Interview: Hassle Records (Ian Westley)

Last week much loved UK independent label Hassle Records celebrated it’s 10th anniversary with an intimate show with FrnkIero AndThe Cellabration and We Are The Ocean along with new label signees Cheap Meat. The show marked a superb decade that has seen the label rise from nothing to being one of the UK’s best underground rock labels.

Although the formation of the label was preempted by Sore Point Records, since 2005 the label has truly flourished by bringing a wealth of North American bands to the UK’s attention; Brand New, Alexisonfire, Four Year Strong and Cancer Bats just to name a few. In addition, Hassle has had it’s hand in developing and investing a range of notable UK bands. From We Are The Ocean to Lonely The Brave to Turbowolf, it is no doubt Hassle has done a fine job in helping bring UK rock back.

Now in 2015, the label has evolved beyond the standard model. It’s also a management and publishing company. Whilst the latest album from We Are The Ocean, ‘Ark’, sees the label cooperating with a major label (BMG Chrysalis). Nevertheless the future sees the label sticking to it independent roots as it continues to scout and develop emerging UK talent.

We recently had the chance to speak to Hassle Records label manager Ian Westley (aka Wez). Wez discussed the label’s early days, the balance between overseas and UK-based acts, the ever-changing nature of the music industry, the future and more.

Already Heard: Hi Wez. For starters can you tell us your role with the label?
Ian Westley: Hello! To all intents and purposes I run it (as well as other labels, management and publishing ). I am very very ably assisted by Mease who actually does most of the work. I just talk about doing work.

AH: I understand you formed the label with Nigel Adams and Chris Baker. How did you get together and how the idea of Hassle Records (and Full Time Hobby) come about?
Wez: I was at a large Australian indie called Mushroom Records. I was GM of the European company. We had some big acts; Garbage, Ash, Muse, Zero 7, Paul Oakenfold. I could go on. The label was being sold to Warner and I didn’t fancy going to Warner. The thought of working Paris Hilton records did not appeal! So myself and Nigel (who was also at Mushroom as label manager of Infectious ) decided to form our own company. Chris came along a year later. He had worked at Mushroom and had gone back to Uni. We gave him a job when he finished his course.

AH: The label was originally called Sore Point Records. I remember picking up a compilation that included Fall Out Boy and Brand New as UK bands such as My Awesome Compilation. How vital was the success of bands like Fall Out Boy and Brand New in those early days to the label surviving?
Wez: Those bands were key. They bought in money to keep the business running, and helped us make a name for ourselves very quickly.

AH: Over the past 10 years, you’ve released a wealth releases from emerging and established acts from overseas (Alexisonfire, Alkaline Trio, Four Year Strong, Cancer Bats, The Get Up Kids). Do you think supporting these bands has played a major part in Hassle’s longevity?
Wez: For sure. For some reason US acts (and Canadian) have some form of magic to UK and European audiences. It’s been like this in rock music for a long time now. Like for at least 30 years +. So being able to pick these bands up and work hard on them was actually easier than initially working for UK acts. Also at the time the US and Canadian acts seemed better to my ears. As I said it helped us establish the company. We still work with acts from the US a lot. We put out the Frnk Iero and the Cellabration album out this year. A great record that is doing really well.

What I do think is a shame, is that a UK act can produce an album that is world class (like Attack! Attack!), but for some reason UK media ignore it.

AH: Besides bands from overseas, you’ve also developed a whole load of UK bands (We Are The Ocean, Lonely The Brave, Blitz Kids, Turbowolf, Attack! Attack!). How important has it been to have the right balance between developing UK bands and familiar overseas acts?
Wez: This is key for us now. It was always the plan. I’d rather work for a UK act to be honest. Nothing against non UK acts, but seeing UK bands grow and have success is always great to see.

AH: Additionally how important has it been for Hassle in developing those bands?
Wez: It’s key from a business sense as if you sign a UK act you can generally get better terms being the home territory. So from the point of view of building a business, it’s important.

AH: With the ever-changing landscape of the music industry, how has Hassle evolved over the years to keep going? Has a willingness to adapt and embrace to these changes been vital?
Wez: Totally vital. We were initially a traditional record company. But very quickly started managing acts. We are Lonely The Braves label ( In a JV with Columbia ) and we are their management for example.
And about five years ago we started a publishing division. We’re building this slowly but surely.

AH: When it comes to finding new talent, how has social media influenced the way Hassle scouts up-and-coming bands?
Wez: It’s important for maybe getting some initial contact. And seeing what a band does on social media. But we’re not influenced by Facebook stats etc when we make decisions to sign bands. Some of our best signings have literally had 30 followers when we signed them.

AH: In regards to scouting bands, is still going out and seeing bands first-hand as important as it was 10 years ago?
Wez: 100%!

AH: I understand Hassle isn’t just your standard record label. You also manage bands and look after publishing rights. Has having this expertise help sustain Hassle’s growth?
Wez: This is now key for us. As an indie label (indie music company) you end up doing lots of hands on work that is actually management work. We don’t, or want to, manage all of the acts we work with. But with some you look at where they are, who is with them and think ‘ we’re going to bring a lot to this, and do most of the work initially ‘ so we need to be rewarded and recognised for that. Otherwise the label is going to fail.

AH: Going back to developing UK bands. It was recently announced We Are The Ocean’s new album would be a joint-release with BMG. Is this something we can see Hassle doing more of in the future?
Wez: Maybe. Each band is a case by case basis. We’d rather the bands just stayed in Hassle. But in a world where the majors own and control so much of the media and distribution ( Spotify for example ), you have to think of ways to navigate around these issues. So for WATO it made sense for BMGC to get involved.

AH: I’m sure you have plenty of stand out moments from the past 10 years. What would you consider your proudest moments?
Wez: Well there have been hundreds. Spotting bands early that go on to massive and important like Fall Out Boy, Brand New, Fun, Alexisonfire etc. Hopefully Lonely The Brave and We Are The Ocean will grow as big as these bands and have their longevity.

We put out Juliette Lewis’s first EP and two albums and the ep and second album are excellent. She was great to work with. How many Hollywood A listers would be willing to tour in a splitter and tour with seven smelly blokes? Not many.

Hearing a band that you work for on the radio is always a thrill. Especially a band like Trash Talk or Cancer Bats getting daytime Radio 1.

AH: Looking forward what does the label have lined up in the coming months?
Wez: We’ve just signed Cheap Meat for management and label.A great London-based three piece. Currently totally unknown. Lots of Lonely The Brave and We Are The Ocean work.
There are four / five other brand new acts we’re looking at.

AH: For anyone who (somehow) isn’t familair with Hassle Records. Why should they check the label out?
Wez: If you like heavier guitar bands, we’re a label you should take notice. We only work with bands we like musically and as people. I think we have great taste!

AH: Any closing comments to finish things off?
Wez:
I’d ask that people respect how hard bands have to work now to try and make a living out of what they do. That means paying for music if you like it (and going to shows etc of course). If you go to a pub in London, a pint is a least £4. So for the price of two you could own a really important piece of a music that could stay with you for the rest of your life (I get that people may not want to own music now, so listen to sites that pay an artist when you stream ).

It’s no accident there are less new bands out there headlining festivals as less bands are developing into career bands now.
There’s no shortage of great bands and artists. They just need a chance to develop their craft.

‘More Hassle Than It’s Worth: 10 Years of Hassle Records’ is available as a free download here.

Hassle Records links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReid86)

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