How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is so integrated with who we are now, but should never define us. Humans should excel at being human, machines at being machines. It seems many of us lose this as technology and social media is consciously and subconsciously pushed onto us one way or the other. These machines are wonderful in aiding the creative process, but they can never truly ‘be’ the creative process if we want to create something inherently human.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists on your label?
It has always been about collaboration, and my approach now is to be very firm about this. It isn’t difficult when you work with people where there is mutual trust and respect. Every element of my own work or the label’s is about collaboration in some form, as I feel work can be more fully realised with an aligning point, with the aid of people who truly connect. On a practical level, this can take on many forms, and being open and patient to how these balance out is key.
Can you take me through your process on the basis of a release that's particularly dear to you? How do you decide to release it, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for all tasks related to it and how did the finished product gradually take shape?
The process is the same for basically each release. I absorb a release as much as possible in different environments, and on different systems for a period of time. If I am interested I might share this with a friend or label-supporter and gauge their thoughts. If I really like the album I will speak to the artist and typically put the album onto reels and/or cassette. This part of the process can take a month to even a couple of years. Patience is key.
When I feel ready to take a project on board, I’ll start to master the work slowly and communicate with the artist about their vision for the album. We’ll work out the right cover for this as we have a uniform package now, and beyond this it will be a fairly long communicative process. The shortest I have spent from submission to release is probably 6 months, but for many releases we have worked on every element of the release for a matter of years. If the artist is this patient and their work is timeless enough to go through such a period, then you can be pretty sure the work will last and retain its character and spirit no matter how much time passes.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do the label and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I used to be totally consumed so that every part of the day had label stuff involved. I would check masters or write press releases on my two-hour commute to Tokyo from home. At lunchtime, I would contact press and distributors, and when I got home from my day job I would work into the early hours each day on the label.
That really changed about two years ago as I chose to focus more time on enjoying the label, being more creative for myself, and enjoying my day job and focusing on what paid the bills. I now only focus on the label at weekends, and maybe I’ll catch up on some emails around 5am - 6am, before my day really starts. I always listen to music in ‘low-light’ hours as it just works best then, and I absorb things much better at these times, no matter where I am.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Personally, I just find a sense of quietude and calm through being patient and listening to the sounds of the day. I’ll happily sit and just clear my mind, letting whatever needs to come in enter. I know how this sounds, but in recent years this has really helped my creativity, as well as curating the label.
I find great benefit in working on old reel-to-reel machines. They are beautiful to play with, and adjusting parts of old machines, keeping them maintained regularly, is a very peaceful process. I quite often turn machines on in my room and just watch and listen to them without any sound beyond the mechanical whir. This rhythm and motion, along with the quietude of the day, creates an amazing state of mind for me to absorb and create.
So just learning to stop and appreciate the moment for what it is, has led to a period of great creativity for me personally, and a much more focused label as well.
How is listening to the actual music and writing or reading about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
The music we release is hard to define beyond typically overused phrases and words. So, I always focus on the emotions they create as these can be wildly different, and the best writers of music focus on the results and effects when trying to describe the music. Descriptions of how musical pieces develop in a technical or obvious way tell you nothing and serve no purpose, so it is best to let the music speak for itself really.
There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies and there is still a vast landscape for music magazines. What's your perspective on the music promo- and journalism-system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists, in how far is it useful for potential buyers, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining your work?
It has no influence on what we release at all, and I don’t feel there is any undermining of our work either. I do feel that more modern music magazines and blogs have almost no interest in music itself, but are run purely by what is ‘in fashion’ and what makes money. This has always been the case though to be fair, so nothing’s new really, and it just feels like a load of noise that will age quickly. I find it all rather tiring if I try to engage in it, so I don’t worry about it at all now if it has to be pushed.
What does give me pleasure though is that certain journalists and websites are dedicated to spreading the music they enjoy because they are true fans of music of any genre really. They just seem to understand and take time to absorb things in the right way and they appreciate music for what it is, in all its humanity and beyond. People out there will always want to share something that means something real. They might not be the loudest or most evident, but they are there and that is very satisfying indeed. It says a lot about human spirit, in a good way.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art?
Art is what it is at source. How it evolves in the eyes of others or society is really up to something beyond that creativity. I’m not sure it can be defined as an ‘approach’ as that suggests something prior to the creation itself. And I don’t see that as something necessary for my own creativity. Rather, it is about that moment, the present, and time beyond that is irrelevant until people translate and attempt to define that art as they wish. But again, this has no bearing on the art in that moment in and of itself. After all, art is life itself, as life is art.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of labels still intact. Do you have a vision of labels, an idea of what they could be beyond their current form?
If we believe in collaboration and inspiring each other, then there need be no surprise at this. That labels become more giving in their collaborative nature seems like the more progressive step and way forward. Labels are there to present their own vision, and to make sure that vision encompasses and aids an artist from presenting their own in a collaborative way. We all absorb things that are ‘labelled’ in some way, as it makes decision-making and choosing simpler, and that is no bad thing. Labels are there to help people access music, on the most basic level. However that evolves, in whatever format, that should remain the same.