Friday, 2 October 2009

Interview: Equal Vision

Through years of running the label I've faced countless interviews and am now quite used to them. You kinda know what sort of questions to expect, what to say, what not to say, and have a lot of fun doing it, especially when an opportunity to plug a new release or share an in-joke arrises. Something I'm not so used to, however, is having the shoe on the other foot.

After my 'It's An American Thing' blog post a few weeks ago, a very nice lady by the name of Francesca contacted me. Francesca works at Equal Vision Records, the label heavily featured in said post, and she very kindly agreed to answer a few questions to give a different perspective on my continuing quest to unravel my fascination with the American punk scene. The problem was... What do I ask?!

1) Please introduce yourself and your role at Equal Vision

My name is Francesca and I oversee Publicity and Royalties for the label, as well as some A&R duties. I'm somewhat of a "label swiss army knife."

2) How did you come to work for the label? Where do your musical roots lie and were you a fan of EVR's previous work?

I was selling merch for a friends band at Bamboozle in 2006. Before the gates opened on the last day, I walked around to all of the booths, found the Equal Vision/MerchNow tent and told them "I'm going to work for EVR some day". I eventually made friends with one of the guys from MerchNow who then introduced me to other folks at the company. I had been a fan for a bit and wasn't really paying attention to what bands were on what label until around 2003. I started noticing a pattern - a lot of them were on EVR (the majority were on Drive-Thru but California was too far). When I was hired in Jan 07, I first started in the general business office. A few short months later and the opportunity opened up for me to transfer over to the label office. As I find something else I like doing, I add it to my list of jobs. It's kind of cool that it works that way... if you like doing something and/or you're good at it, you can do it. If you have an idea, you can implement it, and you can do so right away. I like that over all of the red tape & such that happens at major labels.

3) From reading interviews with Steve Reddy it sounds as though EVR has come on a long way, with some really interesting tales to tell along the way. Are Steve's ethics and ideas of doing what you love and taking care of your employees projected throughout the organisation? I picture a big, happy workforce all delighted to wake up in the morning and go into the office!

When I was in the general business office, my desk was right outside of Steve's office so I got to hear A LOT of stories. It's absolutely insane to me everything that he went through and to hear from him & from the folks that have been with EVR for 10+ years what the company used to be like back then compared to now... it's amazing! It's definitely motivating... especially when they reminisce about the pre-air conditioner days!

4) Looking at labels in general, I'm a big fan of the way US companies brand themselves, which is something us Brits don't seem to have been able to achieve quite so well historically. A few theories such as the size of the country (US counterparts having to focus on one community to begin with - eg Sub Pop in Seattle, Dischord in DC, etc - whilst the UK is small enough to mean that no one city grows ahead of any other), UK labels selling out their independent roots back in the 90's, therefore losing any brand credibility, and the rise of the internet meaning that anyone can now find their own new music, reducing the need for labels to be 'tastemakers'. Looking at it from a fan's point of view as well as someone who works in the industry, did/do you get the same sense of togetherness from labels? And if so, what factors do you think helped to make these brands so strong?

The US has more opportunities to turn people into customers. With a larger area and a larger population, there is a greater opportunity for word-of-mouth. This is especially true in those larger cities like DC, Seattle, Portland that are big enough to matter to the rest of the country but still smaller enough than LA or New York that the quality talent doesn't get completely washed out by the quantity. The UK has that same effect, at least from what I can tell, where it's a small enough community for the quality to stand out.

5) Another thing which always fascinates me is the way that British music fans view American artists (in some cases being absolutely idolised, whilst they play to crowds half the size back home) and the idea that the same may work the other way around. I know that some bands (the Kings of Leon, for example) blew up here before people really started to take notice your side of the Atlantic, and some UK bands (Bush is always the example which leaps to mind!) do well in the States but nobody really cares here, but as a general rule, how do you think the UK music scene is perceived over there? Is it deemed influential or exciting? Does an English band playing live in town ever raise any special interest just because of their geography, or is it just another band playing another gig at the same old venue?

The UK is ABSOLUTELY influential! You gave us the biggest bands of all time: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard... American bands (and bands all over the world) are still ripping these people off today. It is strange, though, now that I think about it, that there aren't many indie or "underground" bands that get attention here. We tend to pay attention once they've made at least some noise in the UK, like Coldplay, Muse, Franz Ferdinand. And when they do get here, it doesn't seem like they have to work very hard or for very long - they're some of the biggest bands around.

I've heard from several bands that have toured internationally that they'll draw a few hundred people based solely on the fact that they're from America. I've never heard of that happening for any other bands. I have noticed people might raise an eyebrow when they hear a band is from Japan or Australia, but I don't think it's every compelled a person to attend a show based solely on that.

6) And to finish, here's a question I get asked a lot so am taking advantage of my brief role-reversal and passing the joy on to you... How do you see the future for record labels?

I see it being completely different than what it is now. If it isn't, labels will be non-existent! Something has to change, but nobody knows what. We've been brainstorming a lot and we're going to be trying some stuff out very soon. Being an indie label, we have the advantage of flexibility, we're able to react more quickly to change because there are fewer moving parts than at a major label, but the majors have more resources than we do. Only time will tell which advantage is greater.

So there you go. I think my interviewing skills need a bit of refining but hey, it's a start. I'd like to see David Frost trying to run an independent record label!

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