“Never Say DIY”: An Interview with Audio Antihero

Label Focus: Audio Antihero

Everyone has a favourite label, even those who call having a favourite musical snobbery can see label’s that stand out a mile ahead of everyone else. Personally, I’m a fan of Dischord, Stones Throw and Smalltown America to name but  a few. One of my more recent discoveries has been one of the newest independents on the block, Audio Antihero.

Self-proclaimed specialists in commercial suicide, Audio Antihero are a label to be taken notice of. Formed after extensive tutelage in and around the British independent scene the label seems to be as fiercely independent as they come. Selling their first CD on October 13th 09 Audio Antihero are still finding their feet in the competitive market that is the music industry.

Just to hinder them some more we thought we’d interrupt the bedroom operation to be nosy and ask a few questions. Luckily enough Audio Antihero were nice enough to answer them for us.

– – –

Your first release was Nosferatu D2’s album which until your intervention was unreleased and largely ignored. Was that the main reason why you set up the label, just to distribute a record you love?

AA: Pretty much! I asked Nosferatu D2 if I could release their record a long time ago, but by the time I was even close to being able to run a label, they’d split up. I almost gave up on the label, it didn’t take me long to realise that I couldn’t run a label and not release their record first. So I did the right thing, for a change.

I knew I was never going to sell many CDs without a tour to support the album, but you can’t start a DIY indie record label purely out of love and then start worrying about commercial viability before you’ve even started.

I wasn’t happy listening to Nosferatu D2 as a collection of mp3s, nor was I happy with Nosferatu D2 being a ‘defunct local band’. I wanted people to discover and remember them, I wanted their legacy to be strong. What we’ve got now is something very special, radio is playing them, journalists are writing about them and people in countless countries have been ordering their CD. I hope people talk about them forever.

Knowing that people who’d never heard of the band before are writing on blogs and forums to say that it’s their ‘favourite album of 2009’ is as much of a pay off as anything else could be.

To me, walking away from Nosferatu D2 would be like having Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ or Springsteen’s ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’ and just saying “no, I won’t sell enough, I won’t bother”. Classics can be big and small.

How much time and effort is put into the label, is it in the indie dream or the opposite?

It’s not my full time job, sadly. I work 9 to 5:30, walk home, and then see what I can do with Audio Antihero. For the first few weeks I barely slept, one of the more supportive US bloggers I was in touch with used to e-mail me from the other side of the globe, telling me I had to go to sleep!

Sometimes I burnout. I’ve got quite painful inflamed tendons too, so I do sometimes have to drag myself away from my screen and lie in a dark room – but really it’s the most fun and fulfilling thing I can do. Every review, friend on myspace/twitter and CD sale makes me feel very proud indeed.

I feel really good at the moment, and really want to spend as much time on it as is possible, I want to help get Benjamin Shaw playing some good gigs, keep people talking, find some stronger distribution and make some new friends. Christmas has been an obstacle though!

Does your label have a particular ethos and/or particular genre you source from?

Never Say DIY!

Ideally, we just want to rock. There’s things I agree and disagree with in the music industry, just as there are things I like and dislike about music fans, I just try to provide people with what I would want myself.

I don’t rip off or tie down my artists, I give them all the control they want. I release records I would buy, I manufacture the albums to the standard I’d want to buy them at. Also, I try to ensure that we’re an accessible and personable label for those who are interested in us. I know small bands/labels that are so insecure about not being signed to Sony or whatever that they feel compelled to dress everything up, and avoid talking to their fans as though it’s beneath them. It’s not necessarily that they’re arrogant people, just they think if you e-mail people back they’ll realise you’re not actually in possession of 80% of the market share. It’s a bit embarrassing.

We’re not quite a genre label, not that I have anything against them; Stax was a wonderful soul/R&B label, Sam Phillips did some invaluable work at Sun Records, shaping rock ‘n’ roll and Sub Pop’s ‘80s & ‘90s ‘primal rock’ focus was the last great period in music history – our primary interest is on ‘alternative music’, but currently my only real requirement is that I can feel it as well as hear it.

The CD vs mp3 debate still rages. Audio Antihero seems to be strictly CD based. Are there any plans to expand this to other formats or is the physical format something you feel strongly about?

I personally hate the mp3 format. MP3s are not a record collection, that’s the whole reason we worked so hard on releasing the Nosferatu D2 record in a physical format. But with that being said, we will be signing up for digital distribution at some point. I don’t understand why people want to buy this stuff digitally instead of on a fairly cheap CD, but apparently they’re out there, and I’m sure they’re very nice too.

It will give us the freedom to release singles/EPs and compilations that we just can’t afford to do physically. I won’t argue that more music can only be a good thing and I can see there’s benefits – but I’m not sure I’ll ever buy an album from iTunes, not as long as I can get it on CD, tape or vinyl.

Are there any record labels you look up to or would one day aspire to be like?

Many. As mentioned before, Stax and Sub-Pop are my heroes. In their early days Southern Records were a really wonderful DIY force, interning with them was definitely an influence on me. Some of my earliest exposure to DIY came from a UK label called Genin (run by Bass of Djevara), who really do ‘stick it to the man’, and look out for their artists. I got a lovely e-mail from Bass telling me how impressed he was with everything and that we were involved in a good thing and doing a good job of it, he’d been one of my punk-rock heroes since I was about 14 and it was one of my proudest moments.

I’ve also been following the lead of I Blame the Parents Records, who’ve been so kind to me, helping me get records into stores and the like.

I love that small labels are willing to help one another out, I’ve started sticking flyers for Genin records in my parcels when I have them and passing on I Blame the Parents review material to press who’ve said nice things about us, we’re all in it for the same thing. I just wish that a ‘DIY spirit of community’ didn’t sound corny and nostalgic now, as we’ve never needed it more.

Of the songs you’ve released which would be the one you’d choose as a flagship for your label? In essence favourite song from your two artists?

A favourite from each would be would be Benjamin Shaw’s “I Got the Pox, the Pox Is What I Got” – ten minutes of disease and beauty – and “Springsteen” from Nosferatu D2, a song so clever and desperate it’s given me the chills every time I’ve heard it since 2006 when I chanced upon them.

Seeing those songs performed live was quite overwhelmingly lovely. I wish I could put those memories on a record and release that too.

And the fantasy question. Your dream artist roster please?

I already have it, but it does need to be expanded.
I suppose if you want some names, this is the best I can think of right now;

A reformed Nosferatu D2
Benjamin Shaw & The E Street Band OR Benjamin Shaw & Crazy Horse
Mudhoney
Superman Revenge Squad
The Owl Service
A reformed At The Drive-In
The reformed Faith No More
Gary Numan
The Melvins
Immortal Technique
Akron/Family
Kieronononononon^onononon (they actually honoured me by offering me their next record, but I couldn’t take it sadly)
Shield Your Eyes
Dinosaur Jr.
Modest Mouse
And maybe Dr.Dre to pay the bills, or something.

The all important question: Any secret future signings you have up your sleeve or any ones to watch for next year?

Next, I want something big and nasty, something that could have supported Mudhoney in 1988, something that truly is an ‘Audio Antihero’! I just need something that excites me and something that’s worth spending all my money on and storing boxes of CDs in my bedroom. I’ll struggle to follow Nosferatu D2 & Benjamin Shaw though.

Regrettably I’ll need to sell some more Nosferatu D2 & Benjamin Shaw CDs first, it’s the pitfall of independence. No money, no room and no resources!

And where can readers catch a slice of Audio Antihero?

We’re all over the place, but people seem to keep missing us. Spread the word!

If you pop along to www.audioantihero.com, you can find links to us on myspace, twitter, blogger (yes, we write things), songkick (see where we’ve been and where we’re going), facebook, youtube, and all of that. There’s free songs to download, music videos to watch, features to read, means to contact us and all the rest.

In terms of buying our records we sell them via mail order from the above website. Actual stores that stock them include Rough Trade (London), Piccadilly Records (Manchester), Norman Records (Leeds) and Spillers Records (Cardiff). However Rough Trade won’t be stocking them for too much longer so get down their sharpish if you want to pick up copies of our records.

Australian folk can pick up Benjamin Shaw’s “I Got the Pox, the Pox Is What I Got” EP from Half a Cow Records which is run by Nic Dalton of The Lemonheads and The Gloomchasers.

– – –

Audio Antihero talk a good game but they also play a good one. As you can see from the answers provided they are a record label which cares for music, and not only that which they provide. It’s refreshing to see that there are people out there who are still in music for the ‘right reasons’ and not just to clean everyone out. Not only all this but they seem like thoroughly nice people to boot and if that doesn’t get you buying their records then I don’t know what will.

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