Alter The Press!


Interview: Scylla Records

3 years ago Richard Hughes and Ross Packman formed Scylla Records, and has since gone to establish itself, as one of the top up and coming UK independent labels. With a back catalogue includes releases from US bands such as Valencia and Just Surrender, as well as UK bands like Out Of Sight and Scream! Shout! Say Nothing and Ella, the label has positioned themselves where they are well respected and has a bright future ahead.

Richard talked to Alter The Press! about the label's formation, working with Code 7/Plastichead distribution, signing Person L, difficulties of being an independent label and much more.

ATP: This year Scylla Records celebrated its 3rd year anniversary. Could you tell us how the label formed back in 2006?
Scylla Records: Me and a good gent named Ross Packman were putting on shows in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and were working with some great bands, Enter Shikari, The Blackout and Flood of Red to name a few. We were fairly lucky that we were doing the shows at The White Horse, which was a strip club during day, which meant we didn’t have too many problems with bands turning up late. Either way, we put on Out of Sight as a support act for one of our shows and got chatting to them as we did with many of the bands at our shows and heard that they were flying over to New York to work with John Naclerio (The Audition, Just Surrender) on some material but didn’t have anyone to put out the tracks. We were really impressed with their live show and the demos they had and they were a great bunch of lads and so we decided to start a label to put out their EP “Something Created By Belief”. Since them there has been numerous releases, signings made, signings we missed out on, Ross has left the label and much, much more. But the Out of Sight release is what got the ball rolling. The rest, as they say is history…

ATP: Had you and Ross had previous experience in the industry?
SR: Well Ross’ background was in promoting and I was involved in promoting shows as well as writing for a small fanzine. Both were great as it meant I got a lot of free music and got to see bands for free as well. Other than that I didn’t have any experience within the industry when I started Scylla, although I work in the industry in various forms now.

ATP: What was the aim of Scylla when you first started?
SR: I think at the very beginning the aim for Scylla Records was just to put out the Out of Sight record. We didn’t really know if we could get it together or not, so having aims past this release didn’t really seem like something that we should be thinking about really. After we’d released that record we got the bug I guess, the release was a success and we were selling a decent number of CDs. We quickly decided that we’d use the label to help our friends’ bands and other amazing bands that we were really into and quickly we built up, in my opinion, a great little roster. Now that we’re a little more established as a label I think our aims are a little different. It would be great to sell ten thousand copies of a release, see bands that we work with headlining big venues and also reaching 50 releases, but as long as we are releasing good music then we’re all good.

ATP: In the past Scylla Records has released records in the UK by US bands such as Sincerely Monroe, Just Surrender, Valencia and Permanent Me. I understand each deal with these bands was a bit different. Could you explain this?
SR: Yeah we have worked with US bands as well as the UK bands that are on the label, and on a business level these deals were different. I wouldn’t normally bother going into the ins and outs, but there are probably people looking to start labels that might find it of some help if they have similar ideas. All the US bands we work with are on licensing deals which means we are able to use the material for a set length of time. For most of the US acts we work with it’s for the UK (& Eire) although for Sincerely Monroe that was a little different. Those guys weren’t signed in the US, so we took the rights to the World and made the record available online and in certain shops in the USA as well. Mostly, however it’s just the UK where we, perhaps, know the market a little better than the US label these bands are signed with and can spend some money promoting the releases.

ATP: What can of impact did these releases on the label?
SR: Obviously, we’re talking about 5 bands and to be honest they’ve each had different impacts on the label. At the time, Just Surrender and Valencia were majors coups for us, I think that working with both bands really raised the label’s profile. The fact that Just Surrender got to tour here twice, with My American Heart and more influentially You Me At Six and The Audition was amazing for the label’s profile. However, it’s more about the music, and I feel that every band that we’ve worked with has brought a great release to the Scylla catalogue, which couldn’t be more true with the Person L album, that I believe is the most accomplished release that the label has worked on to date.

ATP: Did they help you establish yourselves as a label?
SR: I think that’s definitely fair to say. It certainly helps when you’re speaking to bands about the idea of working together and you can say you’ve worked with bands like Just Surrender or Valencia who loads of people have heard of. It adds another string to your bow I suppose. But I also think that’s it’s really important to have the UK talent on the label too, it’s what is really going to establish the label in the UK on the day to day. Having bands like Proceed and Out of Sight touring hard in the UK really drives interest and it’s still the best way to promote a record. The hardest thing about working with these US bands is that we can’t have them over in the UK touring week in, week out which means selling records is ten times harder than when you can send a band out on the road.

ATP: More recently you've working with Person L. How did you become involved with them?
SR: That’s a fairly long story really. I was (and still am) a huge fan of The Starting Line, from their first EP through to Direction the band seemed to grow with my tastes and I was also really excited to see that Kenny was branching into new areas with Person L. I heard Storms and Sunshine when they first started floating around online and was a fan. Then when I was out in Philadelphia whilst Out of Sight were recording their album I had the chance to see them live and they absolutely blew me away. That night Kenny gave me a copy of their debut “Initial” and I was really impressed. When I heard that the band were recording a full length album I approached his manager and along with Academy Fight Song (the band’s US label) we agreed a deal to put out “The Positives”. It’s a bit of a dream deal for us, it’s a great album and an incredible band. Hopefully we’ll have the band over to the UK to tour in 2010 so people over here can see what I saw over in Philadelphia.

ATP: In addition to this, Out of Sight are on your roster and have a pretty successful year including a tour support slot with Hey Monday. How has this affected Scylla?
SR: The Out of Sight situation is somewhat different behind the scenes. They are obviously having a great year as a touring band and have toured with We The Kings, Hey Monday, Every Avenue and You Me At Six as well as playing the Slam Dunk Festival and it’s their first real taste of this kind of touring and it’s great for them. They’ve come along way and are currently headlining their own headline tour, something which seemed a very long way off at the beginning of the year. There is no doubting this has raised their profile considerably and they are improving as a live band all the time and from a label point of view this is great, sales of their EP continue to flow which is obviously great. However, behind the scenes things are a little different, there is an album that they have finished which still hasn’t been released which is causing frustration. There are many reasons for this to be honest, we are working out the best way to make this record work for the band weather that be through a larger label or in a innovative way and so all these talks take there time, although it looks like all parties are close to coming to agreements, so hopefully the album will see the light of day at the beginning on 2010. It’s a really great album and I’m sure that it’s going to be what takes them to whole new levels. I know that the band are already thinking about a follow up so there wont be such a long wait for album number two!

ATP: You're also working with a band called Proceed. Could you tell us about them?
SR: Proceed in many ways were Ross’ last contribution to the label. He was certainly the one that “discovered” them. So all credit really has to go to him for that one. I’m not exactly sure where he first heard them, although I have a feeling he saw them in Exeter, which isn’t too far from where he grew up, and was impressed by their live show. He played me Telescopes and I was impressed by these epic songs that were still totally melodic and I went and saw them play in Hitchin and they totally nailed it live too. Whilst I think they suffered a little bit from being boxed in with bands like We Are The Ocean as a “Alexisonfire rip-off” they are certainly moving away from that with their new material and plan to record new material for an EP or album in 2010 although I doubt that Scylla will be releasing it. They are certainly the most prolific band currently on the label and have paid their dues on the live circuit and you have to credit them for that. Hopefully with the next release the press will be a little kinder to them.

ATP: What difficulties have you had since forming the label?
SR: Every day there are difficulties to be honest! Running a label certainly isn’t plain sailing! To start out, the biggest problem was just getting people to take us seriously. Weather that be bands, press, other labels, distribution companies and so on. Part of that was due to naivety on part, approaching huge people and not understanding why they wouldn’t get back to us. We’re talking huge people. Like Apple. But now I like to think that’s certainly not as much of a problem, we have a fairly decent track record so that’s not such a problem anymore.

We now have other problems, most of which are either keeping bands happy or making the money stretch far enough. There are numerous bands on the label and they all want attention, resources and support and this isn’t always possible, so it’s about finding the balance there. I think that we do an OK job, but it’s tough. Money is always going to be an issue. I’m sure I could have a million pounds and would be able to spend the money and still want to do more so until that point I just have to remember that I can’t sign every band I hear and fall in love with.

ATP: In the UK there are countless small independent labels. How hard is it to maintain a label when there is so much competition?
SR: It’s not tough to maintain the label as such, there are always going to be bands that we can sign. We’ve never actually had a case where we’ve lost out on a band directly to a different label I don’t think. Although, maybe back when Ross was at the label he was talking to Deaf Havana who went on to sign with Wolf At Your Door, I’m not sure how far those conversations went. In terms of people buying records it probably is getting a little harder. At the end of the day, if a 16 year old fan has £5 left at the end of the week there are so many labels offering great releases and I’m sure that other great UK labels are taking a little custom off each other. However, I really think that the more good labels there are the more a ‘scene’ will be created around them and the bands that they sign.

ATP: Tom Beck of Walnut Tree Records recently said a lot of UK labels including Scylla Records have managed to stick together and helped each other out. What are your thoughts on this?
SR: Well there are certainly a few guys from labels I have regular contact with and would call my friends. The two that jump out are of course Tom at Walnut Tree and then Mark over at LAB Records in Manchester. Both guys are running labels that I respect a great deal, Tom has great ears and an attitude that is rare, he genuinely just puts out records he loves. The money doesn’t matter. He’d happily walk away from a project that was a real money-maker if he didn’t believe in it. A lot of people say that they’d do the same, but Tom is actually one of the few people that actually has the balls to do it. Mark earns my respect for very different reasons, he too has great ears but his strength is hard work and the hustle. I don’t know if I know anyone who works harder than Mark!

Either way, there are a group of us who realize it’s not about competition, rather helping each other out when we can. We’re all fans of each other’s bands so it works out nicely. It’s good to have a support network of people who know exactly what you are talking about and have probably been through similar things. Having said that, our three labels are fairly different when you take a closer look, so that probably helps too. It’s not just those guys, Paul @ Punktastic Recordings, Kev @ BSM, Andrew @ No Order Records (RIP?) and Joe at Skull Cow are all great people that all help out from time to time. Way better than all hating each other, although maybe that would make for a better story!

ATP: Your distribution is done through Code 7/Plastichead. How important has it been for a label like Scylla to have distribution?
SR: There have been numerous debates about the importance of distribution over the last few years as the volume of physical sales drops but in my mind the answer is clear. Distribution is vital. It’s not so much for the sales, because as we all know people will buy from shows, band/label webstores and digitally as well as in shops, but the options that it gives bands and consumers. To have our records in HMV or on the website is really important as it’s a site that people trust and it actually means something for the band to have their record listed on those sites. It’s not something that they can’t do themselves, it actually adds value from the label’s side of things.

In addition, when we’re speaking to managers or labels in America (or any other country) about the possibility of licensing a record one of the first three questions that they always ask is about distribution. The fact that we able to get our releases into shops on the “high street” or “online high street” is important. Without this ability I doubt we would have got to work with Just Surrender or Valencia for example. So I’m very glad that we have distribution and I see it being crucial for the label moving forward.

ATP: Person L's new album 'The Positives' was released digitally in the UK first before its physical release. Do you think digital releases have more potential to affect your label or do physical release still play a major part?
SR: This is the first time that we’ve done a physical release after the digital one on a record that we planned to have both formats. And there was a simple reason for this decision… timing. We wanted to release on the same day the record was being released in America (November 16th) which was fine for digital, however, the physical distribution process takes a while and so we were forced to have a December release for the CD. We released the CD at the same time from our online store. So the split release wasn’t any tactical decision or grand statement about our view of digital vs. physical, just a little unfortunate. However, I will say this… for all proper album and EP releases we’ll have physical product as well as digital as I’m a collector and believe that others are too. We’ll have less made up I’m sure, lots of limited edition and (hopefully) more vinyl now that we’ve popped our vinyl cherry on this release. However, digital plays a larger and larger part in what we do and this can’t be ignored. After all now that we have the option to release digital only singles it means we can be a lot more flexible with our releases in these financially testing times. Basically, digital is great but physical product is the label’s love!

ATP: Like many labels you encourage demos to be sent for consideration. What do you look for when listening to possible new signings?
SR: I don’t know if I encourage it, however I get so many emails asking where they can send music so I let then know as you never know what might get sent in. I guess in answer to the question I’m looking for a great band with great songs ideally recorded really well! But keep it simple, a CD and a short bio are great – don’t go over the top.

ATP: Alternatively what puts off you?
SR: There are two things that put me off the most when bands send in a demo. Firstly it’s when I get sent pages and pages of information that I just don’t need. A small biography, a CD and POSSIBLY a photography is all we need. And the photo isn’t important. It’s just off-putting to have pages and pages of useless information and it’s a waste of time for the band themselves too. The other thing, which is almost the opposite, is when a band sends a release that is completed, in retail spec. packaging with a barcode, have PR in place and who tell us they are looking to release their album. For us, the work that we could has almost been done already. There is very little we can add, and you think that if a band have done all the hard work they should see it through themselves.

ATP: What are your thoughts on using online press? Do they have a bigger affect that magazines/newspaper for a label like yours
SR: The online press is crucial, there is no doubting that. It’s instant and allows free and up to date coverage and it’s clear that this is certainly becoming more and more important and influential in people’s music buying habits. However, currently I still believe that magazines and newspapers still hold the most weight in terms of promotion. I’d still much rather have a Kerrang! Cover feature or an extensive piece in the Guardian than a number one position on the Hype Machine chart.

ATP: What does the future hold for Scylla Records?
SR:The future for Scylla Records is going to be challenging but also exciting. It’s obviously a tough time for all business with the current economic down turn but that doesn’t mean that small businesses like Scylla Records can’t survive. We have set up a publishing arm of the label which seemed like the next logical step. We’re working on some new signings which will be revealed over the coming weeks and months. We’re also at looking into different ways to help bands out and I can reveal that we will be helping a band called The October Game release their 2nd album to a larger audience and see how that progresses. There may also be another compilation this year, as well as an albums from Out of Sight, Scream! Shout! Say Nothing and Ella.

Official Website
Scylla Records Big Cartel Online Store
Peoples Music Store

-Sean Reid

Alter The Press!