Gringo Records turns 15!
Did you ever think the label would be going this long?
I don’t think I ever gave it any thought. I actually didn’t start Gringo Records, some of my friends started it. Tom, Joe and Jason started it in Colchester and I was at University in Southampton. They wanted to put out a record by Tom and Joe’s bands, Lando and Teebo. I wasn’t around, so they started up the label, and then I quit Southampton University because Southampton is possibly the most depressing place on Earth. I came back to Colchester and weedled my way in, I think because, aside from Jason, I was the only one who had money saved! We did all put a share in to that first record. We didn’t sell many copies. I’ve still got boxes of it in my basement.
Where did you sell it?
We wrote to labels we liked and asked them how they sell records. We didn’t get any distribution for it because it was really badly put together; it didn’t sound very good, it wasn’t mastered correctly, so we just tried to sell it by mail order. We sent copies to John Peel and the NME, but no-one was really interested in it. It sounded awful. It wasn’t the songs, just the production and the transfer to the vinyl. You can still buy it! It is a apiece of rock history.
How many records have you put out?
The one that I’ve just sent off to get manufactured will be catalogue number 49, but there is one catalogue number that’s missing, because we were going to put something out but it never happened. It was catalogue number 7 and was going to be a band from Birmingham called Calvados Beam Trio. We were also going to put out a Bob Tilton record at one point, but that also never happened. Neil strung us along! We did some fliers advertising the new Bob Tilton 7”, but it never happened. I learned a lesson from it, which is to never suggest you are going to put something out unless you are actually given the music. Bands are full of well-intentioned but badly organised people!
Do you get involved in the recording?
I leave it to the band to make the record and put the artwork together, and I just say if I can afford to do what they want. If the band records the album and I don’t pay for it, then they still own the rights and can take it elsewhere if they want to. Most of the bands I deal with record themselves as well, but I will always try to cover their costs if I can.
What goes in to actually releasing a record?
It’s not very difficult, really. I don’t really have to do anything apart from give someone some money, it’s great. All I have to say to the band is where to send the music and upload the artwork. Then when they have done that, if there are any problems I let the band sort it out! All I have to do is give the money over when something needs to be paid for. That’s pretty much all I have to do. The bands I work with are all pretty self-sufficient. It’s not like they hand over some music and expect me to sort everything out. The harder work is trying to sell the record.
How difficult is it trying to sell a record?
It is difficult, but it all depends on how active the band is. Someone like Hookworms, who are really popular through nothing that I have ever done, their record sold out within a couple of months because they are really good and people have heard of them through word of mouth. Then there are some bands who aren’t quite as active as them or perhaps not have many people have heard of them. It can be very difficult to get press, especially being a regional record label. Sometimes we’ll pay someone else to do it. It is hard to get people to write something good about music and I don’t think poorly written reviews have any impact. I think people hearing music is still the best way to discover music and that is why record labels have to embrace the internet as it levels the playing field.
The Gringo Records 15th Birthday Party
What’s the most popular Gringo Records release?
I’ve re-pressed a few records such as the Wolves Of Greece record. The first Souvaris album was very popular. Bilge Pump’s first album was re-pressed. I think the Hookworms 12” would have been the most popular release; it sold out of 500 copies within a couple of months and if we re-pressed it we would still be selling it.
How has the way you sell music changed?
Now, probably a third of what we make is on digital sales. That’s through Bandcamp or any of these online places that sell digital music, like iTunes. Although you don’t make much money from iTunes. Spotify is the worst though. We sell a lot more stuff online. What has changed for the bands is that someone like That Fucking Tank can go on tour to a country like Slovenia and everyone will know the songs, but clearly no-one has bought the album, so they’ve all got hold of the music somehow! Some people could look at this un-favourably because a load of people have got hold of music that no-one has paid for, but on the other hand, the band have got to play to a load of people in a foreign country who really like them and know their songs; you have to embrace these things rather than run away from them. What’s the point in making music if people aren’t going to hear it? I’m pretty realistic and Gringo is never going to make a load of money and I think the bands understand that they aren’t going to make much money being on the label, but they will get a record put out and there will be a lot of care put in to it.
Do you make much money?
I do make money on some releases, and the profits are always split evenly with the bands, but it is increasingly difficult at the moment, so breaking even is always the target. The best way to hear about a band is for them to go out and play a lot, but the nature of many of the bands that I put it out is that they have jobs and kids and they can’t go out and play 5 nights a week. I think they have a certain amount of realism and understand that we will do as much as we can to promote them.
Where do you run the label from?
Wherever I’m living at the time! I’ve just bought a house and all of my boxes of records are in the basement. Some of the boxes are mouldy, but I do check that there isn’t any mould on any of the records before sending them out.
When did you move to Nottingham?
I moved in the autumn of 2000, so I’ve been here for nearly twelve years. I moved up to live with Chris who is currently in the bands Grey Hairs and Kogumaza, Neil of the band Kogumaza and Tom from Hirameka Hi-Fi. When I moved to Nottingham that’s when I ended up running Gringo by myself. I thought it was an amicable split, but my Gringo partner, Jason, turned out not to be very happy about it. I thought it was left that he could return to the fold whenever he felt more into it.
Do you still speak to him?
No, not at all unfortunately. When we had the 10th Anniversary I invited him because he was an important part of it, but he politely declined. He’ll always be part of it. I think he felt a little left out of it because we moved to Nottingham and he didn’t. He’s doing stand-up comedy now, so you might see him at Just The Tonic in a few years. I wish him all the best. It’s a shame really as a friendship ended.
Was it a deliberate decision to not just focus on ‘local’ acts?
I’ve never really focused on just the place that I was living in. I will always support the Nottingham bands that I really like, but if there is nothing going on that is floating my boat I won’t deliberately put something out just because it is from Nottingham. There are always Nottingham bands that I really like, but sometimes they are doing things with other labels who I also really like. I really like Fists and would love to do something with them. I wouldn’t want to piss off another label, especially one of similar stature such as Hello Thor. I’m always quite conscious of not fucking over other small labels. If you’ve worked with a band for a while and then they decided to put out a record with someone else it does sting a bit. The only rules that I have are that any release that I put out will always be a band from the UK. I will do split records with someone from overseas and someone from the UK, but I’ll never do a record with someone not from the UK. I don’t know why, it’s just something that I have decided to do.
Where it all started: The first release by Gringo Records
Do you get approached a lot by bands?
It’s weird because in the last few months loads of bands that I like and people I know in bands have asked me. I don’t know whether it’s because I am the last man standing and there is no-one else left to put a record out, but I’ve been asked quite a few things! I’m getting offered more stuff that I can actually do, so I’ve got to listen to a few things to decide if I want to put them out.
Have you had any missed opportunities?
I did get asked to put out the pre-Foals band, they were well in to Gringo. I do believe that Yannis from Foals bigged-up Gringo on The Beat. Blood Red Shoes have sent me demos. Bloc Party are really in to the ‘Gringo sound’, they’ve done a few playlists where they have included Chris Summerlin’s old band Reynolds. Chris probably plays on every second Gringo release! He gets more credits than me!
What was it like having the support of John Peel?
It was amazing. When I think of all the music I love and that has any merit, John Peel will have played it, and often at the wrong speed. He played a Gringo release at the wrong speed; that is what I’ve always strived for! He called me up at my mum’s house to ask me how to pronounce the title of a Seachange track. It was bizzare that John Peel just rang me up. I think Gringo definitely misses Peel; 6Music isn’t the same at all. Peel just played anyone and clearly wasn’t a twat. You know that there are people out there who would like our music if they heard it; the challenge is getting those people to hear the bands.
What are you personal highlights and favourite achievements with the label?
Definitely hearing something on John Peel’s show and having a fax read out by him asking him why he never played a song we sent to him, which he then never played. Always selling a record is an achievement, it’s really nice when someone buys something. The 10th Anniversary gig was great and hopefully the 15th Birthday will be the best time yet!
Do you ever think about when you might stop running the label?
There are times when I realise that my enthusiasm has dipped, but then I will go out and see a band and it then reminds me of why I was so enthusiastic in the first place. Like, ‘wow’, this is totally why I do this. There has always been one band who always do that for me. It used to be Sleater-Kinney and more recently it was Wild Flag who I saw at the start of the year.
Tell us about the Gringo Records 15th Anniversary show...
Lots of bands that you have probably seen before or haven’t heard of! Gringo is a bit of a family, but not the sort of family where everyone is very insular, but more like an open family. It’s a community of people who are very open and usually very drunk, but not me. I think people will enjoy the music, and if they don’t, they will definitely enjoy the spirit. That was a bit cheesy.
What are your future plans?
What I wanted to do this year, but it never happened, was a release for Record Store Day. The idea was a reaction to the getting Nottingham to Number One business, which is fine, but I don’t understand it. For me Nottingham is a great place to be involved with music and always has been. Chris Summerlin’s article in LeftLion probably sums it up better than I can articulate. Anyway, what I wanted to do for Record Store Day was a vinyl release of a lot of the great things that have come out of Nottingham that have never got to number one and mix it up with newer Nottingham bands. I didn’t get my shit together, so maybe next year and get some bands together like Heresy and Bob Tilton, just some of the good things that have come out of Nottingham with no mention of Su Pollard. Nottingham is my home and I’m very proud to be part of Nottingham’s musical history and current scene.
The Gringo Records 15th Birthday party is taking place in The Space at Nottingham Contemporary on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th June 2012. Click here for further information.