Imprint #4: An Interview with Julian Stevenson of Drunken Sailor Records!
Drunken Sailor Records may not be the first name that springs to mind when talking about important UK labels, but that is doing a great dis-service to them. They have released vinyl by such names as Iron Chic, Off With Their Heads, Toys That Kill and many more bands that the punx go crazy for. They have a back catalogue of bands that insist you pay more attention.
In between touring the world with his drunk bands, we spoke with the Drunken Sailor that is Julian to find out more about the bands, the label, the booze…
Tell us how you got into starting/running a label, or more importantly, how drunk were you when you started Drunken Sailor?
Very drunk. After my second child was born I decided I needed something else to make my life more chaotic. Originally, one of my oldest friends (Dave from Kismet HC) and I was gonna start a label, we both love vinyl and wanted to try and do something along the same lines as Bombed Out/ Boss Tuneage. I can’t remember what exactly happened but that never worked out, Dave started his own label and I went my own way, probably for the best as I don’t think we would ever have agreed on any releases.
I then found out Tiltwheel were about to come to Europe. I love Tiltwheel, so I mailed Davey and asked him if I could release a record to coincide. Obviously as soon as I got the vinyl back from the plant, Tiltwheel promptly cancelled the tour (a recurring theme with tour records!). But the whole listening to the songs, sending them to press, sorting the art, even assembling and packing the records is still totally exciting to me.
Your back catalogue seems to be mostly made up of North American bands. Is that just coincidence, or your preferred business model?
It is just what I love. If I like a band and I get the chance I will help to release a record, it doesn’t matter where they are from. I think people sometimes think I hate UK bands, I don’t, but I have to love something to plow my childrens money into it. Also, a lot of bands in the in the last 10 years play that Hot Water Music rip off stuff, I hate that.
Most of the UK bands that are amazing are already on cool labels. I do like a LOT of American bands though, I guess I probably listen to The Marked Men everyday, so that’s kinds where I’m coming from. I will release a bands record regardless of whether I think it will sell or not, if I love the band, it sucks but UK bands do not sell that well outside of this country. So there is definitely no business model, I have zero strategy.
You recently released a split between 2 very large bands, Discharge and Off With Their Heads. Tell us a bit about how you got them two together, and what is was like working with them?
One of my favourite records of the last decade is ‘Hospitals’ (OWTH), so I really wanted to release a record by them. I messaged Ryan, he was polite but basically said ‘no, we have just signed to Epitaph’, so that was that. I then had this idea to get Discharge on board. I phoned Bones, I told him OWTH were as big as Metallica in the US. He has no computer etc so I knew he would just take my word for it, haha, he said yes! I then asked Ryan again, telling him I could get Discharge on the record, he then said he would need to clear it with Brett Gurewitz. Eventually he got the go ahead.
And then I waited. And waited. Off With Their Heads were constantly on tour, so had no time to record something. Bones gave me two songs and told me to pick one, so I think I waited about 18mths for the OWTH song. Then Ryan messaged me one night and said I have recorded the song at Todd Congellieres Clown Sounds, Mike Felix (Toys That Kill) had done the drums and Mike Felix had played bass on it! Oh and Bill Beltones had wrote the song, perfect!
I think I put it up for sale on a Friday night and sold close to 800 that weekend, it was ridiculous, the craziest release I have ever been involved with.
Both bands were super easy to work with, I mean, I have known Discharge my whole life. Ryan/ OWTH have always been super cool with me.
The record itself pissed a lot of people off, which makes me very happy. Even this past week, a ‘manager’ of a PUNX band told me it was the ‘most laughable release ever’. I’m really proud of it and that record did and still does, pay for a lot of other releases.
How does a DS release come in to being? How do you find the records you end up releasing?
Things just seem to happen! Bands get in touch all the time (lots of Serbian black metal bands for some reason), or If i hear something I like I’ll just mail the band, Facebook has made this so much easier, Stay Clean Jolene for instance, I think a whole bunch of labels wanted to release their 7″, I think I got to do it because I was the first to ask.
My friends send me loads of stuff to listen to, they will recommend a band to me who wants something released. For instance I heard the Earth Girls demo and I was totally hooked, but I knew loads of the US labels would be all over it. Then through Chris/ Dirt Cult, I got offered the chance to do a European pressing. Now I know, if it wasn’t due to Chris’s involvement, I would never have had that opportunity.
I’m pretty lucky, I can usually listen to my ipod all day at work, so I fill it with loads of new stuff every week. If I like something enough, I’ll find a way of contacting them. Then just keep on at them until they give in.
Have you ever got close to closing the doors at DS and finding something else to throw your money at?
I nearly packed it in a year or so back, that was just frustration though over some release. I think If I got to the point where I was losing money all the time I would have to rethink it all. Luckily the label pays for itself now (I obviously lost money at the beginning), I have just got a distribution deal too which I’m hoping will help a little. What else could I throw my money at? Jamesons? I already do that. I would like to think I could keep it going for a long time yet, there is so many bands that I wanna release something by.
You have done a fair few split-label releases, how do you find the process compared to going it solo?
Split label releases can be without doubt a fucking mind numbing pain! There are a few labels who I always will do splits with, I trust them 100%, we work the same way. The more labels on board then it can be difficult for everyone to pull the same way.Just stuff like sending stuff out to review etc. So I just to tend to stick to certain labels these days. But the upside is, costing. I can release a record and only have 100 to sell, I can usually tell how many a band I’m gonna be involved with will sell in the UK/ Europe, so it makes way more sense for me to only receive 100 than say 300 if I released it myself. All labels want to release stuff solo, you are totally hands on with the record, I find that way much easier but the problem is when you know the band will just not sell enough, the obvious solution is to split the costs with either the band or another label.
What has been your Drunken Sailor highlight so far?
I have loads of awesome stuff happen to me via this label, I’m really lucky. I think I have got to release some amazing records, I honestly love everything I have been involved with, perhaps apart from one (nah, I’m not saying). The Toys That Kill/ Future Virgins 7″, I mean the Future Virgins song ‘Counting Sheep is hands down one of my favourite songs ever. The first Low Culture 7″, I listened to their demo none stop on a 15 hr flight, so it was amazing to be asked to be in on that. Iron Chic, Discharge/ OWTH. I guess the biggest highlight is the people I have met through doing this, met some of the best people you could wish to and made lifelong friendships. I have always travelled anyway but I have gotten to go on tour with some of my favourite bands. I doubt any of that would have happened if it wasn’t due to this stupid label. helping bring Fist City over and the chaos that ensued, drinking Crusades puke. Yeah all highlights!
If you could have released any album on Drunken Sailor, what would it have been? Or maybe ‘the one that got away’, so to speak.
If I could have released any album, The Marked Men – On The Outside. I play it nearly everyday. It’s perfect. i don’t think any have actually got away, I think Bear Trade asked if I would be interested way before their debut 7″ came out and I couldn’t for some reason or other, then they release one of THE great UK albums. I have agreed to do something with bands, then they get a better offer and never contact me again! I’m not bitter, fuck em! One record that I have been trying to do forever is a Bushwick Bill (Geto Boys)split 7″ (I have a whole load of bands in mind for the other side). I was actually in Austin and had a ticket for his show with Antwon, but Chris Mason made me go play pool and drink whiskey. Which actually worked out fine as I played the shot of a lifetime, but that’s another story. Oh and Hard Skin, Sean keeps promising me. He will give in one day.
How do you see the future for Drunken Sailor, and what releases have you in store we should be getting excited about?
I just want to be able to keep on releasing great records. I seem to be getting pulled into booking more tours, which is cool but can also be a massive headache. I think I might put a festival on next year. I’m gonna offer The Marked Men all of my redundancy money to headline. What can go wrong. Loads of stuff just about to come out. Baby Ghosts – Maybe Ghosts LP which is simply amazing, Prince 7″ (I think Mike Dumps is gonna get sued, but he can take that kinda hit, who are one of my favourite bands at the moment. A Crow Bait 7″ that will be out in time for Fest, Sweatshop Boys 7″, the debut Stay Clean Jolene LP (it’s gonna be up there with Bear Trade as one of the best UK LPs this year), No Sir I Won’t – Shit 12″ is at the plant now, total Conflict/ Crass thing going on and it fucking rules. Marvelous Mark 7″, he was part of the Marvelous Darlings with Ben Cook, the songs I have heard of amazing. I think I’m gonna be doing a Low Culture comp LP that will have all their songs off splits/ comps on. There is probably something I have forgotten too, I’m old.
Cheers Kev, I’m not as articulate as Steve but then again you are not gonna find Steve drinking Dave Crusades puke, horses for courses…