What better place to catch up with the founders of Leeds’ very own Brew Records than the Brudenell Social Club. Like the Brudenell, Brew radiates character and charm: being a hidden gem amongst the varied and diverse offerings of the Leeds music scene.
Formed in December 2007, founders Simon Glacken and Thomas Bellhouse have had a busy first year, with releases from I Concur and Kong to their name, in addition to staging numerous gigs throughout the city. Although it may all sound rosy, I wanted to find out the highs, lows and the simply bizarre experiences of starting your own label.
“It’s a natural progression, starting a label from being a music fan,” Tom tells me, “I didn’t think we’d still be doing it in a year, just thought it would be a bit of fun”. Whilst this cliché is often the case for most bands and individuals in the industry, there’s a genuine enthusiasm gushing out of the duo. Si adds, “I kinda think that if I wasn’t in a band or running a label, what would I do after work?”
So onto their success. With an impressive five records to their name, divided between one compilation, three 7 inch singles and one CD single, and Brew Records number six, Castrovalva’s self-titled album on the way in May, I enquire about the benefits of such achievements. Amongst the enthusiastic response of just how much better Leeds Festival is when you go with the bands, I’m also met with the unlikely response of “And we got to hang out with Paul Marshall. Yeah, Paul Marshall sat next to us and pissed in a crisp packet.” Nice to see the trappings of notoriety haven’t gone to the Brew boys’ heads just yet.
Moving swiftly on, I’m curious about out how they broke into such a crowded and competitive industry. Tom responds, “We’ve done a lot. I think it’s quite surprising how it’s possible for someone who doesn’t have a lot of industry connections to crossover into the mainstream”. The one thing both lads are fully supportive of is hard work. “It’s all about progression,” Si adds, “I just want to keep moving forward. I want to do more releases, bigger releases. We’re doing albums this year”.
Clearly not lacking in ambition, despite the almost immediate success with I Concur, for whom Brew released 7 inch singles ‘Lucky Jack’ and ‘Oblige’, its now with Manchester act Kong, they’re starting to turn heads. “They were way above, maybe to big for us,” Si enthuses, “But yeah, we’ve done some really good things with them. They’ve put a lot of trust in us”. It’s this trust that seems to be partly responsible for their success, with Kong now attracting the attention of national magazines such as Rock Sound and Metal Hammer. Kong’s album, packaged with a DVD that Si promises is “going to be good, really horrible”, is due for release this summer. Maybe not one for the ‘nans and granddads’ then.
So how has Brew has fitted into local music scene? I’m met with nothing but praise from Tom, “I always think it’s so eclectic, there’s so many different styles. And also being able to collaborate with other promoters in Leeds. There’s a lot promoters we respect and have mutual friendships with. I think we’ve been very welcomed”.
Pleasantries over, its time to delve into the not so cheery side, as I ask about the more challenging parts of setting up your own label. Both offer up the usual tales of printing mishaps and pressing problems, but it’s the early struggles to get exposure, with Si stressing the importance of persistence and patience, “Get in touch, email them. Get in touch. Don’t just email them and think that’s it”, that seems to have been the biggest challenge. “If you don’t initially get stuff out there to those outlets then no one’s going to talk about what you’re doing. It’s kinda something you pick up early and its quite an important part”.
Now with a much better understanding of how the industry works, have they become weary of industry types? Apparently not, as Si explains, “Think people see music magazines as sharks because there’s so many crap bands that do well”, later adding, “They have to bow down to the big boys to make money so they can make money just so they can give that little bit of exposure to the small bands”. It’s perhaps with this understanding that Brew have built a healthy relationship with the media; instead of seeing it as a constant struggle, treating it as a creative outlet than can help them promote their bands and gigs.
So what would you say is the secret behind your success? “I think the key’s been to push bands that we really, really like and not just because we think that a band’s quite good, current scene and we can make something out of them”. But whilst they seem open to a variety of acts and genres, surely there must be some they wouldn’t touch? Tom responds “I don’t think we’ll ever do white boy funk or pub rock” with Si adding, “We’ll never do jingly-jangly lad rock”.
With a number of releases already lined up; including the aforementioned albums from Castrovalva and Kong, an EP from most recent signing Chickenhawk, as well as very secret project that despite my best efforts the lads are reluctant to reveal, 2009 promises to be an even busier year for Brew. Ahead of the forthcoming Nadja / Red Stars Parade / Castrovalva gig they’re staging here at the Brudenell, Si promises it’s going to be “Pretty loud. Pretty crushing. It’s going to be absolutely beautiful”. Tom maintains that, “It’s not a Brew gig unless you feel like you’ve been moved”. Consider yourselves warned.