Big Scary Monsters is one of those fine things: a proper independent label that has spent the past six years releasing many a varied record sure to delight most listeners. The current roster features the likes of the much-loved-by-DiS Meet Me In St Louis (coming to the end of a DiS-sponsored tour with Rolo Tomassi as you read this), Yndi Halda and Cats And Cats And Cats, amongst truly many others. Previously, the label issued the debut by acoustic troubadour Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, and has also released material by Jeniferever, Itch and Secondsmile. The fact that they let us get to the final of their inaugural five-a-side footy competition the other week means we like them even more then we should. Therefore, we figured we should really give them a label profile.
Thusly, we questioned founder and conspirator Kevin Douch about all things BSM. This is what transpired…
Please can you give us a brief but informative (possibly whimsical) potted history of Big Scary Monsters…
I started the label back when I was at sixth form, about five or six years ago now. Initially it was to help out a friend's band but also because I had a lot of spare time to fill, what with all the classes I could never be bothered to go to and all. It took a bit of time to get going properly, existing purely in name for quite some time, but I have since put out debut releases from Get Cape. Wear Cape Fly, Jeniferever, Secondsmile, Chariots, Yndi Halda and many more, with a current roster boasting ten bands including Meet Me In St Louis, This Town Needs Guns, Jairus, Cats And Cats And Cats and Richard Walters. The label has always been run from my bedroom in Oxford but next month will take a huge step up as I move into a new house and upgrade to a whole spare room! No more rolling out of bed onto boxes of CDs and computer wires for me! Now I have stairs to climb and a place on my wall for an employee of the month plaque.
What were your reasons for starting up Big Scary Monsters? Surely there are enough UK indies boasting the 'cream of the underground UK music scene' on their rosters? Justify yourself…
Well, as I said above, initially it was a distraction thing, but then it got a little more than that. A little out of hand, I guess you could say. I just sort of got hooked on the music industry. The amazing bands I got to work with, the fun I was having, the people I was meeting and the fact that I had a chance to escape the monotonous 9-to-5 working life a lot of people around me seemed only too happy to fall into. It's a selfish justification – I mean, how much fun I'm having doesn't have any bearing on anyone else’s life, does it? But I'd like to think that people can get something from the music I'm releasing and hopefully there's at least one band on the label that everyone who comes across it will be able to get into. It's a fairly eclectic affair after all.
You've picked up some prime young bands recently. How did you persuade bands of such pedigrees as Meet Me In St Louis, Yndi Haldi and Cats And Cats And Cats to work with BMS?
Meet Me In St Louis went on tour to eastern Europe with Secondsmile and Jairus back in October 2005. I was there, too, enjoying a cheap holiday and refusing to help carry equipment. After two weeks of falling in love with their spazzy dancing and even spazzier personalities it would've been rude not to ask them to put a record out. It's been a long time since then, and thankfully we're nearly there now - as long as it's taken to come together, you just won't believe how good their album, Variations On Swing, is! Yndi Halda and Cats And Cats And Cats are two bands I was aware of for some time before anything was agreed with the label. Friendships were born and bred through the wonder of MySpace long before we ever met in real life. Through all the spam and 15-year-old Avenged Sevenfold fans, that website is good for something! The way each band came to be on the label is quite self-evolving, with most bands being discovered / getting in touch via other associated artists or friends. They all ended up here one way or another, and now it's like a big happy family they've all married into. That's a nice and lame cliché to end that answer on, isn't it?
There's eclecticism in your label: does that reflect your personal taste? Or do you work with bands outside what would be in your record collection?
It's purely my taste. Some days I wake up in a stinking mood and I all I want to listen to is loud, aggressive music (see: Chariots, Jairus and Secondsmile); sometimes I'm feeling confused and all over the place (see: Meet Me In St Louis, Cats And Cats And Cats); every now and again I feel all emotional and dramatic (Yndi Halda); and sometimes I get bullied by people in Oxford (This Town Needs Guns and Richard Walters, stand up!). I've never once thought, "Oh hold on, Arctic Monkeys are doing well aren't they? Maybe I should sign a band from Sheffield!", or anything like that. I'm just not clever enough to pick up on the latest trend – I just have to rely on my ears and hope that a couple of other people out there share my enthusiasm! I've been lucky so far. One day I'd love to work with Andrew WK, as there's always room for more partying around here. Andy, if you're reading this, gimme a call!
You released the first Get Cape... EP, and it did fairly well. Does it make you sad to see artists waltz off into the sunset clutching a large record deal? Or do you learn things about the way of indies versus big record companies?
It does make me sad to see artists waltz off into the sunset, but that's because I enjoy working with the people I have on the label and nothing to do with the fact that they're moving onto bigger and better things. When they leave with a large recording contract in hand it does actually make it all a little easier. One thing I'm very aware of is that you can't be selfish in this industry, especially when you're working with friends. Sometimes you have to let bands go on, but you can't look at other labels in a ‘versus’ sense. I'm running this thing as the band's number one fan before I am a businessman or anything like that. Also, on the subject of other labels, I'm hoping to work with lots more over the coming year, with joint releases, tours and other projects in the pipeline. I'm really into the whole "we're all on this together" (a tie-dye t-shirt slogan if ever I heard one) attitude and think that labels should take advantage of their position and help one another out where they can. With the industry apparently in a state of crisis I think it's more important than ever.
We all know that running a boutique (can we say that?) label such as yours is a hard affair. Financially speaking, how do you keep things afloat?
Gambling, mostly. In the early days the label was a part-time hobby which I ran alongside my studies and then my full-time work, but now it's a 24/7 thing. The time I do manage to get away from my computer is often spent filled with stuffing envelopes, going to gigs, listening to music, getting hassled by bands and having my girlfriend tell me she's "not angry, just disappointed" that I once again don't have time to spend with her. If you're reading this and thinking about starting a label, I urge you to consider how highly you value your free time first! In terms of finances, each release basically helps fund the next, and so on. It didn't take a great amount of start-up capital, but I dread to think just how many thousands of pounds I've spent over the years. All it would take is one important release to bomb really badly and the whole label would be under threat. Stability is about as rare as a night off around here!
You seem to have earned a lot of praise and goodwill for your exploits in the past couple of years – how do you account for that?
Hard liquor, a gentle smile and sexual favours.
What are you most excited about in the near future of BSM?
The Meet Me In St Louis album finally coming out (seriously, it feels as though we've been sat on that one years now!) at the end of September, working with new bands such as House of Brothers (debut EP in October) and Cats And Cats And Cats (split album with This Town Needs Guns in September) for the first time, and continuing to build on what we've started with bands like Secondsmile, Jairus and This Town Needs Guns. We also have some really cool tours coming up (Yndi Halda are off to Asia in a couple of weeks, for one), the projects with other labels I mentioned earlier on, and a host of new bands I'm really looking forward to hopefully working with over the coming couple of years. It feels weird to have plans going so far into the future but I can't help myself – literally everything is exciting me at the moment and I just can't stop coming up with new ideas!
Plug opportunity: tell us about your new label sampler, Record Label Schmecord Label. It looks sweet...
Thanks, I'm really pleased with this one actually. I released a couple of sampler CDs two or three years ago now and have been meaning to do another for ages. I quite like to try and sum up where the label is on one CD, so people (old fans and people discovering BSM for the first time) can get a nice short, sharp taster. As well as that I thought that a title such as Record Label Schmecord Label was too good not to use. It has ten tracks from all of the current artists, and anyone reading this who fancies giving it a try can buy it from HERE for just £3. And that right there is the best plug of the day.
How does BSM exist in the digital world? The onus, it seems, is on labels like yourself to shape the future of the industry. Are you up for the challenge?
Shaping the future of the industry? Sounds frightening! I've only got into the whole digital thing this year really, with a fair bit of the BSM back catalogue now being available via iTunes and the other major download sites. Personally I'm of the old school persuasion and would much rather buy a CD or vinyl release than a download, so for that reason I was a little slow getting into this digital age. I've just about caught up now, though, and am quite excitedly awaiting the next development. With band's like Ash deciding not to release albums anymore, social networking websites booming and chains like HMV struggling and Fopp going under, it does make me wonder what's going to come next. Bands are able to do more for themselves now than ever before. You say the onus is on labels like BSM to shape the industry but there's a chance that labels such as mine won't even be needed soon. I guess it's worrying, but I also find it quite exciting. I just hope I'll be in a position to move with the times when needed. Actually, can we open that up as a DiScussion? "Will small labels always be needed and if so, in what capacity? How would you like to see labels evolve?" I'd love to know what people think.
So, you put together a five-a-side tournament. Was the idea that this would be a good-natured music-friends bash? Or was it an attempt to assert athletic dominance over us wheezy indie types?
Well as the tournament is now out of the way and a certain team knocked BSM out in the semi-finals after being 2-0 down (that’s us fine DiS people… c’mon, yeah!), I should avoid this question out of principle! But in all seriousness, the idea was just to get a load of people together for a fun day out. It was something I'd briefly talked about with a few friends in the past and decided the time was right to organise now. Sorting out 150+ people from all over the country to come and play 26 games of football over three lazy Sunday afternoon hours was quite a stress, more so than I imagined in fact, but we just about got there and eventually managed to separate the men from the boys! For those who don't know, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly's ‘Team Believe’ eventually triumphed and the full list of results can be found here. All being well the tournament will run again next year, hopefully with even more teams, a little better organised, and maybe raising money for a charity or two in the process. The BSM squad are already in training. I've got them doing laps right now.
Where do you seen BSM in five years?
Hopefully still releasing enjoyable music (on every available format!) from a roster of happy, productive bands. I'd like to think that the eclectic nature of the label will continue long into the future too, with new and surprising records meaning that people can never really pigeonhole BSM. I'd also like offices around the world, water coolers filled with fine Russian vodka and walls lined with gold discs and photos of me with famous and influential figures.
Tell us a Big Scary Monsters secret.
I have a poster of B*Witched above my computer. C'est La Vie.
Big Love, BSM.
Learn more about Big Scary Monsters, and buy some of their awesome discs, by clicking to their website here. DiS goes head-to-head with BSM in September at a special free-entry DiScover Club, featuring House Of Brothers, Cats And Cats And Cats and This Town Needs Guns. Click here for more information.
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