Interview: New Heavy Sounds Record Label

I'd like to organise some sort of party/gig/event at the end of the year to have a full on knees up. There are one or two things that stand in the way at the moment but let's keep our fingers crossed.

It’s the tenth anniversary year of the New Heavy Sounds label, the label that has brought Black Moth, Vodun, Sky Valley Mistress, Limb, Blacklab, Embr, Mountain Caller, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard plus others to our attention. It’s one of the few labels I will instantly take an album out for review without one fuzzy induced riff of a listen beforehand, that’s the high esteem I have of this small but top quality assured record label. With the recent arrival of the New Heavy Sounds newsletter and the promise of some exciting happenings this year (pandemic permitting), Echoes And Dust got in touch with the label’s head honchos Ged and Paul who reveal the ‘unbelievable merit of the Sabbath Beast’, epiphany moments, achievements, the future hopes for the underground heavy scene, plus an insightful and thoughtful truckload more. Please read on…….

 

(((o))): It’s great news that it’s your tenth anniversary as a label and you’re still going strong. So, let’s go back ten years or so, and how did the idea of the label form and begin? How did you get it off the ground?

PAUL: As I recall, it was Ged’s suggestion really, brought about by a revelation involving the mighty Black Sabbath. He can tell the tale but while working on ‘Metal’ documentary and a Black Sabbath piece in particular, a revelation was had about the unbelievable merit of the Sabbath beast. Ged suggested our own band of the time have a go at ‘going heavy’ as-it-were. It was not something we had tried before as musicians.

At the same time, the most logical way to release something we recorded was to do it ourselves – classic DIY. So, we started the label to do just that. Serendipitously a band in Leeds were going through a similar process and via a good friend and rock photographer, Beki Cowey, she introduced us to Black Moth.

We had also started putting on gigs in London of a ‘heavy nature’ – bands like Turbowolf, Bo Ningen, Kong, Castrovalva, Hawk Eyes, Black Moth, White Hills etc…… and ourselves.

To cut a story short, we had the idea to both ask Black Moth if they’d like to work with us and release something, and release a compilation of this ‘scene’.

GED: Yes, it was an ‘epiphany’ moment really back in 2007. The BBC series was called ‘The Seven Ages Of Rock’ and I edited 2 of them one on ‘art rock’ featuring Bowie, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Genesis and The Velvet Underground, and they had interviews with all of them. But my favourite was the ‘Metal’ programme which featured Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and Motley Crue. I did listen to metal in the 80’s but I guess I was more of an indie kid back then, however what struck me was sheer unpretentiousness of the bands interviewed (again all of them) and I’d forgotten how great the riffs were. Being fed up with the faddish floppy fringed indie word and feeling a bit down about it, this really was a wake-up call. Once again music was exciting and visceral. So, I formed a plan with Paul, who had the experience of running a label, being once head honcho at ‘Too Pure’ (having discovered PJ Harvey, Stereolab and other great bands) he is always open to stuff outside of the comfort zone. Neither of us were metalheads, but we both could feel something was brewing so we embraced it. When we found Black Moth, we were off.

(((o))): The label has a knack of discovering bands which are a bit nuanced in what they do. Was that your original intention or did that just naturally develop?

PAUL: Very generous of you to say so, thanks. I believe it just happens naturally – perhaps we find ourselves thinking about it more now that we’ve released a bunch of stuff though. I think it comes from our own skewed musical background (ie NOT being entirely immersed in heavy rock/doom metal but having a variety of influences). But alongside that and as the label name suggests, we decided things just had to be ‘heavy’ in our opinion. I guess as well, there’s the fact that Ged and I are both guitarists originally so perhaps that makes us very influenced by the power of the ‘RIFF’. There’s also that thing of working in an area that is under-represented – that can be an added motivation for us. So, for example if a band finds itself falling between rigid genre boundaries, but is still really good and doing their own thing, then we feel that they need some exposure. Another classic example is the under-representation of women in heavy music.

GED: Thanks for the acknowledgement, indeed that is kinda the ethos behind the bands we sign and as Paul said, it was just the way it developed because of who we were. We get a lot of submissions and I have to say that most of them are really good, but for us it has to have that extra something, which I can’t define to be honest, but if it speaks to us then we are interested. I think we like, and look for bands that can bring something new into a genre, be it doom, stoner, punk or whatever. Whether that’s mixing different musical styles or influences or anything that pushes the envelope a bit (whilst staying heavy of course) if it has all that, we’re interested.

On the women in music thing, you may have noticed that a lot of our bands have female members, and a lot are the vocalists. It’s not a rule and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for us, it just happened that way. Maybe for me it’s that juxtaposition/blending between the vocals and the riffs that is fascinating.

Probably because I am a huge ‘Runaways’ fan ha ha.’’

(((o))): In a crowded Stoner/Doom scene where there are a lot of similar sounding bands, what are you looking for in bands before signing them?

PAUL: Indeed it is crowded ….. but really good too! The obvious answer is that we’re looking for / listening for something a little different. Many bands in the same scene have excellent taste and excellent record collections but just to hear a reproduction of those influences is pointless for us. A band has to add its own element or influence or spin etc etc onto those initial influences. And that ‘own element’ has to catch our attention and capture our imagination. Also, it may sound cheesy, but we are also a ‘people’ label. In a small label you tend to work closely with your bands, so it is important that band members are cool and creative people.

GED: Well ‘doom’ is probably my favourite ‘sub genre’ if you want to call it that, and there are a lot of doom/stoner bands out there as you say. So how do you stand out? I think Paul nailed it really, it’s about putting your own stamp on it. That’s what we felt when we first heard Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. I mean nobody was doing anything like that, talk about pushing the envelope. Of course, there were/are the ‘genre’ purists out there who turn their noses up at it. Well whatever. Nothing is ever going to progress unless you start to experiment and try to break those perceived boundaries. And I’ve noticed a few more bands doing something similar to them recently.

Having said that, if a band came along that was just bloody great at what they do … we’d probably sign them ha ha.

 

(((o))): If you discovered a band that you thought were great but were based in a different kind of genre to what you normally release……would you sign them? Would the label diversify? 

PAUL: Yes. We’d have to agree. I don’t think we operate in specific genres anyway (and sometimes that is a problem in terms of promotion). Most likely it would have to be ‘heavy’ though – at least ‘heavy’ in our way of thinking. Ged and I like a mixture of musical elements so it is fairly likely that a mixture of genres will feature as time goes by.

We also aren’t ones for repeating ourselves too much. From a label perspective, it is funny (but makes sense) that once you have released a certain kind of band, then you receive approaches from bands who perceive themselves as similar. I’m glad that those bands have the nous to ‘do their homework’, but sadly, we are only likely to repeat a style, if the new band has sufficient of its own ‘spin’ on that genre.

GED: Absolutely we would … if they had that heavy element to it. After all we like to think we are a ‘heavy music’ label, of course that can encompass lots of things, if it fits our internal remit, we’ll do it. As Paul says that can cause some issues as there is a tendency to pigeonhole things into genre classifications or some such crap, unfortunately this seems very prevalent in the metal scene … to me anyway. We like to try and put stuff out there that will turn people on to something heavy that’s a little outside of the expected … why not. One interesting thing is that we’ve been listening to a lot of punk and metalcore recently and both of us would really like to do something with new bands ploughing that particular furrow. But because we are perceived (perhaps unsurprisingly) as primarily a stoner/doom label, we don’t tend to get submissions from bands working in that field which is a shame because we actively want to widen the scope of the label. So come on, where are ya … show us your stuff.’’

(((o))): What do you think has been the label’s greatest achievements so far? Any particular – standout moments?

PAUL: To take Black Moth to a level where a major label was interested enough to want to get involved with them WITHOUT any compromise musically or otherwise. That felt like a great achievement by the band and in some small way, by ourselves.

AND – Mammoth Weed or MWWB as they are now – We continue to believe that these folks are the new, heavy Floyd. How this heavy band from Wrexham, who debuted with one 25 minute onslaught, have developed and developed and found an audience and done everything without compromise and absolutely in their own way feels like a real victory for independence and DIY in the heavy scene. Onwards and upwards.

GED: Yep, Black Moth coming from nowhere to where they got was a victory of a kind. MWWB too from nothing to being asked by Robert Smith to play Meltdown was great to see, to be honest, as it was seeing their profile grow and grow. To be frank, seeing any of our bands that have started with few Facebook likes, zero profile and no following, then progressing to a point where their music is reviewed, their names get known, people talk about them, the gigs start coming and records are bought is always a standout moment. To be part of that progression and get new music by new bands out there and heard in this environment is seriously difficult. To be part of the scene, breaking new music to help it to thrive and continue is an achievement for me. I’d like to feel we are doing that.

(((o))): How has Brexit affected the label so far?

PAUL: Destroying morale really. Really, it is too early to tell because of the arrival of Covid. We’ve still been getting our releases out and about in Europe in the last 12 months but of course the live scene has not been happening at all. Brexit will have an impact on touring of course but bands will still want to play in Europe and Europe will still want UK (and American and Japanese etc) bands. Brexit will make it more expensive and bureaucratic but it will still take place. Ged and I are constantly listening to new bands from around Europe as well – I think it is only a matter of time before we get involved with some – I don’t think Brexit will have an impact on that.

GED: Yep, it remains to be seen, but COVID has really had the most impact at the moment. Like Paul says, bureaucracy will make it harder for bands to tour in Europe and for bands to tour here, but it will happen I’m sure. In terms of record sales, so far mail order is still happening, though postal rates are sky high. I think the Brexit effect is yet to be fully realised, certainly from our perspective.

(((o))): You have recently put out a compilation on Bandcamp to help raise funds to keep afloat North London’s metal pub/venue Our Black Heart. It must be of some concern what will be left due to the Covid 19 pandemic world? What other effects and issues do you for-see for the label and artists/bands?

PAUL: Indeed we did…. it was a no-brainer really. All our bands play or have played there. The whole scene in London revolves around the venue really (and one or two others as well). Just to dwell of venues like the Black Heart for a moment, I was super-inspired by rereading a chapter in David Byrne’s book ‘How Music Works’ – he talks about the scene that Talking Heads were involved with and the importance of CBGBs – he gives huge credit to Hilly Crystal and to Tom Verlaine for getting it all going. I love and agree with the whole chapter and suggest to anyone to read it if they can. It especially resonates with me because I’ve put gigs on endlessly since the end of the 80’s. The live scene and ‘scenes in general’ are essential in my opinion, to kick starting things (and bands). Covid has of course messed this up, but it will return. I cannot predict, but am interested if it will be changed in any way.

While we are on the subject of bands playing live’ though I want to be negative for a moment – not about Covid or the government’s dealing with it, but of my endless misery about booking agents – they are the part of the music ‘industry’ that most disappoint me and let me…. us …. our bands …. the scene ….. down – I’ll leave it there – hopefully Covid has made them all go out of business. Once upon a time bands booked themselves or had a manager type to do it, and everyone was happy and everything worked. Covid exit? It will be messy, but positive and …. thank goodness for the exit anyway.

GED: So, two questions here. Firstly The Black Heart well what can I say, it’s been there ever since the label started (or it seems to have ha) we drink there, go to gigs there etc. There are precious few dedicated grass roots rock/metal venues or hangouts like it in London, and it’s a staple of the touring circuit. I suppose all over the country venues like this are in trouble, these are the places that keep a scene/community, whatever you want to call it, alive and thriving. When the COVID shitstorm has passed, hubs like this have to be there, simple as that, especially if you are a new band with no booking agency behind you.

As to the second part of your question, the issue that irks me the most is the lack of rock and metal representation on mainstream radio. Ok so there are a lot of specialist stations out there and there is Dan Carter’s show on radio 1, which is great and thank goodness for that, but I am particularly talking about 6 Music, it is so indie and oldies, try getting anything heavy heard. Surely there is room for some sort of specialist rock show that would appeal to the 6 Music demographic, with a knowledgeable enthusiastic presenter who has an open mind and their finger on the pulse of what’s going down in the underground scene. God forbid maybe even someone who goes to gigs. This is our BBC remember. Where is the new John Peel when you need him.

 

(((o))): What would be your fantasy signing to the label be, and why?

PAUL: My Bloody Valentine. They could be the best band ever and have made possibly the best album ever. There have been loads of great bands and albums though (thankfully) but I mention MBV especially because also it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that we’d have signed them, if we’d only started the label much earlier.

GED: Well this from the man that signed PJ Harvey, I think you did alright mate ha ha. Well it would be obvious to go heavy here or say DANZIG or something, but I won’t. Mine would be DEVO. Not a heavy band, but a band unlike anybody before or since. They are simply awesome and their music sounds as fresh now as it did back in the day. Quirky of course, but they have an attitude, a sound and a persona that is unique ….and they have great riffs too, which are heavy in their own way.

Check out their second album Duty Now For The Future. They’re the sort of band I would sign … but would probably be difficult to promote and I would doubt they would get any traction in our current conservative climate (hello 6 Music ha).

BUT …. if there is a heavy metal DEVO out there stand up and say hello.

(((o))): Are there any record labels that inspire you, which you have great admiration for, and why?

PAUL: Loads. All the DIY labels out there trying things, doing things their own way. In our situation I guess that Rocket is an inspirational label – they have a great roster, they have great releases. They have some of the most ‘out there’ releases, and then they have also taken Goat to a superb level and more recently and very very inspirationally, breaking Pigsx7 through to mainstream attention – that is an inspiration. There’s plenty of others though and fairly close to home like Hominid, Riot Season, APF, Box, to name but a clutch. I think if there’s something we would like to do more of in the future, it is collaborate with other labels. Watch this space.

GED: Yes, there are many, all the one’s Paul mentioned. I would add Magnetic Eye in the States who’ve a great roster, but I’ll do a special shout out to APF. We’ve followed them on the old socials and all the releases Andy Field has put out, every one a corker. We’ve even got to know him a little bit now, well electronically anyway. He’s out there signing bands, putting himself about and releasing records, tirelessly promoting them and the scene, like us (I like to think) keeping it thriving and alive. Label wise we are very alike in ethos. I guess my point is this. Nobody starts a grass roots record label nowadays, let alone a metal/rock one to get rich, because you will be sorely disappointed.

The margins and returns that you get are so small that it is not realistic to expect to make a living from it (both Paul and I have day jobs). Any money you make is to pay the bands and plough into new releases. There really is only one reason to do it. That’s because you love the music and the community that goes with it. It’s because you want to provide an outlet for new bands and new music to be heard, with the hope of getting bold new talent to the next level, and also because it is great fun. Who is going to break new bands if it wasn’t for the small labels? It ain’t Universal or Sony that’s for sure.

(((o))): Can you reveal any news – or a teasing taster – on what you have in the pipeline for this tenth anniversary year?

PAUL: I’d like to organise some sort of party/gig/event at the end of the year to have a full on knees up. There are one or two things that stand in the way at the moment but let’s keep our fingers crossed – Rocket did an anniversary weekend a couple of years back that was great and Rise Above did likewise a few years back too. News for us is (obviously) releasing a new album or revealing a new band – let me talk to Ged about what we could ‘reveal’ for you guys. Meantime, Ged might like to tell you a bit about a slightly ‘non-New Heavy Sounds’ TV project we are working on. I’d love to be able to reveal that we’ll get our Japanese duo Blacklab over from Japan in 2022 with a third album, but it is a little early for that. The Disco album that you heard that Black Moth were working on has been delayed by the Covid year but there’s certainly an opening for it now that Daft Punk have ‘stepped down’!

GED: Ok, so the ‘TV’ project. This is one idea we had that we are trying to slowly make happen. Basically, our idea is to create a heavy music TV magazine programme sort of thing. Bands playing live in a studio, with presenter links and items of interest covering the grass roots heavy scene. A bit old school, a bit like ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ in fact, but for heavy music. We have some technical expertise between us and our pals, and the hope is to make around 4 pilot programmes. Hopefully we can reach out to a few folks in the scene to see if they would like to be involved. In that respect we wouldn’t feature just NHS bands but aim to include bands signed by other labels and unsigned. Most importantly, the emphasis would be on the smaller grass roots bands. We wouldn’t necessarily be interested in the big one’s per se. I’m not sure there is anything quite like that around, correct me if I’m wrong. As to what platform we’d use and the logistics, we are yet to sort that side of it out, in the meantime we did start filming but Covid put a stop to that. However we’re planning to resume, and as gigs start happening this should give the opportunity to put it all together. That’s the idea anyway, we shall see how we go.

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To keep bang up to date with New Heavy Sounds and the associated scene’s goings on then see their website to sign up to their newsletter, and fingers crossed we can once again get out there to support the scene in the most fun of ways…..live gigs.

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