UNCUT INTERVIEW: Box Records | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This month, Newcastle’s small but perfectly formed Box Records is releasing Vol.I, a digital compilation that marks its thirteenth release. This seemed like an auspicious time to catch up with Matthew Baty, the co-founder and now sole guardian of the label. As is the natural order of these things, I kicked off by asking him how the label came into being.

“I started Box Records with my friend Matthew Childs in 2009. Running a DIY label was always something I’d been keen to do. At the time, I was living in Manchester and was a part time member of Gnod, who were blowing my mind on a consistent and regular basis. Back then they had a bunch of hand-made CD releases but nothing on vinyl. Both myself and Matty were fortunate enough to have a few savings which we wanted to do something positive with, it seemed like an ideal time to take the plunge.”

Thirteen releases in around six years isn’t a great deal, even for a small label. Is this because you’re very selective or is it just pragmatism or financial realities? “Shortly following the first release, I took part in the increasingly popular ‘Pay Rent and Bills With No Job’ game. Those savings I wanted to do positive things with soon vanished, a considerable hiatus for the label ensued. Richard Dawson‘s The Magic Bridge album was the catalyst for us to dust ourselves off and start again…. Following the Richard Dawson release I’ve been flying solo.”

Given the diversity of the releases thus far – it’s a long way from Waskerley Way to Dawson to Foot Hair – I’m guessing the A&R policy is simply “I like this, people need to hear it” but is there more to it than that? Obviously, the releases until now are all north east based, Gnod notwithstanding. “I release music that moves me in some way. Sonically, the likes of Waskerley Way and Foot Hair are worlds apart but I do think there’s a commonality that holds these releases together. All of these artists have their roots in DIY music, whether that’s self-recording and producing or releasing their own CDs, cassettes etc. These are all musicians that make music for the love of doing so, none of them suffer from the delusions of grandeur that I depressingly see in so many musicians around at the moment. They don’t want to have their music on BMW adverts or headline Glastonbury. It’s all honest and true expression. That’s not to say they lack ambition, far from it. It’s just more about sticking to principles and philosophies that aren’t compatible with mainstream music.”

There’s a few releases on the label that have come out on vinyl – is the decision purely an economic one or are there other factors? “It’s pretty much economic. I’d release everything on vinyl if I could but it’s expensive and the production turnarounds are much longer than for cassette releases. I need to recoup enough money from each vinyl release in order to move onto the next one. It’ll only take one or two records to not sell as well as I anticipate and I’ll be effectively bust. I imagine I’d find a way to carry on though, I’ve got the curse. Vinyl is wonderful but cassettes have their virtues too. I like how distinctly underground they are. There’s no danger of major labels jumping on any cassette bandwagon like they have with the resurgence of vinyl because the profit margins are too low.”

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“Vinyl is wonderful but cassettes have their virtues too. I like how distinctly underground they are”

Given the Record Store Day-related delays in getting Box’s most recent vinyl release onto the shelves, I wondered how Baty felt about the RSD project. “It took almost three months for the Foot Hair records to arrive from the plant because it was caught up in the Record Store Day jam. It was especially frustrating when I saw some of the garbage being released – U2, 1975 EPs, a flipping Tom Jones record, Elvis singing Simon & Garfunkel songs and a seemingly endless number of major label reissues. What few pressing plants there are were constipated. The same pressing plants that the independents and ardent music lovers kept alive for years whilst the majors were faffing on trying to stop people who used to buy their CDs in Tesco from downloading music for free. That’s what happens when you turn music into a cheap commodity. I don’t dislike the concept of Record Store Day, I want record shops to thrive, but I think an equilibrium can be reached. Maybe major labels could do more to encourage people to buy from independents all year round. Right now, Record Store Day feels like a high school party where bigger kids turn up, drink all the beer, puke all over the carpets and then piss off.”

What was the inspiration behind releasing Vol. I? “I just looked back at the releases and thought a few tracks from each would make a great compilation. My hope is that it might turn people who’s radar we aren’t already on, onto the label. The most frustrating thing I find about doing this is finding exposure for the releases. There’s a hell of a lot small blogs and zines that have been incredibly supportive but trying to gain wider exposure is like pulling teeth sometimes. I can’t afford to pay for a PR company to open doors for me so I have to do it myself. It’s sometimes hard knowing that I’m sending out promo emails only a handful of people will bother opening. With the compilation I’m hoping some people who are now big into Richard Dawson, Gnod and Bong will take a closer look at what Box Records is doing, seeing as we released music by these acts before they became more established names.”

You’ve got something coming up from Luminous Bodies (a brilliant new band featuring members of Terminal Cheesecake and Part Chimp), which is excellent news. Can you tell me more about that?

“I first met them in Bristol, they were playing a gig down there with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Since then we’ve played a few gigs with them in London. They’re lovely people and their music is absolutely ripping. Total Melvins-style party rock. The album is mixed and mastered and sounds massive, I’m just waiting on the artwork before I send it off to the plant.”

And what else is on the horizon beyond the recent Waskerley Way album and the forthcoming Luminous Bodies release?

“There’s a Haikai No Ku cassette on the way with a few tracks that didn’t make it onto their last album, there’s also a new album coming from them that will be getting the vinyl treatment. Beyond that, there’s a collaboration album in the pipeline that I’m very excited about. It’s not definitely happening yet so it would seem a bit crass to announce it. All signs are looking good though.”

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“Right now, Record Store Day feels like a high school party where bigger kids turn up, drink all the beer, puke all over the carpets and then piss off”

Finally, obviously you’re a very busy musician yourself, how many bands are you in at the moment?

“I currently play in Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Blown Out, Khünnt, Bin and House Rules, which is a noise band I’m working on with Adam from Pigsx7 and Sam from Foot Hair. Of course, some of those bands are more active than others, it’s not like I’m in a rehearsal room seven nights a week but there’s enough there to keep me occupied. When one band goes quiet for whatever reason it’s nice to be able to turn my attention to another instead of sitting around twiddling my thumbs.”

Find out more about Box Records on their official website. Box Records’ new compilation is released on Sunday 8th June.

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