We’re sat in a Central London pub with Holy Roar Records’ Alex Fitzpatrick (pictured on the right) and Big Scary Monsters’ Kev Douch (on the left) ahead of an interview about the history of Holy Roar to celebrate the label’s 10-year-anniversary. Considering their busy schedules, I expected it to be something of a challenge to get two bastions of the UK DIY scene in the same room at the same time, but it’s testament to the mutual respect on display between Big Scary Monsters and Holy Roar that such an interview was sorted within an hour and just a handful of emails.
The plan was for Douch to interview Fitzpatrick about the label’s 10th birthday. What followed was an 80-minute dissection of the music industry, the challenge to stay relevant and issues around identity.
It’s rare to get such an insight, so below you’ll find part one of the interview – a largely unedited transcript (names changed to protect the innocent etc) of the discussion that took place.
BSM: Everyone thinks you’re so angry. Discuss?
Holy Roar: [Laughs] I’m not. Am I sat here with a grin on my face?
BSM: [Pauses]… Yeah.
Holy Roar: I think I’m getting better. I definitely think I’m getting better on the internet. I think this reputation comes from a few years ago. People form an idea about something and then they can’t let go of it. For example, if I say Sub Pop to you, you’ll instantly think of Nirvana and Soundgarden and grunge – but most people don’t think of Shabazz Palaces or Wolf Eyes or whatever massive folk band they do this week…
BSM: Yeah. People still see BSM as a math-rock label…
Holy Roar: And you’re also massively not. So I do think people get hung up on a preconception. And yes, I can hold my hands up and admit that I really didn’t have a filter between my brain and my keyboard and if I ever had a negative thought, it would just shoot out of my fingertips.
I’ll tell you what though, ever since I employed Justine [Jones, Employed to Serve] as Label Assistant, she’s been a filter for me. I think getting older and a bit mellower, and starting to think about how people actually enjoy the music on Holy Roar, you realise how people don’t really need to hear my opinions on a bunch of shit…
BSM: It’s about the company and the brand, rather than you and how you’re feeling. I mean, it needs personality…
Holy Roar: Just not a negative one all the time…
BSM: OK, so, Holy Roar is 10, which is an incredible achievement, but what do you think are your proudest achievements to date?
Holy Roar: I think still being here is actually my proudest achievement. This year I’ve thought about it a lot. I’m very stubborn, so I tend to put my integrity, or at least my musical taste, at the front before considering things like breaking even. We’ve had some really successful artists – like Rolo Tomassi, Brutality Will Prevail, Throats and Dananananaykroyd back in the day, but I do think our undoing a lot of the time has been me getting carried away and excited about releasing music and not really thinking about the bottom line.
So I do think our proudest achievement is still being here, even though maybe one choice in three that I make might be seen as quite “bad.”
If you want to get into specific bands, Rolo Tomassi being there literally from day one to today, 10 years later, still being relevant, making the best music they’ve ever done, it feels like they’re bigger now than they’ve ever been…
BSM: I think also, for them, I like the fact that they started there [at Holy Roar], they became established, they went away, they came back and it still feels like they’ve grown. I agree, they’re making the best music ever, but it’s like they went away and came back and it’s not like they’ve gone in a different direction, or the label’s gone in a different direction, or that the label’s too small for them now.
It’s one of those decisions that makes perfect sense. And I think that is testament to what you’ve done – you’ve grown and you’re now in a position to support a more established band in a different way to what you could’ve done before.
Holy Roar: I think that band and Holy Roar are almost like some weird mirror image of each other.
We’ve definitely both stuck to our guns, even though things might have changed or evolved over a period. I’m sure people have said, “why don’t they just write one big catchy song?” – I mean they’re incorporating more melody, but it’s on their terms – but that’s reflected in how Holy Roar does things as well.
But then there’s been other things too. I was always proud of everything Throats did. They got nominated for a Kerrang Award and went and played Sonisphere, and then some of the more recent stuff, like Ohhms and Slabdragger have had wilds amount of praise. If you told 13-year-old me buying Terrorizer for the first time that I’d have an album of the month in there and two-page features on a band like Slabdragger I’d have told you where to get off. The same goes for the Metal Hammer stuff. Getting nominated for a Metal Hammer Award… I think there’s this British thing of being not proud if a magazine gives you a nomination like that – like it’s not cool to sing from the rooftops about it. But I heard Korn for the first time by buying Metal Hammer. How important that is to me – both historically and today – can’t be overstated.
BSM: So without that magazine, you wouldn’t be running a label? Or at least the type of label that you are? Ten years in to get that acknowledgement with a nomination is great…
Holy Roar: I think the time I stop doing Holy Roar is when I stop getting excited about these little things. Here’s a little example: The original bassist of Fear Factory, Christian Olde Wolbers, and the bassist for Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne’s band both tweeted about the new Slabdragger record. And I was losing my shit. But when I was 12/13, Rob Zombie – or White Zombie as it was at that point – and Fear Factory… I was that horrible little greebo. And I still am. I still get that childlike excitement about things like that. And that we’re actually known and respected by our peers.
On another level, I saw Julie Weir, who runs Visible Noise, about a month ago, and she’s saying how much she loves Svalbard and Holy Roar. And I was like “wow. You got me into bands like Lostprophets (I know it’s a dirty word now), and all this stuff” – and it’s incredible. Stuff like that is amazing. Better than any sort of monetary return. And that’s what I do it for. I like it when people enjoy what we do. I like that validation. That probably sounds like I’m sucking my own cock…
BSM: No. I’ve always looked at it as a series of small victories. For every good day you have running a label, there’s a bad one. Like a band splits up or something goes wrong. So those little moments mean a lot. They’re nice bonuses, and it’s stuff you can’t control. You can’t tell these people to tweet about a band that you’re working with, so when they do it means something. It puts a tick on that day rather than a cross…
Holy Roar: Exactly. I remember having that day where someone called me a F-A-G-G-O-T and it’s horrible. Or when you get ex-members of bands trying to claim royalties. It’s easy to get bummed out…
BSM: Talking of getting bummed out, you mentioned 1 in every 3 decisions is a bad one…
Holy Roar: I only mean bad as in financially…
BSM: OK. Recently, certainly in the last 6 months or so – I’m thinking about Giants and Apologies I Have None – you’re starting to sign different types of bands. Maybe not so different to what you’ve done historically, but certainly over the last couple of years. And I know you, as Alex Fitzpatrick, your taste is very eclectic, but it felt like the label was really focused, but now it’s starting to get mixed up again. Is that conscious; is it a reflection on you, or is it a company thing?
Holy Roar: I don’t know. I think the crux of what you’re asking is: ‘Am I trying to sell out again?’ Just in a nice way…
BSM: No, just in the sense that, as we touched on earlier, people still refer to BSM as a math-rock label – but I don’t think we could exist if we solely just did math-rock any more. It’s my full-time job after all…
Holy Roar: Like a glass ceiling?
BSM: Yeah, so do you think there’s a glass ceiling? Like you’ve signed the best bands in that area, so not selling out – I hate that term – but expanding horizons?
Holy Roar: Most of the time it’s the opportunities that arise. It’s not that conscious. Apologies is a weird one. I’ve known them for six, maybe seven, years, and weirdly they helped out my old band a lot – recorded songs, lent us equipment, stuff like that. So our histories are quite interlinked. They even recorded some songs in the studio my ex-housemate works in, so I was hearing songs develop as they were working on them. So it’s a weird one. And Giants just came to us. So maybe there is something about us wanting to expand horizons. But I don’t want us to repeat ourselves over and over again. So instead of going over the same ground every two years, it’s nice when an opportunity like Giants comes along when maybe a year ago, we were so entrenched in a musical channel we maybe wouldn’t have thought about it as much.
So I think it is opportunity, plus who approaches us, and how I’m feeling at the time. And, you know, I am trying to not do as many new bands who are starting from scratch, because I don’t think that really reflects where the label is, compared to five or six years ago. So I’ll maybe do two super new bands a year, but I think, if we’re going to continue to grow, that makes sense. Unless you can get a band to grow really fast…
BSM: The new band thing is interesting. And I don’t want to say this to put any new bands off from getting in touch with labels, but I think this comes back to the age thing.
I’ve been doing BSM for 13 years, you’ve been doing Holy Roar for 10. We’re both the same age, born within a week of each other pretty much. But I’m tired [laughs]. A new band takes so much energy, and it’s great when it works – and I hear new bands and I think “yeah this is great” – but I don’t know if I have that same fight that I would’ve had 6 or 7 years ago. You’ve really got to shout about it, you need to constantly talk to people and you have to play a certain sort of game; the emails you have to send and the conversations you need to have. Sometimes I don’t think I have the energy to do the bands enough justice that perhaps a smaller label could. I know that sounds really negative, but do you know what I mean?
Holy Roar: I do. As you know, I took on Justine full time in January/February and it’s interesting because she’s 24 and does have that fight and that fire. She’s been involved for about 2 years prior to coming on board full time, and that does make me more open to new bands. And sometimes I think that is the right choice, because Holy Roar is synonymous with encouraging you to listen to bands that are vaguely outside your remit or you wouldn’t normally consider. So she can actually do the legwork for some of those bands.
But I do agree with you. There’s bands who I hate when I start listening to them, but then after a period of time I start loving them and realise I was daft. I think you get stuck in your ways a bit – or a bit stubborn – and it takes a little bit of time for them to get under your skin.
This is probably really awful, but there’s been a couple of releases in the last year – one in particular comes to mind – but for the first 5 listens, I was like… “hmmm, I don’t know if it’s that good,” but it was simply my brain not being able to get into the complexities of it that fast.
But then I think my taste is changing; I do like more direct, maybe more slower, or complex stuff but if it is in logical steps – and I think that is reflected in us doing Ohhms or Slabdragger, and we’ve got a band coming up called Conjurer – and these are a bit more beardy, a bit more considered, and to be honest, I do see us going more along that way in the future.
BSM: I definitely saw Holy Roar as being some 40-year-old bearded dude playing disgusting doom…
Holy Roar: Sometimes you do wonder if your life is laid out before you.
BSM: Yes and no. I remember when I was 18 thinking “when I’m 20, I’m gonna get a proper job.”“ Then, the day before my 20th birthday, saying, "let’s give it ‘til I’m 21,” then when I was 21 saying “fuck it, I’m enjoying this, let’s give it until I’m 25.” Now I’m 32, and it feels like this is a job I can never retire from. We both turn 33 in the next few months, so at what point – and we may have already got there – do we accept that this is our job?
Certainly for me, that’s playing a bit more of a part in how we do things and in the bands that we work with. And maybe that ties in with discussion about new bands. Maybe it’s the ‘easier’ option – not that it’s an easy option, they’re both hard whatever you do. But taking a band that’s already established and knowing you can do a certain job on it, just makes more sense.
Holy Roar: But you could just argue that that is where you’re at in your “career”? For example, a 21-year-old law graduate gets a law degree and a job in a law firm. Fifteen years down the line they’re a partner and doing distinctly different work to what they used. They’re looking at bigger challenges and bigger cases that are worth millions to the firm, whereas the trainee is doing something that’s worth £500 because some old lady fell off her mobility scooter or something. Maybe you’re in denial early on, but you’re just on to a different challenge and at a different level within the same parameters. And that’s what I’m growing towards as well.
BSM: I often think – and this comes up all the time for me as well – that it’s almost a battle to try and stay relevant. We’re both probably twice the age of the target audience of our bands. Even the way young people discover music – and say, the vinyl revival means young people are discovering and listening to music in a way that that they weren’t 5 or 6 years ago – so it feels like a battle to stay relevant. When I was thinking about this interview last week, I was thinking about the labels that got me into creating BSM – Drive-Thru, Deep Elm, a UK label called Firefly – those were the labels I really liked and looked up to. And two of them gave up ages ago and 1 is far less productive than it used to be. That’s kinda scary. They gave up or slowed down. So what labels were you into when you started Holy Roar? Are they still around? And do you still look at them like heroes?
Holy Roar: I’d like to go back a bit there. According to our analytics, our demographic for Holy Roar has grown with me. Most of our fanbase is 22-27 [years of age], with an average around the 25 mark. And I think that’s more reflected in us doing doomier stuff.
But yeah, the labels I looked up to were Undergroove, which is still around but is definitely more of a hobby. There’s a label called Dry Run, who put out the first Palehorse record and Jesu, which was Justin Broadrick from Godflesh’s other band, then I looked up to specifically Robotic Empire and Hydrahead in America. Both of those labels still exist, but Robotic Empire only do a few releases and Hydrahead is exclusively a reissue label, so it’s not the same. In At The Deep End; they’re still around, but again, not as much in the public eye. They were another label I looked up to, and Visible Noise.
But you’re right, the landscape has changed exponentially. But just like I made the law comparison for the different stages of your career comparison, if you look at the high street, sometimes your favourite shop might disappear, or move unit, or just go online. I think for anyone to think change doesn’t happen. I don’t know how long I’ll be going. I hope it’s for a long time, but I think trying to predict the future is a bit pointless. You have to keep relevant – streaming or whatever.
I mean, we’re sat in a pub in London at the moment where it’s all about craft beer. But 7 years ago, this company didn’t exist. Things change.
Holy Roar Records will celebrate their 10th Anniversary at The Dome and Boston Music Rooms in Tufnell Park, London on Saturday May 21st.
Rolo Tomassi (Playing unique “through the ages” set)
Vales (Playing ‘Clarity’ in full for the last time)
Giants (Official ‘Break The Cycle’ release show)
Apologies, I Have None
The Long Haul (one off reunion)
Employed To Serve (Playing ‘Greyer Than You Remember’ in full)
Up River (Playing ‘Undertow’ in full)
Hang The Bastard (Playing ‘Hellfire Reign’ for the last time with original vocalist Chris Barlow)
OHHMS (Playing ‘Bloom’ in full)
We Never Learned To Live
Meek Is Murder
Tickets and further details can be found here.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)