Label Intensive: Soft Power Records

Lucy Dearlove tracks down the Scottish label for a quick chat.

After the previous Label Intensive, I decided to head as far away from the south coast as possible, and tracked down Scottish independent label Soft Power Records. They release excellent tunes on solely analogue formats and have put out releases by the likes of Theoretical Girl, Dirty Beaches and September Girls.

Hi Bek, you’re one of the names behind Soft Power Records. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the label - where exactly are you based and how did you come about starting it?
The label is run by me and Graeme, my other half, from a (very messy) room in our house which is in Livingston, Scotland, which can only be described as a kind of nightmarish Ballardian new town, between Glasgow & Edinburgh. Graeme and I met when I answered his “Records Wanted” ad in Record Collector Magazine, a very long time ago. It was probably inevitable that at some point we’d turn our hands to putting out records – day to day it’s a bis like the Three Stooges, but there are only two of us.

I hate to do this to you, but what’s been your personal favourite thing that’s come out on Soft Power?
Eek – that’s a nightmare to answer! We’ve got three kids so I’m aware of the punch ups that can ensue if any degree of favouritism is shown, however I am prepared to say that the 7” we’re putting out by Aggi Doom, is definitely up there… in truth we only put out records/tapes that make us feel ‘a bit funny/sick/giddy’ or preferably all three, so each of the releases we’ve put out is something special to us, we love them all the same amount but in different ways (pass the sickbag) I do have a soft spot for Hemlock by Trogons though…

You’ve put out records by the likes of international nomad Dirty Beaches and Essex-born and bred Theoretical Girl - did you always intend to cast your record net wider than your immediate surroundings? Are any of the names on your roster local?
If we’d had to cast our net in our immediate surroundings we’d be stuffed! Happily really talented people from all over the place have agreed to put things out with us – we’ve got stuff coming up from Glasgow, Dublin & Paris. We’re actually really excited about releasing a band from the same country as us (Aggi Doom), as that’s never happened before. We like it – but it’s not a necessity.

Can you remember the first physical single you bought? (you can go for the first ‘credible’ one if you like - the first CD single I ever bought will forever remain a secret) And the most recent?
I think the first 7” I paid for with my pocket money (it was £1.25) was ‘Luka’ by Suzanne Vega, I remember walking home with it and being desperate for my parents to go out so I could play it on the big record player in the front room. After that things improved drastically with the addition of a pretty good collection of The Primitives; The Darling Buds 7”s and one 7” I’m not prepared to admit to by an Australian soap star turned pop singer. The most recent 7”s I bought were Dirty Beaches - ‘Dune Walker’, and Veronica Falls- My Heart Beats – I won’t be friends with anyone who can play this single one time and then turns it off.

I second that about the Veronica Falls single! You put out music, as far as I can see, exclusively in an analogue format. Why do you think people are still keen to buy music on vinyl and cassette? Other people I’ve talked to about this have mentioned that the beauty of these formats is being able to be creative with the packaging and artwork; how important do you think this is?
Yes, we do only put out things physically and I’m not sure if that will change, I don’t think we’d ever put something out solely as a download, I think we’d feel too much like charlatans.

Owning a record, an actual physical slab of vinyl and owning a download are two very different things, vinyl is beautiful and tactile and comforting and real, you can’t put your arms around a download.

Half the fun of putting out records and tapes is sorting out the artwork, the labels etc. particularly with the tapes which we make up ourselves, we feel like we’re giving something more personal – we didn’t just click ‘burn’ and run off 100 CDs, we sat and duplicated 100 tapes in our living room at home, in real time (another reason we have to really like the tracks) whilst we were drinking tea and arguing. They exist in the real world.

For me, split 7’s are one of my favourite ways to blow my music buying budget (usually at the expense of other non-essential things, like regular meals). You must be a fan too, because you put one out! What do you like about this format and how did the Dirty Beaches/Conor Predergast split come about?
Oh split 7”s are a particular joy yes! When they work there’s nothing better. We fell in love with Dirty Beaches from the moment the stylus hit the wax on the True Blue 7” he put out on Zoo - I remember the day we got the single I just played it and played it. We’d just started the label and were full of ideas, so one night (I think it was night and I think there was whisky) we sent a message to Alex, telling him we loved his records and that we’d love to put something out by him – much to our surprise, he came back and said yes. He’s a legend in the making, and so supportive of the musical community as a whole – which is why he asked if he could do a split with his good friend Conor (who also runs Fixture Records). We like it when things happen naturally like that and it turned out beautifully. We’re really proud to have put that record out especially as at the time we were getting it together with Alex, Trish Keenan died – he was devastated about it and so were we, so the 7” is dedicated to her.

You also run an online record shop of the same name. The eternal chicken/egg question - which came first? Are you picky about what you stock in there alongside your own releases?
They actually came about at the same time, and any profits made in the shop go into the label – it’s kind of like a social enterprise, if you buy music from us, it will generally get split between new stock, and new releases for the label – so our customers should feel good about that!

We are very picky about what we stock, there are a lot of independent record shops online (which is a good thing for people who aren’t lucky enough to have a proper high street record shop) and when we started we got hooked up with all the indie distributors and found that we ended up selling exactly the same records as everyone else - which wasn’t our original intent at all, so we decided to have a total change. We now have a lot less stock coming in, but we only deal with small labels and artists directly – another way we feel we can support like-minded labels and artists. It’s worked out really well, we’ve made some great friends through running the shop and it’s a great way to keep ourselves supplied with new music too – that’s the number one perk of the job. That’s what I tell myself when I’m walking to the post office in the rain anyway.

And finally, what have you got up your Soft Power Records sleeve for this year? Can we expect any more exciting split 7’s?
I’m not sure about any split 7”s but I would never say never, we’ve got loads of stuff coming up that we can’t wait for people to hear. Firstly, we’ve got the debut single of amazing new Glasgow band Aggi Doom on 7”, then because it’s summer, we’re putting out three tapes in a row, (‘cause you can’t take your records to the beach) Big Wave, September Girls and Beat Mark, there may be something new from The Tamborines and at the end of the year we’re hoping to put out our first vinyl compilation LP – we’ve got tracks promised to us for that from some really amazing bands. After that we’ll see what comes along - on that note demos are always welcome, so bands – keep them coming!

You can find Soft Power here and visiting their wonderful online store here. Highly recommended is their latest cassette, ‘Wanting More’ by September Girls.