Independent Label Market: Edwyn Collins & Friends Talk AED
, November 30th, 2012 09:12
We look forward to this weekend's Independent Label Market by speaking to Edwyn Collins, Grace Maxwell and James Endeacott about their label, AED. They won't be biking ducks around London...
At the last Independent Label Market in Spitalfields, London, the Quietus was busy enjoying spending our hard-earned on various bits of vinyl... until we got distracted by one of the excellent mugs featuring one of Edwyn Collins' bird drawings on the AED stall. The label, run by Collins, his wife Grace Maxwell and big haired A&R veteran James Endeacott, releases the sort of classic indie of big tunes and bright hearts that will be familiar to fans of Orange Juice - we're especially keen on the psychedelic jangle of Colorama, or the cheeky and suave Filthy Boy, who have released one of AED's 7" singles - a series that comes in an cardboard sleeve emblazoned with the slogan "Today's Technology Now". We went down to Edwyn Collins' West Heath Yard studio to talk AED and the joys and pitfalls of running an independent record label.
Vanity publishing, you say?
Grace Maxwell: Do you remember all those years ago when you started Postcard and your auntie rang your mum up and said 'I've been looking into this independent record label thing… and it's really just a form of vanity publishing. So we're going back into vanity publishing eh?
What did your mum say?
Edwyn Collins: Mum has had elocution lessons and speaks like this [adopts startling English posh lady accent] 'yes, I know, vanity publishing… is that true Edwyn?'. It feels like we're going back to our roots.
Major labels get things the wrong way round
James Endeacott: I've worked at a major for the last few years. At majors it's always about thinking about selling records and hits. When you're doing it like this, the first and foremost thing that Edwyn has in his mind is 'let's make a great record'. I think that's really important, and that's what AED is trying to do. Hopefully you make a great record, and then get people to hear it, rather than the other way round, which is what major labels do. They let people hear about it first, then make the record afterwards. The most important thing is the music, and Edwyn knows how to make and produce records, and has an ear and an eye for talent.
EC: Thirty two years of rock & roll
It's not that hard to do this
GM: We went to you didn't we James, to pick your brains about what we were doing in the studio, to think about how we can help the bands that we're working with all the time, who were just bands with no deals, no financial backing, and then these souls would be thinking who do we get to put our records out. I had various thoughts running through my mind, and then we went to see James and he said 'you need to do a label'. He said 'I'll do it with you', it's as simple as that.
JE: It is quite simple, you find good artists and you work with them. Nothing comes out of the label that not everybody likes, everybody has to like it. It's one big happy family, that's it should be.
EC: No arrogant people at all.
G Well some, but we'll soon knock that out of them. Not so much arrogant, but touches of delusion. But that's normal, you're dealing with bands. Don't expect them to be normal, that'd be silly.
JE: People still want to listen to good music, not bad music, whether you buy it, download it, find it behind your ear, whatever. People will always be drawn to good music, and that's what'll be coming out of here. When it stops doing that, then there's no point. But there's so much great stuff isn't there?
The artist is always the owner
GM: It doesn't have any backing, this label, it's fledgling. So you have to be careful, you have to cut your cloth and be strict about things. Poor souls, they don't get any advances, we do the Factory thing with no contracts or anything. But of course we're coming at this from an artist's angle which is all we've done for years. Edwyn and I have very firm views of rights and ownership. We'll never own the band's records, we record them here, we make the facilities available to record and release, but we'll never own the records.
EC: That way of working is…
GM …for wankers.
There will be no pissing up walls
JE: It's about being creative within smaller perimeters, which is great fun. Rather than having a pot of money and going 'let's piss that up the wall' it's sitting down and coming up with ideas. You've got to think, and you actually feel as if you're achieving something, you're actually proud of all the records that are coming out.
GM: For the bands it's a tough time because we can't say to them 'we can sustain you financially'. That's a tough thing for bands nowadays because they have to find out a way of keeping body and soul together. Until quite far down the line bands have to do that. They've all got jobs. Maybe that's a good thing these days because there's no indulgent stuff.
We believe in good product
GM: We talk a lot about sharing things in the digital ether, but actually a lot of what AED is about is making beautiful, tangible things. It's a select marketplace but that's fine, I don't want global domination. I've no got the energy for any of that. I want to do it in a cottage way. My brother's been down to fix up the garages downstairs and put up electricity and light… I believe Amazon call it a 'fulfillment centre'. The AED fulfillment centre will be me and Susan stuffing things into boxes, a little production line.
JE: Edwyn's there in the middle of it all, orchestrating us…
EC: …the operator.
GM: You're the guru, and I say James is the poster boy, he brings the glamour.
EC: He's too old!
Edwyn's bird pictures work as marketing
EC: Both ways, the music to the birds and birds to the music.
GM: we need to do more things like that, but not exploitation, not tonnes of things, just so when people are mooching around this label we think 'what would they like'. I know what I'd like, I know what you'd like when you open up a package that comes through the door and you go 'oh lovely'.
Making nice products is getting more part of what labels do - during Britpop when I was a kid it was all crap CDs
JE: Just product.
EC: I like vinyl, fuck CDs, they're going wrong all the time, jumping away.
GM: You're on a mad vinyl kick, not only are we doing our own, but Edwyn has gone on an insane crazed unstoppable eBay buying spree. Every day the poor woman's at the door going 'another one for you'. Between that and you buying things for the studio over the years I feel like I spend half my life in that sorting office, or in the Parcel Force depot in Neasden.
EC: Sorry Grace.
GM: I think if you buy it on vinyl you ought to be able to get it in any domain, CD and download. And from a manufacturing perspective that's quite easy to do.
Beware men bearing rubber ducks
JE: Years ago when I was managing Tidersticks and they were signed to Island Records they had a single out called 'Bath Time'. The marketing guy at Island Records phoned me up and said 'I've got a great idea James, marketing tool - I'm not talking towels, I'm talking rubber ducks. Rubber ducks with 'bath time' written on them'. I said 'yeah whatever' and put the phone down. An hour and half later, a knock on my office door and there's a courier there who hands over this box, containing two different sorts of rubber ducks. I phoned this guy and he said 'one's slightly, slightly more yellow than the other'. The madness is that that bike would have been charged back to the band, so I'm spending my money on biking rubber ducks around London! That's the madness of the major label world. Fucking rubber ducks on bikes! There'll be none of that round here.
Edwyn has a long history of combating such nonsense
GM: You'd spend your time either mocking or fighting the major labels wouldn't you? Neither of which went down terribly well.
EC: Possibly I was too arrogant at the time.
GM: Possibly they deserved it?
EC: The A&R guys, they were extremely arrogant people at the time.
GM: The mockery you used to go in for! I'd just started working for you, and used to sit beside you thinking 'how does this go over?' Remember when that guy said to you 'the bottom line is, Edwyn, if you don't tour in Europe you're not going to have a career'. Edwyn goes 'listen mate, don't fucking 'bottom line' me'. I'd only been working for him about five minutes. Or you used to go in with your brolly and briefcase, belted raincoat and quiff, and the girls on the desk would go 'oh hello Edwyn you look nice' and he'd say 'yes my dear, and what have you been doing for my group Orange Juice?'
AED will not follow the indie tradition of being crap with money
GM: Creative people might not be good with money, but you can't have groups not getting paid, and that happens. We've been in and around that, not naming any name,s people who are big figures in independent music business lore and are not fiscally responsible. I take umbrage with that. If you're not good at it, get someone who's good at it.
JE: You can't hide yourself behind being a cool independent, though a lot of people do.
GM: Alan Horne, he was quite tight. You'd say 'what's going on with the accounts Alan?' He'd say 'you have to talk to my accountant'. He had a pretend accountant, Mr Higgy who lived under the sink.
EC: Back in the day, Orange Juice I'm talking about, Alan Horne, he spent it on knickerbocker glories.
GM: That's what you used to say, he spent all the publishing on knickerbocker glories in the cafe. Roddy [Frame] talks about how Aztec Camera were really skint and couldn't even buy a tea in the cafe and they'd watch Alan eat two knickerbocker glories in a row, and he never even offered him a thing.
'Fuck off everyone' can be a good motto
JE: I've worked at loads of record labels, Rough Trade, had my own label through Sony, 1965. It's great working with Edwyn and Grace, I went to see Edwyn when I was 15 years old when he was in Orange Juice. So to know him is a pleasure, to work with him is a pleasure, and it's just great doing things for the right reason. You get lost in the rat race of life, how to make money, and music gets lost in that. You lose the right reason why you're doing it, and the reason I started was because music makes me feel things, makes me cry, makes me laugh, whatever. To get back to the real root of what I'm doing and what I love about it is really enjoyable. I'm really blessed. We can have arguments but at the end when we get the record we can all hug each other and go 'fuck off everyone'. We're not flooding, I made the mistake with my label of putting stuff out and putting stuff out and you lose perspective. Just put out a couple of things, concentrate on those, meanwhile Edwyn's always making another record with someone else, and we're chipping away, chipping away. From little acorns grow... bigger acorns.