Feature: Holy Roar Records vs Big Scary Monsters: 10 Years On The Outside (Part 2)

Feature: Holy Roar Records vs Big Scary Monsters: 10 Years On The Outside (Part 2)

In the second part of the interview, Kev Douch of Big Scary Monsters asks Holy Roar’s Alex Fitzpatrick about future dreams for the label, those “what if” moments and changing the industry from the outside.

Again, this is a largely unedited transcript of the conversation that took place.

Read part one here.

BSM: Playing devil’s advocate – and this goes back to when we shared an office in Dalston and we’d just started Pink Mist – and this office was just some grotty little room – but it felt like we, as labels, had grown to the point where we didn’t want to run them from the corner of a bedroom anymore but we wanted to have an actual dedicated space. I saw that as a step up and an attempt at growth. Where would you like to see Holy Roar going in say another 10 years?

Holy Roar: I’d like us to have a bit more of a worldwide presence. How I do that – and by this I mean specifically America and Japan – I don’t know.

BSM: Logistically it’s difficult. There’s some challenges that you’ll never be able to work around.

Holy Roar: It might just be as simple as partnering up with a label in each territory. But that’s the fucking golden carrot. You’re always kind of chasing it, but you never really get there. Sometimes you’ll have a little breakthrough and something will work for a while, but then it might tail off and you don’t really gain, as the American’s would say, traction.

But, if we were on a financially solid basis, without debts and had 1 or 2 more staff members than what we do now and we were still putting out records that we genuinely enjoyed and believed in, and liked the people we worked with and there wasn’t this disconnect – I’ve always prided myself on at least 90% of the bands I work with, I’d happily go for a pint with, it’s not just a contract – and if we maintained that family feeling, I’d rather spend the next 10 years just organically growing and just chipping away and being stubborn. To be honest, I think I’d be perfectly happy with that.

Actually, that probably doesn’t sound too ambitious, but it’s because I always have other things going on in my life, or other ideas. So at the moment I’m looking at opening a beer shop with my best mate, for example. But I don’t have this crazy idea of watering down Holy Roar or compromising it any way. I’d much rather keep it as it is and watch it grow very, very slowly and bolt other things on to different parts of my life, rather than put everything in a Holy Roar shaped basket.

So yeah, I think I’d like to do things like that. But I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who would want to do things in a different way, nor do I think that my way is the right way; that’s just how I see Holy Roar going.

BSM: I’ve often struggled to separate myself from the label, because for years it was exactly the same thing. And it’s probably the same thing for you now. At some point you stop and the label begins – especially now Justine’s on-board – but it can be hard to differentiate…
Holy Roar: Allowing multiple accounts on Instagram has allowed me to differentiate quite a bit. It’s a joy.

BSM: But it’s difficult to separate your goals. Me personally, I want to own a boat. A big boat. I can barely swim, but I want a boat. But that’s not the end goal for the label. I want the label to live on. I don’t see myself always running it. Maybe one day I’ll have a child and they’ll take it on.

Holy Roar: Well, Shawn from Slipknot has been saying things like that. He likes the idea of just replacing the members with younger people…

BSM: Things just continue on. I like that. Like the label just continues to grow. And I’m not talking about selling it to a corporate…

Holy Roar: It’s tricky though. Other labels have tried to do that and they’ve just shat it up the wall horrendously.

BSM: Well, in the last few years in America, a few of the labels, especially punk labels, have sold to major labels – like Vagrant – and it’s not something I’ve ever considered as an end goal. Or even an exit strategy. If it buys my boat though, maybe I’d do it. But it’s something that could be an option for you one day if the type of music you put out continues to grow. If Sony knocked on the door one day and said ‘We’re gonna buy your label, here’s lots of money’, and you could take a wage and still work on the label – I know it’s a hypothetical but what would you do? I’m not really expecting an answer to that, but it’s quite interesting.

Holy Roar: Part of me likes the idea – because I do want to explore other things with my life – of just handing the ropes to Justine a bit more, and getting to the point where I just need to stick my head around the door and say “don’t sign that, it’s fucking shit.” And I’d just step back and focus on other things as I know I’d have nefariously moulded her into the right shape.

BSM: I can see you going in a similar way to Lookout! Records. I’ve read a lot about them – there’s a couple of books and he’s done some talks. So Larry Livermore was just this hippy character in the San Francisco’s South Bay area. But they put out the first Operation Ivy album and two Green Day albums, and their turnover – it just skyrocketed. But he just got more and more disenchanted by it. The business side didn’t interest him so he sold his shares and walked away, but by then he’d employed people on a fairly low wage and given them shares in the company, so one of them bought him out and took the label on. And at the time it looked like it was in safe hands but it did ultimately fail. That’s how I see you going out from this.

Holy Roar: I am a bit of a control freak as well…

BSM: I love music in my way, and we always kinda joke about it, but the bands I work with I love, and it’s embarrassing at the end of each year when I’m asked for my top 10 lists and things like that, because I might have released 11 and I’d be angry that I couldn’t put them all in – but you probably listen to 10-20 new bands or albums each week. You’re here because you worship music. I could see, if Holy Roar ever got to a certain size, and the business side outweighed it, you just going “You know what, I’ve got my beer shop…”

Holy Roar: There is a part of me – and this will sound stupidly utopian and idealistic and daft, and there’s definitely that part of me that you’ve just described – but there is a part of me that would much rather just carry on fighting against an outdated model of the music industry and I’d like to swing it some way towards where I am, rather than me pander to existing models for our bands to sell more records.

And I think, say the way the internet and social media has blown things open for politicians and their offshore accounts and expenses and blah blah blah, I don’t see why the same can’t be applied to the music industry? And I’m not saying the music industry is anywhere near as important as running the country – but just the same level of calling out bullshit in the right way.

I hate all that standing at the back of the Barfly saying “well, are you going to be the booking agent for this band because I bought you 5 pints.” It’s just pure fucking shit. I hate all that stuff. I’m not good at it. I’m no good just trying to be matey matey with people who I think have dogshit musical taste. And I will never, ever, apologise for that because it’s that sort of music industry behaviour that perpetrates what I perceive to be bad bands still getting pushed.

BSM: We’ve actually been talking about something very similar over email, and you’ve kind of described there as being two different music industries – like there’s an “us” and a “them” – and that’s what you’re describing now. There’s this industry where everyone’s friends and it’s all about everyone selling as many records as possible – playing the game or whatever – then there’s the way we do it. Obviously, we want to sell as many records as we can and make bands big – but there’s certain morals or certain things that we won’t compromise on…

Holy Roar: Yeah, I think you’re right. And it’s quite interesting how, for example, two years ago I’d have never expected Metal Hammer to have been massively calling out the likes of Phil Anselmo for being a racist and calling out festivals for having the same headliners year after year. And I feel like they’ve taken a massive gamble, as they’re beginning to swing towards me and you. I mean, even nominating a label like mine. We’re not a straight down the line metal label. Our bands don’t have leather jackets and long hair. Well, you know what I mean. Even getting nominated over Basick Records, who are a bit heavier and have that sort of production. So yeah, I think things are swinging in our way, albeit in a slow, glacial manner, and I think that’s reflected in say, some of your bands, like Gnarwolves, they’re absolutely smashing it without really playing the game. Gnarwolves still look like dirty street punks to me – and I mean that in the nicest possible way – but there’s none of that ‘right guys, one of you needs to dye your hair pink’ that you might have got 5 years ago.

So yeah, things are swinging are way, but I think I’d rather just keep fighting that fight. I think as we’ve got older, we have gained some respect and leverage over time – and I don’t think I’m being up my arse by saying that, because we both fucking stuck at it. We’ve both done 150+ releases – you’re on 180/190? Divide that by 13 years it’s an exceptional work rate. I’m on 163 in 10 years. People can’t really say “Oh, that label had that dogshit three years.” I’d rather, over the next 10 years, bring people further over to our perspective and way of doing things.

I’d much rather say, sorry, I don’t NEED to pay for advertising in exchange for an article in your magazine because the supposed traditional balance of power within the music industry has shifted and the fact is that kid on the internet will find it or not, or like it or not, whether you give this an article or not.

BSM: I think it’s been interesting lately with the stuff we’re doing. So Kevin Devine toured with the Front Bottoms and the whole tour sold out and I went to see it in Koko in London. Those bands get no press or no radio. We’re now working on Modern Baseball and it’s a similar thing. I mean, there is some press, but they’re not playing the game.

Holy Roar: Exactly, it’s not daytime Radio 1 airplay or Radio 1 Big Weekend – and I’m not dissing Radio 1 – Daniel P Carter for us does wonders…

BSM: I think for both of us, we have bands that aren’t in the mainstream; they’re not even in the underground mainstream. They’re not in Kerrang every week giving outrageous quotes, they’re not posters – but they’re selling thousands of tickets. So yeah, I agree, you can see things are swinging our way in that people discover music in their own way and people are getting on board with bands much further down the ladder.

Holy Roar: I’ll tell you what; Ross Allmark, who runs Pink Mist’s live shows, he told me something very interesting the other day, that the average 19, 20 year old – or 16, 17 year old is now much more socially smart with the internet and stuff, so that if an issue arises with music then they’re instantly on it before anyone else because they can process the information so much faster as they’re bombarded by it.

But that also leads to a much more astute fan – or consumers – as they are finding out what’s good much quicker than me or you. We had to literally save our newspaper money or pocket money to buy one CD a month or a 1 CD a week, whereas now, there isn’t that barrier to entry. You don’t have to force yourself for a month to like that Mudvayne album; you listen to it and decide it is dogshit. You don’t have to force yourself to like it just because you invested £13.99 in it at Our Price. Whereas I’d have had to sit there reading the lyrics forcing myself to like it. Now they don’t have to do that. Now people can get to Kevin Devine, or in my instance to More Than Life, because they’re a great band who write good songs and they don’t say nonsense in the press and they’ve got some alright morals.

Take More Than Life; magazines haven’t touched More Than Life. Or it’s been nominal to say the least, and they’re my biggest band by quite some way, and it’s purely from fans speaking to fans speaking to fans. “There’s this great band, check out their artwork, check out their lyrics” and it stands to inspection.

BSM: You’ve been to Ibiza twice since turning 30. Why don’t you start a dance label? And are you having a mid-life crisis?

Holy Roar: [Laughs] I’m not having a mid-life crisis. To reference what you said earlier on, I do have an eclectic taste. I don’t sit at home listening to what you would consider to be Ibiza music, but as an experience of music at a high volume I really like it. There’s none of that puking and fighting like there is in UK pubs and clubs. People are there for the music and I just had a great time. I can’t think of anything better than lying by a swimming pool in the daytime and going out to clubs at night, drinking cocktails before you go. I don’t ever, ever go to clubs at home, so it’s definitely a type of holiday.

But no, it’s not a mid-life crisis. Like, even when I was growing up, on the one hand I’d listen to Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins and on the other, Underworld and Chemical Brothers. For me, at university it was just so much easier to put on a couple of dirty rock bands at the Fig & Foreskin than it was to organise a rave.

BSM: That ties in with my next question; I’ll ask the question then I’ll guess the answer. If you could’ve signed any one band past or present, who would it be? I’m torn between Converge, Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and Com Truise?

Holy Roar: You’re most on the money with Com Truise, but that would have been in the alternate reality where I started a dance label. I fucking love that dude. Converge? No. I don’t know why. They forged their own path.

BSM: But you love that band. Wouldn’t it be a win-win?

Holy Roar: Yeah. I dunno. I’ve just never really considered Converge as a band I would have signed. Tony Danza…, again, I love them – but they were a band associated with a scene that had a lot of dodgyness – like crappy slogans and misogyny – and I wasn’t comfortable with that. Not that Tony Danza were like that, they just played with loads of those bands and they were also a CD band, and that’s a disconnect with the label.

In all honesty, and in a semi-realistic kinda way, I’d say Hatebreed. If I could get Hatebreed to re-record their ‘Under the Knife’ demo and do 500 one-sided 10”, and they could keep all the profits, I wouldn’t give a toss. Them, or I’d do anything to release anything by Botch as well. So yeah, Com Truise, Botch and Hatebreed. That would be my compromise answer.

BSM: Is there a band that you nearly signed in the last 10 years that you thought you were gonna get, it almost be done and then for whatever reason, it fell through?

Holy Roar: Fuck Buttons.

BSM: Oh yeah! You actually had them…

Holy Roar: We agreed to put out their first album. We were coming off the back of Rolo Tomassi and Cutting Pink With Knives and it made sense. It was an extension of the label going in that direction. So we’d agreed to do an album, and while they were recording it, or they’d nearly finished it or whatever, that’s when Barry from ATP came in, said he liked the band – and I’d never begrudge them that option – and it turned out to be the best thing they ever did.

But yeah, their world and Holy Roar’s world were much more closely aligned back then as they were like bands like Trencher and they were much more of an electronic/drone exploration.

BSM: I wonder where the label would be now if that release had happened?

Holy Roar: Well, I think Fuck Buttons would be nowhere near as big as they are if they stayed with us. Or maybe they’d have been picked up by ATP after, so who knows. There might have been this domino effect and I might have explored the electronic side a bit more. Whereas now it’s at the point with the label’s image and stuff that if there’s anything “more” electronic, I don’t touch it.

BSM: It feels like a step too far right now, I suppose, but back then it did make sense.

Holy Roar: Yeah, you think of Cutting Pink With Knives, Genghis Tron, Horse The Band – and I’m not saying Fuck Buttons were like them, or are like them – but there was a time, say 2007, with the rise of Crystal Castles, Does It Offend You, Yeah? and stuff like that – that there was more of a mesh between indie/electronica and hardcore, which has now fragmented much more.

If we signed Cutting Pink With knives right now, people would be like “what the hell is this?”

BSM: If I think the first band BSM ever signed – and only for like two days and with one email confirming it – was Adequate Seven, the Cardiff ska-punk band.

Holy Roar: That’s mad!

BSM: I know. I heard them, and they were incredible. I sent them a message saying “This demo is incredible, can I re-release it properly?” The label didn’t even exist. I didn’t know what I was doing so I don’t know if I’d have done anything more than they did.

Holy Roar: It would have probably been on CD-R’s in Oxford…

BSM: But then, a few days later Household Name got in touch. At the time they had Capdown, Five Knuckle – it was their thing – so I just decided to step down from that one.

Holy Roar: I was exactly the same with Fuck Buttons. We just couldn’t compete with them.

BSM: The other band I nearly signed, in a very similar way, and which would’ve pushed us in an entirely different direction was Drowningman. We pitched for the record, and it never came out.

Holy Roar: I fucking love that band…

BSM: Me too. A friend of mine said he’d throw some money in too to make it work, and we put together an offer for them to do it. We offered £1,000. I was working in the Co-Op making £5.00 an hour. We had two releases behind us and I definitely didn’t have £1,000. He didn’t have £1,000 either as I got him a job in the same Co-Op.

Holy Roar: That’s a lot of overtime.

BSM: [Laughs] Exactly. If they’d have said “OK, let’s do it,” we couldn’t have done it. But if we had, BSM could’ve been much more like Holy Roar right now because Drowningman, as opposed to Hiding With Girls, which ended up being our next release, are totally different. So yeah, as you say, it’s interesting the domino effect and which way it could’ve sent us.

Also, I remember when you got Fuck Buttons, I was a bit jealous. You already had Rolo Tomassi who were doing great. Meet Me In St Luis were doing great for me, and my next signings were all obvious – Blackfish, Tubelord and Colour. For you, Fuck Buttons were an obvious band in some respects, but they also added a level of eclectiness, which we didn’t have. And I always wanted that. It felt like it was an extra step. That would’ve been a cool roster with those two [Rolo Tomassi and Fuck Buttons] – it would have definitely put you a couple of steps ahead and I remember thinking – I wasn’t happy that you didn’t get it – but it was like “damnit…”

Holy Roar: I always think the two bands I have that you wish you had were – or are – Rolo and Brontide.

BSM: yeah, I guess so.

Holy Roar: but then you’ve just done one recently where I was like “fucking hell, I wish I’d done that.” What band is it?

BSM: Caspian. That’s a great record.

Holy Roar: Exactly.

BSM: I don’t think there’s too much I’d have released over the last few years that would sit on either of our rosters – I do think we’ve moved apart – but Caspian does feel like the perfect middle ground.

Holy Roar: Especially as the cover art looks like a Fear Factory record.

BSM: [Laughs]

Holy Roar: It does! Honest to god. I saw the cover and said “What is this bullshit?” and then I was like “Fuck me, this is amazing.”

BSM: That record and Talons, but at the moment there’s not much else…

Holy Roar: Chariots, they went from BSM to Holy Roar. And you could sort of argue; I did Bastions and you’re doing Terrible Love, which feature lots of people from the Holy Roar world, and that’s one where I think the lines are blurred.

BSM: I like it though, when you can see the lines blurring from the one to the other. If we were talking wider, I think both of us would have loved to have worked with Three Trapped Tigers.

Holy Roar: It does feel like there’s a Venn diagram between us, and bands you would put in that would be Brontide, maybe Rolo Tomassi, Caspian, Talons, maybe Giants, Apologies I Have None are an obvious example, because they have done [released on both labels].

BSM: Gnarwolves to a degree maybe.

Holy Roar: Yeah, they come from maybe more of my world. So there is this parallel running, but there’s loads of bands that you do, that I wouldn’t touch, and likewise I could never see you touching Slabdragger or Ohhms. We set ourselves up by accident to do that sort of stuff. One of my first ever releases – or first three – was the split between Kayo Dot and Bloody Panda – like this horrible doomy avant garde stuff.

BSM: OK, final question. How much would I have to pay you to get a Big Scary Monsters tattoo?

Holy Roar: What’s the tattoo? The logo?

BSM: Yeah, just the Harry Potter font.

Holy Roar: A grand. I’d do it for a grand. So, when you sell to Sony, part of your contract with them will have to be that Alex Fitzpatrick has to get the BSM logo tattoo on a prominent place and of the size of his choice.

BSM: I was saying to someone the other day, if we did a tattoo swap, it would be interesting. I’d get a Holy Roar tattoo, you get a BSM tattoo. I don’t have any tattoos, so it should be a bigger deal for me than it is for you. But, just to piss you off, and knowing that that you’d be ashamed of it, I’d consider it.

Whereas I would be proud of mine, knowing wherever I was in the world, and whatever time it was, I’d think about your sad little face with your BSM tattoo on your arm. You’d grow to hate it.

Holy Roar: I would not hate it…

Holy Roar Records will celebrate their 10th Anniversary at The Dome and Boston Music Rooms in Tufnell Park, London on Saturday May 21st.

Line-up:

Stage 1
Rolo Tomassi (Playing unique “through the ages” set)
Departures
Vales (Playing ‘Clarity’ in full for the last time)
Giants (Official ‘Break The Cycle’ release show)
Apologies, I Have None
The Long Haul (one off reunion)
Employed To Serve (Playing ‘Greyer Than You Remember’ in full)
Svalbard
Up River (Playing ‘Undertow’ in full)

Stage 2
Hang The Bastard (Playing ‘Hellfire Reign’ for the last time with original vocalist Chris Barlow)
Slabdragger
OHHMS (Playing ‘Bloom’ in full)
We Never Learned To Live
Body Hound
Meek Is Murder
Haast’s Eagled
Eulogy
Helpless

Tickets and further details can be found here.

Holy Roar Records links: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Tumblr|YouTube|Instagram

Big Scary Monsters Records links: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Spotify|YouTube|Bandcamp

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Alex Fitzpatrick and Kev Douch for their time. It’s amazing what the promise of a free beer and a patty melt sandwich can accomplish.

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)