Name: Ian Hawgood
Nationality: British via Japan, Italy, Poland
Occupation: Educator / Engineer
Home Normal 10th anniversary current releases: Norihito Suda + Stijn Hüwels '山水 / Sansui'| Tomoyoshi Date + Stijn Hüwels 'hochu-ekki-tou' | Altars Altars 'Fragments' | anthéne 'weightless'
Recommendations: ‘Beauty and Sadness’ by Yasunari Kawabata / ‘I Who Have Arrived in Heaven’ by Yayoi Kusama
Website/Contact: Visit the Homenormal website at www.homenormal.com
When did you start with your own label - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
The label opened in March 2009 although I’d been working on concepts for a few different labels for a couple of years.
Home Normal was born out from the incredibly productive netlabel scene at the time, as well as the live scene in Tokyo that I was a part of. I wanted to release music by artists that I really felt should be on a physical format as some of this work just wasn’t getting the attention it really deserved.
Having lived away from my ‘home’ for so long, the music we released and artists I was in touch with were creating music that just had a sense of something deep, powerful and kept me connected when it was easy to feel lost and isolated. So, elements such as ‘home’ and ‘normal’ became incredibly important to me, and drove the label.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Honestly, I don’t see any emulation of other labels at all as we came from such a unique background that defined what or who the label was. However, over the years we have one similarity to a lot of long-standing labels that has developed over time: namely, that we have brought the label into a small family of artists we regularly work with, who share a similar vision and truly collaborative nature. This is natural, as it is increasingly hard to release on physical formats, so working with artists who respect and are open to the personal side of the label have become so important to how the label has evolved in recent years.
The biggest influence for me has not been a musical one as the essence of the music that fits has remained the same. I have been increasingly inspired by minimalism as a lifestyle choice, and am deeply influenced by modern Japanese minimalism especially. This isn’t just reflected in the music, but in the package design and artwork which in the past year has followed this path.
What were your main label-related challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Covering costs and getting press to absorb our releases have been increasingly challenging. The label has always released the work I felt connected to, no matter how challenging it may be. Some releases are more popular than others, but I see each release in the same light, as it should be. Previously, we would keep funding releases no matter what, but one major change has been working patiently so that each release could fund the next. Working with artists who are patient and work with you to understand this evolving and patient approach has been a really important development for the label.
We are very lucky that we have perhaps enough respect in some quarters that people will be rightly considerate with our releases, understanding that the music we release takes its time to blossom and reveal itself. But as streaming has taken over, the increasingly hurried approach to connecting to music releases has probably impacted how busy members of the media and press connect to our works. I think ambient music has suffered as a result of this as they are inundated with links to music, and sitting down for a 60 minute single track album that is hard to define, for example, isn’t the easiest thing understandably. The only way to deal with this is knowing that over time, enough people will find a moment to absorb something that has been made with love, in all its quietude and timelessness.
How do you see the role of labels in the creative process? What is the scope and what are the limitations of what you are capable of doing?
I don’t know about other labels really, but for myself I want to help artists to understand their vision for a release in whatever way completes something in a holistic and organic way. But it has to be about collaboration on both sides. If an artist has an incredibly strict vision and is just using the label to get their music funded, this never sits right. But by the same token, I never dictate such things as track edits or names for example, and this does happen with a lot of labels. If the artist creates something they feel is complete and ready, prior to the mastering and package design stages, then we respect that and will in fact only work with artists who have a true sense of their work in a holistic way.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the buyers, your own demands in terms of quality?
Previously, it was focused on the artists exclusively, but this year I’ve focused on the label’s own demands and vision as this never waivers or changes and creates a more minimal, uniform line of work. It has taken 10 years to get a fluidity of package design and make-up that I am personally happy with, and that really is important. Our fans and customers have always been so supportive about our varying package designs, but I’ve wanted the label to be a ‘whole’ and uniform for so long, and this is important when we now have so many collectors of our work. I do think about how these collectors store our releases now, and map out how each package flows next to the other.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for your approach?
We don’t really use social media now beyond some Facebook posts. It just didn’t feel quite right for a label focused on music that is withdrawn and hidden. I want the label to elevate itself from such modernity really, and whilst it does mean it takes time to fund our work properly, I know the people that take on board our releases truly absorb them in a deep way.
I’ve taken the same approach as mentioned before with press. We have some amazing support, but more modern blogs and media outlets don’t have the time to absorb carefully constructed ambient music anymore. That is just a sad fact of social media and modern technology, but if your focus is on the music and the spirit of creation, and not on the stress of sales and streaming numbers, then everything will be ok.