Imprint #3: An interview with Steve Jackson of Bombed Out Records
What happened way back in 1998 that led to the birth of Bombed Out Records?
The short version of the story involves a band featuring my brother and assorted friends from my hometown of Whitehaven. Joe Ninety wanted to put out a record but had been turned down politely by the few labels they had contacted. A couple of other friends who were at a loose end wanted to get involved in something and we had the silly idea that starting a record label could be fun. I may have been drunk when the idea took shape but I can’t remember. Jesus, 1998 was a long time ago…
Bombed Out back then was me, Jamie Duncan and Alex Hurworth. Now it’s mainly just me but Jamie still helps out with the distro at the odd gig if I buy him a couple of pints of coke.
How easy was the process of releasing a record when you started the label compared to now?
The basics haven’t really changed: You get a band to record some songs; you get someone to throw together some artwork; you send it all off to the pressing plant and you cross your fingers that everything turns out looking and sounding OK. I still panic that something turns out wrong (the 2nd Homebrew album has a typo in the band name ON THE BLOODY SPINE – totally my fault) but usually things are fine. I still get a buzz out of this bit – something I wouldn’t get if, say, the label was all digital. It’s all about the physical product for me: the look, the feel and even the smell of freshly printed card.
Then you send a load of copies off to fanzines/magazines/blogs/whatever and you keep your fingers crossed again. I hate the whole PR side of things and, to be honest, I’m not very good at it, but I’m happy to try what I can.
I suppose the main difference though between then and now is the expectation. Gone are the days of most DIY labels being able to pay for a band in the studio and then press 1000 copies of an album on CD expecting to sell most or all of them (something that wasn’t unthinkable 15 years ago). Currently we’re down to 300 runs on most releases and we’re also doing more split-label releases to save on costs. Failing that we sometimes split the pressing costs with the band themselves.
I don’t think anyone is under any delusions these days about physical sales. It’s just become part of the norm. Our goals for each record have remained the same though – break even so we can afford the next release. It’s never a given but we’ve managed to tick over OK so far…
Do you find bands you want to work with or do they find you?
It’s been a bit of both to be honest. I always prefer to know the band personally before I release anything and I’d rather have seen them live but every situation has been different. Sometimes a band will be totally off my radar but someone from a band already on the label will recommended them and things build from there.
I get to fewer gigs these days which has slowed me down a little from discovering new bands but given the number of active bands already on the label that’s probably for the best!
Oh, and I’ve only ever agreed to release one band on the strength of a demo alone and that was Kelly 8.
What has been your proudest moment with the label?
Probably getting “UK label of the year”, 2 years running in Fracture fanzine before we had even reached a half-dozen releases. Back in 2003 or something.
Nah, I’m kidding (nice as that was)…. I would have to go with last year’s 15th Birthday Celebration gig. Seeing a full line-up of Bombed Out bands (which I’d never have dared do with the New Year/New Start all-dayers), seeing Dugong reform after years of being dead-set against the idea and having so many of the faces from the label’s past all in the same room. I was chuffed. I think Drew Millwards print from the day will be on a wall somewhere in whatever place I reside in until the day I die.
The day could only have been bettered had I managed to get The Take and The Leif Ericsson to play. I’d have said Fig. 4.0 but too but that was never going to happen.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
The boring answer: I’d have made sure I kept better accounts back in the early days! If only so I could see how much money I lost on some releases… Ouch! I should probably say “I wouldn’t have released so and so” but I honestly don’t regret anything I’ve released on Bombed Out. Even the records that cost an arm and a leg, only for the band to split up within the year. We actually had a spell of that which should have killed the label… But I think I was just too bloody stubborn to quit. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a steady job all this time, allowing me to grudgingly write off the losses.
Speaking of losses I’ve lost a few hundred quid over the years from record shops closing down, which certainly makes me keep better track of things now. I guess we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along… Sometimes the hard way.
On the music side of things I wish I’d been able to release the first Crash of Rhinos album on CD when given the chance. They went on to do “Knots” which, as we all know, was nothing short of a classic. Good lads too.
What keeps you going? You’re about to release Bombed Out #38, 39 and 40! That’s quite a number of releases
It really wasn’t intentional! Last year was quite relaxing with only the Caves album and the Dugong vinyl re-issue to worry about… Meaning all the bands on the label were just waiting to ambush me once our 15th anniversary was out of the way. The Slow Science record I had wanted to do since I first heard them a couple of years ago but most of the band have been busy with Axes (on Big Scary Monsters) since… So that took a long time to come together… Saturday’s Kids are experts at telling me, last minute, they’re doing a record and then stressing me out with some tour or gig they want the records back by and with Stay Clean Jolene it was a late call from me as their album demo was just so fucking good that I couldn’t stop myself getting involved.
As for what keeps me going? Ego mainly… Ha ha. I guess the love of doing something music related, outside of my day-job, that I have some semblance of control over and which I’m incredibly proud of. Still. Of course, having records come along as jaw-droppingly awesome as the new Stay Clean Jolene record helps.
Saturday’s Kids have decided to break up just as you’re about to release their stupidly good new album ‘The Lunatic’, did you sulk for a bit when you heard the news?
Sulk? Maybe a little bit. Bands on the label splitting always hits me hard but when their new release is the best thing they’ve done and they have such blinding potential… Yeah, that makes it worse.
OK, so I could have pulled out of this and every bone in my body was telling me that records from bands that have/are splitting up are tough sells but… As has happened in the past with other bands… Saturday’s Kids had basically recorded such a fucking belter of an album that I couldn’t resist – also it’ll be split release with Reeks of Effort Records and the band themselves which helps. It’s heavier and I guess more “punk” than their previous releases but it retains that shoe-gazerish indie sound they’ve experimented with in the past and it just bloody works so well.
I’ll probably sell 10 copies or something. Like I said though… No regrets.
How do you see the future of label, and the UK DIY scene in general?
I posted on Facebook last year that I wanted to see out 20 years and 50 releases with Bombed Out. I think I’m still on target for that though we’ll see what happens. In the immediate future there’ll be new records from The Amistad, Peachfuzz and hopefully Zapiain and I’m chuffed that I’ll be releasing the next album from Wakefield indie super-group, Protectors, who are now also a 5-piece. There’s also an LP by Mikro Spiti (ex-The Wireless Stores) sitting in the wings that I think is brilliant… But we need to find the right time to put that out.
On the DIY scene in general I admit I seem to have a little detachment these days owing largely to moving away from Leeds, settling down, having kids etc.
I kind of went through a period where I was no longer identifying with the newer bands that were coming along. Bands that really weren’t saying anything lyrically or doing anything interesting musically – and I kind of think you have to do one or the other, with both being the absolute sweet-spot. A lot of great fanzines seemed to fold in that time, Punktastic sprang up and, no disrespect to those folks, but there was a marked difference in what they were covering and talking about to what Fracture or Reason to Believe or Collective Zine were doing years earlier and it just didn’t do much for me.
Strangely enough we seem to have gotten through that period and now every band description I read is “90s styled”-this or “90s influenced”-that so obviously I’m not the only one who thinks the last decade was a little underwhelming. Of course now we’re going the other way a little bit as every band wants to play Fest but what can you do?
Basically, the DIY scene remains and has remained full of people, bands and labels who are in it for the right reasons. Two of my favourite releases of recent months have been from Plaids and Young Conservatives – bands that have essentially raided the old 80s Dischord back catalogue. If that’s the direction things are going in then I’m in!
Once folks have checked out Bombed Out, which of favourite labels should they be looking up?
There’s some upstart label called something stupid name like “Cat’s Eyes” or something like that? They might be worth a punt. Other than that, Art For Blind basically show me up at every turn by releasing some amazing records (seriously, buy the new Plaids album!) and, for the punx, Drunken Sailor should be your go-to label. Then you have Boss Tuneage still going strong and a whole host of more indie-tinged DIY labels that have sprung up.
I don’t think the UK punk scene has been this healthy for years in terms of labels and bands – which is brilliant news!
And finally, lets talk about Dugong. Surely one of the UKs most underrated bands?
Yes, yes and, once more, yes!
Where to start? Dugong were the 2nd band on the label and they started out in a similar vein to most other Wakefield punk bands at the time (thanks to the local influence of Chopper, dON fISHER etc.) and then quickly and organically became one of my favourite bands ever as they ventured into more indie/emo territories. The first 7″ was brilliant and then came the first album. Total and utter game-changer for Bombed Out and at that point I knew I didn’t want to label to just be a bog-standard “punk” label…
But yeah, I can’t think of any other band I was more gutted about when they split. Especially as ‘Quick To The City’ had managed to get them a bit more attention outside of the punk scene and they were essentially at the top of their game. Their final gig at Joseph’s Well was amazing.
Obviously, that’s their first final gig, though the reformation gig last year brought back similar feelings. That was something I never thought would happen as relationships within the band had been pretty strained (a polite way of putting it) since they split. Also, I remember Matt telling me once that he found ‘Hat Danko’ too personal to revisit much (one reason why ‘Quick to the City’ was more of a concept-record). Even when I was working with him on the Brown Hound James Band record he was still adamant Dugong were done, though he was maybe just starting to soften his stance.
Anyway, it turns out that time heals all wounds. Amazing seeing them all on stage again wasn’t it?
I was also really happy with the ‘Hat Danko’ LP re-issue. It was perfect getting Paul Heys back once again to reference his old artwork and the whole package might be my favourite release on Bombed Out. If you only buy one Bombed Out release you need it to be that one!
In all fairness though there are a few bands on Bombed Out that I’d lump into this category, The Take being an obvious one. Please, check out their ‘Dolomite’ album and then their album on Household Name. Another band who split at their peak and who should have been much, much bigger than they were. Also Wooderson, Kelly 8, The Leif Ericsson etc etc… Of course I am pretty biased.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. Thanks Kev for the interview and allowing me a trip down memory lane. It means a lot.