We get sent a lot of review requests from a lot of labels at Joyzine and over the years there have been certain imprints whose appearance in the mailbox has become cause for trepidation, intrigue and, on just the odd occasion, intense excitement. Fitting the later category over the years have been the sadly missed but thoroughly excellent New Cross-based label Angular Records, DIY champions like FortunaPOP! and Alcopop! Records, garage rock stalwarts Dirty Water and Damaged Goods, and most recently we’ve been able to add Reckless Yes to that list.
Since the turn of the year the Derby-based indie has added to a roster already brimming with Joyzine favourites like Chorusgirl, Bugeye and Fightmilk to the point at which it’s beginning to feel like they have some sort of portal into our minds, allowing them to perfectly hone their releases specifically to our subconcious needs and desires. DIY punk rascals Breakup Haircut, the shoegazey noise rock of Paper Birch (featuring Fergus Lawrie of all-time Joyzine faves Urusei Yatsura) and Piney Gir’s sumptuous psych-pop all feature on the 2021 release schedule, amongst a host of other delights; and with a commitment to an ethical, collobarative approach to working with artists they tick all of our DIY ethos boxes too.
We caught up with co-founders Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington to find out more and also asked them to share some tracks from the label’s packed roster, which you can check out below as you read on.
With the country in various degrees of lockdown over the past year and a half and no gigs much of that period, it’s been a pretty tough time for the music scene, particularly at the DIY end of the scale, but Reckless Yes seems to be going from strength to strength with a bevvy of new signings announced at the end of 2020 and continuing throughout this year. How has this period been for you and how have you managed not just to keep afloat but to keep on building?
Sarah: I think it’s fair to say it’s been a rollercoaster year as a label but being a community, probably more than we are a company, has seen us through. Having a membership underneath us has been a huge help financially but also motivationally for us as a label, and for our artists. Knowing there is this group of people already invested in the music we want to put out, and excited to discover new artists through us really kept us going at times last year. Mostly though we’ve managed to make it through because while everything else might be paused, connecting through music doesn’t stop and we need those connections more than ever. We’re small and adaptable and totally here to support that connection and our community.
Pete: We did have to do a lot of frantic roadmap ‘redrawing’ as it were, as we’d got bands booked in for studio sessions and tours planned etc – some records were half finished, so the release plan had to be changed – stuff like that happened a lot quite early on. But it did buy us time to start talking to new acts we’d had our eyes on but hadn’t got round to talking to yet. We learned to be a bit more fast and loose with our planning, but one thing was very clear – people needed something to take their mind off what was going on and for a lot of people, new music was the perfect tonic.
With the addition of Piney Gir, Breakup Haircut and Paper Birch to a roster that already included Bugeye, Fightmilk and Chorusgirl (and many more) it seems like you’re hoarding all of our favourite bands! What do you look for when approaching artists to join the label?
Sarah: First, we both have to absolutely love the music. We can’t fake enthusiasm for something so we both have to be into what an artist is doing. Then we look for work ethic. We take a collaborative approach in the way we work so we need an artist who is just as invested in their own success as they want us to be. And then we look for shared values. Our artists don’t have to agree with our outlook on everything, but we’re an inclusive label with clear social and environmental commitments. If you’re standing against what we stand for, we’re probably not the right home for you.
Pete: We’ve had it pointed out to us that we have a considerable amount of queer, trans and ethnic artists – particularly ones playing styles of music you wouldn’t expect them to be playing. We’d already spent a couple of years proving that there definitely was more than 18% of people who don’t identify as male out there making music and working in the industry and we wanted to extend that to other under represented groups. But it was in no way a box ticking exercise – it was easy to find these people. They seem to know that in a space dominated by white boys with guitars they need to work very hard to be noticed so the quality of their music just outshines the tons of indie landfill we get sent. We like to raise two fingers to statistics and we hope that as a result we can play a part in getting the message through that first and foremost great innovative music is out there being made by all kinds of people across all styles. But it’s the music that speaks to us first, it just seems to be the way – that unrecognised groups are working much harder to stand out from the crowd in their work ethic and their creativity.
‘Ethical’ and ‘Independent’ are words that get bandied about a lot, but I know they’re key to the way that Reckless Yes is run – what do they mean to you?
Sarah: For us everything we do has the artist at the centre, and is mindful of our impact in the activity we carry out. Our ethics are about being fair to the artist and not exploiting them for our own gain – we choose to run as a not-for-profit and not pay ourselves but rather roll everything back in so we can give more opportunities to more artists. The rest of the industry tells us we’re doing it wrong all the time but we think we’re being fair and recognising the value of creatives and their work. Ethically we also feel we have to take action, not just talk, about being environmentally sustainable and supporting, amplifying and making opportunities for under-represented voices in music. We’ve taken steps to be a carbon positive workforce, and to make our recorded music products more environmentally sustainable (Beth Shalom is the only other label we know actively making strides here), and we’ve signed up to Keychange EU for gender balance in our workforce and roster – we were already doing this so seemed sensible to add our action to their campaign. Independent? For me that means having control over how we invest and share with our community, and not being driven by making someone else’s accounting bottom line look better.
Pete: We’re first and foremost artist centric. We treat the fact that artists are trusting us with their creations as a privilege. It’s not a commodity. When we start a conversation with an artist about releasing their work, we turn the process on its head and tell them they’re signing us, not the other way round. We want them to choose us because of what we stand for and how we work. We run as a not for profit organisation, the money we make if a record recoups goes towards furthering the artists, not in our pockets. We’re not going to drop a band because they didn’t sell enough records, we’re going to try harder to get them noticed and find their audience. We let them tell us what success means for them and try to satisfy that criteria rather than our own agenda. What spare money we do have each month after we’ve paid for everything we think we need to in order to promote that month’s releases, goes to charities we believe in and want to support. We’d love the label to grow to a size where we can ditch our day jobs and it can sustain us as a living, but that’s because it would mean we can devote more hours to getting our bands to where they want to be.
Are there any labels, past or present, that had an influence on you wanting to start your own imprint, and on the way that you’ve gone about it?
Sarah: We talked a lot about classic labels which had found their audience through their curation as much as individual releases – Sarah Records, Factory, Postcard, Fierce Panda, early Creation. We still talk about those labels a lot as well as the much missed FortunaPOP! but think we’ve very much gone our own way with Reckless Yes. We look around us a lot at current labels too – I’m really sad to see Hell Hath No Fury closing its doors as they were such an important DIY label, but we also love Amateur Pop for how they empower artists, and Beth Shalom for their environmental stance. Trapped Animal, Subjangle, O Genesis, Popty-Ping and Last Night From Glasgow are all doing interesting things and working with great artists right now.
Pete: I’d add 4AD to that list – and early Def Jam. Def Jam would write their own rule book just so they could rip it up themselves. Not only did they give us groups like Original Concept and Public Enemy – hardcore hip hop like nothing else around at the time, but they also gave us the Beastie Boys and Slayer. Today I think Alcopop are really cool. Jack has a real eye for spotting great new music and he’s worked really hard to get that label to where he wants it to be. Gringo Records is awesome too – we did a joint release with them last year – the Order of the Toad album. Again, Matt has worked really hard to get where he is now and I’ve got so much respect for that.
Can you tell us a little about your membership scheme?
Sarah: It’s pretty simple for members – they choose between vinyl, CD or digital subscriptions and get all our scheduled releases from that calendar year. For our artists this means we offset the costs of their releases so get them to profit sooner, or can scale in a way which might be risky otherwise. The membership helps us financially as a small label but it’s amazing to have direct conversations with enthusiastic music fans and hear how they’ve connected to our releases, as well as know they’re advocating for us.
Pete: They’ve become a community in their own right too. They share each other’s posts on social media – when the new records arrive, they take pictures of their latest hoard and share them on social media and they all like and share it and discuss what they think about the new releases. Can’t thank them enough for the level of support they give us.
It’s already been a busy year for the label with albums from Nervous Twitch and The Other Ones already out in the world, what else do you have coming up?
Sarah: This is definitely our most ambitious year yet in terms of scale and number of releases – we’ve albums from Fightmilk, Paper Birch, Japan Review and Eilis Frawley still to come, as well as releases from Hannah Rose Kessler, Hearts Beating in Time, Grawl!x, Bitch Hunt, th’sheridans, Piney Gir, and a few more we’ve yet to announce. It’s definitely good to see the Fightmilk album finally get a release as it was delayed by the pandemic last year, but every release is exciting! One of the things I love the most is how different each release is from the next, but how they all work together as a cohesive collection too. We’ve just agreed a couple of releases from new signings for 2022 which stand apart again, but we think are perfect additions to our community.
Pete: It’s going to be our biggest year yet and musically, our most diverse.
With the end of lockdown hopefully in sight and the return of live music this summer, who are you hoping to get out and see? How do you think gigs and festivals are going to look or feel different (if at all) once everything opens up again?
Sarah: A return to live music is an interesting one for me. I was socially anxious before the pandemic so it’ll probably be quite a slow and tentative return for me as a gig-goer! But I know so many of our bands are raring to go as soon as it’s safe. They’ve really missed that connection with an audience and I’ll definitely be keen to see our own roster play as soon as I possibly can. We’ve always said we would do an all-dayer or a short tour – Reckless Fest if you like – and I’d love to get that set up and have a big party with Reckless Yes bands, and others we love. I do sort of hope some live-streaming continues alongside in-person gigs too – there’s bands from outside the UK I’d love to see live – from our roster of course The Crystal Furs, Eilis Frawley, and Hearts Beating In Time and others like French For Rabbits and Leah Callahan. It would be great if some of the stuff we were forced to by the pandemic opened up opportunities and made live music accessible in different ways once we’re all safe to mix again.
Pete: Before I buy tickets to see anybody else, I want to see all our bands, old and new at least once! The connection you get from being in the audience when you’ve played a part in bringing that to fruition is unbeatable. You love the music and you feel proud for them and proud of the part you’ve played in making that happen. I love seeing bands signing their records for fans and doing selfies with them and stuff like that – it feels like a family, however big or small the audience is. We’ve all really missed being able to connect with other people and live music is magical for that – be it with friends or people you don’t know.
Find out more about Reckless Yes on their official website
Interview by Paul Maps