I have been closely following the releases of independent label Drone Rock Records since it’s inception in 2015. During that time label owner, Adam Harmsworth, has put out a series of highly memorable releases from a raft of bands; many of whom I would have otherwise never heard of. They are invariably records that both look and sound great thanks to his attention to detail in all aspects of what he releases.
This sort of curation is typical of those who put out wax in this way, enthusiastic people who love the music they put out and are prepared to risk their own time and money into projects that would otherwise never see the light of day in, as we shall find out in a minute, increasingly challenging conditions.
Drone Rock Records (DRR) recently put out it’s 49th release which, I am sure you agree, is an impressive milestone for a one person label and one that deserves to be marked. To that end Adam is releasing a compilation album of eight (previously unreleased) tracks by bands who represent something of a cross section of DRR releases, together with a further six numbers on a download that is available with the album:
- Stereocilia – Mirroring
- Svenska Psykvänner – Rakt Fram
- DDT – Strange Harvest
- Kombynat Robotron – V.III
- Fanatism – To Get Away From You
- Gnob – High Priestess
- Domboshawa – Grön Vandring
- Stupid Cosmonaut – Salt & Iron
Additional Download Tracks:
- The Hologram People – Smokey Lays A Trap
- Sex Blender – Hospice Dance Floor
- Psychic Lemon – Dark Matter (Live)
- Studio Kosmische – Constellation In The Northern Sky
- Culto Al Qondor – Repetición (Live)
- The Voices – Diamond Skies
(‘Sounds from the Psychedelic Underground’ is available from Drone Rock Records here)
While I am not going to do through every track here, what I can tell you is that there are absolutely no mere cast-offs here, no filler at all… in fact every track is of the sort of quality that I have come to expect from this label… and also a mark of how highly the contributing bands recognise it… and actually I feel that the whole thing gels rather well together… in some says it does not feel like a compilation at all.
But, that’s enough from me, let’s hear from Adam himself. I asked him how it was running DRR, but began by asking him about this special 50th release:
Adam Harmsworth: Well, firstly, I can’t even believe the label has reached its 50th release. When I first started the label I was beyond excited to get my first release out and that excitement has not diminished in the seven years I’ve been doing this. Seeing the 50th release as a landmark (and in a handy coincidence, it fell around the same time as my own 50th birthday!) I wanted to do something a bit celebratory. I approached a load of the acts that had featured on the label across the previous 49 records and asked them to donate a track to feature on a special DRR compilation album. I had so many contributions that I could have done a triple vinyl LP but, in the current climate, costs proved way too prohibitive for that. I have managed to assemble a single vinyl LP though featuring 8 tracks from acts familiar to regular DRR followers spanning the lifespan of the label to date. None of these tracks have ever been released on vinyl before and there are an additional 6 tracks available to download for customers who purchase the album via the DRR website. I am hoping that the records will be back with me in the middle of July and the pre-order will be going live at the end of this month (June).
FF: How would you describe DRR to someone who know nothing about it?
AH: I tend to tell people that DRR is a ‘micro-label’. It’s just me in my spare time (I actually work in the building game by day) trying my best to manage it between work and family time. It’s a juggling act to be honest. I specialise in small pressings (usually 250/300 records with the occasional run of 500) of what is often referred to as ‘modern psych’ music. This encompasses a whole plethora of sub-genres such as kosmische, space-rock, improv and is, mainly, instrumental. I would best describe most of my releases as music to get lost in. Escapism music. I only release on vinyl, mainly because I’m a vinyl collector myself (bloody hipster!), but also because most of the bands/artists I’ve worked with are really keen to get their music put out on a tactile, physical format. Since the very first release I’ve also had the desire to match the look of the vinyl with artwork of the sleeve so all of my releases have been pressed on fancy colour-effect vinyl. Yes, I know its all about the music at the end of the day but I wanted the vinyl to look as good as it sounded.
FF: What was your initial motivation to start DRR? Which bands were your touchstone?
AH: It was actually my wife who prompted me (gave me a kick up the arse!) to start the label. At the time I was going to a lot of gigs, buying lots of vinyl and merch, and posting photos of it all on social media. My wife said to me that I should get a little more involved in the ‘scene’ as I was clearly so hooked at that point.
She suggested that I start a blog or zine but that wasn’t really what I fancied so I started a FB page in celebration of the modern psychedelic music scene, inspired by the gigs I was going to; the likes of White Hills, The Heads, Wooden Ships, Black Angels, The Warlocks and, in particular, Carlton Melton, but also the labels that were at the forefront of this music ’scene’: Rocket, Cardinal Fuzz, Thrill Jockey and El Paraiso. Out of the blue I had an email from an Argentinian band who had been following my FB page, asking if I knew or could recommend anyone to release their debut LP. It was then that I decided to dive headlong into starting the label and the Kill West EP soon followed.
FF: What has surprised you about running a record label?
AH: Oh, there are always surprises and not always in a positive way. There are so many things that can and do go wrong running a label, especially one specialising with the rather antiquated process of vinyl production and, even after the 49 records I’ve put out so far, I still feel like a novice. On the plus side, I am still pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie of fellow label people, many of whom have been invaluable with advice, help and suggestions. In particular I must give a massive shout out to Dave Cambridge of Cardinal Fuzz fame who has always gone out of his way to help me with any issues I may be having. I’m in a FB group with several other label bods and we often share problems or tips, and its very reassuring that these people see you as a like-minded soul rather than a competitor or a rival to finding the next psych big thing. Another surprise is the number of emails I get from bands who tell me how much they love the label and what I do and then supply me with a demo of some soft-metal ballads, having clearly never listened to a single thing I’ve released [FF: that sounds familiar].
FF: Is it more difficult to run a label now than when you started?
AH: Massively. Brexit has been the main detrimental effect. I’m a small UK label, dealing with a pressing plant in the Czech Republic, working with a lot of European bands, and, pre-brexit, approximately a third of my customers lived in mainland Europe. Brexit has totally f**ked that up. Its now easier for me to send a record to Cameroon than it is to Europe. Unfortunately I don’t have many regular customers in Cameroon. The popularity of vinyl has also had a massive impact on pressing times and costs. As you and your readers will be well aware, a process which used to take 2-3 months when I first started can now take upward of 8-9 months. The major labels are clogging up the pressing plants with endless re-issues without investing in more machinery and the staff with the knowledge to use them. The cost of materials and manufacture has shot up as have most things these days. I’m now paying more than double what I used to when I first started though my prices have gone up only a fraction in comparison. There is going to be tipping point soon. Vinyl is a luxury purchase at the end of the day and there is only so much that someone is willing to pay for an album. I know my own record buying has fallen in the last few years and I can’t believe some of the prices I am seeing in record shops. Crazy times.
FF: What can we expect to see as you start on the next 50 releases? Do you have any longer term ambitions for DRR?
AH: I would have been happy if DRR had just managed to put out one release so to get to 50 I am as shocked as I am proud. With the current state of play in the vinyl industry I am literally just taking one release at a time and hoping that things will get better… be that new plants catering for the demand and bringing down pressing times and production costs or the U.K Government waking up to discover that small businesses dealing with the post-brexit environment really are struggling. So, at the moment, its hard to think about long term ambitions. I just hope that I am able to continue to put out great, underground, psychedelic music for the foreseeable.
Well let’s hope so, because labels such as DRR are the very lifeblood of the scene, and we would be lost without them, but let’s hope that Adam can continue with his quest to discover and release great music (although preferably not soft-metal ballads); and while another fifty releases might sound greedy it would be wonderful to be here in a few years time celebrating the 100th release… no pressure though and thank you to Adam for talking to me and curating his great label.
(‘Sounds from the Psychedelic Underground’ is available from Drone Rock Records here)
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