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Interview: Mark Orr (LAB Records)

Sean recently caught up with Mark Orr, one half of LAB Records, a Manchester-based independent label. The label is home to bands such as The Auteur, The Honeymoon Suite and MiMi Soya.

Mark talks about the labels formation, its growth, the label's relationship with Tragic Hero Records, their forthcoming digital compilation and much more.

ATP: Let's start off at the beginning. How did LAB Records start?
Mark: LAB was originally a promotions company based in Blackpool. After putting on shows for 18 months or so, I thought it was a great stepping stone to what I'd wanted to do all along: release records. Through promoting we made friends, contacts and met a number of bands who we would later go on to work with in one way or another: The Honeymoon Suite, MiMi Soya and Out Of Sight.

I'd known Nathen (McVittie, LAB co-founder) for three years and we knew that Rob Lynch (Lost On Campus) had a new record that he was looking to release. Fortunately, Rob took a gamble on us and it progressed from there.

ATP: When starting the label. Were their any bands you wanted to sign straight away?
M: There were plenty of bands we wanted to sign that wouldn't have touched a fledgling label with a barge pole! At the time of starting the label I was listening to a lot of Tellison, Kill The Arcade and the like.

ATP: What do you look for when searching for a band to sign?
M: Two things mainly: A huge work ethic and the potential to move up. You can probably tell from the majority of the bands we work with that we look at artists with some cross-over potential - who have at least a shot at radio rotation and selling a good number of records.

ATP: Earlier this year, the label went full-time. Was this something you had already planned on doing?
M: I only really considered going full-time at the start of 2009. Things were just starting to go the way I had envisaged from day one and we were working with a couple of UK-based bands (MiMi Soya and The Auteur) who were beginning to progress as we'd hoped. I knew it wouldn't be an easy step to take financially but felt if we could devote ourselves to this full-time we had a chance at growing quickly. Myself and Nathen moved into our new home/office in June and since then we've worked what feels like 24/7.

ATP: What were the motives behind going full-time?
M: To increase our ambition and compete with some indie labels that perhaps an outsider wouldn't put us in the same league as. I guess we were an ambitious League Two club with one eye on the Championship. We don't quite have the Notts County resources just yet.

ATP: Since going full-time we've seen more activity from LAB Records. Tell us about what the label has been up to? Especially recent new signings.
M: Phew! Since July we have released records from The Honeymoon Suite, The Auteur, He Is Legend, Eat Sleep Attack and Adelaide. I was lucky enough to do three or four great festivals with The Auteur guys this Summer which counted as some of my proudest moments since starting the label. MiMi Soya were also fortunate enough to go out with Cobra Starship and play some big shows.

New signing wise, we are releasing Lost On Landing's new single, 'Sweet Talk,' on 26 October. We also just signed the co-signed first artist to LAB/Tragic Hero on a worldwide deal, which is exciting.

ATP: More recently, you've become involved with Tragic Hero Records. How did this come about?
M: Nathen spends a lot of time in America and met Tommy LaCombe, the founder of Tragic Hero, through working with one of their bands - The Morning Of. He introduced Tommy to me and it was immediately obvious that it could be beneficial to everyone if we worked together - at least on a trial basis. Our first co-release was the He Is Legend record 'It Hates You' earlier this Summer, and we now have a more long-term plan.

ATP: Is this a relationship that will be on-going?
M: Yes, I hope so. We just co-signed our first artist (who is from the UK - announcement soon) and are in the progress of discussing a second. It works so well because both labels are incredibly versatile - so we can simply license some of their releases, or go 50-50 on a worldwide release, depending on what suits best.

ATP: You're also releasing a compilation. What can we expect from this and why did you decide to compile a compilation?
M: We had a couple of weeks in between releases and thought it was a good chance to get everyone caught up with all of our bands - we've been making a number of new signings recently so you could be forgiven for being behind a little behind. It was also a great chance to work with some UK labels - BSM, Alcopop, Scylla, All Aboard and Small Town Records - as well as some of our friends' bands.

The digital-compilation is called 'LAB Testing' and is released direct from us on September 21.

ATP: The compilation will include bands from abroad. Is this part of the label's growth? Can we expect any overseas bands being released on LAB Records? (other than Tragic Hero releases)
M: We've always been keen to go worldwide - it seemed a little ambitious 12 months ago but thanks to the involvement with Tragic Hero we have been able to approach other American and Canadian bands. We came very close to licensing one of the favourite bands of all time recently, but it looks like we just missed out on it.

ATP: In addition to this, you've expanded the LAB brand by introducing a clothing line. Tell us a little bit about this?
M: LAB Apparel is the brainchild of Nathen and Abir Hossain who plays bass in The Morning Of. During some long nights on the road Abir showed interest in LAB as a whole and both felt there was a market for an 'Urban Outfitters'-esque line - focusing more on different products rather than neon printed t-shirts. It's still very much in its infancy, but I hope as the record label grows, the clothing line will too.

ATP: For the rest of 2009 what can we expect from LAB Records and what other future plans do you have?
M: We have releases from Blitz Kids, Lost On Landing coming up on the LAB side and Confide from Tragic Hero Europe. After that the focus will firmly be on the start of 2010 which will see the label be more prolific than ever. We have a couple of very exciting releases that haven't been announced yet, so keep your eyes peeled to AlterThePress!

ATP: What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of starting an independent label?
M: Do it! The term 'DIY' exists for a reason. Whether it's purely a hobby or something a little more serious than that - very few people are making huge amounts of money right now so make sure you love your work.

ATP: You've recently introduced your Online Digital store. What are your views on the MP3 vs CD debate?, as you've pushed your CD releases.
M: I still love CD's but as an indie label it'd be crazy to neglect MP3's. The point of LABDigital was to make our digital pricing a little more versatile - to enable us to put our MP3 releases on offer from time to time - something not easily done through iTunes.

ATP: In addition to this, what is your view from a Independent label view on online streaming services like Spotify?
M: These sort of services are seemingly ushering in yet another new chapter for the industry. For me, any official streaming services that pay royalties for plays and in-effect discourage illegal downloading can only be good. If these services - along with other popular streaming sites such as MySpace - can work closely with artists and labels I feel that everyone can benefit. The key is making it easy for the listener to purchase the music they stream and enjoy online.

ATP: Have you got anything else to say?
M: Thanks for reading this far! Thanks so much to AlterThePress for their continued support. Everyone else - don't forget to support British music. Don't get me wrong, American music is incredible, but there's such a resurgence of UK bands and labels right now, it'd be fantastic to see that grow and grow.

LAB Records digital compilation, 'LAB Testing' is released on September 21st.

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Sean Reid

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