Interview: Super Fan 99 label founder Luke Barham

Joyzine caught up with Super Fan 99 label boss Luke Barham (aka indie pop songsmith Uncle Luc) for a chat about his burgeoning indie imprint, it’s intriguing roster of international talent and releasing his debut album on square vinyl.

What made you decide to start your own label?

I set up Super Fan as a way to release my own album. I had been in a band for ten years and when that ended I decided to go solo. I had one or two kind offers from labels to release my album but thought it was a great opportunity to see if I could do it myself. I had worked very closely with Alcopop! Records and learnt a lot over the years. I figured I had enough knowledge to make a good job of it. I didn’t think beyond my own release at first but once that was out I realised everything was set up to house others. I’ve since released bands from the US, UK and most recently France.

Are there any other labels that you looked at for inspiration?

When I was a teenager I really loved pretty much everything Fierce Panda released. I collected all the 7″s they put out. My first purchase was Kenickie’s ‘Come Out 2nite’ and they were a label I could always trust. It was great meeting Simon last year and picking his brains. I’m currently reading the Merge Records story, I love how they grew while staying very true to their roots. K Records and Kill Rock Stars are also big favourites and more recently Burger Records and Lolipop who I seem to give all my money to. Both are insanely great and doing inspiring things for any young label to look up to. I love their “everyone’s welcome” attitude and also their dedication to tape culture. There’s a French label called Howlin’ Banana that is a total goldmine for current French bands I’m enjoying currently.

Super Fan 99

How tough was it to get started?

I guess it was easier for me than some people who may start out with no knowledge of how things work. I was lucky to have all of that time closely spent with a reasonably successful UK indie so already had the understanding of things like licensing, publishing and how PR and radio work. The toughest part is recouping your money on releases, I’ve been lucky so far that my releases have gone down well but I know it won’t always work out that well. I’m prepared for some records which I personally love to not always be a hit with the audience. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Is there a particular ethos that you work to?  What should we expect from a Super Fan 99 release?

I care intensely about brilliant artwork, packaging and releasing on interesting formats. I love labels where the owner’s personality shines through. With Burger for example it’s there for everyone to see and is almost something of a cultural movement. So far we’ve done square records, laser cut sleeves, an 8″, glittery tapes and I’ve got plenty more cool ideas in the pipeline. I always describe Super Fan as small but perfectly formed. 

Tell us about your first ever release

It was my (Uncle Luc) debut solo single ‘Farewell Monsoon‘  and I released it on a clear square 7″ vinyl. It was one-sided and they all came with a hand signed letter welcoming everyone to the label along with a mission statement of what to expect from Super Fan. They were all hand cut in America, it was limited to 20 copies and sold out almost instantly.

Uncle Luc - Farewell Monsoon

Who have you released since?  Are there any releases that are particularly special to you?

I’ve since released Winter from L.A, Zooz from London, The Madcaps from Rennes (France) and Cotillon from San Francisco. The Cotillon vinyl of ‘Call Me Up’ was pretty special to me as he was the first artist on Super Fan after myself. In many ways that signing really got the ball rolling as he’d had some great press in America for his Burger release. Once he was in it seemed to somewhat snowball in its own small way. The record sold out in just two hours and copies are already being traded for £50.

You’ve released music on a range of formats including cassette and 8″ vinyl – how do you decide on the right format for a release?

I normally have an idea of what I’d like to do and then talk to the artist, we’ll hopefully agree. Vinyl always sells well but is expensive to produce so you have to be a bit careful. I like to mix it up so when people visit our shop it’s always fresh with interesting releases. I carefully plan the quantities and always make sure there is something of a talking point about the release. All my tape releases include a free CD copy to make sure those without cassette players still listen to it. The music is always king.

Do you have any plans for future releases that you can share with us?

We are doing a brilliant split release with Alcopop! for Cassette Store Day. It has 3 bands from each label on each side and then a secret seventh track. The seventh track will be chosen from artist submissions and we will record one on to each individual tape. You can mail us a track here and we’ll let you know if you are included. We are looking for 50 in total. The mail address for anyone interested is Beyond that I have a couple more bands from the US in the pipeline that I’m extremely excited to tell the world about. There’s also a few from closer to home to look forward to.

The Madcaps

If you could sign one band (current or past) to Super Fan 99, who would it be?

The coolest band from the past for me has to be The Flying Burrito Brothers. I listen to their records all the time and love that era. Gram Parsons was one of the coolest rock stars if not THE coolest and then you’ve got Chris Hillman from The Byrds, sneaky Pete on pedal steel. Just amazing. Current is actually a tougher question… I love The Growlers, great live and I’m always coming back to Chinese Fountain. Such a strong album.

Finally, do you have any advice for anyone thinking of setting up their own label?

I guess with my label under a year old I may not be the best person to give advice but here goes… I personally try not to panic if a release isn’t selling. If it’s good then word will eventually get around. Try not to do huge runs to begin with as no one wants hundreds of unsold copies under their bed and in the hall way. Let the label grow with you. If you get to the point where you’re working with a bigger band, do a bigger run otherwise keep ’em small and aim to sell out.

Interview by Paul Maps

Check out a playlist of Super Fan 99 artists below:

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