The Record Label Spotlight series will focus on the forces at work behind all of our favorite (or soon-to-be favorite) bands - the people out there discovering new music and finding a way to bring that music to us - the record labels.
These features will include an interview with the label, tons of information about the bands on the label (including in depth spotlights on 5 bands on the label), videos, links, photos, resources, and a FREE downloadable mini sampler put together exclusively for When The Sun Hits readers by the record label, featuring a smattering of grade A tracks from the label's releases (downloads are in mp3 format).
When The Sun Hits is all about exposure, and the Record Label Spotlight series is an excellent vehicle for giving that exposure - you get behind the scenes details about the record labels, exclusive information and interviews, free downloads, and a way to discover tons of new bands. In short: It's a win.
And so without further ado, we present to you the first exclusive feature in our Record Label Spotlight series: Northern Star Records.
Northern Star Records.
In other words, Northern Star Records has been busy as hell, and it's a lucky thing for us, because the label's output thus far has been nothing short of stellar. Perhaps the following interview with the man behind the label, Scott Causer, will shed some light on how Northern Star Records got to be so damn awesome. Enjoy!
1. How did Northern Star Records get its start?
I was in the Atlas bar in Manchester for the annual In The City festival (a much smaller SXSW in the UK) and a bunch of 18 year olds came onstage and proceeded to blow the fuck out of my mind. They reminded me of a more psychedelic Stone Roses. They were unsigned and I couldn’t believe no-one had picked them up. I knew there and then that I had to start a label. I took a demo and held onto it for future reference. That band was Pioneer 4 who was featured on our very first release Psychedelica Volume 1.
Shortly after I moved down to London. I formed a band called The Electric Mainline. We’d put up a MySpace page and bands started getting in touch like The Black Angels, Stevenson Ranch Davidians, The Dolly Rocker Movement, The Vandelles. We were swapping demos with these bands and no-one had signed any of them up to this point. We wanted to do a release, so I hit up on the idea of doing a compilation with these bands. I’d recently reviewed The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Telescopes and also asked them. Both bands agreed to come on board and in March 2006 Psychedelica Volume 1 was born.
2. Would you consider Northern Star Records to be a shoegaze and/or dream pop oriented record label?
Neither - I consider Northern Star to be a pop music label. Sure, there are elements of both in what we do but we are neither one nor the other exclusively and I refuse to be restricted by genres. There is so much good music out there why place restrictions? It is important to have a common theme running through your work so you have an identity as a label. I’m not going to start releasing hip hop records for instance but at the same time I want to be open to new ideas.
We were initially known for our Psychedelica compilations and on the first couple of albums we featured bands like SnowDonnas, The Daysleepers and The Voices (who happily sit under all 3 umbrellas). To me dream pop and shoegaze are just another extension of psychedelia anyway. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slowdive’s Souvlaki are 2 of the greatest psychedelic masterpieces of our time. The fact that we can put a dreamy band like Butterfly Explosion on the same Psychedelica compilation as a Texan psychedelic rock band like The Black Angels, says a lot about where we’re coming from.
From Psychedelica Volume Two: The Black Angels. Young Dead Men.
Its pretty much down to whether I like their music or not. I hear bands via a number of outlets. I find them, people recommend them, bands put themselves forward etc. We’re open to everyone and closed to none. I listen to everything everyone sends me. Aside from the music there’s no other prerequisites. I don’t care if they’re unheard of, if they’ve never been released before, I don’t care what anyone else thinks of them, who their friends are. None of this matters to me. If I like a band, I’ll do everything I can to ensure I work with them.
A lot of bands have had their first international releases on Northern Star before anyone else had heard of or gave a fuck about them – The Black Angels, The Nova Saints, Youngteam, The December Sound, Sunsplit, The Vandelles. On the new compilation there’s a brilliant new band called Volcano Playground from Canada – they’ve just been signed by Holy Fuck’s record label. Before this no one had heard them. They just sent me some songs, I knew nothing about them, loved them and I put them on! Sometimes, it really is as simple as that.
Sometimes it does work the other way though. I have a number of bands, some fairly high profile who have approached me in the past and if I don’t like their music or see it fitting in with the Northern Star sound then I won’t indulge them. I think once labels start releasing music they think people want to hear rather than what they want to hear – that's when it starts to go horribly wrong. We’re all about integrity. Unless I LOVE a bands' music, I won’t work with them. Its a philosophy that's worked well so far and its a philosophy I intend to continue.
Last year we put out a compilation entitled Revolution In Sound which featured a number of amazing bands who I couldn’t include on the Psychedelica series so I made Revolution so I could. Revolution mainly focused on bands with shoegaze/electronica/noise pop/
There is definitely a Northern Star sound. This probably comes from the music I listened to as a kid. I loved The Smiths, The Cure, the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Stone Roses, Joy Division, Primal Scream, Echo & The Bunnymen. These bands all had a massive influence on me and I can hear aspects of their music in everything we do. I guess if we’re anything we’re a psychedelic pop label.
4. Who are the 5 most recent shoegaze/dream pop acts to be represented by Northern Star Records?
There are several on the Psychedelica 4 album. I wouldn’t brand any of them shoegaze as they’re all very different but some bands do have aspects of that sound whether its the pedals they use or the way its recorded. 5 recent bands we’ve worked with for the very first time, which people really should check out are The Domino State, Spotlight Kid, 93MillionMilesFromTheSun, White Noise Sound and Joensuu 1685.
5. What do you think of the modern shoegaze/dream pop scene?
I don’t really – I’m not really interested in bands who want to do shoegaze-by-numbers. What most interests me are the bands who use shoegaze an influence and incorporate other influences to arrive at their own sound. For instance Screen Vinyl Image and Soundpool, who both take electronica and shoegaze and arrive at totally different places. The December Sound and The Voices also sound like Sonic Youth doing shoegaze but again, both bands have very different outcomes. The bands I love are the ones who see no restrictions and who have the vision to carry it forward and take it to uncharted territories and new dimensions.
People do tend to lump certain bands together in scenes and sometimes this is no bad thing. There is definitely something happening on a worldwide scale which is seeing our kind of music gain more and more prominence and if making a ‘scene’ enables more people to access great music then I have no problem with this. I only have a problem when it becomes restrictive or when the shit contrived bands inevitably jump on the bandwagon and start cynically diluting the music that has gone on before. This to me is when scenes become unacceptable.
6. Are there any other shoegaze/dream pop record labels (old or new) that you admire?
I used to love Creation Records, Factory and 4AD. They’ve all been a massive influence on Northern Star. They all had an identity and an attitude and none of them focused solely on shoegaze or dreampop (as far as I know Factory didn’t at all) and neither do we. All were focused on releasing great pop music which is pretty much what Northern Star is about. We’re a kind of motown for people who love psychedelic pop.
Now though I can’t think of any other labels that even remotely interest me. The environment has become very staid and boring. There’s a lot of individual releases I like and I still buy records by individual bands, but gone are the days where you can buy a record on a certain label and know you’re going to love it. Most labels lack an identity or a personality. Sure there’s labels who are putting out this kind of music, but most are very boring with issues of quality control.
Northern Star has a very strong identity and people have picked up on the ‘Northern Star’ sound. We have people who buy everything on Northern Star because they know before it drops through their door they’re going to love it... and that’s important to me. I actually saw a review only yesterday which described a band as having the ‘Northern Star Sound’ (which reminds me I actually must go and check out that band).
We do hone in on a certain kind of sound but essentially we do what we want. We’re a psychedelic pop label with punk attitude.
7. Can you tell us a little bit about what's currently going on with Northern Star Records (new releases, new bands signed, tours, etc)?
2011 is gonna be a very exciting year for Northern Star. It will be our 5th and busiest year to date. We are releasing the debut albums of The Nova Saints and Youngteam and have Revolution In Sound II almost ready to go. Psychedelica 5 is also in the can and will see an appearance later on in 2011. There will also be a Northern Star tour of the UK in the Spring.
The Nova Saints have been one of my favourite bands since they day I first heard them and their attitude and values are pretty much in line with mine and as a band they are Northern Star through and through. I think they’re one of the most exciting bands to come out of the UK in the last 20 years and their debut album (which they’re currently putting the finishing touches to) is going to blow hearts and minds.
This year Youngteam came to me with their debut album Daydreamer. For them it was inconceivable that it would come out on any record label other than Northern Star and after I heard it I immediately saw why. Its a stark, dark unsettling beauty of an album with elements of psychedelia, shoegaze and dreampop – its all but none of these, if that makes any sense. It’s their Unknown Pleasures. There was no way I was going to pass up the chance to work with them on this so I will be putting it out early 2011. Its going to be a very important record for them and Northern Star and you heard it here first.
With the compilations there’s a number of new exciting bands I’m working with. There’s one in particular from Germany called The Lost Rivers who I’m very much into right now. They’re wild and out of control and they remind me of Taste-era Telescopes, which is all the more strange as they’d never ever heard this album before I played it to them. They’re going to be ones to watch for sure.
8. What is your goal for Northern Star Records?
I just want people to listen to and value the music – its all I’ve ever wanted. If they take the time to listen in they will fall in love. That's my ultimate goal for Northern Star – I want people to think of Northern Star as a beautiful thing!
I want to be the best at what we do. I wouldn’t want this to translate as me being competitive as I don’t have a competitive bone in my body but I want Northern Star to be nothing less than the very best.
9. What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?
If there is a philosophy in my life and with Northern Star its to do the very best I can all the time, every time. As a kid I loved Muhammed Ali and his philosophy was to be the best you can at whatever you do and thats what I aspire to in life and that's what I aspire to with Northern Star.
5 Northern Star Records Acts You Need to Know.
Spotlight Kid (yes, kids, the name is a Captain Beefheart reference!) is a shoegaze/dream pop band based in Nottingham. After releasing the Departure LP in 2006 to critical acclaim, the band was fairly quiet until this year, which saw the release of an excellent EP entitled Crystal Dreams, as well as the JUST released All is Real/April 7 inch, featuring the new single, "All is Real". If you like your gaze guitar drenched and fuzzed out in the vein of MBV and Slowdive, you need to check out Spotlight Kid immediately. Follow the band's blog here!
The Nova Saints.
The Nova Saints are a gang of five disenchanted yet ambitious mates from Hereford, relocated to Bristol, UK where they live, sleep and rehearse under the same roof. Driven by a shared love of golden-era Creation Records, and an unshakable belief in their collective music vision, The Nova Saints blend spaced out rock ‘n’ roll, psych-tinged pop, anthemic choruses and west coast harmonies. Among their champions is The Verve’s Nick McCabe, who has gone on to lend his expertise in the studio as well as choosing the band’s appearance at Bristol’s Ashton Court festival to mark his return to the live stage, joining them for their set finale. (taken from their LastFm page)
The Lost Rivers.
The Lost Rivers is a noisy shoegaze/psychedelic/experimental band from Baden-Württemberg Germany. Made up of Phil Walkendorf on guitars and vocals, Hell Pilot on bass and Izzy on drums, this trio is relentless in delivering a constant barrage of psychedelia infused, post punk, shoegazing feedback laden tunes. Their My Beatific Vision EP (2010) is out on digital purchase at Northern Star Records. (taken from their LastFm page)
93MillionMilesFromTheSun is the duo of Nick Mainline (Guitar/Noise Vox) and Rob Hogg (Bass/Noise), who both live in Doncaster in the north of England. They both create amazing shoegaze in the vein of Mogwai with bits of early Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Loop, Slowdive, and The Cooper Temple Clause thrown in. 93MillionMilesFromTheSun have become quite popular in America and are fast becoming big favorites in the shoegaze scene. These guys have only recently been added to the Northern Star roster, and are a must check out.
The December Sound.
This cult of noise-terrorists cloak themselves in melting guitars, dangerous songwriting, evil drones, hypnotic bass lines, maniacally distorted beats, heavily effected/detached vocals & otherworldly soundscapes. It’s dark and extreme, influenced by existentialism and avant-garde/radical/underground currents. The group has a reputation for unrelenting live shows that are a full-on assault of the senses, whilst achieving even greater depth on their debut album. (taken from their LastFm page) The December Sound were featured on Northern Star's Revolution in Sound compilation.
Northern Star Records Mini Sampler.
This mini sampler will blow your mind, plain and simple. Simply click the MediaFire link listed below, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of guitar distortion, feedback, and psychedelic-drenched shoegazey goodness. Made exclusively for When The Sun Hits' readers by Northern Star Records. Here's the set list:
1. Kontakte. Motorik.
2. Perfect Blue. Room 35.
3. The Lost Rivers. Serenade.
4. The Butterfly Explosion. Sophia.
5. The Nova Saints. Sugar Coated.
6. The Electric Mainline. We Are Now.
7. Youngteam. Your Love.
Click to Download Mini Sampler: