Big Scary Monsters Records had themselves an incredible 2010 with a plethora of excellent releases, great new signings, as well as reaching a very special milestone. As Exploding In Sound has become fairly obsessed with the UK post-punk scene over the span of this year, our attention has been consistently shifted in the direction of BSM. The label is home to many of our favorite up-and-comers including Hold Your Horse Is, Shapes, Shoes & Socks Off, Tall Ships, Mimas, Dad Rocks!, Kevin Devine, and many others. Aside from their current roster, BSM has also released albums and singles from luminaries Meet Me In St. Louis, BlakFish, Pulled Apart By Horses, Secondsmile, Itch and so many other acts worth checking out. Head on over to their official website and browse around, I promise you'll find some music you love in no time. Owner/operator/one man army Kevin Douch was kind enough to answer some questions for us...
EIS: How/when did you first decide to start a label?
KD: I first began the label 9 years ago, whilst at sixth form here in Oxford. I had no previous music industry experience or knowledge, just seemed a fun thing to do!
EIS: How many people work together to make BSM possible? Are you really a one man show?
KD: Yep, it’s a one man show, although I get a lot of help from some awesome people, a cast made up of booking agents, press people, distributors and occasional interns.
EIS: What is a typical day in the “office” like for you?
KD: If you ask Tall Ships, it involves me reading emails on my phone and drinking cocktails. In reality, it’s more like reading emails on my computer and drinking Tesco Orange squash! Generally I’ll 4 days a week, 9am – 6pm, answering emails, packing mail-orders, updating the website, listening to music, checking up on press, sending updates to distributors and ordering new stock/supplies, before taking a break then getting back to it late at night. That’s my favourite time as it’s a lot quieter meaning I can get emails out without responses coming straight back at me. The 5th day of each week is usually spent in London doing meetings and going to gigs. I like to get out to other cities to meet people and, whenever I can, join our bands on tour for a little while, although that happens a lot less than it used to unfortunately.
EIS: You just celebrated your 100th release with Partied Hard, a collection compiling many of the labels highlights. Give us five of your favorite releases during the first 100 and their impact on you.
KD: Tough question! Five of my favourites would include ‘Variations On Swing’ by Meet Me In St Louis, both for personal reasons (it’s one of my all-time favourite albums) and from a label point of view, as it really defined where we were at the time, and brought a lot of new people to us. ‘Hollow Realm’ by Talons would also be in the list, for very similar reasons. I’d like to include one of Tall Ships EPs, but I really wouldn’t know which. Andrew W.K.’s square-shaped 7” single from earlier this year would definitely be in there, as that was a frankly ridiculous release and one I never dreamt would happen. And finally, ‘Partied Hard’, BSM100 itself, would have to be in the top 5, as I’m really proud of that one. It rounds off many years of hard work and the tracklisting is exactly as I hoped it would be.
EIS: Do you generally meet and exceed your expectations/goals? Do your expectations increase with each successive release? Is it hard to gauge where to set your goals at?
KD: I don’t really have too many goals. I like to get to the end of each year and check that we’ve sold more CDs, seen more people at shows, made new contacts and had more fun than the previous year, but don’t think too much about the next 12 months. For each release I’ll have a vague idea of how I’d like it to pan out, in terms of the spread of reviews, sales, etc, but generally they don’t effect the next release. All of our bands, despite being at much the same level, are in very different places, so it’s hard to set one rule for all. That’s the beauty of this job, though.
EIS: There is a strong sense of unity within the artists signed to BSM, is that something you try to push or has it happened on its own?
KD: I like to think of the label as a bit of a community. We try to support our artists well above and beyond the expectations of a traditional record label, and bringing the bands together whenever possible is something I’ve always worked hard on. We had our first Christmas Party back in 2002 and we’ve gone back to that idea every year since. We’ve also had four years of our 5-a-side football tournament, which is a great day every summer, bringing together loads of friends and ‘family members’ to hang out and compete!
EIS: I’m glad you brought up the 5-a-side tournament. That sounds like an amazing time, how did that tradition begin? Are fans invited to watch the games?
KD: It started a few years back when myself and Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) had a debate about who was better at football! Ever since then the tournament has taken place every summer, with 16 teams and nearly 150 unfit band members and music industry insiders coming together to run around in the sun, puke and drink for a few hours. Fans are of course welcome too. It's great fun, although Team BSM haven't done too well the past couple of years, so we need a return to form next time... Or maybe just a good ringer!
EIS: How did you feel when Blakfish and Meet Me In St. Louis told you they were breaking up after just one full length each? Both were seemingly on the verge of “blowing up,” do you as owner of their label say anything or is it something that you just have to except?
KD: I was gutted. Both of them were out of the blue (at least Toby’s departure from MMISL, perhaps not so much their break up shortly afterwards) and it was a shame as they were both developing really well. I’m just glad they both left us with such good albums.
EIS: Speaking of Blakfish, they recorded “Champions” [an album everyone should hear] in Seattle with These Arms Are Snakes’ producer Chris Common. Was the record ever released in the US? Have any BSM releases seen a physical release in the states?
KD: That album was never released in the States, but some of our others have been, either through BSM or labels we’ve partnered up with. Talons album is coming out via Topshelf Records (based in MA) this month, and they’re also working with us on Grown Ups. Kevin Devine and Walter Schreifels both have labels in the States too, and we have plans to put some more stuff out there ourselves next year.
EIS: I saw in a recent interview you mentioned BSM would be represented at SXSW this coming March. Can you give any details regarding that?
KD: Kevin and Walter will both be there but I don’t think any of our UK bands will be. It’s a bit early for all of them so it’s more likely you’ll see one or two of them in 2012. SXSW is amazing but it’s a very expensive festival so the timing has to be just right.
EIS: Any chance of a UK based BSM band touring the states anytime soon?
KD: Hopefully. It’s something we’re working on at the moment. It’s difficult to get bands across to tour the US as costs are so high and building a sizeable profile can take a long time.
EIS: You also have your own packaging design company called ACD/Sleeve, which made the physical case for Partied Hard which is really awesome. How did you get into doing that? Are you constantly creating new forms of packaging?
KD: I set that up with a friend of mine who’s a bit of a genius. He has a degree in design and has these ideas just seem to come to him so easily. We both believe that people need to put more effort than ever before into the packaging of physical releases, so that’s what we’re attempting to do. A lot of the BSM releases next year will be released in ACD/Sleeve cases, and many other independent labels have been in touch about theirs too, which is awesome. It’s something I’m really enjoying working on and Tom has some frankly ridiculous ideas we’ll be unveiling soon.
EIS: What do you look for in a band when signing a new act?
KD: I like to see that a band is hard-working, pro-active, honest and fun. Obviously it’s the music which attracts me first and foremost, but there are a lot of other factors which are just as important as that. There are so many resources available to bands these days, I’m always disappointed when I see unsigned artists failing to take advantage of them. I think some people still have the very outdated view of signing to a record label = “we’ve made it, someone else will do the hard work”.
EIS: What do you think the most important role of a label is in 2010?
KD: I did a radio interview for a local BBC station this afternoon and was asked a very similar question, so this is something I’ve actually been thinking about a bit today. For me, having someone with a bit of knowledge and experience to help you with working towards your goals as a band is the biggest asset us labels currently boast. Whether that comes in marketing ideas, gig promoter contacts, planning, being able to tap you into an existing fanbase or whatever else, it’s a set of skills young bands don’t always possess. A couple of years ago distribution probably would’ve been the big one, but tools are now readily available to get your music onto iTunes and, unfortunately, the state of the physical market here in the UK isn’t very good at the moment, so although this is obviously still very important, I wouldn’t necessarily see it as the main reason for a band to go looking for a label.
EIS: As major record labels find themselves becoming increasingly less relevant, do you think it has become more favorable for a band to sign with indie labels?
KD: I think so. More and more bands are breaking through with indie labels these days and the feelings towards majors continue to nosedive. It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next 5 – 10 years.
EIS: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own independent label?
KD: Be sensible, take your time to figure out what you’re doing before you pile lots of money in, find a band or two you honestly, 110% love, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help and advice.
EIS: There seems to be so much great post-punk / post-hardcore coming out of the UK recently, can you attribute that to anything in particular? Did bands like Fugazi and Unwound leave a big impression on the scene?
KD: They certainly had a big impact on bands here, and around the world, I’m sure. I don’t think there’s any one thing in particular which the quality of our bands could be attributed to, though. We seem to get a good spread of exciting new bands springing up from cities all over the country, and 2010 has been one of the best in living memory for new artists coming through. I can’t wait for next year and seeing how some of them develop. We’ll be running another 52 part singles club, the same as we did this year, through 2011, so without wanting to sound like a cheap advert… Keep an eye on www.bsmrocks.com if you want to find out about a lot of good new music.
EIS: When I first heard about the singles club last year, I thought it was a brilliant idea [offering the labels finest as well as other incredible UK acts such as Shield Your Eyes, Tropics, BATS, Crooked Mountain, Crooked Sea, Vietwow! + more]. I know I will definitely be subscribing for 2011. Was 2010 the first year you’ve done that? What brought the decision to share the label’s artists as well as unsigned acts & bands signed elsewhere? How has the response been?
KD: Its really been a process of working towards what eventually became the '10 Collection. I had a 5 year idea of something I wanted to play around with and develop, kind of a tester for a way I wanted to try pushing the label, and it's going really well so far. In 2008 we gave away four digital samplers (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), each containing free downloads from the bands we'd be releasing in those seasons. In 2009 the idea evolved and we asked people to subscribe to receive four CDs (again, named after the seasons), which would contain live, demo, remix and cover songs from our bands, and a few of our favourites, which all tied in with some online promotions and bonus content. And then in 2010, we started the series as it is. Next year it'll be keeping a very similar guise, but we'll be tweaking the way the music is delivered, giving people more options and slightly lowering the price, whilst still offering the same incentives to subscribers. I'm still toying with the idea of adding a premium version and perhaps a few other things, but that will likely be a last minute decision. The one thing for sure is there'll be another 52 MP3s coming out next year from the best new and unsigned bands around.
EIS: We’re already HIGHLY anticipating the release of Shapes full length debut in 2011, what else do you have in store for us next year?
KD: Shapes just started record their album in Sweden today and I cannot wait to hear what they come up with! We’ll also have new albums from Dad Rocks! and Kevin Devine, as well as a new single from Tall Ships, EPs from Men and Tangled Hair, a book from Shoes And Socks Off and no doubt a whole lot more.
EIS: A book from Shoes and Socks Off? What will it include? Will there be music to go with it?
KD: This is something we've been working on for a while now and should finally see the light of day in the spring. I don't want to give it all away just yet, but it's going to be a 50 page book and there will be a LOT of music with it. I'll tell you more as soon as I can, but it's a concept I'm hoping to try with other bands afterwards, should the SASO one prove successful.
EIS: Thanks so much Kev. Looking forward to everything you have in store for 2011 and beyond.
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