Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SPAZ's LABEL PROFILE: Now Sounds

What could possibly be better than being ultra-hip in the modern world? I'm not talking about THINKING that you are ultra-hip... I'm talking about BEING ultra-hip without really trying. Well, the NOW SOUNDS label (distributed by Cherry Red in the UK) is ultra-hip in more ways than one!
First and foremost, the man behind the label, Steve Stanley, loves what he does and it shows. There is a passion in every release, from the packaging to the music. Each Now Sounds title has it's own aura that makes it stand out in a crowded CD store.
Secondly, Now Sounds is NOT a label that concentrates on fresh new music that will only be stale by the weekend: Now Sounds reissues classic Pop albums from the '60s and thereabouts. These albums may not have scaled the charts when initially released, but like a good Twinkie, they will still be standing long after a nuclear meltdown has wiped Grunge and Emo from the face of the earth. And trust me, in a dark and barren post-apocalyptic world, you will want to listen to the joyful sounds of The Peppermint Trolley Company over the whining and complaining of Nirvana or Linkin Park any day!
Yes, Now Sounds is retro, but retro is the now sound!
So, with that being said, I was able to track Steve Stanley down and ask him a few questions about his fine label....

SPAZ: Before starting the label, were you an avid music collector? If so, what types of music were you collecting (genres, bands, formats, etc)?
STEVE STANLEY: Absolutely. I was collecting a lot of the stuff that I ended up reissuing over the past several years on Now Sounds and (earlier) on Rev-Ola. A lot of obscure ‘60s psychedelic pop, that—in the ‘90s—had virtually no collectability outside of a few Japanese fanatics. One of the first bands I discovered at a swap meet was Colours. They were five guys wearing what looked like clerical outfits with love beads. They had a song called “Brother Lou’s Love Colony.” This had to be good, I thought. 15 years later, the album saw its CD debut on Now Sounds and is a popular title for us.

SPAZ: What inspired you to start up a label?
SS: I was inspired in the late ‘90s to start my own label while working for Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records. Back then, there were very few obscure American psychedelic pop albums available on CD beyond the obvious, more commercially viable titles. So, at that time, there really was a major void that needed to be filed. And remember, you couldn’t find the music online. You actually had to know someone with good taste to hear the music you were searching for.

SPAZ: How did you go about picking the name of the label?
SS: The name of the label is akin to my design firm (Now Designs), my band (Now People), and, of course, my LuxuriaMusic.com radio show (The Now Sounds).

SPAZ: When did the label first start operations?
SS: After having single-handedly A&R-ed, produced, annotated, and designed over 50 releases for Rev-Ola—including many of their best-selling titles—by artists such as Mark Eric, Claudine Longet, Bergen White (For Women Only made both MOJO and UNCUT’s Top 20 Reissues of 2004), and The Merry-Go-Round, I launched Now Sounds in late 2007. The first release (The Parade’s Sunshine Girl: The Complete Recordings) followed in March of 2008.

SPAZ: When you first set up the label, what were your initial goals? And do you feel you’ve achieved those goals so far?
SS: The goal from the beginning was to reissue special albums that for whatever reason had never before been given special treatment; to expose—and enhance—albums that, for whatever reason, have been forgotten by time but in retrospect stand the test of time. We try to uphold the endangered concept of pride of ownership. We produce 16-24 pages booklets for every release. We work hard to locate unpublished photos and other related ephemera... We include exclusive interviews with key participants. We source master tapes whenever possible, and however difficult. A lot of other reissue labels just use Google Image Search, check Wikipedia for their notes, run a disc dub and call it a day. That just isn’t good enough for Now Sounds.

SPAZ: How do you go about picking the titles that you release?
SS: It’s a varied process. In addition to my own knowledge, I draw upon suggestions from our customers and friends. Regardless, at the end of the day the music always comes first.

SPAZ: Is there an elusive album out there that you have been eager to reissue but haven’t been able to get the rights to?
SS: There have been quite a few. The most frustrating thing that happens frequently is when a major denies a request because of a pending project they themselves have underway. And when the final product arrives on the marketplace, it oftentimes is a shoddy release with no imaginative packaging, and few, if any, bonus cuts. (Read: the recent Hip-O-Select Emitt Rhodes box.)

SPAZ: Is there a particular artist (or artists) out there that you would love to have on your roster?
SS: Emitt Rhodes. Dave Clark 5. Any poor soul that recorded for Cameo Parkway.

SPAZ: If you had a choice, would you prefer to reissue an album as it was originally released or do you like the opportunity of adding bonus tracks?
SS: I always prefer to find bonus tracks to enhance the release and provide the consumer with a greater value. Unfortunately, the majors can make this very difficult.

SPAZ: Which format do you personally prefer?
SS: The compact disc for compatibility. The vinyl for packaging.

SPAZ: As a collector and music lover, how do you view the current music scene?
SS: I don’t really give it much thought. A recent trip to Australia afforded me the opportunity to hear the Sydney-based Sparkadia, who are pretty decent.

SPAZ: How do you view the idea of a future filled with download-only releases? Don’t you feel that collectors will always want to physically own the music that they purchase?
SS: I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. No one wants to look under the Christmas tree and see a download card. To quote Cherry Red managing director Adam Velasco: “Collectors aren’t going to stop collecting.”

SPAZ: Do you see the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl growing?
SS: I certainly see it sticking around for the foreseeable future. There hasn’t been this much new vinyl available since the ‘80s. It’s my understanding that half of the albums on the Billboard Top Ten are available on vinyl. Amoeba Records (the biggest record store in Los Angeles) recently moved all of their enormous vinyl inventory to the very front of the store. That’s a sure sign that it’s a growing and vital commodity.

SPAZ: At the end of the day, do you have a particular personal favorite amongst your own label releases?
SS: The release for which I’m the most proud would have to be Sunshine Girl: The Complete Recordings by The Parade. Not only because it’s our best selling title, but because we were able to include a lot of excellent bonus material that had never before been heard by anyone outside of the band. With a lot of releases, the bonus tracks are usually expendable and tacked on as a sales gimmick. With The Parade CD, the bonus tracks actually enhanced the release.

SPAZ: What would you like people to know about the label?
SS: I like to think we bring an uncompromising commitment to excellence, with a strong track record to prove it. I like to create releases I, myself, would be willing to buy. Based in Los Angeles, we’re able to access exclusive repertoire from one of the most historically vital areas for 60s pop. We’ve also got a built-in promotional vehicle with my LuxuriaMusic.com radio show, The Now Sounds. It’s on every Friday Morning, 5:00 – 7:00 AM, GMT. We have podcasts too.

SPAZ: How can our readers contact the label with suggestions, comments and praise?
SS: I love hearing ideas from collectors and music fans. Please visit our website at www.nowsounds.co.uk.
So, there you have it. Another great label offering plenty of great music. Check out some of the artists already released by Now Sounds!
The more I connect with these folks behind the labels, the more I want to fulfill my dream of starting up my own '80s reissue label. The more I look at my bank account, the more that dream slips away!
Curses! Foiled again!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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