EVERY cliché starts out as a truth. An example: “We do the label for the love of the music,” says Lloyd Meredith, co-founder of Glasgow-based cottage label Olive Grove Records, repeating the let’s-see-what-happens-but-I’d-love to-be-a-millionaire mantra of every new band and music industry start-up to have spoken in an interview.
He really does seem to mean it, though.
“We don’t take any money from it,” he continues, speaking on behalf of himself and co-founder Halina Rifai. “We put our own time and money in because we love what we do. I mean it’s something I’d like to do as a proper job but I just don’t think the money’s there any more (in the industry), or at least there’s so little to be shared out.
“We started the label because we were both fed up with the amount of good music going on in our backyard and not being released by anyone so we decided to do it, to be a stepping stone for people to move on to bigger things.
“Besides,” he continues, “I think it might take the shine off it for me if this was my proper job. This is my escapism from having a day job. Everyone else thinks I’m nuts, but I don’t worry about it.”
His goal, he says, is to release good music and not lose money. He’s just about succeeded with the latter.
Olive Grove came into existence in October 2010 when Meredith and Rifai, separately the founders of Scottish music blogs Peenko and Glasgow Podcart, released Battleships and Kettle Chips, the debut EP by Glasgow indie-pop orchestra Randolph’s Leap. Three summers ago, Rifai phoned Meredith one night out of the blue and nervously asked, “do you want to start a label?” recounts the Glasgow-raised 34 year-old. “I’d just been made redundant and had a payoff from my job, so I said sure, why not? She suggested we approach Randolph’s Leap, because she knew I was a fan.”
So how do you go about starting a record label in the current situation, when there’s little money going round, but a number of people doing it? “The best thing I did at that point was, because I knew a lot of people in local labels through Peenko, I decided to write a feature on all of them,” he says. “So for a month I was meeting people and asking questions, people like Alan [Souter] from Armellodie and Matthew [Young] from Song, By Toad, just making them go-to people for finding out things like how you get your music online through digital distributors, that kind of stuff. I knew bands around Glasgow, too. RM Hubbert had a CD burning machine and he helped us out with that.”
Their labours are paying off (sadly not literally), with an increasing number of Scotland’s best independent acts having appeared on Olive Grove.
Randolph’s Leap are now signed to more high-profile Scots DIY collective Fence Records, but Meredith “couldn’t quite let them go” and he’s now their manager. The roster has also included Esperi, The Son(s), singer-songwriter Jo Mango, the rootsy indie-blues of Woodenbox, Scots “supergroup” Moth and the Mirror (featuring members of Frightened Rabbit and Admiral Fallow), and now-defunct Dundonian rockers Pensioner.
This weekend Mango, Woodenbox, Randolph’s Leap and fellow Olive Grove outfit State Broadcasters will all come together to play a curated label event on the main stage at Aviemore’s Insider festival.
The experience for Meredith and Rifai has been very much based around playing it by ear, from month to month. “There are so many things you don’t think about,” he says. “At the moment we’re getting our distribution sorted, but for so long it was me going to stores and asking them if they’d stock a record, and the first thing they asked was ‘why didn’t it have a barcode on it?’ You learn these things as you go on.
“But you build up a team too, so Vicki (Cole) from Randolph’s Leap does our website, various people help with our artwork. When people realise you’re not making money and you’re really just doing it for the music, then they’re even more willing to help you.”
Olive Grove is more of a facilitator, arranging gigs, tours and press coverage through a company in London – the bands themselves pay for their recordings and any money recouped pays that back.
This sense of community is what keeps everything moving at his label’s grassroots level, says Meredith, whether that’s between bands, labels or promoters, for example with the Insider’s request that he bring some of his artists north, one of many package dates Olive Grove has been involved in.
“We’ve got a family thing going on,” laughs Meredith. “Pete [MacDonald] from State Broadcasters recorded the Randolph’s Leap album, Vicki from Randolph’s Leap did part of State Broadcasters’ artwork, Pete’s collaborating with the Son(s). It works out really nicely. Everybody’s in the same boat these days. Labels share information between us, we’re not battling against one another.”
• The Insider festival runs from 21 to 23 June, near Aviemore. www.insiderfestival.com