Our occasional series of chats with label bosses gets round to Jack PoP from the inventive, committed and fast rising Alcopop! empire.
Why start a label?
You know how when you’re a fresh faced teen who’s just learnt to drive, you’ve installed a bass tube in the back of your Fiat Panda Dance (I honestly did this) and you can’t wait to give your mates lifts so you can inflict all your favourite music on them? Well, running a label’s a bit like that, but with loads more reach! It’s such an honour to hear a band I love, and be able to work with them to get their records out, and push them to new achievements and dig the reaction of people who appreciate where we’re coming from.
What's your ethos?
I guess what Kev and I (the entire Alcopop backroom staff) always strive for is to be fiercely independent, and consistently pushing new and exciting ways and ideas to get music we genuinely love out there. We like to be personable too. We don’t want to be pushing to be a monolithic label in the major mould – it’s more about the community. Bringing fans and bands closer together, and making people who buy the music feel special too. Alcopop is not just about the bands and us. It’s about everyone who wants to get involved whether they’re into buying stuff, going to gigs, helping out or whatever.
Have you been influenced by any labels?
Loads! There are so many people at good indie labels (most notably Big Scary Monsters, Hassle, Holy Roar, Walnut Tree, Pandycane and Moshi Moshi) who are always ripe for inspiration and ideas – and a few (who I shan’t name) that do things really badly and are useful to keep an eye on! Perhaps my biggest inspiration though, and the reason I got into all this in the first place, is Fierce Panda – who were not only the source of some of my favourite ever bands, but also personally amazing! I remember writing to them once when I was in my first year at university, about a radio feature I was penning about them. Not only did they write back with some lovely info/ ideas – but sent me test pressing vinyl, stickers and all sorts. I was enamoured and immediately decided all labels should be like that.
What do you initially look/hope for in a prospective signing?
First and foremost it has to be the music. Obviously. We only work with stuff we love (we’ve literally had bands getting in touch before saying they’ll pay for everything, yet still split profits 50/50 if we release on the label - Not going to happen), but there’s more to it as well. Ideally (though not necessarily)...
- we’ll get on with them
- They’ll have a semblance of a fanbase
- Be working hard with gigging etc
- They’ll get the first round in
What else should people looking to send you a demo know?
Most of all that although we listen to every demo, I literally can’t tell you how much I love a bit of creativity when it comes to music packages – and the feeling that the band actually want to be with Alcopop, rather than just printing off a list from the unsigned guide and shipping out 250 unsolicited CDs. It doesn’t mean we’ll definitely sign a band, but I’ll put it on wanting to love it. We had some guys recently who sent the CD, hand written letter, badges, hand-knitted wrist band and a T-Shirt. Awesome stuff!
If push comes to shove, what would be the most satisfying thing you’ve done through the label to date?
Hmmm – tough to say really, but it may well be the response we got to the Alcopopular compilations. We dug the idea, but really we had no idea how well a map in a bottle would be received. Then we had loads of lovely emails, ace blog posts and the NME called it the "coolest compilation ever" which was pretty ace. Stagecoach being the first Alcopop band to represent at Reading/Leeds was pretty swell too.
What's your biggest selling release to date?
We’ve had a number of singles and EPs sell out in the past (Pavilion, Elephants, Attika State, My First Tooth), but probably the best seller has been the map in a bottle compilation – Alcopopular 3. It’s gone an awesome line up (Unicorn Kid, Pulled Apaprt by Horses, Tellison, Stagecoach etc) and you know – it’s a real tea-stained map in an Alcopop bottle. Feast of PoP (Alcopopular 4) is catching up too I think – people dig the menu and the fact the discs come in a plush burger CD case.
Anyone notable that you’re willing to admit you passed up on?
Ah, there’s been a few but I stand by our choices... The only one I regret slightly is that Dinosaur Pile-Up got in touch about Alcopopular 2 and said they loved the tape vibe and wanted to be on the next one – and we never really sorted it out before they got all big. Actually – sod it, I’m gonna try for them on PoP 5.
Do you still believe in the physical product?
My pet hate is when bands, labels, management or whatever send whiney messages bitching about how not enough people are supporting them, seeing them live or buying their stuff. Our job is to put the effort in to release such great stuff (both musically and aesthetically) that people can’t help but want it! So yeah – I totally believe in the physical product, and while a whole lot of people would rather buy digital (and fair play to them), there’s still a whole lot of people out there who love buying something they can hold. Something that looks like hot stuff. And we want to make those releases as exciting as we can.
What's the idea behind the various incarnations of Alcopopular?
Alcopopular is an extension of our ideal that we want to make something a little special of every record. We believe we’re putting out some of the best stuff in the country, so it deserves as much effort from our part as we can. Whether that be with a bonus acoustic disc, hand-crafted map or big burger case and menu. It’s all about opening up the package from Alcopop, and bloody loving it before you’ve even listened to the music! And then when you do it’ll feel like birthday and Christmas all in one (or so we hope anyway)
What is the future of the common or garden record label?
Strong I think. Some bands can do it all themselves and why not if that suits them, but I feel that massively passionate, low-overhead, indie labels can bring new contacts, creativity, different listeners and a real community to ace bands coming through – and do wonders in propelling them forward. I believe that major labels are a spent force though. They’ll survive as ghosts of their former selves – but the future is here for labels that communicate, innovate and keep things fresh. The day I don’t love Alcopop from the bottom of my heart I’ll quit – because there’s space for all of us indie labels, but only those with real passion and ambition for their bands!
One thing you've learned about being a label boss and can pass on to anyone looking to do likewise?
One – make sure to explore all the options when putting out your records. Expensive might not always be the way to go... For example, don’t just spend a huge wad of cash on pressing up a whole lot of standard jewel case EPs, when perhaps a more creative, hand-made or limited edition packaging may be cheaper and more effective. Think from the ‘punters’ point of view, and if you were they, what kind of release would you be more likely to want in your possession. Two – Ensure to have at least one band in your roster whose manager has a generous expense account.
What have you got coming up?
It’s been a fairly exciting last couple of months in truth, with The Attika State and My First Tooth albums finally having seen the light of day, and there’s loads more to roll in the end of 2011! Firstly, in the form of Johnny Foreigner, who not only are releasing their brand new 12" EP with us *much excitement*, but also a split 7" tour record with the mighty Stagecoach with each band covering the other. All good! Elsewhere we have a wonderful EP from Oxford newcomers Ute in early December, a band who I really can’t stress enough that you must keep your eyes onÉ (SO good). Then we’ll have a Christmas Party or two, an awesome sampler split with probably my favourite other label in the world right now - and we’re brewing some mighty exciting plans for 2011. Keep an eye on updates at www.ilovealcopop.co.uk or twitter @ilovealcopop – and much wintry love to you all!