the band The Holy Ghost Electric Show.
They hope for The Wall to be that venue for Oxford, and with 75 individual acts in just three short months, the two feel lucky to have been afforded such an opportunity. Bands from all over find The Wall becomes one of their favorite spots to play because of the aesthetic and zealous crowds.
“It’s not to negate anything any of the other venues have done,” Scaggs said. “We just wanted a place where music could be expressed in a different fashion. That’s what we try to cultivate here — a safe space for the weirder type of music that doesn’t get played in Oxford.”
The location on Jackson Avenue rather than the Square also provides for a more music-focused experience for both performers and show-goers alike.
“A lot of times on the Square, as any Oxford resident knows, there’s a lot of drinking and a lot of people stumbling upon a show,” Scaggs said. “Everyone that comes here is specifically here with the intention of experiencing music with their peers and with the artist that comes through.”
Bassist Ray Bradford of Friends Fly South said the audience was really into the band’s performance at The Wall.
“It was a super fun night,” he said. “The intimacy between us and the crowd was the coolest thing. That kind of vibe makes you want to play.”
Patrons of The Wall are also keen on supporting the bands. Many stay long after the final number to purchase merchandise or to thank performers for coming out.
“It’s this really strange phenomenon,” Scaggs said. “Eighty percent of them are experiencing this in a different way than what you see at some places and the bands that have come through have been really receptive of how we’ve been able to do this.”
The Wall’s goal is simple: care more about the artist – whether it be performance art or visual art. Wheeler and Scaggs want artists to express themselves in an honest fashion with people who actually want to share the experience.
Wheeler and Scaggs also practice what could be dubbed “The Golden Musician Rule,” meaning they try and treat their acts the way they would want their own band to be treated.
“Every night a band comes through, [Austin] and I make it a point where each of us buys merch,” Scaggs said. “We’ve been there, and our main goal is to provide a space where all artists are actually taken care of.”
Wheeler and Scaggs said they also promise musicians 100 percent of the night’s performance earnings.
“We traced out this place according to what Holy Ghost would want it to be if we were on tour and tired,” Wheeler said. “If I had my ideal venue, it would have a good stage, a good sound system, Super Smash Bros and the chill vibe of the chill bar.”
And The Wall has it all – art, vaping, music and yes, even video games.
The venue also has a shower and free place to stay for tired, travelling bands looking for a little R&R.
“It’s a place for crafting, having and sharing unique experiences with others … We want it to be a community more than just a venue,” Wheeler said.
But the musical philanthropy doesn’t end there. The Holy Ghost Electric Show only performs on The Wall stage when the chemistry with another act is unmatched or if specifically requested to join in by another band. Even then, they still don’t take a penny of the proceeds.
“We don’t want this to be the Holy Ghost venue,” Wheeler said. “This is The Wall – it’s its own thing.”
A place meant for unique experiences and genuine artistic expression, The Wall is sure to present Oxford with a new locale for creative outlet.
“When people ask what we stand for, it’s just honest expression,” Scaggs said. “I don’t care how weird it is. I don’t care how taboo it is. I don’t care how many people show up. I don’t care if it’s just us in here only being able to experience it. We are just happy to house it. To host it. That’s our drive. That why we’re here.”