Bon soir, mon petit pois (as a French fellow might address his vegetables of an evening). This is part one of an introductory feature on Drunken Sailor Records, a DIY label based in Stoke, UK. Juice, who runs the label was kind enough to answer some questions about setting up and running his label, so read on to find out both what he had to say and how lame my questions were…
This turns into a pretty interesting side story about growing into the punk scene as a kid in the 80s. Juice drops some real knowledge.
I’d recommend heading to the Drunken Sailor bandcamp page and soundtracking your read with some randomly selected recordings…
Tony: So, Juice, you’ve been doing stuff in the broader punk scene for a good long time now. So can you tell us a bit about the very early days of DSR – like what inspired you to start the label in 2010, what the first release was, and how you came to choose it?
Juice: I think the idea had been there for a while, I was originally going to do it with one of my oldest friends. In hindsight it was probably the best we didn’t because I have realised I am a total control freak when it comes to the label. We would have never agreed on bands. My wife and I had started a family and we weren’t going out so much, so it seemed a fun idea to do whilst everyone else slept at night (I sleep very little!).
So, I knew one of my favourite bands were coming over, Tiltwheel. They had just released ‘The High Hate Us’ on ADD (which is the best), so I hit Davey up and he was totally down for me to release a brand new 7″ for the tour. Time was getting on, and I kinda realised that they weren’t going to record anything new, so we decided to release a song off the LP. Of course, the tour fell through, but I got to release a record by one of my favourite bands. Davey is still, probably more than ever, one of the most inspiring people I know.
Tony: What has been the biggest challenge (or challenges) for the label over the years?
Selling records! I think that’s the biggest challenge for any label. Everyone thinks that because it says on the internet there is a vinyl revival, that every record just sells. I wish. There has been all kinds of shit that every label goes through, distribution deals that fuck up, people taking stuff on ‘Sale Or Return’ then disappearing. I had the MCPS* after me. But you just learn from all this stuff. There have been times when I just want to pull the plug, but once I have slept on it, I always realise that the pros far outweigh the cons.
*MCPS is the UK organisation that deals with royalties and licensing for playing recorded music on commercial premises etc.
Tony: So, for people that might not be familiar with DSR, how would you summarise or describe what the label is about (I realise that this might be a little bit of a tricky one to answer)!
Juice: I basically release what I like, I have never released a band that I didn’t love. Might not love them anymore but at that time, fuck yeah. People think I just release American bands, I will work with any band who I think are killer, I don’t care where they are from. All the UK bands I love are already on great labels. So fuck them, haha. I guess the best way to summarise, is the whatever records are coming out on my label, right now, is where my taste is right now. I am never gonna be a label that has a certain sound.
Tony: So, you’ve put out a whole bunch of records since 2010, and have more in the pipeline. How many releases have you made in total so far? Do you ever see yourself quitting the label?
Juice: I think by the end of 2016, i am up to about 66/ 67 releases. Earlier on in the labels existence I used to do quite a few co-label releases, but I made a conscious effort to stop doing them. With the increase of shipping it just isn’t worth it anymore. I guess I also found out I like to be in control more. I was going to pull back in 2017 as we have done 16 releases this year but I think I have already committed to 7 records for the new year. I dunno about quitting, I actually enjoy the madness of it and I have made some of the best friends through this label. But, sometimes I sit here with all these records everywhere and think how much life would be easier….then I spend 2 hours listening to these crazy good bands from Nova Scotia and asking them if I can do a 7″ with them. I think if The Marked Men reformed, asked me to release their new LP, I would just quit after. That’s what needs to happen!
Tony: Now as we’ve just mentioned, you’ve released a fair amount of records. If you had to pick a favourite release, which would it be? Also, which release do you take the most pride in?
Juice: I don’t really have an overall favourite, loads of records stand out for all sorts of reasons. Obviously the Tiltwheel record. Off With Their Heads/ Discharge split because that was such a stupid (good stupid) idea that we managed to make a reality (OWTH playing a Bill Beltone song with Mike Watt on bass?!). The first Low Culture 7″ because I loved those songs so much. Toys That Kill / Future Virgins split because it has one of my favourite songs ever on it, ‘Counting Sheep’. Lately, the Liquids LP, I think that stands up as one of those records that comes every now and again, I think it will still hold up in a few years time.
Tony: What’s the experience been like of co-releasing records with other labels?
Juice: It can be fun, it totally depends. Thankfully most of the labels I release stuff with are the best people, so I have never really had a problem. As I said before, and I think this probably applies to most labels, I like to be in control. The increase with shipping between the UK and States has not really made it viable, I find more and more that instead of a co-release, I will do a European pressing these days. But, hands down, the best thing about years of co-releasing with labels is the amazing friends I have made. It is also a great way to start a record label, cuts the risk, learns you a lot.
Tony: Are there any bands that you’d absolutely love to release records for? You know, those dream releases?
Juice: The Marked Men. Er The Marked Men, haha. There are tons of dream bands, I keep pestering Sean Forbes about a Hard Skin record. I know someone who has the original DAT for Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing, coming from Stoke I would love to do that. Rocket From The Crypt, I mail them everytime they are rumoured to be coming to the UK and ask if I could do ANYTHING. Of course they never reply, but one day… More realistically, Red Dons, I love that band. But I do alright, I have gotten to release a lot of my favourite bands. Running a Punk DIY label works!
Tony: I mentioned earlier that you’ve got releases lined up for the near future – what can you tell us about what’s in store? Which forthcoming releases are you especially excited about?
Juice: We have a 7″ from S.B.F, which features members of Socialites and Race Car, it’s stupid good. A Canadian band called Booji Boys – I love this record, it reminds me of Shang-A-Lang meets Coneheads meets ELO. A UK band caled Pale Kids, going to do a 7″, they are from Durham (Martha / No Ditching etc) and sound like The Undertones if Fergal Sharkey was dropping acid instead of drinking Tizer. I have just had the songs for a Marvelous Mark – Demo LP, which obviously rules, that guy writes the best songs, hit after hit. A couple of Ottawa/ Toronto bands that I can’t really say much about yet… Some other stuff that I am really excited for.
We have just recently released The Cowboys – S/T LP (insane sulphate garage rock, someone called it, it fits!), Color TV – Demo 7″ (incredible power pop from Minneapolis), Hakan – II LP (Italian Garage/ Punk with killer hooks) and the Generacion Suicida – Sombras LP (from LA, on tour in the UK in January, melodic punk channeling the sounds of KBD-style punk, ZEROS or the RAMONES)
Tony: Are there any releases you regret putting out? Surely when we are talking about a fairly lengthy list of releases there must be at least one that you might think “Yeah. That one kinda sucked” or “I wish people had taken at least some notice of this one”.
Juice: I always think, “more people should have taken notice of this”. I am amazed that Marvelous Mark is not a household name! I get it though, I won’t pay a PR company, so they are not gonna get that sort of press on my label. There is only really one, maybe two (but the second one, nothing to do with the record or band) that I wish I hadn’t of done, obviously I’m not going to say! I can guarantee there are bands that say “I wish we never did that record on Drunken Sailor”, swings and roundabouts. Largely, it’s been great. I think more so, there have been releases where I think, why the fuck did I press so many!
Tony: Any words of advice, hints or tips for anybody that wants to set up a record label of their own?
Juice: Just do it. Stay small, don’t press 500 records of your friends band, they will be under your bed forever. Only spend what you can afford. If a band starts wanting a full Crass style 12 part cover, tell them to suck it. Reach out to all the other DIY labels, There are really very few jerks, and in my experience, people will always help, offer advice. Don’t be afraid to ask your favourite bands. Just do it.
Tony: How old were you when you first started getting into music, and how did you find your way to punk rock and that type of stuff?
Juice: I think I bought my first record when I was 6/7, my mum was really into music. She went into hospital for a while when I was about 9 and I stayed with my 3 cousins, one of them who is 7 years older than me was really into punk and just changed my world. I started buying/ borrowing Clash, Sex Pistols and tons of second wave punk. Then I made friends with all these people just a couple of years older and got into the noisier side, Discharge, Crass etc. I started to going to gigs with my friends at 12, which, looking back seems crazy young, but the world was different then. I was in Paris with Broken Bones when I was 14, but told my mum I was staying a friends house. I used to go to The Mermaid (infamous Birmingham pub/ venue) to see Napalm Death, Amebix and Chaos UK etc. every Saturday at the same age. It was through one of my closest friends, Dave, that I came into the political side of punk.
Those years definitely formed who I am today!
Tony: What were some of the first proper shows you were going to at the time?
Juice: Sorry I kinda answered above. I used to go to all the gigs in Stoke at Shelleys, The Roxy Roller Rink, I was hanging with Broken Bones and used to go on tour with them instead of going to school (really stupid idea). The Mermaid in Birmingham, we used to hitchhike to London at the weekends and see Bad Brains, DRI, and Circle Jerks etc. Then, when I was about 16/ 17, We went to see Snuff and Mega City Four and I was totally hooked on that melodic punk. There was an amazing Stoke band called Exit Condition, the drummer Rich used to put these amazing gigs on in Stoke, Green Day upstairs at The Wheatsheaf, NoFX etc I have been really lucky that I have seen some amazing bands at some of the times, late 80s/ 90s.
Tony: Can you tell us a bit about the first band you played in? Whenever other people talk about their first band, they tend to get nostalgic, but they all seem pretty sure they sucked. Any funny stories about the first shows you played?
Juice: I played in one band, Putrid Actions. We practised upstairs in a pub and then on a Sunday afternoon, Dave who was the singer, his parents ran a working mens club, so we would play on the stage to our friends. We were terrible, but used to send demos to Alternative Tentacles, Mortorhate and Crass. We played one real gig with some Heavy Metal band. Pete who was the drummer had no cymbal stand, had his cymbal hanging from rope attached to the ceiling, so everytime he hit it, it would fly across the stage. We started off and there was maybe 30 people there, after the first song there was one, and she was the youth leader that had helped set up the gig. She was sick after. We were terrible but it was a lot of fun.
Tony: OK, this is a bit of an experiment. There used to be a show on radio (and briefly TV I think) called Desert Island Discs, not sure if you remember it. The idea is that a different “celebrity” got invited on each episode, and they were asked to choose what records they’d want to be marooned on a desert island with.
I got to thinking about this show a couple of months back while I was stripping wallpaper from the walls (the excitement, I know), and decided it was a stupid idea. Possibly the worst concept of all time. Nobody ever questioned where the record player would come from, or what the hell you were meant to power it with. The devil is in the details, is it not? I was thinking my primary concerns would not be listening to records. I’d need a source of fresh water and some kind of shelter.
Luckily, in this scenario, you’ve gone away to a remote shack or cottage (or similar) for a bit of quiet reflection. You have been provided with a record player, food, running water and an electricity supply. What 5 records are you taking with you, and what do those records mean to you?
Juice: These will probably change 5 minutes after writing this but here goes.
The Marked Men – On The Outside LP (Dirtnap). It’s such a perfect record, so many hooks and killer harmonies. I still listen to this record every week, sometimes every day.
The Clash – S/T LP. I bought this with some christmas money when I was 9 because I had heard my cousin talk about it. At the time my sister and I lived in a bathroom, haha, my parents had just got divorced and my mum had no money, so we had this one bedroom house with this BIG bathroom, so we had bunk beds in there and i had one of those record players in a case, I think my grandad had given it me. Anyway, I played this constantly, play it today and it takes me right back…
The Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette LP. This just reminds me of growing up and all the fun we had. It’s just a classic LP and one I can listen to anytime.
Discharge – Why? 12″/ Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing LP. Cheated here, but, I honestly class these two together. Discharge changed my life and lots of other people lives round here. Listening to them the first time was like a bomb had gone off. They were like nothing I had heard before, the music, the imagery. There really was nothing else like that. Listen to it today, and it still sounds HUGE.
Coneheads– LP. Out of all the records recently, this is one that I listen to constantly, I never get bored of this and find something new everytime. There is something pretty amazing and infuriating at the same time, that they seem so elusive, that they will probably never tour the UK (I don’t even know if they are still going!!), I guess that’s part of the magic.
I could name hundreds of records that I love dearly, The Ramones, Iron Chic, RFTC, Dead Kennedys, Hickey….see I am already changing my mind, hahaha!!