I didn’t really want to touch this particular topic, I have to confess. It makes me uneasy for many reasons. I’ve never experienced anything like this myself, never really seen it that I am aware of, and I entirely accept that I am a long way from being an expert on this stuff. I am also very much aware that the predominance of white, male, middle class voices like myself in this sector is a significant part of the problem.
However, since the revelations about the assaults suffered by various prominent female musicians at the hands of a well known PR agent recently, and the subsequent chatter about it being such a constant, pervasive and unchallenged thing in the music industry, I am starting to think that even if I don’t quite get this right, it is still important to try and say it.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, women need to be encouraged to come forward about sexual harassment and assault, and to feel that they will be taken seriously and supported if they do. I want to make it clear that I would take this kind of shit seriously, and there would be none of this ‘oh did he really‘ nonsense going on.
Secondly, one of the best ways to combat this sort of shit is simply to try and make sure there are more female voices in this sphere. It’s not enough to encourage them to take a more prominent role; as the incumbents, we white, middle class men have to actively surrender ours more often. I work with a lot of women in music and I really do want them to know that I am happy to be told. I know I can’t really understand this problem on their level, and if anyone wants to tell me how it is, particularly in the communities I operate in, I am happy to be talked to, lectured to, ranted at or basically whatever. I know this isn’t my conversation to lead, but I do want to at least say that I want it to happen and will try and do what is needed to help that.
Thirdly, I am amazed that it has to be said, but I think it does. Even if it’s just something which I force myself to live up to: sexual assault, foisting unwanted sexual attention, creepy remarks, all that sort of shite is not welcome here. Not in my company, not in our house and not as a part of our label. I am not claiming I have always been perfect in this sort of area myself, and I have said some dumb shit in my time, but I don’t like it, I am not happy with it and I want to improve. Read the rest of this entry »
I am delighted to announce that Plastic Animals’ debut album Pictures From the Blackout will be released on the 8th of February 2016 on vinyl and download – and you can pre-order the album on Bandcamp.
Album launch (with Frog): Wee Red Bar, Lauriston Place, January 29th 2016. £7 – tickets here.
Plastic Animals define themselves as atmospheric sludge rock, and that works pretty well for me. It’s indie rock, I suppose, but flavoured with shoegaze and krautrock (particularly in some of the longer ones), and in fact, as can happen with this kind of music, some of the longest and most impenetrable tracks are probably the album’s standout songs.
Actually, for all their initially shoegazey leanings, this is much more evidently melodic in places, although there are some brilliantly chuggy, krauty moments as well, like the euphoric closer Holy Daze and the fantastic Colophon, which is all just build and build and build and the lyrics don’t even kick in until the last thirty second or so of the song.
To say that things around Plastic Animals tend to move slowly would be an understatement. Apparently they’ve been around in one form or another for as long as Eagleowl, who are a sort of Edinburgh byword for taking your own sweet time with your music, but Eagleowl’s debut album came out in 2013 and erm… here we still are.
(Skip to 2:31 for one of the greatest moments in musical history.)
Hello there folks. Yes I am, contrary to rumour and vast, vast quantities of gin and wine consumed, still alive. And back from Red Hook, sitting at my desk like a grown-up trying to figure out exactly where I go from here.
Honestly, if I had the choice I would still be in Red Hook. Up until recently my whole life has been spent changing city, and often country, every few years. I’ve spent the last ten years in Edinburgh however, and I had genuinely forgotten the thrill of wandering a new city for the first time. It’s a great experience, and the sense of infinite possibility is pretty much impossible to replicate with a holiday. Still, there are a million reasons I won’t bore you with that Mrs. Toad and I can’t just up sticks and fuck off, so I am stuck in Leith building my own studio (working title: The Happiness Hotel – what do you think!) and wondering what to do with my record label for the next year. Such a hard life.
It may appear from the internet that I didn’t really do any work while I was over in the States and that is arguably true – I certainly just dossed around having an amazing time more than I rather naïvely thought I would, and in retrospect I don’t regret it in the slightest.
I did, however, spend time hanging out with my brother and recording the Toad Flake Paint Split 12″, which will be out later this year. I also caught up on something like three years of out-of-date accounting, meaning I now have a precise idea of how much every release we have on the label has ‘made’ (call my accountant, I am buying a yacht in the Bahamas right now). So it wasn’t like I was idle exactly, and the things I did get done are excellent things to have in the bag, so the time was far from squandered.
Most importantly, however, I also got a bit of distance from Edinburgh and from the label itself and had the chance to sit down and really think about what I am trying to achieve with Song, by Toad and how best to go about it. A bit of a think is an important thing for any artistic (and indeed commercial) project, but it can be very hard to actually achieve when the day to day running of the thing pretty much overwhelms you, so the presence of the Atlantic Ocean and some time in a neighbourhood where I knew more or less no-one was a welcome chance to just draw breath and take stock.
Despite this, I feel like I didn’t really solve anything, unfortunately. So why not lay out the dilemma here, so you can see the cogs in my head spinning with near-total futility.
When we first started the label we had no real intention of becoming a ‘proper’ record label. The plan was to help small bands and pals get a bit of traction and a bit more of a push for their stuff, in the hopes that they would then have the opportunity to move on to something bigger and better in the future. We weren’t supposed to be anything more than a starter label, really.
The problem with that approach was that a/ our first release sold over a thousand records, which makes you legit pretty much immediately, whether you like it or not; and b/ there are so few decent labels out there and so many bands that you will get pushed into professionalism (or as close an impression as you can manage) pretty quickly, because no band wants to be on a ‘just for fun’ label when they have a debut album to release that they’ve slaved away on for years.
So I find myself trapped between two identities at the moment and I have no idea how to resolve the situation. On one hand we have a loose collective of established artists which in my opinion makes us easily one of the best record labels in the country (feel free to disagree, I know this business is all about opinions, and you are welcome to be wrong if you want). This year we have new albums coming up by David Thomas Broughton and Adam Stafford, for example, and whilst neither of them are huge they are both well established and both need a well thought-out release strategy and proper attention to do them justice. If we based the whole label around a small core of artists like that and a limited number of releases I think we’d have one really good solution to what Song, by Toad could be.
Alternatively, between David Cameron’s Eton Mess, and a plethora of new tape and Split 12″ releases on the horizon, we are perfectly placed to become what I believe would be a really excellent ‘project’ label; not really signing artists per se, but just working on low-key things as and when they turn up, focussing more on strange and interesting projects, and giving exciting new bands their first formal releases, rather than trying to become a junior version of Domino or Bella Union. The warehouse studio that we are in the process of building would seem to lend itself to that, giving us the opportunity to make things happen whenever we have a good idea, and the chance to arrange more interesting collaborations like Bastard Mountain.
Either of those two models would work very well for me, but of course Song, by Toad Records is currently a bit of both, and I am not sure it works that well, to be honest.
At the moment I get the impression we’ve sort of managed to throttle both models by dallying with the other, if you know what I mean. We have too many bands formally signed to the label to really have the time and space to do the weird and interesting projects that I want to do, and at the same time we have too many weird projects going on to devote the proper care and attention to the bands who are on the roster at the moment, meaning we aren’t really doing them justice. And I honestly have no idea how to resolve this as I really get the impression that either approach pretty much entails a full-time job in itself.
It’s a classic case of having eyes bigger than your stomach of course. I would run about four or five record labels if I could: one traditional one and one weird projecty one as detailed above, of course, as well as one specialising in retrospective re-releases of previously self-released stuff from the last five years or so, one based around bringing non-anglophone records from around the world to the UK, and probably a modern-classical/experimental noise label as well. I could imagine an entirely Scottish-focussed label, one based around giving small US/Canadian bands their first UK release and getting them over here touring, one based entirely around collaborative projects with musicians mostly known for their other bands, recorded entirely in our warehouse – fuck it, I could probably have about ten labels if I had infinite cash and infinite time.
The problem I have is of course the obvious one; in the words of Jonnie Common “I’m only making one trip and I’ve only got one pair of hands”.
I have to pick one, and at the moment I am sort of trying to do two things at once. I don’t want to get rid of artists on the label because we signed each and every one of them for very good reasons: we really like them as people and we fucking love the music they make. And with the warehouse nearly ready I am really far too excited about getting in there to work to start worrying about restricting it already.
So what’s the solution? Well personally I think it is going to have to be twofold.
Firstly, we have tape releases now. We can release stuff on tape cheaply and easily, with a relatively stripped down PR process, and I think we should look to explore that avenue for stuff this year as a way of continuing to take risks with new stuff without necessarily breaking the bank or over-burdening me with extra work I can’t keep up with.
Secondly, we don’t have to commercialise everything. We haven’t done a Toad Session in a while, and the warehouse is perfect for Toad Sessions. We could even start doing collaborative Toad Sessions too – get a couple of musicians in with the idea that they work together on a couple of songs each, a bit like our second ever session with Mariee Sioux and Alela Diane. Or we could just record stuff for people but them give them the masters for release elsewhere.
But in future I want the warehouse to be the engine room of the label. It’s a brilliant space – informal, relaxed, and it sounds great – and so that is inevitably going to lead to changes in how the label operates. We’re currently in the process of redesigning our entire web presence, and once that’s done the blog will be less about my opinions on this album or that album, and more about stuff we are actually doing. Pictures from recording sessions, discussion of the mixing process, all sorts, but focussed mostly around actually doing creative work.
It will still be ‘Hello this is me and here are my wonderful opinions about music’ of course, but with much more focus on helping that music to happen, rather than just pontificating about it. Which I think we can all agree would be a good thing.
Well we’re halfway through the recording of the Toad Flake Paint Split 12″ now and so I thought a wee update was in order.
The whole recording process has been very, very different to our usual, hugely casual way of doing things. Because we’re using the National Opera Centre’s recording studio after hours we can’t really do the whole massive meal/get them totally shit-faced thing which tends to happen when we record at home.
In a way that seems pretty trivial, but it actually has quite a big impact on the actual recording.
Firstly, coming round to someone’s house and being fed and playing with the cats and all the usual silly stuff tends to really relax the bands. Relaxed bands tend to produce the best performances, which in turn make for the best recordings. And it’s just altogether more fun.
Without this we have to rely on the bands’ professionalism and what passes for my natural charm to help create a nice, relaxed atmosphere conducive to making good music, and actually that’s not as easy as it might be. It’s very hard to make an experience as dry as this have the special feel I think you get from recording in our living room, which is a shame, although the sessions so far have been fun.
Interestingly enough, coming into a real studio somewhat changes the bands’ expectations too. We can get away with singers not really being able to hear themselves and all sorts of other half-arsed nonsense back home because it’s obviously just a living room, not a studio. In this place however, you don’t quite get that leeway. It’s not really set up for recording rock bands of course, but it’s hard to get away with being slapdash and unprofessional in such a nice, formal space.
It’s quite fun sneaking a drum kit into a place which probably doesn’t see one from one year into the next – I don’t think I’ve felt this transgressive for a while – but you do find yourself tip-toeing around a little.
As I said, we’re halfway through the process at the moment, having done the Furnsss and Eskimeaux recording. We’re now just waiting on the Small Wonder (who will be using the grand piano, which is rather exciting) and Beach Moon/Peach Moon sessions, which will be happening next week, and we’ll be good to go – a Christmas holiday full of mixing!
And I do miss Nic. Having to take the photos myself is fun, but there is a definite talent void when I am on camera duties!
It’s probably not on the list of characteristics bands tend to aspire to, but Le Thug might be hands down the very nicest people I’ve ever dealt with when working with Song, by Toad. It doesn’t get you on the cover of the NME perhaps, but fuck me they’re lovely people.
They’re also an absolutely fantastic band, which helps. They may not be the most animated of live acts, but they are pretty bloody hypnotic, and Clio’s voice is a thing to behold in real life.
Also they’ve not played for ages so get yourselves out and see them if you can.
20th Nov. Strange Behaviours Festival, Stirling 24th Nov. Detour Sixfest with BDY_PRTS, Bloc, Glasgow 28th Nov. with Trembling Bells, The Tunnels, Aberdeen 5th Dec. with C. Duncan, Glasgow School of Art
As you may know, Song by Toad Records is a super-cool Brooklyn record label these days – well, for the next month or two anyway. We’ll be back to rather-less-cool Edinburgh in the new year. But anyway, for now: HIPSTERS!
Anyhow, I reckoned that one of the best possible ways to commemorate our trip was to record a Split 12″ with local bands while we were out here. My brother works in a recording studio and it seemed like a really good way to get involved with local music.
I have a couple of friends who are really into a lot of bands from around this part of the world. James from Passion Pusher and Tom from Gold Flake Paint have pointed me in the direction of a lot of great bands so I nudged them for a couple of recommendations and we soon came up with far too many bands to fit on one record because, well, whatever anyone tells you, there really is an awful lot of very good music out there.
Tom has his own label called Gold Flake Tapes actually, and we’ve talked in the past of doing jointly-promoted shows under an amalgamated Toad Flake Paint banner so… well, you can see where I’m going with this can’t you. This Split 12″ will be a one-off release on the newly minted Toad Flake Paint Records imprint, one sure to take the world by storm and become the great kingmaker label the world has been waiting for for so long.
Or maybe we’ll just make a record we both really, really like. Maybe just that, actually.
I went to see most of the bands in question during CMJ, which by sheer coincidence happened to take place the very week Mrs. Toad and I first moved over here, and it was a bit nerve-wracking to actually meet them in person.
I have a missing incisor at the moment, and a semi-inebriated, toothless Englishman lumbering up to a band after a show saying ‘hey, that was great, remember we talked about being on a record, well erm, want to be on this record we’re making?’ didn’t strike me as a great strategy for approaching people.
I never really make a good first impression on folk anyway though, and I have learned over the years that just not worrying about that and blundering on anyway in the hopes they’ll realise I’m sincere at some point tends to be the best approach. I’ve tried actually modifying my behaviour and trying to be a bit more subtle, but it tends to just come across as condescending and insincere, so I basically just went for it and hoped for the best.
It seemed to more or less work this time, I think. At least, everyone was really nice, if a bit baffled-looking at first, and a few members of the various bands had time for a bit of a chat and some basic planning.
One of the odder aspects of the process this time around is where it is actually going to be recorded.
See, the place my brother works over here is actually the National Opera Centre in Manhattan. It’s all entirely above board, but basically we are going to be faced with the somewhat bizarre scenario of waiting for all the nice grown up opera people to go home and then sneaking a bunch of pop bands in the back door to use the nice facilities after hours. It really is going to be an odd experience, but a fun one I think.
Because we are cheap bastards and refused to fly our normal photographer Nic Rue out for this one, my brother will do all the recording, I’ll do the photos and the video and then presumably we’ll mix the results between us.
Even though he’s a sound engineer who talked me through all my tentative early attempts at recording, my brother and I have never really worked together apart from an Inspector Tapehead Toad Session many years ago, so that too will be really nice.
Furnsss and Eskimeaux are on board already, and we’re just finalising the last couple of bands, but we’re nearly there and have recording dates down for late November and early December so far, so it’ll be a couple of months before it finally all comes together, but all being well we should leave New York at the end of the year with an amazing new record almost ready to go. Woo hoo!
By sheer good fortune, on the exact same day we (temporarily) became a Brooklyn Record label, one of our Song, by Toad Records bands turned up in New York to play some shows at CMJ.
Garden of Elks’ fantastic album of thrash pop A Distorted Sigh came out on vinyl and tape in April, and they’ve got five shows over here this week, as well as a few other bits and pieces, so having moved over here yesterday knowing pretty much no-one it seems I am now going to spend much of my time dotting around Brooklyn with Niall going to see bands. Not exactly a radical change of lifestyle, I have to confess.
And we’re in Red Hook too, which is surprisingly similar to Leith in many ways. I like it here.
Garden of Elks CMJ 2015 shows:
October 13th//The Living Room//British Consulate ‘Music Is Great’ showcase
October 16th//Fat Baby//11.45pm
October 17th//CakeShop//CakeShop Presents//1.30pm
October 17th//The Shop//8pm
October 18th//Fulton Stall Market//Paper Garden & Little Water CMJ Brunch//3pm
We don’t usually bother with exclusives or limited this, that or the other, primarily because we sell sufficiently few of more or less everything that it is all pretty much an exclusive limited edition by definition.
Tomorrow at the Pleasance Sessions Marketplace, however, we have two genuinely exciting first glimpses at new music we are releasing, almost before I’ve even had the chance to announce it on the internet. Yep, tomorrow will be your first chance to lay your sweaty hands on our fantastic compilation of new Scottish guitar bands, called David Cameron’s Eton Mess. Yes, seriously. Have a look at the artwork here. I promise you I had absolutely no idea that things would turn out the way they have – I actually designed it months ago. You can have a listen at the bottom of the page.
And secondly we have that glorious abomination at the top of the page: Grilled Wiig by Youngstrr Joey. Available on limited edition purple cassette, this was recorded under the influence of sleep deprivation, deliberately trying to make the guitar sound as weird as possible. And results are both as wonky and as excellent as that implies. Well, as that implies to me anyway, you might just think I’m nuts.
And finally, here’s a wee look at the artwork, and a preview player thingy for David Cameron’s Eton Mess. Yep, even more awesome and terrible than you were already imagining. And I promise, entirely coincidental.
Yep, we shall have a wee stall at the Pleasance Sessions Label Market thingy at the Pleasance Courtyard this Saturday, and there is even more awesome news:
Yes, it looks like we are indeed going to have a small handful of advance copies of our awesome new 12″ vinyl compilation David Cameron’s Eton Mess. Hooray! As well as our new cassette release by Youngstrr Joey, called Grilled Wiig.
Those will actually be our last releases of 2015, so I am delighted that they’ll be ready in time. In fact, we’re only getting about ten copies of Eton Mess, with the rest being delivered next week, but for the keen few (i.e. probably just me) you will have the wonderful excitement of getting your hands on one earlier than everyone else.
And don’t ask me about the Youngstrr Joey tape either, because that’s just weird. Which is exactly why I love it.
You can check out or buy both of these on our Bandcamp page, but it would be much better to just come along on Saturday don’t you think? Then we can get shit-faced together.
A tape release coming in early November, with nine songs recorded between nine at night and five in the morning. It’s not going to be a pop smash, this one, but it’s weird and I like it and that’s what our tape releases are for.