Four bands, two lads, one label. It might not sound that impressive on paper, but when you consider those bands are the hotly tipped and highly praised quartet of Kong, Chickenhawk, Castrovalva and These Monsters, that counts for something. “We still have a laugh and everything, but it is more serious; the bigger the bands get and the more money there is, there’s more at stake” Brew Records tell Tom Bailey
In two years, Brew Records have released nine records: starting with compilations and singles, before moving up to the dizzy heights of EPs and albums. They’ve had bands at both the 2008 & 2009 Reading and Leeds Festivals, and organised dozens of gigs both in and outside of Leeds.
Not bad for two local lads. And that’s just the start.
I first met Brew founders Simon Glacken and Thomas Bellhouse back in February 2009, at the ever-charming Brudenell Social Club. After celebrating their first year in business, they were gearing up for their first album release; Kong’s now highly praised ‘Snake Magnet’. Questioning them about their experiences of starting their own label; the good, the bad, and the simply bizarre, I remember leaving feeling inspired; Si and Tom’s strong passion for the unusual, combined with their drive and determination being infectious.
Fast-forward to December. Just before the seemingly endless snowstorm that we’re still suffering through now, there’s just enough time to catch up and see how the rest of 2009 has treated Brew. “Everything’s much more busier” Si explains, “We were busy before, and now it’s just… we’re trying to prepare for next year. There’s always something to do”.
It’s not surprising considering that since the last time we met, the aforementioned ‘Snake Magnet’ has received praise in both the local and national press alike and, the then-new signings, Chickenhawk have since exploded on the live circuit; recently supporting The Fall Of Troy, had their first Vibrations cover back in July, and snatched attention online with the superb zombie carnage of the Danny North directed ‘I Hate This, Do You Like It’ video.
“That video had something like 23,000 plays in a couple of months, it’s pretty incredible” Si responds after I enquire as to what they feel has been their biggest achievement of the year. Tom soon follows with, “The Kong album for me, just because it was our first proper album and because it’s a complete package. It’s been done really well, really nice to hold. The artwork is flawless”.
Whilst Kong and Chickenhawk are no doubt Brew’s biggest successes to date, the duo are quick to also sing the praises of their other acts, with Tom speaking how Castrovalva were signed up initially more for their own satisfaction than potential success, “I didn’t have many aspirations for them, I didn’t know if people would like them, it was just a case that I really did”, later stating, “It’s always been a case that Brew’s been representative of our music taste, and it just so happens that we like these bands. We want all our bands to sound completely different, but still have something in common. At the moment, all our four bands don’t sound anything alike. I think we do make to some degree a conscious effort to find bands that are relatively unique”.
“They’re like our babies…” Si responds, “…the other bands like Kong and Chickenhawk were all up and running and established before we got involved, where as Castrovalva – I don’t think they’d even played outside of Leeds when we came along, and now they’re playing in Europe next year. In relation to the others, they’re still working their way up, but they’ve come the furthest in the shortest space of time”,
There’s also genuine excitement when discussing the first release of new signing These Monsters – their debut album ‘Call Me Dragon’. “1st March, it’s a split release,” Si informs me, “We’re doing the CD version and there’s a label in London, called Function; they’re doing the LP version. We want to do vinyl at some stage, but it’s kind of a luxury”. .
Of course, their success has brought many benefits, as Si explains, “Just not having to pursue people for reviews as much as we have had to in the past. People are coming to us because they want our albums”. He continues, “It started just us and the bands but now we’ve got contacts; booking agents, friends of the bands, promoters – networks. We’ve got people who we can go to for help and advice”.
“Still no women though, I’ve got a girlfriend but other than that… they’re all just for the guys in bands” Si then adds. Tom jokes, “That’s a lie, there are chicks everywhere, we’re knee deep. I’ve got two carrier bags full”.
Whatever benefits may or may not have come Brew’s way, it’s well deserved from all the hard work put in throughout its two years in existence. But has this newfound attention changed them?
Tom responds, “I am now officially cool according to Leeds – and you can print that. Seriously though – we’re so busy. You find yourself not spending anytime in your house”. Si comments, “We still have a laugh and everything, but it is more serious; the bigger the bands get and the more money there is, there’s more at stake”.
Upon mentioning the possibility of their bands outgrowing the label in the future, Si quickly quashes any doubts, “Yea, it would be good for us if a band gets big for us to be seen as a stepping stone”, he continues, “We’ve got good relationships with all our bands; even if they went off and became massive we’d always have contact with them, they’d always have a place for us. We’ll do merch for them; we’ll do merch for Chickenhawk”.
So with 2009 all but gone, what does 2010 have in store for Brew?
Si confesses, “My dream, my aim, is to have one of our bands’ videos played on TV, like real TV. My mission this year was to get bands agents and outside the UK. These Monsters have just done Europe, and Kong are doing Europe next year so that’s that aspiration done. So I want one of our bands to be played on MTV2”.
“I want to meet the Saturdays just to get one over on Paul. Yea, I’ll meet The Saturdays”, Tom follows up with; joking about how the Chickenhawk vocalist / guitarist had had a chance meeting with the pop quintet. “But yea, we just want our bands to tour more and sell more records” he then clarifies. “We’re looking into other outlets; trying to get our bands’ music into computer games, TV, trying to look in new areas” Si further adds.
There’s no question as to how committed Brew have been working towards 2010, having just announced that Kong will be supporting local favourites 65 Days Of Static in Europe throughout April. “The 65 Days tour is massive; I love that band, to have one of our bands touring with them is so surreal” Si enthuses, “The hardest thing is getting your bands playing infront of new people. Once you get some decent support tours, with established bands, it becomes a lot easier”.
Building on appearances at the 2008 and 2009 Reading and Leeds festivals’ BBC Introducing stage, with I Concur and Chickenhawk respectively, the lads also hope to get their acts at more festivals throughout 2010. Si states, “We got good feedback from the guy who runs Download and Sonisphere. Kong did Offset festival in London and got offered South By Southwest but they turned it down – think they’re going to do that next year instead. We had Castrovalva at Moorfest as well, that was pretty cool”.
It’s also reassuring to hear that despite already hectic touring plans, Brew haven’t taken their eyes off of the physical product. “Next year we’ll be doing Kong’s next album, Chickenhawk’s, These Monsters debut album, and Castrovalva are doing an album as well. Think they’re all going to drop around March / April. So yea, it’s going to be crazy”.
What about singles, will you ever go back to them?
“With singles it’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of work. It’s alright every now and again but it’s got to be a special release” Si explains, “When you’re working with new bands they’re still important, just to get them out there before an album release, make that initial contact with the world, and start building them up with a release, then a tour. So I think singles are still definitely valid. We wouldn’t want download only ones though, we like the physical element”.
“I do like the idea of streaming and downloading” Tom responds, “but the physical product is still our first port of call”.
Would Brew have preferred to have been around in the days pre-Internet when the physical product was still king and all communication was done with actual speech?
“I don’t know how people did it in the old days” Si admits, with Tom adding, “I fucking hate telephones. We’d have to send pigeons out!”