Wednesday 30 November 2011, 12:29 | By Andy Malt
Q&A: Ollie Jacob, Memphis Industries
Brothers Ollie and Matt Jacob formed indie label Memphis Industries in 1998, releasing Blue State’s ‘Forever’ EP later the same year. Since then they have gone on to work with The Go! Team, The Pippettes, Field Music, Theoretical Girl, Frankie Rose And The Outs and many more.
This year marks the label’s thirteenth anniversary, which, as they failed to do anything to mark the company’s tenth year, the Jacob brothers have chosen to celebrate instead. To commemorate the occasion, tonight they will head down to Koko in London for a show featuring performances from The Go! Team and Field Music as well as newer signings Dutch Uncles and Colourmusic. Some tickets are still available from www.memphis-industries.com, where each purchase comes with a free download compilation featuring past, present and future tracks from the Memphis Industries catalogue.
Ahead of the show, CMU Editor Andy Malt caught up with Ollie Jacob to find out more about the label, how it came about and what it’s like running an indie record company in the modern world.
AM: What were your backgrounds before you launched Memphis Industries?
OJ: I was promoting clubs and shows down in Brighton, Matt was training to be a lawyer.
AM: When did you first decide to set up the label?
OJ: In 1998 I left Brighton and moved back to London. For some bizarre reason (perhaps a love of music, although that doesn’t entirely explain it) I thought I’d start releasing records, and knew Matt could put some money in and wouldn’t rip me off, so I asked him if he fancied setting up a label. He stupidly said yes. I remember even then being told by literally everyone that the glory days of the record industry were over and there was no future in it.
AM: Were there any other labels that inspired you, or you aspired to be like?
OJ: As well as doing our press in the early days, Tony Morley at The Leaf Label probably gave us the most practical sense of how to set up and run a small label. In terms of aspiration, I think we just wanted to be able to put out whatever tickled us rather than having a rigid musical aesthetic – the label identity was and has been a secondary thing to the artists.
AM: What were your ambitions for the company at that point?
OJ: Right at the start it was literally to figure out how to get a bit of music off a DAT, onto vinyl and then into the shops. I mean there were vague and ill defined notions of what success might mean in the future, but since neither myself nor Matt had ever worked at a label we were very much amateurs.
AM: Did you have any particular ethos for the label when you first started, and have you stuck to it?
OJ: More out of financial constraints than anything else, we exclusively signed bedroom recording artists back then. We only started signing “bands” in around 2005. It’s funny that we’ve kinda gone full circle back to signing home recording types now, with the likes of Hooray For Earth and Elephant.
AM: What have been the highlights of the last thirteen years?
OJ: The first reviews in print we got were always super exciting. And the first time we had one of songs played on daytime radio, The Squire Of Somerton’s ‘Transverberations’ on Mark and Lard (now that carbon dates us). Obviously The Go! Team provided a lot of giggles, cos it took us to a whole new level, with their first SxSW and Fuji Rocks being particular highlights. And working with Field Music is a constant source of joy.
AM: What would you do differently if you were starting out again now?
OJ: Ha – aside from go and get a proper job? In a purely practical sense, we’d take publishing much more seriously.
AM: You started Memphis Industries just before Napster launched. How do you think illegal file-sharing and the rise of the internet in general has effected you?
OJ: I guess it’s largely helped us – the speed a band can work on a global scale, for a label like ours, is unimaginable without the internet, and without file-sharing. Sure there’s the idea that people don’t pay for music any more, but the fact that the rules are constantly being rewritten, and have been since about the time we started, has meant that the playing field is a little more level – everyone is, to a degree making it up as they go along, just like us, and there are new dimensions, new tools and new pitfalls almost every time you go to release a record
AM: Many record labels are now diversifying into other areas of the music business, in addition to recordings. Is this something Memphis Industries has done, or plans to do?
OJ: We’ve been managing The Go! Team since 2005, and have added Field Music and Elephant to that in recent times, although in retrospect we realise how much of what we did in the earlier days would be considered a manager’s remit anyway. We’ve also got a publishing company called Man Mountain Music, that’s started doing some good stuff and is gradually building up nicely.
AM: What’s the most challenging thing about running a label in 2011? And what’s the best thing?
OJ: Persuading people to, y’know, buy music. And I also think the desperate desire for the new has a debilitating effect generally. The best thing is that technology has led to the democratisation and automation of lot of aspects of the biz so a couple of hard grafting monkeys like us can easily run a label.
AM: What can people expect from tonight’s birthday gig? Do you have any surprises planned?
OJ: Four massively different and unique bands showing off their wares for a start. Some free stuff. We’re trying to get the bands to agree to do a ‘We Are The World’ style sing-a-long at the end, but it’s taking some doing. Oh and me drinking expensive booze as if my life depended on it. Although that last one isn’t a surprise.
AM: What’s your favourite version of ‘Walking In Memphis’?
OJ: I’m partial to a bit of Cher myself.
AM: And finally, it’s a tough one, but are there any Memphis Industries releases that you’ve been particularly proud of?
OJ: Well that would be like saying which of your kids is your favourite, and that would be bad parenting. How about it’s always the next record that we’re releasing? Does that neatly get us out of upsetting any of our bands?
Lucky Thirteen – 13 Years Of Memphis Industries: