The British music scene has been built upon the foundations laid by young men and women creating their own bedroom-based homes for bands that might otherwise have been passed up by a more fickle or less risk-taking mainstream. They’re all over the country, these small operations. Some fail, some blossom.
Holy Roar are one of these labels likely to outgrow their roots before long, with an admirably diverse and critically acclaimed back catalogue already theirs to call their own. Working with a number of bands already of serious note – Gallows and Rolo Tomassi among them – while it’s perhaps too early to judge their impact on the wider music world, their underground profile is rising and rising. Their future looks bright, and their friends are many and growing.
In anticipation of the upcoming Holy Roar vs DiS show at RoTa (Notting Hill Arts Club, London; details) this Saturday (September 8), our own Gareth Dobson speaks to Alex and Ellen, the co-founders of Holy Roar. Why both? Because they couldn't decide who would be the better mouthpiece for the label. Tsk.
Why did you start Holy Roar? Can you give us a brief but informative history of your fine label?
Alex: Holy Roar has its roots in Birmingham a few years back. We ran a website there, www.thecommunion.co.uk. As an extension of the website we put together a compilation of great local, national and international bands. It bombed, but we caught the bug for releasing stuff. We moved to London in January 2006, and wanted to give the whole record label thing another stab. Our first Holy Roar release was pressed in June 2006. Since then, at the time of writing, we have put out six releases, two of which have sold out. We have another four releases planned to be out by the end of the year.
What was your aim with the label at the beginning?
Alex: Simply to put out great bands that didn’t follow stupid trends, in great packaging. Each band had to be filled with great people who wanted to work as hard as us.
Ellen: There was no strategic business plan, we dived in and spent (and wasted) a lot of money at the beginning. It’s kind of worked.
Given that you've released some notable things - Rolo Tomassi and Gallows spring to mind - have your aims and ambitions shifted now?
Alex: I guess so, but only really in terms of the maturity and growth of the label. We do take it more seriously now than we did in the beginning, and that might be partly the result of some minor successes. But at the same time, more importantly, we don’t see any reason as to why we should stagnate or put a glass ceiling on anything Holy Roar does. Of course we want to grow and be seen as more professional, but we want to do this without losing any of the aesthetics or friendliness upon which we have built the label.
Ellen: We can’t really be accused of changing our path, or ‘selling out’, or getting too big, because we never ‘sold in’ in the first place. From the word go we were about doing things our own way, which doesn’t stick to any grandiose ambitions or petty ideals. If anything we’ve improved our work ethic and grown, but that’s only natural. We’re happy to expand the Holy Roar empire.
What's been the most satisfying release on Holy Roar?
Alex: This is a really hard question. It’s like asking us to choose between children. Aesthetically speaking, the Kayo Dot/Bloody Panda split 12” and the Cutting Pink With Knives album are both more than a bit nice. In terms what the band has gone on to do, it would have to be Rolo Tomassi. We had no real expectations for them – apart from knowing that they were awesome, obviously – and now their Untitled CD is about to reach its second pressing after only nine months of being widely available. Which is incredible for an EP that, on release, had minimal support from press and radio.
Ellen: Satisfying?! I agree with the Kayo Dot/Bloody Panda split because it was a really ambitious release, but when we got the records back they just looked and sounded so good. They’re really special.
What advice would you give other people starting up their own label?
Alex: Don’t do it unless you want to be completely broke and want to work stupid hours. It will consume your life. However, if it is something you simply must do, and is a complete passion and you have artists that you love, respect and get on with, then it will be the most fulfilling thing you could ever do as a music fan. On a more tangible level, we think PR is more important than advertising. Putting time and money into your packaging pays off, and don’t work with bands and artists that you don’t get to know as people.
Ellen: Be prepared for no-one professionally to help you out, or really give a shit, until you start shifting units. Do not underestimate the value of touring.
Do you have any direct influences or heroes in terms of other labels or artists?
Alex: With my background, I’m inspired by Aaron Turner of Isis and Hydrahead Records, and Jacob Bannon of Converge/Deathwish Inc. They both play in bands and run labels (Alex is a member of Cutting Pink With Knives). Also, Andy Low of Robotic Empire, Greg Drudy of Hot Cross/Level Plane Records and early Undergroove releases in general. Constellation Records, too, for their consistent efforts with packaging. There isn’t much in this country that inspires us though, to be honest. As for particular artists: Phoenix Bodies in the way they consistently present themselves and any band that does their own (good) artwork and works really hard.
Ellen: Southern has a really admirable work ethic. There are a lot of great UK labels around right now who I admire loads as they give you a bit of hope that perhaps there are people who care about stuff beyond ‘scenes’ and just do things the way they want to. I’m thinking about We Heart Records, BSM, Danger Laser Phaser Razor, Iapetus and more.
You've picked up some prime young bands recently. How did you persuade bands like Rolo Tomassi, Cutting Pink With Knives and Gallows to work with Holy Roar?
Alex: By offering them loads of cash and drugs. Actually, we never ‘persuade’ bands to work with us. Every band seems to have a different situation – we already knew Rolo Tomassi from putting them on in our (old) front lounge in Birmingham; Gallows bought t-shirts off us on a website forum and that relationship went from there; and so on. We just hope that these bands see that we are honest and hardworking and friendly and approachable. That’s it. There are no big secrets or hidden agendas with us, which is probably refreshing to bands having to trawl through so much bullshit these days.
Ellen: I’m not sure any labels ‘persuade’ bands to put out their records. With us it’s just a few e-mails then sealed with a high-five. Cutting Pink With Knives took a while. As Alex is in the band and does Holy Roar he had a five-hour discussion about it with himself then decided it would be a good idea.
Do you expect your bands to move on? Or can you provide a career for artists? Where does band loyalty sit these days? Or is it more of a happy commune of rock?
Alex: At this stage we actually hope that our bands move on to bigger and better things if the possibility arises. With us being a young, poor, independent label, we simply can not throw £20,000 at a video, £20,000 on advertising and so on. Those figures are currently ridiculous to us. As it stands, until we can organically grow a bit more, we would love nothing more than for bigger labels to notice what we are doing and to be considered bastions of good taste!
Ellen: This is interesting, actually, because we’ve been referred to as a ‘corporate stepping stone’, which is daft on a lot of levels. I’d have no qualms if a band was offered an incredible deal with a major or a big indie; I wouldn’t expect loyalty at that level when they would be getting so much more. We don’t do ‘three album deals’ or anything like that, so bands are free to do whatever they want, but I hope that if one release goes well enough with us they might consider sticking around. Holy Roar HQ could definitely be described as a ‘happy commune of rock’ though. I think we should start charging rent.
People taking a swift glance at your roster might think you're a punk rock / hardcore label - do you (dis)agree? Do you want to sign the next Pink Floyd as well?
Alex: We don’t think it’s that easy to pigeonhole us. There’s a bunch of people who like the avant-doom of Kayo Dot and Bloody Panda who probably like nothing else on our label. There are also undoubtedly Gallows fans who don’t care about anything else we have released because they only like Gallows as Kerrang! told them to. Finally, there are also people who like the synth-driven stuff by Rolo Tomassi and Cutting Pink With Knives, who don’t give a shit about hardcore. We do however want to branch out further musically – indie, singer/songwriter, electronica, whatever – if we like it. If they have the right attitude then it’s right for Holy Roar.
Ellen: NONE of our bands sound the same. CPWK and RT both have synths but generally they’re all really different, so people saying we only put out one type of music is a bit small-minded. I don’t think either of us are interested in finding the next Pink Floyd, but the next Joy Division or Blur or Bloc Party would be fine by us. We are totally not just about ‘noisy guitars and shouting’; I just listen to indie rock, anyway. It’s just we haven’t found the right indie rock band to put an album out by. We’re still looking, so please send us demos.
We all know that running a small or specialist label such as yours is a hard affair. Financially speaking, how do you keep things afloat?
Alex: Recently by selling t-shirts of our bands to be honest! Also to be factored in is that we take all our releases to a lot of gigs to sell, and we trade our releases with other labels so we have a greater variety of stock. Doing special offers online always helps, too.
What are you most excited about in the near future of Holy Roar?
Alex: A tape compilation we have coming out at Christmas with rare and unreleased tracks by all our bands and a load of other bands that we like, which will be limited to 100 copies. Also the prospect of finding new artists to be on Holy Roar.
Ellen: Also I think Rapturefest (link) and the Holy Roar vs DiS RoTa will be incredible, along with going to Holland with CPWK, who are playing at ZXZW.
If Holy Roar was a football team, who would it be? (Please justify…)
Alex: Tottenham Hotspur. We never seem to win, but we are usually well positioned in the top half of the league.
Ellen: Does Croydon have a football team?
You're hosting a Holy Roar showcase with DiS this September - what can we expect?
Alex: BROOTS PIT JUSTICE. Honestly, though – hopefully just a rammed little venue with some great bands playing. And it’s free. Sounds like an all-round winner to me.
Ellen: Us and friends, great DJing, great bands, drink, fun… what more do you need? It’s going to be a Holy Roar love-in, and we have a lot of love.
Tell us a Holy Roar secret.
Alex: We put out the Bloody Panda split 12” because I found a demo of theirs in a New York record shop. I bought that demo on a whim because I liked the cover without knowing what it would sound like whatsoever. That’s probably quite an interesting way to find an artist for your label!
Ellen: Alex likes Paramore. Loads.
More information on Holy Roar can be found at their MySpace, which in turn links to their website proper (people still have those?). Click here.
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