Interview: Adam Harmsworth of Drone Rock Records

For me Drone Rock Records has been a hobby first and foremost so its never been about making loads of money and retiring to Necker Island a la Branson.

In the first of a probably irregular series, we take a look at some of the labels who are releasing the records we love, and find out just what makes them tick. First up, our intrepid psychonaut Martyn Coppack, chats to Drone Rock Records founder Adam Harmsworth about why he got into this game. The Brighton based label has been drip feeding the psych world with some rather wonderful releases over the last few years including Blown Out, Earthling Society, CB3, and last years excellent Fanatism release.

(((o))): Tell me a bit about the history of the label? How did you get started?

The label has been going about 4 years now but I a) never intended to start a record label and b) never dreamed it would last this long once I had started it.

About 5 years ago I started a Facebook page celebrating the (what was then) relatively new psych revival. I was already a huge fan of psych/drone/general noise, collecting vinyl and going to as many gigs I could go to. My wife suggested I did something which got me more involved in the ‘scene’ but I wasn’t sure what exactly. I didn’t want to start a blog or fanzine as there were already a few good ones out there (Optical Sounds, Psych Insight, Dayz of Purple and Orange, Echoes & Dust…of course!) which were doing more than a good enough job. I couldn’t play an instrument or had the time to learn so a band was out of the question.

Then, by chance, an Argentinian band called Kill West sent me a demo of their debut EP via my Facebook page in the hope that I could pass it on to someone who could release it. Rather than pass it on to someone else I decided there and then to start a label and make this my first release. A friend of my wife’s designed a website for me and I paid to have the Kill West EP pressed and release it myself. I was quite surprised how quickly things moved. The FB page had given me a bit of a ‘presence’ on social media and also a platform from which I could contact bands myself.

(((o))): Who were the bands (or other for that matter) who inspired you to start a label?

Music wise, Carlton Melton were my personal favourites when I started the label (and continue to be to this day). I always get excited when a new Carlton Melton record or tour is announced. I have even had them stay at our home when I did a Drone Rock Records showcase last year. I couldn’t think of any band who I would have wanted as guest headliner.

Again, a bit of cliche, but they are really lovely people too.

I must say at this point that I had the best mentor in Dave Cambridge of Cardinal Fuzz fame. Without his invaluable advice, guidance and just general know-how I would have probably fallen at the first hurdle. Most people within the modern psych movement have heard of (or at least bought something put out by) Dave and his wonderful label. Rather than see me as a potential competitor he always found the time to answer any questions I had or told me to avoid things which had gone wrong for him. Top, top man is Dave and I owe him big time.

(((o))): At what point did you realise that you actually had a viable thing going?

I’ve always been a ‘glass half empty’ kind of chap so not sure I would even say the label is a viable thing now really. For me Drone Rock Records has been a hobby first and foremost so its never been about making loads of money and retiring to Necker Island a la Branson. I have a full time job (I work in a family run building company by day), a wife and a 6 year old son so its always been a bit of a juggling act.

The plus side with the record label not being my primary source of income is that I don’t have the stress of needing a release to sell well or having to make design choices with one eye at the profit and loss account. Of course it always boils down to how good the music is but, I’ve always tried to make the overall aesthetic of each release be an important factor as well.

(((o))): Where do you discover all these artists who appear on Drone Rock Records?

I’m very proud to say that over 50% of the releases on DRR to date have been the artists debut vinyl release. This has been a combination of new bands contacting me or me approaching bands who already have an album available online or CD or cassette and seeing if they’d be interested in releasing it on vinyl. I have got myself in a position now, 4 years down the line, where I am having to turn down more and more bands who contact me just because of time constraints…. being a one man band (though my wife has proved invaluable on the packing and posting front!) there really is a definite maximum capacity I can work to while this is just a secondary job.

Also, I have always said, if I don’t like the music personally then I will not release it, even if I know it would sell. I have to be a fan of the music and be honest to myself and the artists. I can’t promote a release if I am not 100% in to it. Some of the bands I have worked with I found out about via online blogs and I think the internet and social media has worked wonders for small bands in that regard.

I also try to work with bands around the globe and not focus on one area. Hence, to date, I have worked with bands from Germany, Canada, Sweden, Chile, Peru, Italy and, of course, the UK. Naturally, when I work with a band from a certain country I then get quite a few submissions from bands from the same country. I seem to have a bit of a Swedish and South American thing going on at the moment which isn’t that surprising when you think of their psych heritage.

(((o))): What is your favourite release on Drone Rock Records?

Don’t even go there!

Honestly, each record is a labour of love and each one is special to me. The Kill West EP will always be extra special as it was where it all started. I am always particularly fond of the most recent release or next one coming up as it is still fresh in my mind and I haven’t played it to death. Don’t forget I can be listening to a release months and months before it gets pressed so I think its testament to the artists I’ve worked with that I am still listening to their albums long after release.

I must add that, going back to the aesthetic point, I am also a big fan of the cover art and vinyl colours of the all the releases on Drone Rock. I’ve been fortunate that all the acts I have worked with have designed their own cover art and I have always tried to get the vinyl colour and effects to match it.

(((o))): What are some of the perils of running a label as small as this?

Where do you start. The main one for me is maintaining a balance with all the other things in my life (family, day job, friends, gig-going) and not letting it take over too much.

There are times around the release date of a record where you have to spend a lot of time on correspondence with the bands and the broker (the middle man between the label and the pressing plant) and then there are the countless evenings spent packing customer orders. Another balancing act is the size of the run of the release. I have always stuck to runs of 250-300 records but I often have people ask me why I didn’t press more when a release sells out quickly (which thankfully a lot of DRR releases have done).

I think hindsight is always a wonderful thing when it comes to gauging demand for release. I would much rather sell out of 250 records than be left with 100+ records in a 500 run. I just don’t have the space to store a large back catalogue of releases. In the beginning I always worked to a code whereby sales of one release would fund the manufacture of the next so I was never really getting in too deep money wise but I can definitely see how that could easily happen. Further down the line I have managed to build up a little bit of credit in the business bank account so I am now able to think 4 or 5 releases down the line. Because I do fancy looking coloured effects on most of my releases I am adding another factor where problems can and do occur.

(((o))): What would you like to see for Drone Rock Records in the future?

I’ve always wondered if the label could become a full time business but I don’t think the money is there really and that’s fine. While its a still a hobby/part time-job I can still be a fan-boy and also not have the worry of my family and I starving if the next South American stoner-drone release doesn’t sell as well as I’d hoped! I really enjoyed organising the Drone Rock Records label showcase gig in Brighton last February and I’d love to do more gigs with DRR acts. Speaking of which, my wife and I are heading to Stockholm in March to see a couple of acts I have worked with and that really is a major plus point of doing the label.

(((o))): What would your advice be for anyone considering setting up a record label?

I think the main bit of advice I would give is to only get involved with setting up a label if you’ve got the time to give it. It really is a labour of love and you can never over-estimate the amount of time you need to be able to devote to it. For me, the success of the label is measured in satisfied customers, proud bands, and words of praise from reviewers rather than £’s and units sold. An understanding and encouraging family has certainly been a major factor in DRR still operating today.

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