Introducing a new occasional Q&A feature on STN, in which we celebrate the slowly deflating but still often fighting fit art of the record label by asking some relevant questions of the people that run out favourite examples. We kick off with Fortuna Pop!, launched in 1996 and responsible for many fine indiepop releases including Allo Darlin', Fanfarlo, The Lucksmiths, Comet Gain, Bearsuit, Milky Wimpshake, Sodastream and most notably/notoriously The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. El Presidente, and subject of most of the onstage banter at Indietracks, Sean Price takes up our enquiries, giving up some fascinating thoughts and news of things to come:
Why start a label?
I love music but I'm completely tone deaf, arhythmic and as ugly as sin so I was never going to be a pop star and never will be, as anyone who's seem me playing in a band will tell you. Also I work in IT when all I ever wanted to do was to write. Dull, dull, dull. Starting a label was another way to be involved in music and to be involved in something creative.
What's your ethos?
Be true to your school.
Have you been influenced by any labels?
For sure. I was a big Echo & The Bunnymen fan because they had this mystique about them, and then I found out that a lot of this was down to their manager Bill Drummond and the situationist ideas he would apply to managing them, like having them do a tour of ley lines in remote Scottish towns, so Drummond and Dave Balfe's label Zoo. Again with Orange Juice there was this character behind the Postcard label called Alan Horne, and with the Velvets there was Warhol, and then the Mary Chain were connected with Alan McGee and all that early Creation stuff which I adored. They made running a record label look almost as much fun as being in a band. There were a couple of label compilations that I really liked, a Creation Records comp called Doing It For The Kids and Shadow Factory on Sarah, and I suppose they must have fed into my idea of a label being a cool thing in its own right, not just some crappy business. Sarah Records came a bit later on but they were just as much of an inspiration, but more because they seemed more like me and their label seemed to be run on half a shoestring.
What do you initially look/hope for in a prospective signing?
Oh, it's pretty simple, that (a) i love the songs and (b) i can go down the pub with the band. I don't release records I don't like even though sometimes I'm offered stuff that I can hear is going to be big, and I don't release records by wankers no matter how good their music is, life's too short. Sometimes in the past I've been guilty of releasing bands that I merely think are good, not great, but I think I've become more circumspect, and sometimes I've released records by bands that turn out to be wankers only I haven't noticed at the time. But that's another story.
What else should people looking to send you a demo know?
I don't like saxophones and I don't like Serbian death metal; saying you're influenced by Oasis and / or The Libertines betrays a serious lack of imagination; it's great that you recorded these songs direct to cassette in your bedroom but asking me to imagine them with a full orchestra recorded in a proper studio may be beyond even me; it pays to be polite, and it also pays to show some inkling that you know what my label is about; I know your band doesn't sound like anyone else ever in the history of recorded music but if a picture paints a thousand words a list of influences will convince me to listen way more than that 15 page rambling abstract description of your sound. I could go on.
If push comes to shove, what would be the most satisfying thing you’ve done through the label to date?
It used to be blagging The Lucksmiths the support slot on a Jonathan Richman tour, but these days it's watching Allo Darlin' grow up.
What's your biggest selling release to date?
It's a toss-up between The Loves' last album and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart's album. Well, give or take a couple of zeros.
Anyone notable that you’re willing to admit you passed up on?
The Mercury award nominated I Am Kloot. I trailed John Bramwell's previous solo incarnation Johnny Dangerously around Manchester for years and was about to release a single with him when he said "I can't do this by myself, I've formed a band with my mates. It's called Herry." I'm like, 'Herry? Have another think mate'. Two weeks later and it's "OK, got another name. 'I Am Kloot'". I said, "Good luck with that!". The single I was going to release, Titanic, became Kloot's first release. I'm being slightly facetious about the name thing... I actually thought he was better solo.
What is the future of the common or garden record label?
I watch those BBC4 documentaries about Rough Trade and read books about Creation Records with great envy that the times are gone when you could sell out of a pressing of 1000 7" singles in the first week just from a play on Peel or a review in NME. It's tough to break even selling music and even successful bands make their money by playing live and from getting their music in films and adverts. I don't think the self-funded part-time indie label will cease to exist though, as there are always enough nutters around who will do it for the love of it and don't care about losing money. I think it's tougher at the next level up though, the small labels who do it full-time, and those labels will become more like management companies and will have to get involved with live stuff and synchronisation (films & adverts) in order to make it work financially.
Do you still believe in the physical product?
Yes, to some extent, but then I'm not 14 years old. I like 7" singles and I know lots of people who still do but whether that will still be the case in five or ten years I don't know. What's encouraging is the number of young people into indiepop who like to buy the vinyl so long as it comes with free mp3s of the songs. I don't know really. I feel that the format shouldn't be the most important thing yet I find it difficult to visualise running a label that doesn't manufacture physical product. I'm going to have to work this one out with myself.
One thing you've learned about being a label boss and can pass on to anyone looking to do likewise?
think there are two kinds of indie label, the one that is happy selling to a core audience and the one that wants to get their bands heard by people beyond that. I fall into the latter, but I certainly don't think one kind is any more valid that the other. What I've learned is only really relevant if you're the latter kind of label, and it might seem a bit depressing, but the fact is just releasing good records isn't enough. Press and radio is the oxygen for sales and works in tandem with distribution, and if you want good press and good radio you're either going to have to put a lot of work into doing it yourself or pay people to do it. And I guess that's what I've learnt, that the more you invest, the more you put in, the better the results are likely to be. That was pretty dull huh?
What have you got coming up?
Loads of good shit.
Next up [today, in fact] is the new Pipettes album which is a great pop (in the real sense of the word) record with a bit of 70s disco thrown in that's going to confuse the hell out of everyone who has Fortuna POP! marked as just an indiepop label, then a Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern album. To me Darren is one of the great British songwriters and he's really hitting his stride now after Hefner. Then in November there's a new Milky Wimpshake album which is no radical departure but is full of class pop tunes as you would expect.
There's also a new Bearsuit single to be followed by an album in the new year which is absolutely brilliant, produced by Gareth Parton who also produced The Go! Team, very synth-heavy and in your face without losing any of their insanity; Comet Gain have been recording with Edwyn Collins, Ryan from The Cribs and Alasdair from The Clientele which is more than exciting and that will be out next year too; The Loves have decided to "retire" but what will be their last record is easily the best thing they've done... a single from them this year and then an album, again early next year.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have just finished recording their new album with Flood (no kidding) and they'll be mixing it in a couple of weeks with Alan Moulder (get us!), so that should be out in the next few months. And then there are a couple of other exciting things in the pipeline too that will have to remain secrets until they're confirmed. Watch this space.