Sunday, 22 May 2005

Southern Records Unpaid Intern Questionnaire.

What is your particular interest in interning at Southern Records?

Exploring the mechanics behind a successful indie label, before I start my full-time music production degree at Newcastle College in September.

Two years ago I became fascinated with the band Fugazi, and their self-run label Dischord. As well as the inventive music, I was drawn to the fact that they controlled every single aspect of their music making process. From the homemade production values to the all-age gig venues, it was startlingly similar to the ethics behind my own music collective that I had run for several years in my home town of Portrush, Co. Antrim.

Having now finished my degree, and completed a year’s management-level employment for a prominent Irish charity, I am ready to begin developing my career where my true passion lies: music.

What experience do you hope to gain as an intern?

As much as humanly possible!

What type of work would you ultimately hope to pursue in the future?

I would like to work for an independent label in Newcastle while I complete my Music Production degree, while at the same time developing my skills as a freelance music journalist. Primarily though, I would like to get in a band and do something properly creative. Push the envelope of guitar music. Muddy the waters with bad synth and ugly sampling. Write lyrics about defribulators and waking up in the middle of the night feeling like Marlon Brando. That sort of thing.

After having flushed such lofty rock star illusions from my blackened NME-subscribed heart, I would like to pursue the much more realistic ambitions of managing an independent label and/or assisting in the studio production process.

Eventually, I can see my label as being only one important part of a full-on arts collective, that encompasses a publishing house, art gallery and regular live events. The idea being that whatever the medium, quality artists can find a conduit or space to present their work with as much freedom as possible. Idealistic I know, but one must try.

Who are your three favourite musicians/bands and why?

Radiohead – A longstanding favourite, purely because of how they have evolved from a straight forward, rather predictable guitar band into a shimmering, genre-hopping outfit that never ceases to challenge their listeners. At a stroke, Kid A changed the face of intelligent guitar music – fusing jazz, classical and electronic influences with the traditional three-guitar assault. They never forgot to write songs without tunes, either… no matter how obscure their influences had become.

Elastica – Their sheer economy of sound is still fresh ten years on after their debut album. Black leather lyrics, brown substance bass lines and enough plagiarism to keep Mark E. Smith on a healthy royalties payout pension, they have a dynamic all of their own. Their music sounds as though it’s been painted in very minimalist colours, before having Tracy Emin throw up all over it. It’s messy and focussed and pop all at once. A true one-off.

Fugazi – Their rhythm section is the tightest I’ve ever heard. And also one of the most creative, which allows McKaye/Piccotio to do pretty much anything over the top. It’s their later work I’m obsessed with: on their last four albums they continually reinvent the wheel. No two songs are ever the same, with structure patterns, guitar sounds and dynamics between the two singers always changing, always nosing out new nooks and corners within the guitar-song format. And then there’s their work ethic, which just makes their perseverance and longevity all the more impressive.

What are your three favourite books and why?

I have an aversion to books after my overly academic history degree. At a push I can manage:

Tobias Wolff - The Night In Question – It’s distilled genius, and jam-packed full of sly observations and ideas on life that orbit within the heads of normal, believable characters. His stories are so imaginative and yet very little actually happens. He has a canny knack for making the small details sound interesting rather than pedantic. And he describes a car tyre passing over warm tarmac as “tacky”, which is spot-on.

Simon Goddard – Songs That Saved Your Life – While it adopts Ian Macdonald’s blueprint for studying a band purely through its music, the formula has a far richer subject to mine than The Beatles. Reading about how classic albums were made ignites a fanboy spark of curiosity in me… I find that I simply must know how many guitar overdubs there were on How Is Now? (At last count it’s five.)

Craig Thompson – Blankets – My aversion to reading has led me to graphic novels. Thompson’s tale of unrequited love, plus his simple, sometimes surreal drawings make perfect companions.

What magazines do you read on a regular basis?

NME (ah, the squalid shame), Uncut, Mojo, The Onion.com, Alternative Ulster, Empire and Plan B magazine. But Pan B is a bunch of hippy undergrads angling for their big break in writing reviews about Soho cyan pepper-cafes for the Guardian Style supplement. I used to read the Fragment and Reason To Believe fanzines until they became difficult to get over here.

In your opinion, is the availability of music for downloading (whether legally or illegally) a positive development, or a negative one.... and why?

Downloading a legal sample from a band’s official site is a great idea, because you can try before you buy. Legal downloads have already strengthened an otherwise flagging singles market, and could even see iTunes emerge as the successor to the CD format. Illegal downloading is happening purely because the price of CDs and LPs are extortionate. Perhaps a little more respect for the consumer’s wallet would encourage copyright-friendly behaviour. I’m currently buying a lot of vinyl, and with the exception of places like Southern, I’m having to pay as much as £20 for a newly released LP. No wonder p2p file sharing is rife.

What, in your opinion, should differentiate an independent label from a major?

A greater respect and patience for the artistic aspirations of the musicians.

A greater fear of commercial failure – since Rupert Murdoch isn’t around to bail you out if Toploader's third album flops. This necessitates that the roster is full of quality acts that might not always be the most fashionable, rather than chasing after the latest Kaiser Chief identikit band. The world doesn’t need another Menswear…

Indie labels have a closer relationship with record shops and the media – because without their help they would get swallowed whole by a single HMV 2-for-1 offer.

An independent label should have character, whether it be metal, electro or art-rock… but at the same time be prepared to stretch its remit in the types of acts it takes on. For example Warp signing Maximo Park.

Releasing products with plenty of pin badges, posters and album playback sessions at independent record stores, which makes the release of an album an event rather than just another dispatch from a warehouse.

An independent wouldn’t fund Lockheed Martin weapons guidance systems manufacture with the sales of Nirvana albums (like Universal does – see the sleeve of God Speed! You Black Emperor’s Yanqui UXO for the full run-down).