They may for the most part deal with Sheffield bands alone, but Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation has still put together an enviable trail of success in its own sphere, from the Long Blondes, Monkey Swallows The Universe (and Nat Johnson's subsequent solo/with the Figureheads career) and Slow Down Tallahassee to more latterly Standard Fare and This Many Boyfriends, with plenty of interesting stuff in the middle. Label boss Darren Chuck talks us through it.
Why start a label?
That’s a question I continue to ask myself every day. I mean, on the small level that Thee SPC operates, bands could probably do a lot of it themselves. On the other hand, I guess I’ve got some expertise in the business side, whereas bands have the ability to pen tunes! So in answer to your question, start a label if you love a band and want them to get more exposure and they can’t do it themselves.
What's your ethos?
Try no to lose your bank balance.
Have you been influenced by any labels?
Pre-Sony Creation and Sarah Records have been a big influence. The former for their unconditional love and enthusiasm for their releases and the latter for their DIY-as-political-statement manifesto!
What do you initially look/hope for in a prospective signing?
I have to totally love their music for a start. Distinctive vocals are also very important to me. In so much new music the vocals are indistinguishable! I guess that’s mainly ‘cos of triple tracking and autotune, but even the more respected indie bands sound samey. Yawn. Give me Dave Gedge any day. It also helps if the band can get out and tour. You’d be surprised how difficult this can be for a band, especially if they’re older and have job/family responsibilities.
What else should people looking to send you a demo know?
Well, I’m currently booked up for releases and not looking at the moment!
If push comes to shove, what would be the most satisfying thing you’ve done through the label to date?
Putting out 7” singles is a joy, if risky financially. Watching bands develop is great. Without wanting to sound self-aggrandising, the simple fact that we’ve taken an interest in a band can build their confidence, which feeds back into their music. I guess some artists just need a bit of encouragement to blossom.
What's your biggest selling release to date?
The Monkey Swallows The Universe album we put out a few years ago sold really well and continues to sell, but I expect the Standard Fare album will eclipse it.
Anyone notable that you’re willing to admit you passed up on?
Gawd, where to begin! We were really interested in a young Sheffield band but took ages to bother contacting them. Eventually we approached them but by that time they had a manager with bigger plans. They were Arctic Monkeys. We did the same trick with an ace Sheffield band called Umlaut who signed to Fantastic Plastic while we twiddled our thumbs. One of us wanted to chase up Slow Club early on, but I didn’t think they were any good. Stupid me.
Do you still believe in the physical product?
As Sean Price said in a previous article, it really depends on your goals. I think nowadays you either have to go for a very niche, micro-label approach or spend large quantities of cash on PR, pluggers, tour support, etc. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground! Thee SPC has sorta shrunk a little and we’re deffo on the micro-label side of things. But we’re still around and that’s an achievement itself.
What is the future of the common or garden record label?
Yeah, I do. I listen to tons of music on the web, but I still prefer the audio quality of CDs. I suppose one day that’ll be the standard on the web. And vinyl is great fun, of course. Also, you can’t beat having a physical product to handle, with lyrics books, liner notes, inserts, artwork. There’s no denying that the market for physical records has shrunk, but it’s nowhere near disappearing completely.
One thing you've learned about being a label boss and can pass on to anyone looking to do likewise?
Things always take a lot longer and cost more than you expect!
What have you got coming up?
Slow Down Tallahassee release their second album Curly Cuh on the 21st February. Standard Fare have a new single Suitcase out on the 21st March, with an album to follow later this year, fingers crossed. Latest signings Japanese Sleepers have an EP out hopefully in March. We’re releasing a new EP from Cats For Peru in April and Champion Kickboxer have a new album called Thumbs which will be out in a couple of months.