Shoegaze Week: Label Focus # 27: Northern Star Records
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Completing our trilogy of record labels exclusively operating in the shoegaze field and its many related sub-genres is the excellent Northern Star.
Based in London and run by Scott Causer, who also doubles up as a member of ambient outfit Perfect Blue, they first came to our attention three years ago thanks to the excellent Psychedelica Volume 1 compilation, which introduced the likes of God Is An Astronaut and The Nova Saints to these ears for the first time, and since then their records have proved something of an introduction to many exciting new bands such as The Black Angels, Youngteam and The December Sound.
In June, their latest compilation, Revolution In Sound will once again be showcasing many new acts among a mix of established artists, so DiS thought this would be an appropriate time to catch up with Scott Causer and find out just what makes him and his label tick...
What made you start the label and how did Northern Star Records come about?
I was making music under the name The Electric Mainline. I’d put a profile up on MySpace and started swapping music with The Black Angels, The Stevenson Ranch Davidians, The Dolly Rocker Movement and a lot of other bands. I suddenly realised I had all this great music which no-one was putting out so I thought I'd do it myself. I was in contact with a friend of mine who ran a fanzine and we put our heads together and the result was Northern Star Records. Psychedelica Volume 1 kickstarted the whole thing back in March 2006.
Your Psychedelica compilation series has brought several new artists widespread attention - Nova Saints, The Black Angels and God Is An Astronaut to name but three. Do you see Northern Star as almost like an A&R label for the whole shoegaze and psychedelia genre?
Yes I guess the label could be used in this way, although I don’t particularly see it that way myself. This is the music I love and there are a few bands I’d definitely work with and put out were it not for financial constraints. However, saying that, other labels would have to be stupid not to pay attention to what I’m doing here. They should just sack their A&R departments and invest in my albums - I’m doing the job for them for a mere £9.99 per double CD when I should be charging them more! On a serious note, several labels do pick up on the albums. I know for a fact of a certain major label who pre-order copies as they’re announced and some of the bands who appear have been picked up by labels as a direct result of having appeared on the compilations. Appearing on a Northern Star compilation has become a validation of how good a band really is and this is the reason why so many bands want to appear on the compilations and why so many labels have their eye on what I’m doing.
What has been your proudest moment with the label to date?
One of the weirdest was walking in to a club in New York and listening to them play an album I’d compiled in my bedroom – that was pretty surreal. I’m always proud of when people tell me they’ve formed bands from listening to the compilations. It was also nice being recognised by Billboard. However, I guess the proudest moment for me to date, was when the pressing of Psychedelica Volume Three arrived and it was 100% everything I wanted it to be. I wouldn’t want to run the risk of sounding arrogant and I’m not going to claim its the greatest compilation ever made, but its definitely in the top one!
Has there ever been a time when you've thought "I don't know if I want to do this any more"?
There have been occasions when it's not being so much "not wanting to do it anymore" but not wanting to do it in a certain way. I’ve been running Northern Star on my own for over a year now but for the first two albums I ran Northern Star with a partner. As much as I love what we achieved with the first two albums, when you work with someone else there has to be an element of compromise - there came a point whereby I didn’t want to compromise anymore and so I guess then has been the only time where I considered not doing it and even then, I would have done something else. But fortunately that didn’t happen and everything worked itself out. It's been over a year now and I relish the freedom to put out music as I please. I can’t keep away from music – its my life and its in my blood...
If a band wanted to contact you with regards to being on the label, do you have a strict policy on what their sound is like or influenced by?
No not all. It's as simple as if I love their music then I’ll work with them and if I don’t I won’t. I aspire for Northern Star to be all-inclusive. I’m a massive fan of music and I never turn anyone away. I Iisten in to absolutely everyone who comes my way. Anyone wanting to send me some music should feel free to contact me direct at email@example.com - I have been approached by no end of bands who are neither psychedelic nor shoegaze but they do share influences with some of the existing Northern Star bands and have that special "something" which somehow makes them Northern Star quality. I currently work with some acts of these selling their music off the site and they will be appearing on future projects. A good example of this is an electronica act called Delicasession who make the most incredible dance music which is not that far removed from the bands I deal with. I have them lined up to appear on the next Northern Star compilation, Revolution In Sound. However, saying this, there are some no-nos to adhere to when sending a demo in. I do despise progressive rock in all its forms and for some reason I do get a lot of hippies in wizard hats trying to stake their claim on the compilations – sorry guys it ain’t gonna happen! I also get a lot of contact from hip hop acts. Now I’m quite partial to a bit of hip hop but unfortunately I’m Northern Star Records from the UK and not North Star Records from California as much as I’d like to be located there. Also being "well connected" isn’t enough in itself to get you on. There have been bands in the past who believe their divine right is to be on the albums due to the people they hang out with. Well, unfortunately for them, I only work with bands who I 100% believe in. I’m not interested in fakers or scenesters, it's music, music, music all the way. Being a high profile act is certainly no guarantee. I turned down two high profile acts for Psychedelica Volume 2. One very high profile act were turned down as they sounded to my ears like a piss poor Jesus & Mary Chain tribute act. To this day I’m mystified by their success but hey... there’s a lot to be said for hype. Another act was turned down simply because they provided me with a crap track taking away four precious minutes of my life which I’ll never ever get back. They remain unforgiven in crimes against music. Being a tenth rate Brian Jonestown Massacre/Spacemen 3 tribute act will never get you on either. I have great respect for both bands. I have had The Brian Jonestown Massacre on ..Vol: 1 and Sonic Boom remixed a track for Psychedelica Three. I’ve had the ‘real deal.’ It's cool to be influenced and we’re all influenced somewhere down the line, but I have to hear one more piss poor version of 'Take Me To The Other Side' I’m going to scream! I know I sound like a right awkward bastard but I will only follow up music which genuinely moves me or makes me want to climb up the curtains. Life is way too short for anything else. Unless the music inspires anything less than rabid enthusiasm I won’t take it any further. I do hope this sheds some light on the selection process!
Your new compilation, Revolution In Sound, comes out in the next few weeks. What can you tell me about this and how does it differentiate from the 'Psychedelica' series?
The truth is it's not that great a departure from Psychedelica but it is several steps forward. The album features bands who have appeared on the Psychedelica series such as The Nova Saints, The December Sound, Youngteam and The Electric Mainline but it is also a step away and does open up a lot more, so the bands I feature are not just psychedelic or shoegaze, although some do take similar influences and are related in one way or another. It's just great music! I receive so much great music, some of which blatantly isn’t psychedelic and so haven’t been able to put them on the Psychedelica series. Revolution In Sound is a way for me to work with these bands and expose their music to a wider audience. The people who bought the Psychedelica albums will love this. Revolution In Sound will also open up their horizons to other new music and enable the music itself to open up to a wider audience. I have high aspirations for Northern Star and the bands I work with and I want to reach out further.
You've also recently put out the excellent Missnojesbandet long player by Swedish band Youngteam. How did you first get to hear of them and what persuaded you and them to work together?
I didn’t so much put it out as "make it available." The first I heard about them was when they approached me and said they liked what I was doing, then sent me some songs, then when I got their CD it just blew me away how incredibly good they were. So I made it available from the website and I put a song by them on Psychedelica Three which has become many people’s favourite track off the whole album. They're a fantastic band, very diverse. They have obvious shoegaze influences but they also make some beautiful dreamy psychedelia, there’s so many twists and turns in their music and they always surprise me. I adore them – you can just put their music on and float away.
If there is anything you could change about Northern Star, either past or present, what would it be? I wouldn’t change a thing to be honest. Obviously there would be things I would do differently. There’s so much to learn about with press, distribution and the business side of things - it's all been a huge learning curve. If I were to start it all again, there would be certain things I wouldn’t do of course. For instance, in my opinion, there’s one or two bands on the first two compilations who should never have been on it, but that comes out of the tension of two people pulling in different directions. Now I have complete 100% freedom to put out the music I like so that will never happen again. You learn by your mistakes and if I hadn’t have gone through this process then Psychedelica Three would never have happened so I have no regrets. I dare say more mistakes will be made business wise but I’m way more clued up now than when we started. I have no time to look back, I have to keep looking forward.
What are your future release schedules for the rest of 2009?
Revolution In Sound is next and is schedeuled for release this summer, and later on in the year Psychedelica Four will appear. I’m currently compiling this now so if any bands reading this fancy their chances and want to get in touch, then please feel free to do so. I’ve also got a very special surprise for later on in the year which is so good, its difficult for me to keep my big mouth shut but I’m going to have to, so you’ll have to wait and see!
Are there any plans to expand the label or distribution outlet in the forseeable future?
Northern Star is currently being distributed by Southern Record Distributors who have done a great job of getting the last album out in the shops. This had a huge impact on operations and the way things are done for Northern Star, so long may that continue. I envisage Northern Star working with bands on individual releases. There are certain bands I want to work with right now. Northern Star has a cult following and we’re one of the very few independents selling CDs at this present moment in time. Finances are the limiting factor but if I could get financial backing the sky would be the limit. I plan to expand the label so we’re not just putting out psychedelic music but we’re reaching out to more people. It won’t be too far removed and the music will still be handpicked by me but I don’t want to be limited or pigeonholed as a psychedelic label. I don’t really care for genres – I want Northern Star to become a byword for great music.
The album Revolution In Sound, which features The December Sound, The Manhattan Love Suicides, Maribel, Mint Ive and many others is out on Northern Star Records in June.
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