A Grammy winning artist, writer and long time Radiohead collaborator (having worked with the band since the My Iron Lung EP), Stanley Donwood has spent much of the past few years building an impressive resume as the artist de jour in alternative rock circles. However, prompted by a drunken idea in the Christmas of 2006, Donwood has put away the paint for the time being to develop a new idea for his own boutique record label 6 Inch Records, launched this month with a series limited edition runs (333 copies of each record sold at £6.66 each). We caught up with the man himself to discuss cornflakes, cocaine and the financial vagaries of such a venture:
So then, what prompted the move from behind the easel to behind the desk marked "label boss"?!
I haven't got a desk yet. I'm using the kitchen table. Eventually I will have a desk littered with executive toys, banknotes and cocaine, and my every whim will be catered for by servile lackeys. And I will have a convertible and a chauffeur instead of a bicycle. And a villa in Spain instead of an allotment in Somerset. You don't get all that by hanging around behind easels, covered in paint and moaning about Damien Hirst.
Tell us a bit about the artists you’ve chosen to work with on this venture – did you know of them before the idea came about to release records or are these the fruits of several months scouting through Myspace?
Yes, I kind of knew them. I already had a cassette copy of Patrick Bell's Travel Notes and a 10" vinyl record of The Joy of Living's The Beyond Within. And I knew what sort of music Mara Carlyle and Max de Wardener made, so I thought I'd ask them to collaborate with me and each other. I don't really use MySpace because the pages look so fucking ugly.
And what is it in those three artists that sparked with you?
I once wanted to become an archaeologist; the prospect of excavating forgotten objects greatly appealed to me. I'd been sent one of 12 cassettes of Patrick Bell's Travel Notes and I wanted other people to hear it, I suppose. Likewise with The Joy of Living; they'd sent me a limited edition 10" vinyl which I really liked. They remastered the record for the Six Inch Records release, and now appear to have transformed from a two piece band into a five piece. Mara Carlyle and Max de Wardener (Max de Mara) are both musicians I met when they were on Matthew Herbert's Accidental label and I was doing some artwork for Matthew. They both create extremely interesting sounds, so I asked them to do something for Six Inch Records.
And you’ve created some quite unique packaging for these records… what was the idea behind the uniform look and the packaging of these records?
Music as product. On the one hand I used the same stuff they use to make cornflake packets, thus crassly referencing the way in which record companies traditionally see artistes, but also I wanted the music to be free of visual propaganda; also it gave me a chance to muck about with lead type and woodblock type.
How close to the truth is the blog on your site, that you’ve already worked out that this little venture will lose money? That would appear to reflect a very different set of values to your Cornflake pushers of this world; Artistic Integrity before commerce... was this an overriding irony or an unlucky coincidence?!
I think I prefer overriding irony, because it reflects more kindly on my levels of common sense. Yes, I'm pretty certain the whole project will lose money. I'm going to put the final accounts on the website. What with manufacturing costs, dispatch company fees, postage of the CDs to the latter, and putting on a launch night I'll be amazed if we come out ahead, or even. And if I do make anything I have to give half to the musicians. That's always the problem with being CEO of a record company. Musicians. Can't live with them, can't make records without them...
As someone who has done a lot of work packaging records in the past how do you feel about the digitisation of the industry? Do you still think there is a place for music as a "package" as opposed to the convenient non tangible fix of a download…?
I do, but then I would, wouldn't I? I think that there is something atavistic in people that makes them desire objects rather than concepts. It's interesting how newspapers haven't disappeared, and there are now more books published than ever.
Are you embracing the digital angle at all with 6 Inch? Having seen the In Rainbows launch last year from ringside you must have had some ideas and insights into ways of embracing the technology...
No, not with Six Inch Records. I have had some interesting conversations about future projects though. I'm still investigating possibilities...
Can you offer any insight into what those future projects might be?
Nothing definite. Touch and hearing aren't necessarily connected at all, so there is always some level of compromise to both when you wrap a CD in paper, certainly when you follow the 'traditional' model (cheap though it might be). There are loads of small labels who offer both high quality vinyl and FLAC downloads, with MP3 thrown in for those who might want it. That seems to me to be a pretty good way of getting music. Having said that, I did this Six Inch Records thing as an art project. It'll lose money. I'm not a businessman. Wah.
And finally, where do you think boutique labels like 6 inch sit in the grand scheme of thing? Are they still a vital component of the industry or is the shop front filled with two many cash-in vanity projects? - Noel Gallagher's Sour Mash label for instance being a prime example of a label set up on a whim to peddle sub standard product...
I'm not qualified to comment as I know nothing about either boutique labels or Noel Gallagher. But I am a fan of small labels; Leaf is one of my especial favourites. I kind of like the idea of bedroom labels, set up for the love of it, like fanzines. Destined to appeal to only a few lunatics. Like me.
Six Inch Records will be holding a launch night on Friday 30th January from 8pm - 2am at Sketch, 9 Conduit St, London W1S 2XG. Tickets are £6.66 advance only from ticketweb.co.uk or seetickets.com