Man Without Country, Kutosis, Elephant & Soldier, Hail! The Planes, Theo - Love Your Labels: Barely Regal

Bill Cummings 19/08/2010

New Cardiff based independent imprint Barely Regal is one of a group of burgeoning labels on the local scene. Their debut release an inspired and eclectic compilation entitled 'Zeo Years' intrigued and delighted us here at GIITTV toweres. Containing a vital mixture of the exciting emerging acts like wide screen alt pop act Man Without Country, smart post punks Kutosis, and the quite wonderful folk pop of Elephant & Soldier who has drawn favourable comparisons with Eliot Smith and Bon Iver on these pages before. Alongside local stalwarts like Right Hand, Left Hand, Solutions, Strange News From Another Star and optimistic post folkers Hail! The Planes. And places them beside the experimental percussion of Theo and entirely new names to me like Chasing Lions, Goodtime Boys and Whyteleaf.

'Zero Years' is perhaps the first proper attempt to document the local indie scene since Twisted By Design's 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us'. It's a constantly interesting mixture of genres, reflecting the diversity and talent present in the Welsh Capital and threaded with comradeship and a mutual respect for each of the act's work, it's presented in a small booklet and personalised liner notes, its this kind of care and attention that sets apart a release like this in an increasingly digitised musical Environment. Barely Regal was master minded by Matt Fidler and Isaac Jones (who incidentally also appear on the compilation in their other guise Among Brothers who close the record) last year, I sent the duo some questions in an attempt to get to delve into the ethos behind Barely Regal, their releases, the acts involved and attempt to get hints of its future direction. Hold tight.

Can you briefly explain your own musical background and the genesis of the label? Were you inspired by other promoters, labels, and artists who are doing it themselves in Cardiff?

We've both been in various bands since we were about 15 or 16 in our home cities (I use 'cities' loosely - Swansea and Swindon!). We met in Cardiff uni, when my (Isaac) band needed a bassist. This next part sounds made up, but we were recording a crappy bedroom demo, and Matt was walking past the house - so we recruited him. That band only lasted just short of a year, but through that we met a few people who ended up inspiring us to start a label. As we mention in the Zero Years compilation booklet(several times...probably without his knowledge), Will Skinner, who put on gigs under the name Pedigree Falcon played an important role. He put on bands that no one else were putting on in Cardiff at the time. He introduced us to bands like Theo and RHLH. Then there were bands like The Muscle Club, Picture Books in Winter who were in the same year as us in uni, but far more "switched on" in playing shows and recording etc. It was encouraging to see friends played their songs in packed gigs!

We actually started Barely Regal just over a year ago, when we were both living together, and coincidentally had the same idea of starting a label at the same time. It made sense to collaborate.

I love the album's artwork, the little booklet with an explanation as to why you chose each act really gives a sense of the passion with which you are treating the selected/acts and songs, where did the idea come from?

We wanted to give some kind of reasoning as to how and why that particular band were on the compilation. We felt it would be appropriate to put the songs/bands in the chronological order in which we discovered (or became aware of) them. It's basically a timeline leading up to the start of Barely Regal - hence the name 'Zero Years of...'.

We thought there may be a danger of Zero Years looking like a bunch of randomly selected songs, especially considering there's a range of genres on there. We hoped that by writing a little bit about each band, it'd give a sense of what was actually happening in Cardiff - it's definitely not dominated by any particular type of band or sound. Also, we wanted to make it as personal as possible. Another positive (which didn't really plan for) that has come from the compilation is that different bands playing the same gigs as other bands who maybe wouldn't have played together before.

'Zero Years.....' is the first attempt at documenting the Cardiff alternative scene since Twisted by Design's compilation 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us' was it difficult selecting the different artists and tracks, or did it all happen naturally through friendships and discoveries? Was it your conscious attempt to reflect the different eclectic strands of the local scene?(The compilation features new tracks from unsigned acts across a variety of genres including Right Hand Left Hand, Strange News From Another Star, Elephant and Soldier, Kutosis and Theo).

(We've sort of answered that above, but we'll try to elaborate!!)
It started by the two of us just listing Cardiff bands that we really liked, whether it be just one show we'd seen them at, or heard some demos from, or bands that we'd be good friends with for a while. It wasn't a case of sitting down and trying to think which song or band would work where, it sort of compiled itself! It's quite telling of the range of music in Cardiff, that just by picking 14 bands we liked, there are no two bands that sound the same on the compilation.

You touched on this before but how hard is it for DIY label or promoters like yourself to establish yourself or get your acts heard in a city like Cardiff that's sometimes dominated by a few promoters/labels/acts?

It may be easy to slip into the mindset that other promoters and labels are "competition", but in reality they're more like potential collaborators. Having kept that in mind, it's been relatively painless so far. Although it can be hard work, a lot of the more established labels, press and promoters have been really helpful so far. It makes sense to collaborate with other promoters and labels in many cases, as it often leads more people listening to the music/going to the gigs.

It seems like quite a tight knit group of acts(forged through acquaintances and a shared love of each others music) but do you have a specific ethos as a label? And do you have any other labels that inspired you to set one up? Also where's the name from or is it just an intentional play on the words barely legal in a shallow attempt to generate google misspell hits your way ;)?

I don't think we have any single sentence to describe the Barely Regal ethos... but we did start the label with the intention of bringing together different bands from different genres. There seemed to be lots of little groups of bands, where a handful would play regularly together - we wanted to encourage a more diverse community of varying genres, where it's ok to have different sounding bands on the same bill. For example, labels like Big Scary Monsters were (and still are) a big inspiration to us in setting up Barely Regal, as they seem to have built a close-knit family of bands that don't necessarily sound alike, but still play the same tours. Also, we'd have to say Saddle Creek for similar reasons, but also they seem more like a group of friends supporting each other, rather than a "business relationship" between label and bands. A label that didn't necessarily inspire us to start Barely Regal, but do inspire us every day is Wichita; they seem to still maintained their flexible, independent status (despite their links with Universal distribution etc) whilst releasing some of the more interesting popular "alternative" music. Although "mainstream indie" is a moronic oxymoron, it seems to fit! In terms of the actual releases, we're hoping to show that there is a way for digital and physical releases to coexist.

Although I'd love to say that we were clever enough to have picked the name Barely Regal in order to get more hits on our website (which we have actually had via some really weird search terms), it's far simpler than that. If anyone can guess where we got the name, email us and we'll give them a free copy of Zero Years of Barely Regal!

I know it would be a bit harsh for me to ask you which tracks on the compilation are your particular favourites seen as they are all so different and you picked them all. But which three(lesser known perhaps) artists on there would you draw our readers attention too particularly...?

This feels like you're asking a father which of his children is his favourite (which is really strange, considering that many people in the bands are older than us), 3 artists we'd like to draw attention to would be Whyteleaf, Chasing Lions and Theo. If anyone has been to a Whyteleaf gig, then they'll know why we've named them - they're one of the tightest bands we've seen live. Chasing Lions are worth a mention as they're a really talented young band who's song-writing maturity is beyond their years. Which is a good thing! We'd have to say Theo too, just because of the different sounds he manages to achieve between a live show and his recordings. It's worth both seeing him play live and listening to an EP to see what we mean.

How do you intend to get your label's music to the market will you be releasing proper physical records for each release or will you be going down the road of digital distribution?

We both think the physical release is still important. Let's be honest, jewel cases are a bit crap, but a CD with interesting packaging or artwork still offer something that digital releases can't quite match. That said, physical and digital releases should not be mutually exclusive - take Polyvinyl or Erased Tapes for example: whenever someone buys the physical product, they also get the digital version. That way, the buyer gets the best of both worlds. It's almost as though the benefits of each format cancel out the negatives of the other.

We're open to new ways of releasing music, and we definitely don't want to pigeon-hole ourselves into any one medium or format.

What are your future plans as a label? Or are you still deciding on them!

Although this may be a standard response, we've got plenty in the pipeline (which will probably keep us busy up until this time next year)! We won't reveal much just yet, but there's a split release coming soon.

Finally do you have any other tips music wise for our readers!

In terms of bands we're enjoying at the moment, that'd have to be Men, Wooderson, and Yucatan. As for actually tips - always buy direct from the artist of label, as it usually works out better for them and helps them keeping doing what they're doing.

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