Designer Label: VISIBLE NOISE
We chat to the label that brought you Lostprophets, Bullet For My Valentine and Kill II This
Occasionally at the odd Bullet For My Valentine London show, or Lostprophets intimate gig, you'll see a diminuitive, slightly gothily-dressed woman slamming back the beer, or video-taping the set, or possibly chatting enthusiastically to young kids about the bands. Yet Julie Weir isn't just some some strange music obsessive with a penchant for spiked heels (they don't "look good" on her anymore anyway, she claims). Over the last few years, Weir's label Visible Noise has been responsible, through signing Lostprophets, for kickstarting the resurgence in UK hardcore; has given young kids in London their own monthly rock club in London, Subverse, a monthly event that's hosted the likes of Gallows and Funeral For A Friend; and more, all thanks to Weir's determination to support fresh British talent, and her belief in the importance of always listening to the kids. We finally cornered the bubbly label head backstage at this year's Fuse music and gaming festival for the lowdown on the past, present and future for this seminal British label.
When Visible Noise begin? Can you give us a brief history of the label?
"I actually started working where I work now in 1995, I think? Which is like 12 years ago. I actually started working as a merchandising manager for a label called Cacophonous which I then moved onto label manager and A&R. We worked with Cradle Of Filth, we worked with Dimmu Borgir - not personally my cup of tea musically, and it was starting to properly do my head in! My boss at the time basically just said, "look, don't leave, we'll give you your own label". I got my own label, we signed a few bands, we signed Kill II This, we signed Kilkus, obviously we signed Lostprophets and things went stratospheric. That's when I was made business partner, so now I own the label, and it's all totally different.
"It's worked for me, sticking to my guns more than anything, really, and ever since we've signed Lostprophets, it's raised the label profile, so other bands come back to us. We did Bullet For My Valentine, now we've got Bring Me The Horizon - who definitely polarise opinion, can I say, but I still think they're a great great band. Obviously we're signing a lot of different bands now - we've just signed Cry For Silence, we've just signed a band called Burn Down Rome, so we've got loads of other things going on as well.
"I want to be able to keep the label independent. It's always been perceived that cos we had a deal with Sony at one point where we licensed things to them that we were funded by a major. We've never ever EVER been funded by a major label, and I'd just like to point that out for the naysayers and the non-believers there."
What was the motivation behind starting the label? I guess it was just you wanting to do something a little different from what you were already doing...
"Yeah, it was, but it's also the fact that I really wanted to foster a lot of UK talent, and I didn't think anybody was doing it at the time. To this day, the only bands we really have on there are UK bands."
When you were starting out, were there any labels you looked up to, or whose ways of working inspired you?
"There's two labels actually, and I'm totally open and frank about them both. I grew up as a screaming goth, and anybody who actually knows me, and knows I'm actually not that far away, I just wear a little bit of flash of colour these days [laughs] but believe me, the spiked heels and the platforms don't suit me now! The labels really that inspired me are Roadrunner - I got really drunk at a Kerrang! Awards and told Mark Palmer [Managing Director of Roadrunner Records U.K.] if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing, which I'm still mortified about to this day - and also Earache. Earache basically pushed the boundaries of extreme music. I've known them for a hell of a long time, and they helped me out when I first started in the industry when I was running Cacophonous, 'cause I would phone people up and go, 'I really don't know how to do this'. Dan [Tobin, Label Manager] at Earache especially has always been really really helpful, as has Dig [-by Pearson, Managing Director] , to be honest."
What was the first release that the label put out? How does it feel looking back on it and the way you did that?
"It was 'Deviate' by Kill II This in 1998. Tourment 1 CD. I think we've developed a lot as a label. It actually quite scares me, cos the way that we do artwork has changed, the way that we do promo, we're so focussed and so driven now. Saying that, at that point it was only me, and so I was doing everything from designing and approving artwork, through to publishing, sorting out tours, everything. Now there's three of us - Alex Karade, who does a lot of our production and online stuff, and Austen Cruickshank, who's our PR guru. It does make us realise how much we've developed. Our artwork department is how second to none, I think."
If you could pick three bands past and present to go on the label, who would you pick?
"I really wanted to work with Gallows, and we had conversations, but we were totally priced out of the market there. I still think they're an absolutely amazing, amazing band, they're absolutely fantastic. Foo Fighters - as commercial as that sounds, I absolutely love them, I think they're fantastic songwriters. This doesn't really apply to Visible Noise, really, it applies more to Cacophonous, but I would have loved to have worked with Darkthrone, cos that kind of stuff I absolutely love. Not necessarily there for the political views, but the music is brilliant. Political views, I always stay away from from any bands. I'm not their nanny, I'm not their representative, I just stay away from the politics."
Is there anything that's happened before that's prompted you to take a no poltics stance?
"When I was working at Cacophonous? The Black Metal scene was very difficult I thought to work in, really. I mean, I still love the music, I'm still friends with most of the bands I've worked with on that as well, being in it as a label or a tour manager. Apart from Cradle, Cradle was a bit of an uneasy relationship."
What do you look for in a band you're interested in signing?
"Basically the band I'm interested in signing, they have to be able to stand on their own two feet, they have to prove they can work hard, they have to be totally unafraid of going out and doing anything that we would like them to do. They'll never be forced to do anything, but if we'd like them to do something, they should be totally unafraid. And I always like people to have a bit of something different, I think. And enthusiasm. And a sense of fun. There's nothing worse than people who take themselves too seriously, cos going on the road with them and stuff's like pulling teeth."
Do you spend a lot of time going on the road with the bands?
"In all honesty, not really, because again I'm a lot older now. I did when I was younger, but I actually used to really really love it, and I still love seeing our bands live now. I'll never ever miss a gig if it's London, unless it's extreme circumstances like I've chopped my foot off or something, but I still love it."
With bands like Lostprophets and Bullet For My Valentine passing through your label in the past few years, is it hard watching bands leave?
"Always. The worst thing is, and I'll admit this wholeheartedly, is that when I've done stuff, I take things so personally, and I'll still never get over that I don't think. Bullet we're not working with anymore cos they've gone to Columbia for the next album, which is fine, [but] I have to say I was really really gutted to see them go. I love working with them, they're such nice people, and they're fun to work with as well. But it's gonna happen more and more and more - we are an independent label, there's only a certain amount that we can do. If somebody comes along from a major and waves a massive cheque, I can't honestly blame a band for going because people have got to eat, people have got to keep things alive.
"The only thing I worry about is if you go to a major, you're a very small fish in a big sea, whereas with us you're always a priority, and I'll always be the person who takes phone calls at four o'clock in the morning, much to my boyfriend's chagrin, cos my phone is my alarm clock as well. Bad idea, I need to sort that out, really!"
What's the best part and what's the worst part of your job?
"The best part is seeing band go from nothing to playing Wembley Arena - Lostprophets - which is my pride and joy. And the worst part? I hate doing contracts. I hate it, hate it, hate it. As an independent, it's part of my job, but it's so tedious, and the contractual negotiation process is, well, it's drawn out, it has to be done, but God, if I was a lawyer, I'd be minted, cos I've done so many contracts in the past twelve years! [luaghs] Seeing bands leave is also pretty upsetting, but that's just me. this comes from me doing stuff on my own for a long time. It's got slightly better now I've got more of a buffer zone around me I think. I'm a big softy, I'm like 'no I'm fine with it', and then [in private] I'm like 'noo, they don't love me anymore!'"
What's been the biggest challenge you've had since you started Visible Noise?[Pause] "Keeping sales going, really, and keeping people interested in msuic in such a transient age. Kids are pretty fickle in what they like, and it's fantastic when you find an actual fanbase that stick with the band, and I think that we're really lucky in the rock niche to have people who are absolutely fanatical fans, and I love that, but it's also fighting to keep the bands against a major label is also pretty difficult, I think.
"There's always sort of a threat, sort of medium sized fish, big shark, you know? Regardless of whatever you do, there's always something lurking around the corner. If you're an independent label, it doesn't really matter how good a job that you do, there'll always be the temptation to go to a major and be housed inside everything. However, looking at the state of things, with V2 sacking 45 out of 50 people, EMI going a bit weird, Warners getting rid of loads of people, I think we're probably in a stronger position. I mean, my company is like associated to a company that's now been going for 20 years as a truly independent company. And I think that's like not to be sniffed at really!"
Visible Noise has done a lot in the past few years to explore areas of music that other haven't thought of; for example, Lostprophets debut album reviving the populariy of hardcore in the UK; your monthly under-18s Subverse club on Sunday afternoons; your involvement in the Fuse music and gaming festival. Do you think it's important for independent labels to lead the way in exploring these areas?
"God, absolutely! Independent labels have always got a more open outlook on everything , I think, and we're a lot more free to do stuff. I basically run my own company, I don't need to answer to anyone, so I go out there and do what I want to do. But my main remit on everything is keep the kids happy, and that's all I'm bothered about.
"This is coming from a 36 year old woman, but I speak to like 15, 16, 12, 13 year olds all the time about what they wanna see, what they wanna do, what bands they wanna see at Subverse. I think it's all about the fans, and I think if you don't look after the fans you're just totally negligent of being a label that cares about music. The way that we've done things in the past has basically been fan-led. I think we can push things a lot further than majors can because it doesn't take us a long time to turn things round, but I also think that we really care, as sad as that sounds. Kids come down, they flyer for us, they come to our street teams, we always look after them, and we always listen to them, and I think that is 100% important, 100% of the driving force of what we do."
With a lot of people panicking about the opening up of untried areas of online music technology, talking to the fans is becoming more and more important.
"Absolutely, absolutely. One of the things we've been doing recently is exploring a lot of technologies anyway, and I mean it's been going on for the last three years in my company, and it's very complicated, I have to say! I love the fact that we can do so many things now we could never ever do before. I think early adoption is something that we can do a lot faster than anyone else, but I also think that listening to the kids is going to push us much further.
"Things like Hadouken releasing the thing on USB, I kind of like the idea, but I also think that fans of a certain kind of music, being rock, always want a CD. They don't want something that's just going to be pushed inside of a computer, uploaded and lost. I think that kids have got a lot to say about things like that, and I need to know that kind of feedback."
What other advice would you give to anyone else thinking of starting their own label?
"Dont!" [laughs] "To be honest, if you were going to start up your own independent, in all honesty I wouldn't start up a record label now, 'cause labels fall by the wayside too quickly. If you're going to set up something that was independent, I would try and set up something like an online zine, and maybe start things going through that route; or quite possibly a management company, and look after bands, and see if you can make it work that way by releasing your stuff yourself. I think if you're going to start from the ground up, it's very very difficult to make a success with an independent label now. You need a hell of a lot of money behind you these days to try and break anything."
Any final words?
"Anybody that does actually want to send a demo in, feel free, and please say no mp3s, cos it drives me crazy! It always closes my computer down, I hate it. And people always mispell the emails and send an mp3, so it's doubly annoying. Oh, the other thing is if you do actually happen to email us, please spellcheck it, and don't send it in textspeak. You'd be surprised how many we get!
"Final word is we are a label that does foster a lot of UK talent. If theres any UK bands that really do believe they can cut the mustard, and are doing something totally different in the UK, please feel free to get in touch with us."
Demos for Visible Noise can be mailed to: Visible Noise, 231 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LT.
Visible Noise: The Current Roster
Bring Me The Horizon
Love 'em or hate 'em, they're still the most recognisable faces of the British metalcore scene, and responsible to introducing many to what remains a largely hidden genre in the UK.
Burn Down Rome
The first of 2008's new breed on VN, Burn Down Rome take the dynamics of epic post-hardcore and the ferocity of the genre's roots to create a seething yet intelligent mix. Expectation is high for this Spring's new mini-album 'Devotion'.
Cry For Silence
Having spent the last five years carefully cultivating grassroots support, CFS are essentially a microcosm of the label - capable of producing both songs that meld sweet melody and face-eating riffs, as well as more complex mathy rhythms and Neurosis-like dynamics.2008 will f-i-n-a-l-l-y see the release of their debut album through Visible Noise.
Devil Sold His Soul
Their throat-tearing epic noise has left journos tripping over their own jaws to sing their praises. March's tour with The Mirimar Disaster is one of the most anticipated of the year.
This year's 'Solitude' release was a refreshing breath of 80's hardcore air that puts them at the forefront of the current movement.
Photo: Marianne Harris
Despite being around for a little over ten months, the dynamic melodic hardcore of these six South West kids nabbed them a spot on the label after winning the Battle Of The Bands this years's Fuse 07 music and gaming festival. 2008 will prove if they can come up with the goods, with their first, as yet untitled, Visible Noise release.
Until the recent departure of vocalist Kim Waterson, these sweet emo-popsters were Britain's first real answer to Paramore.
Holding up the classic end of the label, The Plight churn out savage, whiskey and adrenalin-fueled Southern-flavoured rock with a hard-edged metal twist.
CLICK HERE for our report on the Visible Noise-sponsored Fuse 07