2007 saw the launch of the UK’s Catacomb Records and in that short time, they’ve managed to build up an excellent reputation for their chosen passion of Stoner and Doom within the Underground fraternity. Although with just 3 releases available at the moment, they do have plans in place for future releases from bands like Grifter & Queen Elephantine and with an ever growing distro list available plus talks in place about extending their roster of bands, I caught up with label co-owner/founder Soph so she could shed some light on the dark & damp chambers of the Catacomb.
What is your musical background and why/when did you start Catacombs Records?
My background is not as varied as Dave’s (the other person behind Catacomb). The only “Proper” band I’ve been in is Aluna, in which I sing and play rhythm guitar. For years I played the clarinet, bass clarinet and organ and played in loads of different orchestras… then I discovered Kyuss!! Dave currently plays guitar in Aluna and Sonic Lord, and plays bass in Godsize. Dave and I have known each other for years and when we were younger we formed a band, which pretty much did Life of Agony covers… it didn’t go anywhere!! Dave was in numerous bands – too many to mention. We got into “stoner rock” and all of it’s sub-genres around 10 years ago, and were loving all of the bands on the Mans Ruin roster, it was that label which made us think it would be pretty cool to start one ourselves. But, I was super young and then went away to live in Lincoln to attend university, Dave was holding down jobs and his bands were really busy and we couldn’t really afford to do anything. The last couple of years have seen us able to fund the label and in 2007 it was launched.
And when you set up the label, did you have any great master plan and/or philosophy, which you adhered to stick to?
The only real philosophy we had, and this sounds really clichéd, was to release music we love. We compliment each other really well when it comes to which bands to choose, I’m into the stoner and psychedelic bands and Dave’s into the doom and drone bands… but we both cross over into each other’s tastes. We would never release a band which we don’t like the sound of knowing it will make us some cash…
What have you released to date?
The bands on our roster so far are Aluna, Grifter, Queen Elephantine and Sonic Lord. So far we have released “The Sound of The Catacombs” which is a 17 track compilation album featuring bands such as Abdullah, Black Cesar (Chris from Taint), DirtyRed (ex St. Vitus), Gonga, Mos Generator, Obiat and Suns of Thunder. “Trawling Through Sludge” by Sonic Lord, which is a limited edition, orange, hand numbered 7″ vinyl and the “Fall To Earth” EP by Aluna.
What future releases do you have planned and when can we expect them to see the light of day?
This year we’re hoping to put out a split by Aluna and Queen Elephantine, which will be a limited edition, purple, hand, numbered, 7″ vinyl. There are a few hold ups with this at the moment, which we’re hoping will be sorted out by the end of 2008, if not this will spill over into the new year. We’re also releasing “The Simplicity of The Riff is Key” EP by Grifter which fingers crossed will be an autumn release. There are talks between Aluna and Grifter about a split EP featuring covers of both famous and each other’s songs. Not sure when or if this is happening yet though… could be fun!!
Who else is involved in the day to day running of the label?
Dave and myself are the owners of the label and who put all of the funding into it, but we have lots of people scattered around who help in the promotion… Jake from Aluna spends more time at gigs than at home and he’s always armed with Catacomb flyers, Ollie from Grifter helps out loads with spreading the word… even though he gets the label name wrong when he plays gigs drunk!! When we do shows in Sheffield the people at Ninehertz go about fly posting and also spreading the word on forums, we also have emails from people who have found our flyers in the most random places, in towns we’ve never been in, motorway service stations; the original singer from Anathema wrote to us recently having found our flyers in a Leicestershire service station… and we don’t have a clue how they got there so we must have people we don’t know about helping us out too!! Either that or they’re dumping them after we’ve handed them out… Either way cheers whoever you are!
And on average, how many hours a day do you put into the running of Catacomb?
I’d say that I probably spend 2-3 hours, on and off whether it be emailing or designing and Dave spends around 2 doing all the mail order stuff – packaging and posting things out. We both spend more time in the weeks leading up to and following a release.
And as we have separate interviews planned for Aluna and Sonic Lord, can you just quickly elaborate on the involvement with these bands and was Catacomb Records always a way and means to releases your own music as well as other bands?
Originally when we thought of the label, Aluna didn’t exist and Sonic Lord were going through changes, so initially no, we just wanted to release other bands. When we started the label in 2007, it was the year that Aluna started getting out there and getting the name around, so we thought it would be a cool thing to release something by our own band. As for Sonic Lord, they’d recorded Trawling Through Sludge for another label, the release never happened and because the tracks were so damn good we decided to do it through Catacomb. Releasing our own music kind of happened accidentally but we want to start branching out now.
How easy have you found it to get the label noticed in the ‘underground’ and what have peoples response/support been like?
The fact that our first release was a 17 track compilation featuring a wide array of bands helped lots in the way that each band did their bit at promoting the release as well as the release parties we had in Sheffield and Birmingham, all of that helped plant the name Catacomb Records in people’s heads. The problem now is to keep the name in heads; we’re competing with lots of cool indie labels that are already established in the underground, we’re just being really persistent and telling anyone who’ll listen about the label. We don’t really put gigs on now, but when we started we put on gigs by Taint, Chris from Taints band Black Cesar, Asteroid from Sweden, John from Doom’s (and Kerrang Radio) new band Haxan and more recently Obiat, working with these bands also helped the name spread a little more. As for responses, I don’t think we’ve had anything negative pointed at us (if we have, I haven’t noticed it). Our first release had rave reviews in both established rock magazines and underground web and fanzines and we get some regular faces coming to the shows we put on, to support us. We’ve also got some pretty cool people across the globe supporting us, there’s one girl in Canada who has brought 6 copies of the compilation.
And would you say with the popularity of the internet/email and websites such as Myspazz and PayPal its now a lot easier for someone to set up a label and get there name spread, compared to the days of old when small independents relied heavily on their flyers being passed around the underground via snail mail and purchases being made by cheque/cash/postal orders?
I wouldn’t say it was easier, but another avenue (or Catacomb!!!) to explore. It’s a lot handier payment wise to have things like Paypal and stores like The Big Cartel which offer a free / cheap store to sell items from. My Space and forums are excellent for networking with bands, potential customers and other labels but because there’s so many labels operating on My Space it’s a case of who screams the loudest… and don’t forget not everyone has a My Space account or goes on Forums… I’m only signed up to The Sleeping Shaman and Ninehertz, we prefer to get out there and meet people, not sit around all day talking to “internet friends”. It still pays to stand outside gigs handing flyers out which Dave is a lot better at than me!! We’ve got a pretty cool resource in Birmingham called the Oasis centre, which is a multi-storey “alternative” market. All the stairwells are covered in posters and flyers and that’s where a lot of cool local gigs / people looking for band members / new releases are found out about. In this day and age of fly posting fines, it’s really helpful to have that kind of help.
What about distribution, has it been easy or an uphill struggle to get distros/labels/stores to stock the Aluna and Sonic Lord releases?
We have distribution via Code 7 and Plastic Head Distribution for our releases; this enables HMV, Play, Zavvi, Amazon, Tesco, WH Smith, Asda. Etc. to stock our releases. We have distributed the compilation and Aluna EP this way. We have local independent record shops in the West Midlands stocking the Sonic Lord vinyl, that was pretty easy… we walked in, asked for it to be stocked, they said yeah and then call us when the copies sell out!! Code 7 handles all other independents across the UK… the ones which haven’t closed down yet!! Other than that we do trades with other labels, which enables our releases to be stocked in other countries.
Your roster of bands also includes Grifter and Queen Elephantine, so firstly, how did you hook up with them and do you have any plans to extend the number of bands in the future?
They were both bands who applied to the compilation and got through to the final 17. Because we liked what they did so much we wanted to work with them. Queen Elephantine are a really young band with so much potential, they were originally Hong Kong based but recently their front man Indy relocated the band with some new members to New York so he could attend school there. He ran his own label CLF for a while, and think he’s starting it up again so he understands how hard you have to work at it, he’s just got a really cool attitude which we like!! I think they’ve been described as a cross between Sleep and Pink Floyd!! Just really gutted that the QE and Aluna split has been delayed. As for Grifter… what can I say about them, which hasn’t already been said? For those who have heard them and seen them live, you should know already why we want to work with them! I’ve only actually met the guys 3 times… but because of long rambling emails back and forth, I feel like their singer Ollie is one of my oldest mates, they’re all genuine hardworking people and totally fit the mould of who we want to work with. I just wish they lived a bit closer than Cornwall so we could get drunk more and talk shite!! Aluna are playing with them in Bristol in September courtesy of Land of Nod Promotions, so expect some cloudy cider-induced stage invasions!!
There’s also a small distro arm to Catacomb Records, so can you give us a run down of the stock/labels/bands you carry?
Yeah we stock Black Manta, Pale Divine, Penance, Starchild, Stereochrist, Voodoo Shock, Negative Reaction and Ramesses from PsycheDOOMelic Records in Austria. Black Pyramid and Eternal Elysium from Electric Earth Records in Belgium (I think). Charger, Black Eye Riot and Lazarus Blackstar from Calculon Records in England. Godsize from Meltdown Records in England. Polecat Boogie Revival from Scarey Records in Italy and House of Broken Promises (ex Unida) and Duster 69 from Daredevil Records in Germany. We also stock the Bad Acid Magazines and Load of Noise Fanzines.
Can you tell us a little about your association is with Creativeeyelids Graphic Design and who you’ve worked with so far?
I work in Graphic Design and Marketing full time, and Creativeeyelids is my part-time freelance company. Before the label started, my aim was to take this full-time but for the time being I’m doing it on a freelance basis. I basically work with small businesses, charities and people in the music industry, be it bands, labels, promoters or venues. Creativeeyelids handle all the Aluna, Catacomb, Sonic Lord and Godsize design work. In the past I have worked with companies such as Marks and Spencers and Royal Mail right through to Surfers Against Sewage. The website is currently under construction but it’s linked to MySpace, address is www.creativeeyelidsdesign.co.uk.
What is your current playlist and what are your top 3 albums/releases of 2008 so far?
At the moment I’m listening to Karma To Burn (“Karma To Burn”), The Doors (“Morrison Hotel”), Orange Goblin (Coup De Grace), Bottom (“Feels So Good When You’re Gone”), Hermano (“Dare I Say”) and Faith No More (“Album Of The Year”). I only seem to have brought stuff from “old” artists so far this year such as Van Morrison, Love, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After… actually, I brought Portishead’s new album, which disappointed me, and also the newbie from The Black Keys, which is ace!! Was Electric Wizard’s “Witchcult today” and Taint’s “Secrets and Lies” 2008 or 2007?? They were brilliant either way!! There are bands releasing stuff at the moment which are not inspiring me to part with my money… I want to get the new Gonga one though!!
Thanks for the interview Soph and please use this space for any final words and plugs…
Thanks to you too Lee, and thanks to Ollie for “introducing” us!! If I haven’t bored anyone to death in this interview and you still want to check out the label and the bands, tell us about your band or are interested in a trade, please visit:
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards