Interview: Gary Powell

Alex Yau speaks to ex-Libertine Gary Powell...

Posted on Aug 4th, 2011 in Features and Interviews / By Alex Yau
Interview: Gary Powell You’ll all know Gary Powell from his work with the infamous Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things and his new project The Invasion Of… In today’s digital market, the influence of digital downloads and record labels are a big one. We discuss with Gary about how he thinks this will all come into play with his new record label 25 Hour Convenience. Gary tells us about his own label experiences with his music and what he’s doing to push his label and the artists on it.

Bearded: So how did the idea for 25 hour convenience come around?

Gary Powell: “It came out of working with Dirty Pretty Things. One of our old sound engineers/tour managers was a house DJ back in the day for a collective called Sound and Disco. I became really good friends with him and he had the coolest name in the world. Max Mistry. He was our tour manager. He set up a bunch of labels prior that was just selling dance music because that was his genre. We were just talking about the ease of setting up a label but then I started to think about the fact that the record industry is pretty much in Purgatory. No one knows what’s actually going on. There is no development and I started thinking about the best way to start the label using limited funds, a lot of it is coming out of my own pocket at the moment, on the basis of artist and individual development so that people know how to react and work within the industry. We also help people with like Jeye T with respect to their art. We’re releasing him in a couple of weeks (15th August) and I co-produced his EP. We’ve been working in the studio and I’ve been working as their - I don’t really want to use the term – Svengali kind of character. In the studio I want them to have that correct sound and the right approach to performance. That’s kind of the general idea of the label at the moment giving everyone creative license and an initiative to work within an industry that hasn’t catered for artists in the last ten years or so.”

B: How do you feel about the debate that the physical format is dying and digital is prospering?

G: “I wasn’t a big fan of digital before but I love them now because their saving me the cost of printing things out, so that’s a dream. The way I see the utilisation of the digital format is that it harkens back to the 70’s punk approach where artists like the Sex Pistols started - with the assistance of Malcolm McLaren - they got their own look, learned to play their own instruments and just jammed in the studios. Now in the technological era everyone’s kind of doing the same thing but in a more technically orientated way. You can just go to AOL, pay £6.50 or whatever it is and just release your own stuff. You don’t need to go into a studio and you can record at home digitally so there are a lot more urban artists coming out of that. The urban artists who are terrorising the charts are all doing it for themselves, how they want to do it and not paying any attention to the rules and regulations. They’re selling music out of their car, digitally and making music digitally. These are the people who are changing the format. Everyone needs to catch up. As it was with the Sex Pistols where rock’n’roll took everyone’s hearts on a rollercoaster ride, this is what’s happening now. I think it’s really ingenuitive. Even James Blake who’s a huge name did it all in his bedroom.”

B: Are you favouring digital over physical?

G: “I’m going to stay digital but I’d like to go physical at some stage. If I could go physical for the collectors market it would be great. As far as I’m concerned there’s still a place for it. Just like when everyone went from vinyl to CD. Not long after that vinyl records picked up because everyone went back to the glory days of that great sound and the ability to hold merchandise. People have to be more ingenuitive to get people to part with their money so you get little video films, blah, blah, blah to accompany digital now. These are just little bits that would never have happened beforehand but I’d still personally love the advance of physical sales to become part and parcel of everyone’s cabinets. There’s nothing better than getting vinyl records and sitting on the bus or the park, taking it out and have people looking with interest at what you purchase. You get to read the inlay and I bet not many people read digital information. If you download illegally you’re not getting anything other than the raw track but you can from the legal download despite people not being bothered and just pressing play because the transactions done in just five minutes. It would be great if there was a period of time where physical sales were as prominent as the digital sales we’re getting now. Everybody’s downloading illegally anyway or using Spotify.”

B: Are you afraid of illegal downloads?

G: “Definitely not. I think illegal downloading will sooner or later bring about a period of time where you’ll illegally download a sample and purchase the rest because you want a better quality. The majority of illegal downloads aren’t that great. I think there will be a time where people will ask ‘Where’s the great quality that will keep me listening to this record for the next few months?’ as opposed to listening to it once during a week and not paying attention to it ever again.”

B: The artists your label are also quite varied. Do you have a set template when putting artists on the label?

G: “There’s no template. Music is music is music. With the advent of digital sales it’s just made the world even smaller and you don’t need to go to your record store and look at the specific section of record shops for your own particular genre. Genre has become a touchy way of looking at it because it’s all there on the internet. If you to the internet and type in a keyword, you’re more than likely to get ten different styles of music in the possible track. I like all types of music and I want everyone to visit the website to appreciate the fact that my approach is very non-genre specific. If you don’t like what I’m listening to then just say so. Say ‘I think it’s absolutely rubbish.’ We can actually speak about it. The dialogue is all industry and it’s important we put the power back into the hands of the masses as opposed to letting the industry dictate what it is we listen to. I think it’s rubbish and I think Simon Cowell is a prick. Anyone who believes that they should be dictating the direction and listening tastes is a fool to themselves. It should be for the eyes of the beholder because everyone should be treated as an individual rather than a quasi-random sample of the market. So unlike digital, we’re all emotional and dynamic intellectual sentient beings with different tastes and ideas. Why shouldn’t there be a choice and that’s pretty much what I’m offering for everyone. People can listen and learn and say what they like and don’t like.”

B: You also helped produce Jeye T as well as having him on your label. Is this a proud fatherly moment for you?

G: “Definitely. As an artist, it’s difficult to take your music and put it in the hands of somebody else’s. This was Jeye T’s music and his personal opinion about a period of time in his life or an approach as it were. He put it in our hands and asked: ‘Can you work with me to turn this into something I would be really happy to put out there and hopefully the masses will appreciate it?’ For him to actually have faith in us to do that for him and his music gave me a lot of faith in him as an individual. It was an emotional advancement involving everyone. It was definitely a fatherly approach to the work. Even with the shows that Jeye T’s played as well, it’s great to see the guy we knew back then transform into the individual he is now and performing the music we have vested an interest in together.”

B: So what’s going to be different about this label compared to others and do you have any label pet hates?

G: “I’d say development. It’s the key. There are young kids out there aspiring to be like their heroes and they’re looking at it from the point of ascertaining a career as a musician. The industry is not giving proper information to these people like: ‘Hey, you’re going to have one or two hits. Once you have no hits you’re going to get dropped. Those hits aren’t going to be enough to recoup the deal you and you’re going to owe us a lot of money.’ Kids don’t know that. As far as they’re concerned, they’ll find that great song, play shows, get paid and do it all over again without the information as to what they should actually be doing, how and the realistic approach to the next three years in their life as a possible musician. One of the first questions Jeye T asked me is: ‘Should I quit the job?’ I said: ‘Don’t quit it just yet because we don’t know about the sales.’ We looked over all the scenarios regarding what may happen over the next few years and what the aspirations should be with respect to the actual goals and achievements. That’s really important and that’s something lacking from the industry. There’s no real one-to-one candidness and it’s all ‘I think the music’s great and you’re going to be huge.’ That’s all they tell us. Yeah they will be huge for a year but then they have to find a job or a new approach. It’s about keeping it real, letting people know what the score is and what will hopefully be beneficial in the next few years.”

B: Did you get these ideas from your time with Rough Trade whilst in the Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things?

G: Definitely not from Rough Trade. I came out of that skint. Rough Trade didn’t treat us that well. I loved being with them because of the individualism and the historical factors, but regarding being looked after financially and being treated as an individual, no. They knew how much effort I put into the band at the beginning but as soon as I signed on the dotted line I was just ‘Gary the Drummer’ to them. My approach is similar to Alan McGee because as soon as we signed with him, all he ever tried to do was look after me. Whether that was creatively or on a personal level, he was definitely a great fatherly figure and he’d always tell you when you were wrong. What’s lacking in the industry is people saying: ‘Hey, you’re being an idiot, you’re making a fool of yourself and you’re going to kill yourself.’ No one is saying these to artists now. You’ve got to remember that a lot of these artists are young, naïve and need a strong figure to push them in the right direction. No one’s doing it because they only see the cash and it outweighs maturity. I ain’t naming any names but you know what I’m talking about.”

: Are you going to include any music you do yourself on it?

G: “My own band Invasion Of… is on there and we had our first releases in October. That was my first release so I was dotting the i’s of how I should be working, so it predominately went against the radar. The band had played some pretty good shows which was all good fun. We’re just finalising working on the next batch of releases for that project which I might be singing on which’ll be fun because I did all the writing on it anyway. Then there’s the London Guns project and their new five track which is more electro dance orientated. It involves the remixing of other tracks and adding live percussions for their live shows. It’s a busy year for me right now.”

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