Southern Lord Records was formed a decade ago by Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley to release projects by their bands, Thor’s Hammer and Burning Witch. But what started as a vehicle to release their bands has snowballed into one of the premier labels for underground music, encompassing stoner rock, doom, and the pair’s genre-defying band, Sunn 0))), whose 7th album, Monliths & Dimensions, comes out in May. Metal Insider caught up with Anderson to discuss what encompasses running an indie label.
What do you look for when signing a band?
I look for a band I like, that the music is intense, and oftentimes heavy, that I connect with. We don’t sign bands we don’t like. We don’t sign bands because they might be huge and sell records. Other labels do, and I understand, but that’s not where we’re coming from. It’s about the choices we made, this unspoken credo that people have connected with: It’s on Southern Lord, it’s some real shit, I’m going to check it out. That’s how I want it to be, not marketed and hyped bullshit where it’s forced down their throat.I want people to get into it because it’s real and good and they make a connection with it. Not because they’ve been told they should like it or the band looks cool. I want people to get into it because it’s honest and good music.
Did you know anything about running a label when you started Southern Lord?
I worked at a distribution company, Caroline Distribution. I had no idea about running a company, but I knew what labels were, and I knew a little bit about putting out records, or at least distributing them. We stumbled a lot and made some mistakes, but made a lot of good decisions as well, and that’s why it’s continued on to what it is.
It’s no secret that the music industry is in a decline, at least as far as record sales are involved. How is that affecting Southern Lord?
It’s interesting that the thing that’s doing really well right now is vinyl. I feel like if it wasn’t for vinyl I might be doing something different right now, or on a different scale at least. I’m so excited about vinyl making a comeback and people buying it. That’s my favorite format, for a lot of reasons, but one is specifically for the fact that you have the artwork on a big palette. CD sales are down, but vinyl sales are up. I’m personally not a big fan of digital downloads, but it’s attracting more people to listen to the music. I’m not going to be a downer on that fact, that people have a new format that they’re excited about, and people are buying more music. It’s the same thing as in the ‘late 80s and early 90s with the CD. Vinyl sales saw a decline, and the CD came out and revitalized the whole market. Digital is the same thing, and it’s even more widespread because of the iPod. To me, it’s not the best way to listen to our music, but the fact that people are listening to music at all is great. The cool thing with digital downloads is that people are able to check out music for cheaper than they were before. You couldn’t go into a store, spend a dollar, and check out part of an album. What we’ve seen is a lot of people spending a buck and deciding to go buy the CD or go to a concert to check out the bands. People are listening to music on a big scale because they’ve got a new way to listen to it. So we’re in the game, we have our stuff on iTunes and eMusic, and it’s not my favorite format, but if I can turn more people on to the music, awesome.
How do you feel about illegal downloading becoming so widespread?
In a lot of ways, it’s bad, but at the same time, we’re still selling vinyl and CDs, and the attendance at the shows is better than ever. I look at downloading as the same thing as tape trading. Downloading to me is tape trading on extreme steroids. It’s a way to check things out, and the true music fans that are really into music will go out and buy the record or vinyl because they want the packaging. But there are a lot of people that aren’t, and will just download it, but at least they’re exposed to it. A lot of these bigger artists are crying in their beers about losing money. No you’re not, if anything, more people are getting turned on to your music. You might not be seeing dividends from it, but if you’re on a major label, you’re not seeing any fuckin’ money anyway. Your money is in touring. I think there’s more people at shows than ever. At least with bands on Southern Lord, I can’t believe some of these audiences. They’re going to the shows, and maybe buying a T-shirt and buying the record. The people that are really suffering are the major labels, and fuck them, they should suffer. Their way of doing business is old, it’s bloated, and they need to make a change. But indie labels are doing really well, and I’m grateful for that.
What advice do you have for someone starting a label?
Figure something else out to do! Starbucks is hiring. There’s too much crap out there. One thing we’re trying not to do is add bullshit to the glut. There’s too many bands, there’s too many labels, and now with the Internet, everyone can put their shit up. I think there’s way too much, so if anyone wants to start a label, you better be really into it, and you better not be looking to make a buck and you better not be doing it for an ego thing. Do it because you have to do it, because you’re dying to get the music that you like out to the people. If you don’t feel that way, don’t do it.