Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Traps: T-Shirts! Music! Er... Interesting Slogans! A band-operated Record Label!

You're a band, and you run your own label. Sounds great, doesn't it? Puts you ahead of the pack, right? Well... maybe. It can make for even more work than simply keeping the act afloat, and normally that's quite enough for most people. But there are compensations, and it can develop from a simple idea into something bigger.

Nick Berry is one of The Traps, a fine and inventive band of this parish, and one of the many very pleasant high points of the Songwriters Cafe 2012 season. They kicked off a label, Speech Fewapy, to go with their own recordings, and then those of some pals. The label has become a brand, extending to clothing and, for a brief period, a rather inventive radio show that aired weekly(ish) on Rhubarb Radio. As far as small-scale local labels go, SF are in good company, with Friendly FireStately Homes of England’s Spritely Records, Misty’s Big Adventure‘s Grumpy Fun Records, Silvery Records in Coventry, and Friends of The StarsCommercially Inviable all raising their heads fitfully above the parapet when there’s a release to big up.

So tell me about your label...
It came about two years ago. We were getting very tired of the ‘write three songs, record three songs and send them off to A&R people to chase a deal’ routine. We found we were recording single-type songs, not songs that were suited to albums or EPs. So we set up Speech Fewapy records… 
When you say; ’set up a label’, what are you talking about, exactly?
Funnily enough, I’m reading a book about that at the moment – what makes you an official ‘label’ – like a company, or a business? Actually it wasn’t like that. We set up a website online, and released everything, digitally, through that. We didn’t have a plan. We did think of eventually stepping that up as it grew, including having physical product.  
 We had some t shirts made, hand-drawn, with ‘You Need Speech Fewapy’ as a slogan, very much influenced by the old Stiff Records t-shirts. 

You mean the old ‘If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A Fuck’ t-shirts? I had one of those…. 
Yes. I had a repro version! Anyway, we had about 150 of those made, and they really worked as our marketing tool. Interesting, but accidental, although very successful! It gave our label a personality, which was really important.
Then we started to look at releasing other artists. We got Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame on board. We’d really liked the work he’d done with Sunset Cinema Club.
At the start of our chat, you described the 20th century record company model label and the problems in the way they worked with artists. We’re well into the 21st century, and things have changed - for the better in some ways, and in other ways decidedly not. But that 20th century model was very damaging for bands. Bands wound up jumping to the tune of the A&R men…
Exactly. When you start a band, you do it for the love of it, the fun and the music. The deeper you go into any kind of involvement with the music industry, the more you run the risk of starting to dislike something you absolutely love. I found that whenever we had interest in London - the longer it went on, with the expectancy that something was going to happen, the empty promises and all that - frustration sets in. It stops you listening to music! The roles in the band change too: certain people have to take a more business-like lead, but still focus on the music. With the setting up of the label, it was very much about bringing the fun back. 
A lot of bands have this problem, getting bogged down with administration. 
I think that’s what kills bands in the end. 
So tell me how Speech Fewapy has worked as a sidebar to your musical activities?
At the moment it’s at the trickiest stage, because we’ve just finished recording an album (Calypso)...
When we set the label up it was just us and our music, so the label ran when we were ready to push our own music. But then we released Greg Bird, we did an EP with Tom Peel, and started working with Black Heart Generator. After that, we decided as a band that we wanted to go away and write and record an album. We wanted to write for a whole year, basically. So now we have a problem, now the album’s done – but it’s a nice problem.
What sort of agreement do you have with your other artists – is this a handshake relationship, or something more formal? Is there a sense of responsibility to your artists?
It is a handshake thing. Where it goes in the next year, we don’t know yet. But we, as a label, take the responsibility for all the manufacturing, all the press and PR. That’s not to say we don’t involve the artists in that. We very much like to involve them, and make it a collaboration – how we can think of different ways in which to approach that. But ultimately it's down to us. Surely a label shouldn’t release an artist unless they’re very excited about that artist? 
Well, yes, I agree. But I can think of dozens of examples to the contrary in the mainstream industry…
So to go that extra step and help them with the whole release – it’s a no-brainer for me. 
Moving Pictures - The Traps    The second single from the new album

So, whether it’s a semi-dormant label, as it has been for a spell, or a side project of yours, as opposed to the formal business relationship it may well become, you still have an imprint, a concept. I’m aware of the artists you’ve released; I also listened to your rather good Speech Fewapy radio show; so I feel that you have a brand. 
Because the T-shirts were so successful as well, we saw a lot in the ‘You Need Speech Fewapy’ slogan. It was slightly controversial, but we weren’t too concerned. We very much wanted to make it a brand, and if you go on the website, you’ll see that we separate the music and the clothing. We value the clothing thing as a complete, very important feature to our label – our brand, if you like. I’m not ashamed to say that at all.  We’re now looking at working with retailers - if you look at how stores like Urban Outfitters, for example, they sell music, and they sell clothes. But they don’t have any brands that work together. So maybe they’re missing a trick. Ultimately, the people who buy clothes there also buy music.
Who else might you be thinking about associating yourselves with, on the label?
This week, we released a new single by Tom Peel... 
... and last month we did a release with a band called the Bombergs – a really good at three-piece with bits of Talking Heads and Television  - they’re great…and we’re talking to a couple of other guys. 
And clothing lines?
Last year we did a different t-shirt every month for a year, the idea being that a different designer would design a t-shirt based around the slogan. That worked really well. The idea is to get that going again, but to have more of a name, to evolve the brand and the clothing range. 
And are you following the Factory records model of giving everything a sequential catalogue number?
Yes! Your Headland, the new new Traps single.

The Traps
Speech Fewapy Records

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