INTERVIEW: Sean Price (Fortuna Pop!)

INTERVIEW: Sean Price (Fortuna Pop!)


The 3rd Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter has been taking place all this week at The Lexington in London they’ve expanded the event from three to four nights to encompass Fortuna POP!’s burgeoning roster. Headlining the opening night were the jewel in the label’s crown, Allo Darlin’, celebrating a fabulous 2012 that has seen their album “Europe” become Rough Trade East’s biggest selling CD of the year, ably supported by Tender Trap. Last night saw Herman Dune tread the boards in one of the smallest London venues they’ve graced for some time, while opening up are Fortuna POP!’s latest signings, Joanna Gruesome. Tonight’s headliner is Darren Hayman And The Long Parliament,  whos double album of last year “The Violence”, meditated upon the Essex Witch Trials of the 17th Century, with support from Shrag, whose album “Canines” will be their farewell.

Friday’s closing night sees indiepop legends Comet Gain headline, with support from Milky Wimpshake, playing songs from their upcoming new LP “Heart And Soul In The Milky Way”, and from young whippersnappers Evans The Death whose self-titled album was one of the year’s finest indie-pop releases. The label have extended the invitation to some of their favourite non-Fortuna POP! acts and this year the wonderful Spook School, Withered Hand and Haiku Salut take their place in the line-up, along with guest DJs from Scared To Dance, Track & Field, How Does It Feel To Be Loved? and Stolen Wine Social. The Winter Sprinter is billed as “the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas blues.” We caught up with Fortuna POP! head honcho Sean Price who over its fifteen year history has elevated his imprint to a position as one of the most respected interdependent labels in the country highlighting and showcasing multiple brilliant bands through the years…

Hi Sean, how are you?

Hi God. I’m good, thanks. I’m excited about the new year for the label, it feels like the start of a new phase somehow.

Fortuna POP! is a well respected label how long has it been trading and promoting shows and what would you say is the FP ethos?

Well, we celebrated our 15th birthday last year, so I guess that makes us sweet sixteen. The ethos has always been to work with bands we like rather than bands we think other people will like, and to do stuff with people who we can go down the pub with and have a chat and a laugh. We’re not in this for the money and life’s too short to work with twats. As far as the music goes have fairly catholic tastes I think, in that we like strong melodies and intelligent lyrics.

What’s the idea behind the Winter Sprinter?Is it a great chance to showcase together acts you love both on your label and not on your label? With Winter being a quieter time generally for gigs do you think a series of well constructed bills can get a bit more excitement going?

My friends Steven and Paul from the Track & Field label used to do something with the same name and when they called it a day I picked it up and ran with it. I called the first one I did three years ago “(Not The Track & Field) Winter Sprinter” to acknowledge the debt. Like you say early January is traditionally a quiet time for gigs but conversely there have been no decent shows since mid-December and everyone’s bored out of their skulls from being at home for Christmas so they’re gagging to see some bands. So, yeah, it’s a great opportunity to get some attention for the label and the bands when there’s little else around and get everyone amped up about the bands on the label at the start of the year.

Tell us about how you chose the acts you want on Fortuna Pop is there a specific sound or just whether you fall for their music? I’m thinking in particular of two of your newer signings like Joanna Gruesome and Flowers?

There’s no specific sound, I’m just looking for the magic. Show me the magic! There are lots of bands I like but very few I think are special. I think Joanna Gruesome and Flowers are quite different things, but Joanna Gruesome make me grin from ear to ear when I hear them and Flowers make me swoon. Half the art of running a record label is in not signing the bands you think are merely good and holding out for the ones you think might be great. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Stalwarts like Comet Gain, Heman Dune and Darren Hayman are joined on the bills by Withered Hand,Haiku Salut and Spook School is it important to get a good mix of the emerging and the established on these bills? 

I always ask the bands on the label to play first, and this year virtually everyone said yes, which was nice but I was left with three nights that looked a lot like the three nights I’d done at the Scala in November 2011 for our 15th Birthday. That felt a little uninspired to me so I added an extra night and set about booking some of the bands who I’d seen in 2012 who had really excited me. In the case of Joanna Gruesome and The Spook School I’m going to go on and release their records too but when I booked them I was just trying to freshen up the Winter Sprinter line-up a little. It’s great to have that mix of the emerging and the established, for me in bringing attention to the new bands, and for the fans who don’t want to see the same bills regurgitated over and over again. I also tried to mix the line-ups up a bit, and put bands together who hadn’t played together before. I was really pleased when Darren Hayman suggested he play with Shrag – that’s just a mentally eclectic line-up now.

I note you have different DJs between acts on each of the nights does this give a good breadth of music over all of the nights themselves?

All those guys play a good mix of stuff so yes, but I wasn’t really thinking about that. I booked them because they had some kind of connection with the nights they were DJing: Paul Richards of Scared To Dance has been really supportive of Allo Darlin’ from day one; Paul Wright from Track & Field used to release Herman Dune; Ian Watson from How Does It Feel To Be Loved? wanted to DJ the night that Haiku Salut were playing because he’s releasing their album on the HDIF label; and Sandy from Stolen Wine Social is just a nuts Milky Wimpshake fan.

What’s it like being a promoter in 2013 and what are the challenges that face you ?

I do pretty well out of promoting but I’ve cut back massively on what I do. I used to do a monthly night at the Buffalo Bar and it was a real struggle. The Buffalo Bar actually canned it and I was really gutted but a few people told me I’d be better off and wouldn’t miss it and it turned out to be true. I used to think that if I didn’t promote those bands then no-one would, but others, most notably Odd Box, have stepped into the breach. So now I just go to their shows and don’t have the hassle of organising drum kits etc! Cheers Trev! These days I tend to just do bigger shows for bands on the label and that seems to work out pretty well. I pay them well, hopefully more than if they went via a “proper” promoter, and most of our shows seem to sell out, or at least be nice and busy.

Allo Darlin, Evans The Death and The Tender Trap have had particularly great years does it make you feel proud when your releases/acts on your label reach out to a wider audience?

Of course, that’s the reason I do this. I’ve never been one of those indie labels who wants to sell 100 hand-crocheted 7″ singles over and over again to the same 100 people. That sounds dismissive, but actually I think there’s a real place for that type of label, and it’s exciting and fun, it’s just not what I’m about. I want to work with bands long-term and help them make great music and get that music to as many people as possible. When I see that Allo Darlin’ are Rough Trade Shop’s biggest selling album of the year I feel immense pride that I’ve helped to make that happen.

There’s been alot of talk recently about the future of labels and the music industry what are your thoughts on it?Can vinyl survive in a digital age and what are your thoughts on things like Spotify?

It’s really difficult, I can’t make it pay enough to do it full-time, the glory days of selling records were 20-odd years ago. It’s a catch-22 situation in a way, in that I don’t have the time to set-up those income streams like synchronisation that might help make the label pay because I have a full-time day job. Record labels have a tough time at the moment, but I think their role has changed, to be more about managing bands and those other income streams and less about making and selling “product”, and that is probably the future.

Vinyl can survive as long as fans exist who fetishise the physical object and labels exist who provide it. The thing that is keeping vinyl afloat is labels making sure that they are selling something that’s beautifully packaged and desirable in its own right, and comes complete with mp3 download codes, so that fans get the best of both worlds. To all extents and purposes the CD is dead because it’s so much easier to do that when you’re working with vinyl. The Post Office are doing their damnedest to kill vinyl off though!

With Spotify there’s a lot of ill informed comment in my opinion. People have to understand that it’s not a download site and it’s not a radio station, it’s something else besides, and the great advantage it gives you is its reach. So to hear a song for the first time you don’t need to shell out 79p, but then unlike a radio station it’s there on your computer all the time, it doesn’t require any intersection in time and space for you to hear it. A lot of my digital income is beginning to come from Spotify. I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it’s important if we’re going to find a way of charging people for music in the future so artists and labels can make a crust.

What do you think makes a label like Fortuna Pop! important in 2013?Opposed to say a DIY or a major? Do you think that you can give certain acts a platform that they might struggle to get onto without your help?

Well, I am a DIY label. I have a full time job and I run the label from my laptop in my spare time with my own money. I’m writing this at 3am and I have to be in work at nine! Urrgh. I think I’ve grown unusually big for a DIY label and outstripped or outlasted most of my peers, but that’s because I’m insane and put everything into the label in a way that probably isn’t healthy, and I kill myself not to let any of my bands down and to do everything as professionally as possible. And I guess that does make me important. I was thinking about this recently, after I agreed to work with Joanna Gruesome and Flowers and The Spook School, that I occupy a unique space, at least in the UK and in the type of music I release, in that I can do more for a band that the vast majority of DIY labels, but that I can be so much more reactive than bigger labels, major or otherwise, who always have to have an eye on the commercial possibilities of whoever they’re signing. I hope that doesn’t sound immodest.

What other labels do you admire?

Slumberland. Fika. Merge. Moshi Moshi. Reeks Of Effort. Bella Union. Gringo. Odd Box. Elefant. Last year’s singles club on WIAIWYA was especially good I thought.

But really, anyone who does this deserves respect, whether you like the music they release or not.

What are you listening to right now?

Right now? The Dr. Strangelove EP by King Of Cats on Reeks Of Effort.

If you were to chose five tracks of Fortuna Pop releases that best represent the label what would you chose?

That’s tough. I guess what you’ve just released represents what the label is at any moment in time, so let’s pick one track off each of the five albums I released last year.

Telling Lies – Evans The Death
Tallulah – Allo Darlin’
On The Spines Of Old Cathedrals – Shrag
Memorabilia – Tender Trap
Desire Lines – Darren Hayman And The Long Parliament

Every one a winner.

Do you have any other shows lined up?

Yeah, in my guise as co-promoter of the London Popfest. I’m extremely stoked, and also quite sad, that we have Standard Fare headlining the Saturday as their last ever gig. They’re a band whose records I would have loved to have released. It’s from the 1st to the 3rd of March and we also have Young Romance, Burning Hearts, English Singles, Milky Wimpshake, Big Wave, The Garlands, The Tuts, Martha, September Girls, This Many Boyfriends, Speedmarket Avenue, Hong Kong In The 60s, Flowers, Cocoanut Groove and The Orchids playing. Tickets here http://www.wegottickets.com/f/5343

What else can we expect from Fortuna Pop in 2013?

Oh man, it’s gonna be an exciting year! I already mentioned Joanna Gruesome, Flowers and The Spook School but we’ve also signed a couple of american bands – Tullycraft who I’ve loved for years and have just made the best album of their lives with Phil Ek (The Shins, Band of Horses, Built to Spill, The Halo Benders, The Shout Out Louds, Fleet Foxes, The Walkmen), and The Ballet, a band who I’ve been trying to sign for about five years and I’ve finally worn into submission! We’ve also got the new Milky Wimpshake album which is one of the best things they’ve ever done, the guitars just buzz with electricity! Comet Gain and Evans The Death are both about to go back into the studio to record new albums. And then there are the ones that everyone have been waiting for… a new album by The Chemistry Experiment and a solo album by Simon Love of The Loves! And loads of other stuff I can’t tell you about yet. I’m also planning to run a subscription singles club, but I’m still working on the details of that. I’ll let you know as soon as I work it it out in my head!
More info:

Remaining Winter Sprinter nights 

Thursday 10th January
Darren Hayman And The Long Parliament + Shrag + Haiku Salut  + DJs (How Does It Feel To be Loved?)
http://www.wegottickets.com/event/192605
 
Friday 11th January
Comet Gain + Milky Wimpshake + Evans The Death  + DJs (Stolen Wine Social)
http://www.wegottickets.com/event/192606
Season ticket to all four nights
http://www.wegottickets.com/f/5197

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