Fifteen Years Of Fortuna POP: Sean Price in Interview
This month sees the Fortuna POP! label celebrate fifteen years of action, and to celebrate we're talking to label boss Sean Price about his memories, experiences - and the days in which he used to write for Artrocker!
Hi Sean! Hope you're well today. Where did your love of indie pop originate from?
Define indie pop. I got into music like most people my age by listening to John Peel. I was quite a shy teenager and didn't have many friends so I'd hide away in my bedroom making tapes of his show and I through that I got into stuff like the Bunnymen, Orange Juice, The Cure, Depeche Mode, the Velvets, the Mary Chain and The Smiths.
I guess your question is specifically about indie pop though, which is just one of the types of music I like, but I understand why you've asked it as I realise the label is perceived to deal solely in that genre, not entirely unfairly I think although I'd argue that we've had our share of none indie pop bands. (Are Crystal Stilts indiepop? Is Darren Hayman indiepop?) It tends to be more the circles I move in that results in the amount of indie pop on the label, I certainly don't sit at home listening to The June Brides every night. Or any night.
To answer your question. Indie pop to me is more of a, a-hem, lifestyle choice than a musical genre. It's DIY and untainted by the need to make money. At the same time I was listening to those bands I listed earlier I started buying records on the Sarah label, and on other small indie labels. There was a sense of community in buying those records and going to see those bands that you didn't get from being a Depeche fan, and often an honesty in the music and lyrics that spoke to me about my life.
Thank you for not using the word twee.
Is it fair to say Belle and Sebastian were a sort of 'cosmic big bang' for indie pop? Do they have a particular song you have fond memories of?
Belle and Sebastian were certainly the first band to embody the ethics I've been talking about and to gain the mainstream awareness to make them important to more than a handful of fans. You could argue that Orange Juice had done a similar thing, but they'd left Postcard long before 'Rip It Up' was a hit, and besides, Belle and Sebastian were a lot more strident in their indie-ness. To me, they were punk rock.
When the Jesus & Mary Chain happened I think that for those of us who had missed punk we then had an inkling of what punk must've been like... the danger inherent in doing something extreme and different that you absolutely believe in. Belle & Sebastian were the same to me, to sing those incredible, fragile songs with emotions stripped bare seemed like a very brave thing to do. Far braver and more radical than any rock band. One song? I guess 'The State I Am In'. That line "My brother had confessed he was gay / It took the heat off me for a while" in the first verse seemed to set out their manifesto.
What was the motivation for kick starting Fortuna Pop - and where did the name come from?
Boredom. I just wanted to do something to do with music. I grew up in a small town in the Midlands where no bands ever played, went to university and then started a job in IT. My life seemed a long way from the rock'n'roll vision the Jesus & Mary Chain had sold me. I was desperate to do something (anything!) to avoid having a dull life. One of my younger brother's friends, Adam, recorded a song on a broken-down 8-track reel-to-reel recorder I'd bought. As I'd just started work and was the only one with money it fell to me to release it. So I did, although I didn't have a fucking clue what I was doing, as was evidenced a year later when I still had the 1000 copies I'd pressed under my bed.
The name comes from the road I used to live on in Manchester, Fortuna Grove. Factory had just released a compilation called 'Palantine', named after the road their first offices were on. The POP! was supposed to be a Roy Lichtenstein pop art POP! and that was going to be the logo, like Whaam! records I guess, but that idea got lost somewhere along the way.
Which signing excited you the most in the early days and why?
The Butterflies Of Love. Up until then you could see how I'd found all the bands on the label, they were friends, or friends of friends, or mates of someone I knew at work, but this was a real live American band who were just insanely good. I was sat at the table sending out some orders listening to Peel and he played this incredible narcoleptic Velvetsy love song about blowing up buildings called 'Rob A Bank'. Peel said something along the lines of, “That's the Butterflies Of Love from Connecticut on import. Why not write to them and surprise them, here's their address.” and I had a pen in my hand so I just wrote it down and sent them a letter asking them for a song for a compilation.
They wrote back and sent me all of this prison art, I could barely read their letter the handwriting was so spidery, and I spent the next few weeks thinking I'd signed an incarcerated rock band until I found out Jeff from the band was an artist involved in the prison arts programme. Anyway, I ended up putting out the album and it got fantastic reviews everywhere. I could never quite understand how it happened.
At what stage did it become clear the label was really going to take off?
Let me know when it does.
If someone reading this thinks 'I'd like to start an indie label', where should they start?
It's a mug's game really. When I watch those documentaries about Rough Trade on BBC 4 I just get annoyed that I didn't run a label in the 1980s when it was possible to sell a decent amount of records. I think before they start they should think long and hard about what it is that they want to get out of it. If you want to help and develop bands and get them to a wider audience like I do, then maybe think about managing bands rather than running a label, you might get the same satisfaction from that.
If you don't want to lose horrible amounts of money you either have to make short runs of something beautiful or make money from things like placing music in films, which takes time to set up. I did a talk a couple of years ago at Indietracks called "How Not To Run A Record Label" that I'm repeating at this year's Swn Festival, so if anyone does really want to start a record label they could always e-mail me and I'll send them the notes from that.
Do you have any fond memories of writing for Artrocker in ye olde days?
Haha, yes. Although of course I had to use a nom de plume in case I knew any of the bands concerned. I've just started working with Shrag, in conjunction with my friend John Jervis of Where It's At Is Where You Are records, and, unbeknown to them, they had an Artrocker quote of mine in their biography!
And finally, if we were to hold an indie pop disco, what song should we start it with and what song should we end it with?
I think you should start with "Pristine Christine" by The Sea Urchins, cos that's where indie pop started for me, and end with Schneider TM's version of The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". That one clears the dancefloor nicely, you can get your coat on while it's playing and be out the door with your records the second it stops.
Fortuna POP! presents
FORTUNA POP! - FIFTEEN YEARS OF FUN
Tues 1st Nov
The Primitives + Cinema Red & Blue (with special guests Linton, Wyatt & Yoshi from The Aislers Set) + Bearsuit + Monnone Alone (ex-The Lucksmiths)
Guest DJ: Paul Wright (Track & Field)
Wed 2nd Nov
Crystal Stilts + Comet Gain + Shrag + Evans The Death
Guest DJ: Ian Watson (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)
Thu 3rd Nov
Allo Darlin' + Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern + Tender Trap + The Ladybug Transistor
Guest DJ: Paul Richards (Scared To Dance)
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS