Imprint #2: An interview with Kevin Douch of Big Scary Monsters
We’re back again with the second edition of our Imprint series. Last week, we interviewed Andrej of Tangled Talk records who belong to the Pink Mist, a collective of fantastic independent UK record labels. Another of our favourite labels, Big Scary Monsters, also belong to Pink Mist and have put out some quality records, by some of our absolute favourite bands like Tellison, Joyce Manor, Into it Over it and Woahnows. Their captain, Kevin Douch, took some time to answer a few questions for us. Cheers Kevin!
What made you start your own label? And where did the name Big Scary Monsters come from?
Money, girls, fame, the usual misguided and totally deluded dreams. The name came from an old friend. It seemed funny at the time but it’s pretty fucking embarrassing now!
What were your aspirations back then?
Other than money, girls and fame, I think I just liked the buzz of the music industry. Over the course of a couple of years I became really passionate about – and obsessed by – music as a whole and when, after about 24 hours of trying, I couldn’t play a guitar, starting a label seemed like the next best way to get involved. The buzz of discovering a tiny, almost unheard of band and trying to help them take their first few steps into the industry is something I have always loved. I think that was a big part of what first got me hooked and has kept me coming back ever since.
I understand that BSM is now a full time job for you – was there ever a ‘tipping point’ where you realised you had to dedicate all your time in order for it to take off?
Soon after I began the label I found myself working 9 – 5 at a phone company and then 6 – 10 at a local supermarket, just doing the label whenever I could find a moment. One day, after about a year of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was bothering. My friends were all having fun at uni and I was already disappearing into a rubbish career, before even turning 19. I quit the jobs and poured myself into the label, hoping the extra time spent on it would help it grow. I think I’ve always had some kind of “hourly pay” philosophy spinning around my head, which has lead to some pretty unsociable work hours over the years! Somewhere down the line I guess the tipping point came and this has been my full-time job for around 8 years now.
Tell us, how did you end up working with Andrew W.K.?
I came home drunk one night, put on his second album, The Wolf, sent him an email basically saying “if you’re ever after a label, I’m here” and then passed out. Woke up the next day to an email from his manager saying “call me.” I panicked, thinking he was gonna shout at me for being a dick, but instead he said they’d been thinking of putting out a release on a small UK label for a while but were waiting for the right one to approach them. And then came my drunken little message! We spent the next couple of years batting some pretty ridiculous ideas around until one day I won some money on a Fantasy Football league and suggested we spend it pressing up a square-shaped 7″. Andrew and his manager liked the idea so that’s exactly what we did.
What have some of the other highlights been for you?
Honestly there have been so many it’s hard to ever pick just one or two. I’ve loved working with bands such as Gnarwolves, Pulled Apart By Horses, Meet Me In St Louis and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly who each came from nowhere to earn great success or acclaim. I think those little victories are important for everyone (fans and peers included, not just the people directly involved) as they’re what keep you going.
How many records has BSM released and what have been some of your favourites?
We’ve just gone past the 150 mark and I genuinely love them all. The ones listed above hold a special reason because they each felt like little milestones, but equally working with bands such as Minus The Bear, Cursive and La Dispute who have helped shape and define some of the genres we work in has been a truly special thing.
What’s your opinion on crowd funding and have you ever considered using it as a means to fund releases?
I’ve never considered it myself, directly, at least, but some of the artists I’ve worked with have used the model and it’s worked well for them. Kevin Devine broke records last year with his Kickstarter campaign, for example, which raised well over $100,000, allowing him to record and release two records and tour all over the world. We helped out with the European side of that and I struggled to see the downside, in all honesty. People chose to give money, whatever amount they wished, and received things they wanted in return. It’s a purchase system and in my opinion, both sides benefited from it. It’s not for everyone and I think some people take advantage of their fans with it, but used properly I think it’s an interesting concept.
What advice would you give to people looking to start their own label?
Which labels do you look up to and why? And which other UK labels should we be keeping an eye on?
My answer to this has probably changed almost every year since I first began the label! Initially it would’ve been local, Oxford based labels such as Shifty Disco, then some of the slightly bigger UK indies like Fierce Panda. I then started looking overseas to the likes of Vagrant and Drive-Thru, which eventually lead me to Deep Elm and Fadeaway as I delved further into emo. Sub-Pop and Dischord always deserve a mention when talking about labels to be looked up to, and I think people like Transgressive are interesting because those guys clearly work their arses off and have a pretty diverse portfolio of creative work these days. Right now though, I think Tiny Engines, Topshelf and Run For Cover in the US have got pretty much the best rosters out there and our Pink Mist buddies Holy Road, Tangled Talk and Blood And Biscuits are flying a very good flag for the UK.
To finish up – can you tell us a bit about the new Gnarwolves record, exactly how good is it?
Every bit as good as you’d hope, and then a little more. It’s exactly the record I hoped they’d make as it shows not just a taste but also an ability to go further than many bands of their ilk would dare. There’s a couple of catchy little numbers, there’s some stop dead in your tracks moments and there’s plenty of ‘beat the shit out of our instruments’ bits, too. I actually think it’s a slightly heavier record than some people expect, although I don’t think anyone will be too surprised by the song lengths…