Interview: Jack Clothier (Alcopop Records)
On top of that, the label has released various compilations that have featured Kevin Devine, The Xcerts and many more. In addition it has regularly worked with fellow Oxford-based label, Big Scary Monsters Records.
The head of Alcopop Records, Jack Clothier talked in-depth to Alter The Press about how the label started, working with BSM Records, releasing music through various digital formats, the labels creative 'Alcopopular' series, his thoughts on the current state of the UK music scene and much more.
Alter The Press: Hi Jack. For those who are unfamilar, could you tell us a bit about Alcopop Records?
Jack Clothier: Sure can – I’ll keep it brief but basically Alcopop is an independent record label involved with some of the best stuff coming out of the UK underground scene today. We were inspired by the alt/ indie scene of the 90s, got a small loan from my dad – and gambled it all on football. Luckily we won, and have been kicking out the jams since 2006. Ethically we only work with music we love, and try to deliver it in the most exciting manner possible. For us, a label’s success comes about with keeping stuff interesting for people to get involved in – and making sure that we keep up with what’s going on and staying relevant. The ‘fat-cat label-chucking-money-around like it’s 1996’ days are gone for good – so it’s all new territory we’re exploring – and it’s pretty damn exciting!
ATP: With releases from the likes of My First Tooth, Ute, Stagecoach, Johnny Foreigner and more, it seems like 2010 has been a busy year. How has it gone? Has it been a year of progression for the label?
JC: Personally I think that 2010 has been by far the best year ever for everyone involved in Alcopop – and absolutely a year of progression - thanks to everyone who’s been involved buying things, sending us nice emails, coming to shows or whatever! Although we work as ‘fluid’ as we can (you never know when you’re going to see the best band ever right) there is a vague plan – and 2010 went pretty much exactly was we wanted it. Signing Johnny Foreigner (who I look up to as one of the best bands of our era, and incredible people to boot) was a great focal point, but alongside that the progress of Stagecoach has been massive (loads of people working really hard on that), in My First Tooth and The Attika State we’ve released two of the most exciting debuts of the year – and we have some frighteningly excitingly talented bands like Ute, Jumping Ships and Screaming Maldini who are really going some in 2012. We’ve met some amazing people, hit up loads of festivals, rinsed plenty of expense accounts and basically had a great time too… Of course there have been a couple of heart-breaking casualties (Elephants and Aspen Sails to name a couple) but we’re all go!
ATP: As some may know Alcopop works very closely with Kevin Douch of Big Scary Monsters Records. Tell us how the partnership has formed and how it works?
JC: Myself and Kev actually formed the label together, and continue to both put in work to the future development of Alcopop to this day. It was great to kick off as sister label to BSM (helped a-plenty in the first year or two), but although there are plenty of similarities – we like to keep the labels as separate entities these days. Kev is a genius, and one of the most committed and passionate people I’ve ever met in the music industry on any level. I was really lucky in that we had a mutual friend who we both moved in with. From there, a mutual love of booze, gambling and The Llama Farmers, Midget, Saves the Day and Symposium (et al) meant that starting a label together was a must/
ATP: More recently the two have released a compilation, 'We Ruined His Birthday with an Invisible Balloon'. What can you tell us about this?
JC: It’s kinda been a great year for both labels, at this time more than ever before the rosters really compliment each other – and what better Christmas present to ourselves than releasing a CD with the likes of Johnny Foreigner, Tellison, Stagecoach, Tall Ships, My First Tooth, Talons etc etc. all on the same disc for £2 (or minimum of £1 from Bandcamp). Plus we had loads of fun working out the prizes we could give away (red hot dates, Danish sightseeing trips) and the packaging (designed by AC/DSleeve and illustrated by Adrian Dutt) looks ace. The comp then got on the front page of iTunes which was quite exciting… Basically, the whole thing seems to have gone down really well and is flying out in Australia for some reason!
ATP: Are there any bands or labels that influenced you when Alcopop Records was formed?
JC: So many – but in terms of labels, most notably it was Fierce Panda! They were the guys who first really bought my attention to indie labels when I was growing up (I still have my Fierce Panda jacket and wear it with no little pride) – and I’ll never forget how awesome they were in terms of artists, compilations and treating the fans. As a wide-eyed fresher I wrote to Mr Bongo (label head) because I wanted to feature them on a radio show I was doing, and they set me a double 7” white-label test pressing, note and loads of stickers and stuff. I was suitably enamoured. And we went to the same uni and stayed in the same halls, albeit many years apart (Neuadd Mary Williams at Swansea University in case anyone’s interested).
ATP: The label is home to bands like Stagecoach, Ute and My First Tooth and bring a slight indie folk sound to the label. Do you think the label has an overall sound or is this something that has developed over time?
JC: I think Alcopop does have an overall sound, but it’s a bit of a spectrum really from the more folky edge (My First Tooth), through more straight up pop stuff (Stagecoach) to things that may be a bit harder edged (Jumping Ships). Having said that, we don’t discriminate on the basis of sound (though we’re unlikely ever to sign thrash metal or hardcore punk) but stuff like Ute I find hard to define. Lets just say the scope of our sound is in continual development.
ATP: The past 12 months or so has seen MySpace decline and has seen labels and bands releasing music on the internet in other forms, with services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp becoming increasingly popular. First of all what are your thoughts on music be posted online?
JC: Great – I think anyone who tries to deny the fact that music has to be distributed on the internet is just lying to themselves. I think the real question is how to get your music out there in all formats possible – we’re just looking into (and using) Soundcloud at the moment – and sussing out Bandcamp! That said, there is absolutely room for physical, paid digital, free digital, physical/digital mixes – man. There’s so much scope, it’s just finding ways to distribute creatively.
ATP: Secondly for a label like Alcopop, what is the ideal model to get its music heard online?
JC: Well, I guess in an ideal world – everyone would stream the record via something like Spotify or Soundcloud, decide if they like the music or not, and if so go and dutifully buy it to support the label and artist. However, I’m fully aware that in a lot of cases that doesn’t necessarily happen. It’s awesome that people do buy legitimately and they’re the reason we’re still operating - but who am I to criticise those that don’t? In my mind, I think labels have a duty to be so inspiring, creative and personable with their releases (and I guess whole ethos) that people feel they want to get involved, go to shows or invest in the physical products.
ATP: With the digital music market being so vast in size. How can a label like Alcopop promote itself and market it bands in the right way?
JC: I think that when it comes to marketing digital it has to be part of a wider tactic - all the standard press, streaming via sites with big audiences etc. For us we don't tend to go with solely digital singles, because I think the physical packaging can play a useful part in the overall marketing devices. However it does pay to be with a really strong digital distributor, who can open doors for you when it comes to the larger digital sites. For example, we've just moved to a company called Believe - who have a very passionate and talented team with fingers in plenty of pies, who have done wonders for our digital sales. They've got us free daily downloads on 7 Digital, front page iTunes spots and label focus pieces to name just a few.
I think the mistake that is sometimes made as well (by us too in the past) is to remember to think from the consumers point of view, in that - giving away a free digital download is all very well and good, but in a world where the market is saturated with free EP's, albums etc, why would anyone bother downloading your track? It's not enough to just give free tracks away these days. They need something a bit special to make them really exciting! I know old Trent Reznor used to talk about how all music should be free, and that works great if you're from NiN, have had millions of pounds' label spend and countless tours to build up your profile and fanbase. But if you're a local band looking to get out there, you need to do more than just give away your album on your Facebook page.
ATP: Despite many labels increasingly using online methods, Alcopop continues to produce physical releases. Most notably is the 'Alcopopular' series. Last year you released the third volume as a message in the bottle, whilst the fourth volume was produced as a menu and allowed fans to pick and choose what they wanted. How did these ideas come together?
JC: Kev and I love putting together the Alcopopular series. It’s a chance to have a load of fun, test our creative skills and work with bands who for one reason or other we can’t work with on a full release, and also get involved with acts we think we might want to do more with in the future. As for the ideas themselves, we’re always trying to nail new release concepts so they usually come to us in completely random situations. Alcopopular 3 (the treasure map in the glass bottle) came to me when I was involved in a recycling thing. It just seemed a shame to ping all these bottles in a bottle bank, and I wondered how we could release music using them. We’re never entirely sure how these Alcopopular comps will sell, it’s always a bit of a punt, but they’ve all done really well so far – so we’ll keep at it!
ATP: As part of a steady independent label. What is your overall impression of the UK independent music scene right now?
JC: Really interesting to be a part of. I feel like we’re involved in an industry that’s lurching into constant changes, is being second-guessed by everyone in it (who all seem to have slightly differing opinions) – but is completely vibrant and packed with massive opportunities for anyone who’s determined to get involved. Money isn’t the issue it once was (as very few people seem to have any) and with the openness of the social media, bands, labels, fans and media are closer than they ever were before. Add to that the legions of truly dedicated folk who are in bands, running labels, writing stuff or just enjoying the music they truly love and I think it’s a confusing, but ultimately very satisfying and exciting industry. True, the top of the pile is crumbling, but I think that’s only good for the genuine talent out there.
ATP: As well as BSM, are there any other UK labels you are fans of or look up to?
JC: Yeah, for sure! There’s plenty of awesome labels out there of which I’d particularly pick Hassle, Holy Roar, Walnut Tree (Tom is a true gent) and Lab as some of my favourites – with the likes of Wichita and Transgressive, the holy grail of where we’d love to be. Banquet Records deserves a special mention too, for although the label itself aren’t operating really anymore, they are one of the most committed heroic institutions around today.
ATP: Are there any past mistakes you'd like to rectify and how?
JC: There are a few bands we should have signed, and maybe 1 or 2 we shouldn’t in hindsight, but you really can’t dwell on these things. I think on the whole (other than a blip when our parent distro company collapsed back in 2008, and we were seriously screwed cash-wise for a month or two,) we’ve been pretty careful, and I’m happy with how things have gone/are going. Maybe one mistake is having never called a compilation “My Unicorn Shits In The Eye Of Your Kraken”, but then again, that can be resolved.
ATP: What valuable lessons have learned from running a label and would advise to others who might be thinking of starting a label?
JC: Firstly - be careful with your money! Don’t get convinced that one band are going to make you millionaires and lavish your life savings on them. Start small and build. Secondly, do it for the right reasons. Only work with music you love! Thirdly, don’t be afraid to ask for advice – and fourthly, watch out for unscrupulous managers trying to rinse you for paying for everything. Think carefully about what you can afford and don’t assume you’ll sell everything you press. Lastly try and work with nice bands, and if they have management/backers with a big ol’ expense account – get boozing… Hard!
ATP: The label is based in Oxford. How is the music scene there?
JC: Huge right now what with the emergence of the Blessing Force lot – and a whole load of stuff happening slightly under the radar. We’ve just signed Ute who are a phenomenal, eclectic bunch of awesome – and expect a whole load of talent to emerge from the Foals/Jonquil shadow in the near future.
ATP: Are there any local, non-Alcopop bands we should be looking out for?
JC: Yeah. I’d recommend the marvelous Spring Offensive, Fixers (who’ve just signed to Young and Lost), Phantom Theory, Cat Matador and if you’re feeling brave/ 90s rave, a bit of We Are Ugly. Another real good lot set to be smashing your ears about soon are a band called Gunning For Tamar. They just sent me their new EP and it sounds awesome. Kinda evocative of '100 Broken Windows'-era Idlewild, big rocky and broody – very strong!
ATP: What can we expect from Alcopop Records in 2011?
JC: Well, we’ve got a couple of massively exciting signings in the final stages of completion, a nice idea that we’re looking at working on around the summer, a new Alcopopular – and basically plenty of quite awesome bands who we’re lucky enough to get involved with us releasing ace stuff. There will also be a return of the Alcopop vs Stagecoach NBA Jam invitational, representation at a load of festivals – and hopefully some promo beachware.
ATP: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JC: Racecar is racecar backwards.
Further information on Alcopop Records can be found at ilovealcopop.co.uk
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