Record labels take commitment, hard work and an insanely silly love and passion for music that trumps everything else. Also kinda like running a blog. So here at Too Many Blogs, we thought we’d pay homage to our favourite record labels in this new interview feature. For our next edition we spoke to head honcho Kev of Big Scary Monsters about their history, dogs & their recent pop-up store.
For a start, Big Scary Monsters is an amazing name for a label. What are its origins?
It was actually from a friend at sixth form, where the label began. I was running a little zine called Always Echoes and initially wanted to call it Always Records, which would’ve been much more sensible, but it became Big Scary Monsters and that was that.
How would you describe BSM to a stranger in 3 words? (That aren’t big, scary, or monsters)
Terrible band names
What made you want to start a record label?
I’m not entirely sure, looking back! I think it was girls and money, and by the time I realised independent music wasn’t quite the glamour game I thought it was, it was too late, I was hooked. I quickly became obsessed with trying to discover and nurture new bands and I think the things which interest and excite me about the job still change all the time, even 16 years in
Who was the first band you worked with and are you still working with them?
We put out a couple of compilations initially but our first single was from a band called Hiding With Girls. They split up a very long time ago but the singer now managers Creeper, Neck Deep and some other bands, so our paths still occasionally cross.
How does it feel to see bands you work with like Modern Baseball, La Dispute, Gnarwolves (and the rest!) doing so well around the country and the world?
It’s incredible. There’s nothing like watching a band grow as more and more people realise what you’ve always believed about their ability. The first time I saw Gnarwolves play was in front of around 30 people in Brighton, and we started working together a few days after. Three years later they played the main stage at Reading Festival before we’d even released an album. Whenever I eventually grow up and get a proper job, moments like that are staying with me.
You’ve been a label for 16 years now, what’s been the ultimate highlight – if you can!
The aforementioned Reading set is definitely up there. We had some amazing days, in a similar vein, whilst Get Cape Wear Cape Fly was growing. The shows La Dispute played around the release of their Rooms Of The House album at Bush Hall absolutely blew me away. There’s loads of little moments like that when I think back but perhaps my current favourite was seeing Meet Me In St Louis reform last year. We’d released their debut album in 2007 but they sadly split up very soon after. It was a great record and a hugely important one for me and the label, something I remain very proud of. So for them to come back nine years (and a lot of begging!) later was brilliant, and then for the first 500 capacity London show to sell out in the space of minutes, followed by another one, three more shows around the country, and for them to headline a stage at ArcTanGent, the first time they’d ever played a festival (and last – as it was their final show, for real this time) was just unbelievable. A happy ending to a big chapter for the label.
Who is the team behind BSM?
There’s myself, Kev. I run the label, overseeing everything, dealing with bands, running the socials, basically doing whatever needs doing. Dave joined us a year ago as Label Assistant. He helps me out with all sorts of things as well as running our mailing list, marketing and lots of spreadsheety bits. And then towards the end of last year Connor joined as our A&R Assistant / Young Man. His main job is to scout new bands but has to spend a lot of time explaining stuff to us old guys. In addition to them we have our distributors, Kevin, our brilliant German PR, and a whole gang of other press, radio and booking people who assist with various artists all around the world.
The music industry changes faster than any other, what has been the hardest change to adapt to, e.g. I presume the switch from physical to digital was a challenge at first?
The whole thing has been changing continuously throughout really. When the label began the Internet as a whole was just starting to play a part and I remember lots of labels (many of whom no longer exist, funnily enough) steadfastly refusing to put MP3s online for people to sample tracks as they believed people should just be buying the CDs. I thought the music itself was our best advertisement so have always embraced whatever platforms are available for getting the bands to a wider audience. Illegal downloading of course did become a problem for a few years, but once you stopped believing every torrent or whatever was a lost physical sale, and learned to appreciate the fact the records were getting to more people, and in turn opened doors for bands to tour more, etc, it wasn’t so bad. I feel like we’re hitting a smoother stretch right now though with less disruptive challenges on the horizon. Over the years it didn’t feel so much like the goal posts were being moved, more than the whole game was being reinvented around us. Right now we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s in front and it’s exciting to have that stability and actually make some slightly longer term plans.
I became more aware of BSM’s work after interviewing Cassels. Did you know immediately you wanted to sign them when hearing their music?
It was Matt from Tall Ships who first told me to check the band out and I really liked them from the first listen. They were interesting, dynamic and had so many ideas in ever song. I saw them play soon after, we went for a few drinks (even though Loz was still 17 at the time. Shhhh) and thought they were great, so started working together soon after. I’ve always said they’ve got a brilliant debut album in them and this year we’ll all find out if I was right or not!
You also recently signed PWR BTTM up to your roster, they’re so exciting right now, what’s so special about them for you?
I absolutely adore PWR BTTM. It was their song ‘I Wanna Boi’ which grabbed me first and foremost, wedging itself in my head immediately! I promised myself I’d just be a fan of this one and not try to sign them, but as my obsession for the record grew I just couldn’t help get in touch! That must’ve been about 8 months ago now and we’ve since re-released Ugly Cherries, their first record, and will soon be starting work with them on their second. It’s already recorded and is just stunning. Even bigger and better than the debut, believe it or not. We spent a lot of time with Ben and Liv when they toured the UK in December and my love for them just grew and grew. They’re very special people, a hugely important band, and I think this is going to be a big, BIG year for them.
Your roster has got more diverse over the years, what is the key thing you look for in an act?
Music – regardless of genre – is always first. We have to love it. After that we like to talk with the band and their team to find out things like what they want to achieve, their plans for the record/coming year, what they want us to bring to the table, things like that so we can check everyone’s on the same page and heading the same direction. We also have to ask ourselves a lot of questions. Can we realistically help, do we have the time and resources available or will we be spreading ourselves too thin, who do we need to get involved, that kinda thing. If everything looks good – and the band are nice enough to trust us with their music – we get started!
What music do you enjoy that probably still wouldn’t fit on BSM’s roster?
I’ve always wanted to sign a hip hop artist. A few years ago I was listening to lots of Buck 65 and would’ve loved to sign someone like him or Why?, but the right artist never came along. I don’t think that would be too much of a stretch, musically, though. I mean it’d be different, for sure, but we’ve always mixed things up and our fanbase are a brilliantly open-minded bunch.
Your dog-themed merch is excellent. Is it based on your own dog?
It is indeed. The one and only Ron Swanson!
If you could take one BSM band on tour to any country, who and where would you choose?
Ooh, tough question. I’d quite like to see PWR BTTM in Japan. Or maybe Delta Sleep to America, because they’ve been wanting to go for so long and I’m determined to make that happen for them!
Please describe the ultimate big scary monster.
What’s coming up in 2017 for BSM that you’re most excited about?
So much! We opened up a popup shop in London (bsmrocks.com/popup) on 23rd Jan until 3rd Feb. We have acoustic instores from Modern Baseball, Kevin Devine, Beach Slang, Gnarwolves, Tall Ships and Delta Sleep, plus Tiny Moving Parts running a cocktail bar, our friends from Awesome Merchandise running screen printing lessons, a dog day and so much more. So that’s filling about 90% of my brain right now, but beyond that I’m also excited for new releases from Meat Wave, Sorority Noise, PWR BTTM, Gnarwolves and some new signings we can’t yet discuss. Perhaps even more than ALL of that though I’m excited for festival season because that means summer and I’m absolutely done with winter already!
Why did you decide to do a pop-up store?
We wanted to celebrate reaching 200 releases, as well as our sweet 16th birthday, and wanted to do something special. We’d toyed around with a few ideas but nothing was working and just when all seemed lost, I woke up at 4am one morning and the idea was just sitting there at the front of my brain! It just seemed prefect and ticked all of the boxes we were hoping to. The very next day we began researching premises, looking at our bands schedules and dreaming up a list of cool products we could sell in there.
It seemed to be a resounding success, any highlights?
Honestly the whole thing was incredible. I went in so nervous and, as stupid as it sounds, forgot the thing was a shop! I’d spent the whole of the Christmas break thinking about logistics, instores, fixtures, fittings and other such bores, I guess I slightly lost track of the fundamental basis of the operation! So when, at the end of our two weeks, we’d sold out of so much stuff, every instore and event had been packed, we’d got to hang with so many friends and everyone had been amazingly kind about it all, it really felt like we’d achieved something. I’m really not sure I could pick a single highlight, but this video our friend put together to celebrate sums it all up pretty well…watch it below!