Much of the music I listen to would not reach me without the support of independent groups, individuals and organisations In the music business. I am always curious as to how these people tarted out in the music industry, or often found themselves in the said place. One of my favourite independent labels is Sonic Cathedral, a label that like many others has evolved and grown in different incarnations, every guise having the same core tenet at heart – music is visceral, vital, wonderful and to be enjoyed. Shoegaze to the core, celebratory in style, they are the current home of Young Husband, Happy Families and Dean Wareham. I caught up with the guys to learn more and have my curiosity abated…
First off, can you give me some background? When and how did Sonic Cathedral start?
It started as a club night and it was supposed to be a one-off. On October 23, 2004 I put on The Radio Dept at The Legion on Old Street and DJed loads of old shoegaze records, essentially for fun. The place was beyond rammed, people of all ages came along, some wearing dusted off old Slowdive T-shirts that had been in the wardrobe since 1991; it was like all these people had finally got somewhere to go that reflected their love of this music. I felt I had to carry on doing nights and then, a couple years later, the label just came about as the logical next step and has since grown into what it is today. I hate to use the word organically, but it’s the most appropriate. There was no five-year plan. In fact there was no plan at all. One thing has led to another and now I’ve released records for two of the artists I respect and admire more than anyone – Neil Halstead and Dean Wareham. I feel proud and extremely fortunate. (Then I remember I’m still skint!)
And more importantly, why?
See above, really. I started it for fun, essentially; an excuse to dust off all my old 12″ singles that I still loved and played. But when all those people showed up it had to carry on, it was like a public service! The label has taken on a similar feel these days – it’s nice to work with artists like Neil and Dean and release their records with the love and attention to detail that they deserve.
What makes Sonic Cathedral different?
The fact that I don’t have an office or any interns?!
Do artists even need a label these days? What do you do?
Maybe some don’t, but I still think the role of a label is an important one. I do think it’s changed a bit over the years – whereas once it was telling artists what to do and imposing ideas on them, these days it’s more a question of guidance and working alongside bands to help them realise their vision. For example, with the Younghusband album, myself and the band worked really closely with Heretic (the design collective) who did all of the artwork. It’s not just about spending money, either. Especially if you don’t have any like me.
How do you choose a band? Is it sound, lyrics, the feeling you get, or their personalities?
I guess it’s a combination of all those things and more. You just know when the right thing comes along I only ever release records I genuinely love, and as I’m only answerable to myself there are not too many arguments.
How important is a wotk ethic for a band, or should they focus solely on creativity?
Work ethic is important, and it’s great to have a band who are keen and hungry and resourceful. But if a band is more focused on the creative side of things then that is fine too, and that’s where the role of the label comes in handy as in the question above.
As genres and fashions change, is there any type of music that you think defines Sonic Cathedral?
Well, the club night was a shoegaze night. That was the whole point of Sonic Cathedral. But I’ve always resisted releasing straight up shoegaze copies. I always like people to add something of their own. And although that was the starting point for everything, a lot of what I release isn’t shoegaze at all – i guess the label’s grown into more of a reflection of my personal tastes.
What advice would you give a band looking for a label? What about someone thinking of setting one up?
Think about who you approach, don’t just fire off an email to everyone from the Music Week directory, or to a 1000 people on SoundCloud. What’s the point of that? A bit of research will give you a good idea of which label(s) would be right for you. The personal touch goes a long way. Spamming people with random MP3s just leads to deletion. And for people thinking of setting up a label, I’d say ‘don’t do it!’ and then I’d quantify that with a reminder that it’s really hard work, so make sure you really want to do it and you genuinely love the records you’re putting out. It may seem fun to begin with, but if you’re sat there filling in great big sheets of metadata at 2am, it really helps if you strongly believe in the end product.
Who should we be keeping our eye on?
Younghusband will go on to big things – their live shows are getting better and better. I’m excited to see what happens with Happy Families, whose debut single I release over the summer, and I’m also working with some really exciting bands from Mexico (Lorelle Meets The Obsolete) and the US (The Vacant Lots), both of whom will be releasing albums and touring next year.