Home to a quite frankly ridiculous number of our favourite bands, Reckless Yes has quickly established itself as a trusted source of consistently excellent new music over the past three years with the likes of Fightmilk, Bugeye and Chorusgirl on their books and an emphasis on working collaboratively with their artists. We caught up with label co-founder Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington to find out more.
How did the idea to start a label first come about?
Sarah: Almost by accident, if we’re honest. Both of us have been around the Derby music scene for years but hadn’t really crossed paths. Pete occasionally wrote for Louder Than War, where I then was editor, so it was him sending a piece over at the tail end of 2015 which finally got us chatting.
We talked about doing a few DIY shows in Derby with bands we were both into, which became our Six Impossible Things night – a sort of rock n roll tea party. We’d talked about maybe becoming a label some day, but it was when we put on Bivouac’s reunion show and they mentioned they’d recorded some new material – their first since the album they put out for Geffen in the ’90s – that we decided to, well, say a reckless yes and make that idea of being a label a reality.
Pete: I’d always fancied the idea of running my own label – I’d done some work for a friends’ label a few years previous, acting as a scout, but I’d really struggled to find anything good to put forward. I’d been in a band with a major deal but then the band I was in after that, we released our own 7″, which I’d really enjoyed organising – I think it was the control freak in me – being able to make all the decisions. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Initially it had gone very well and it sold out pretty quick, so we made the foolish mistake of re-pressing. But by then, the idea that I could do this had kinda stuck.
What was the very first release?
Sarah: Five weeks after we decided to become a label we released a double-A side by Bivouac. A gorgeous green 7″ which the band created origami sleeves for, and we numbered while the band soundchecked at the gig we put on. It was a short run and sold out quickly – so we decided we’d keep going as we’d loved it all so much and, importantly, hadn’t lost all our money. We put out a 7″ by LIINES, and an LP by Unqualified Nurse Band within the next six months.
You’re now more than four years in, what have been some of the highlights?
Sarah: There have been so many – but always seeing our bands grow and find their success. We’re hugely privileged to work with the artists we do and it brings us so much joy to get to support their creativity, as well as get to know them as people, and introduce people to their music. It’s always amazing to hear one of our bands has made someones favourite record, or what the artists and their music mean to people.
Being able to place a record in the hands of the band, and see them hold the music they created is always lovely. But it’s the big moments too – seeing LIINES opening to huge audiences on the Sleaford Mods tour after we first saw them play to handful of people at a gig in Sheffield just a few years ago; Grawl!x filling the church stage at Indietracks with the most joyous music of solidarity and hope; the first edition of Mark Morriss’ Look Up vinyl selling out in minutes; hearing our bands played on the radio and seeing the amazing reviews and coverage they get; finding a kindred label spirit in Last Night From Glasgow; and being able to help release albums which have become our own personal favourites.
Reckless Yes is such a great story to be part of and we’re always excited for each chapter.
Pete: LIINES have just won best Breakthrough Act via a public vote in Manchester’s City Life Awards so it’s rewarding to think we’ve played a part in that.
It’s always exciting when a new release arrives – it never gets old! Getting one out and putting it on the turntable is always a big thrill. And I won’t forget the frenzy at the Fightmilk album launch gig, we couldn’t bag them up fast enough!
Were there any existing labels that you looked to as a model or inspiration when setting up Reckless Yes?
Sarah: Not so much as a model but we’re definitely both into labels like Sarah Records, 4AD, Factory, Creation, Postcard – your classic alt labels, I suppose. Labels run by music obsessives turned awesome curators and were part of supportive innovative communities. Those who never lost the magic of music, and who seemed to see beyond the business of putting out records to the wider potential of a label.
We really value the role of label as curator rather than controller of a roster and as music fans we love finding a label you can trust so you discover more music – recently we’ve found that with O Genesis, and Last Night From Glasgow, but it’s becoming harder to find labels where you’re willing to give everything they do a try because you trust them rather than picking and choosing individual releases in their catalogue.
Pete has been signed to major labels, indie labels and released music DIY and those experiences went into shaping Reckless Yes too. Generally though we were inspired by labels we’ve loved, shaped by our experiences, and completely driven by a desire to disrupt an industry which doesn’t always work in the best interest of artists through building a supportive and inclusive community.
Pete: When I was signed to Infectious Records, the label boss Korda Marshall was a massive inspiration to me. Despite being the ‘big boss’ he always fought the artist’s corner and always believed in the bands doing what they wanted with their art. It wasn’t a ‘them and us’ situation ever, it felt like a family and I knew that vibe had to be the heart of RY.
We interviewed Bugeye recently about their forthcoming album on RY and they were very enthusiastic about the label’s ethical stance – can you give us some examples of what this means and how it might differ from industry norms?
Sarah: We’re so excited about working with them too! We describe Reckless Yes as ‘an ethical label working collaboratively with artists to make great stuff for our members and music fans’. For us that’s about being fair to artists – something which should be the default but definitely isn’t in the industry.
We want to help them earn and collect as much of the money they’re entitled to as possible, and not take more than our share for the work we do toward it. We don’t want to lock them into long deals when the world and their needs as artists will change much more quickly than that. We don’t want to own rights to works in which we played no part in the creative process. We don’t want to take money from areas like merch, when we aren’t the ones putting up money to produce it. We don’t want to control artists, we want to support them.
We believe it’s only right to call out industry bullshit and try to educate both artists and music fans about how things work. Spotify is convenient, but it’s unfair to artists. Pay to play and having to beg promoters to be paid £30 as a band, that’s not right. Being asked to pay for reviews, that’s PR not music journalism so don’t dress it up as anything else.
Our stance is definitely one of collaboration, not competition, and we believe more indie labels, more artists, and ultimately music fans can benefit from us standing together and challenging industry bullshit and finding new ways to make it all work. It’s why we’ve loved teaming up with Last Night From Glasgow – they’re on the same page with this.
Pete: We’re always looking for new ways to shake things up too – we like to be disruptive and change perceptions about what it means to be a record label. We’ve got a few new things like that planned for 2020, but we’re keeping them under wraps for now.
What do you look for when signing a new band or artist?
Sarah: We’re big believers in some advice Pete was given, ‘if you’re sending out demos, you probably aren’t ready for a deal’. So, we should be aware of you through what you’ve been building, gigs you’ve been playing and all that, before we listen to you. The tracks don’t need to be completely polished, the right thing just gives you this feeling in your gut; a bit of a flutter and a heady rush of excitement and potential.
Then it’s about attitude. We aren’t looking for everyone to fit a very rigid process with us but rather be committed to working collaboratively on releases, sharing and supporting across our roster, having that work ethic. We’re a tiny team so we can’t do everything for everyone, we need artists to be as invested in their own success as we are. It sounds obvious, but not every artist is looking for that, or thinking about that. It’s hugely important to us.
And – this should go without saying – we look for artists who share our values. We actively try to curate a safe space for our roster, and be a proactive ally to women, non-binary, and other under-represented people. We won’t tolerate intolerance of any kind. This too, hugely important to us.
If you hit those three things – music we love and know we can help toward success, work ethic and attitude, and open and actively supportive values – then we’d love to have a chat.
Pete: You have to be hungry – not just for ‘success’ as success means different things to different people, we want to see that you’re working and striving to get your music into the ears of people who you think will like it. So, a lazy email that just says ‘Hi, please listen to our demo’ is big turn off. You’re wanting people to think you’re special and stand out – that works both ways, we want to feel like you CHOSE us above all other labels.
We’ve only signed a couple of artists from something landing in our inbox, but those people spoke passionately about why they chose us and what records we’ve released that they are in love with and why.
OK, fantasy booking time – if you could sign any band or artist, past or present to Reckless Yes, who would it be?
Sarah: That’s a tough one – we’re generally most excited about the artists we haven’t heard yet!
There’s some amazing artists around at the moment who’s releases we’ve loved or are excited for – Dream Nails on Alcopop!, Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something on Trapped Animal, Domiciles and Slime City on Last Night From Glasgow. But we think our roster is the absolute best – we genuinely love everything we’ve put out and often choose to listen to it over other stuff.
Pete: As Sarah has mentioned some current stuff, I’ll mention one of my all time favourite bands – Elevate, who released two albums on Robin Proper-Sheppard’s Flowershop records.
My old band Cable toured with them a number of times and I think they were the only band that I thought were better than us! They were just so creative with guitars and rhythm. They took inspiration from Sonic Youth and The Fall, but took it to a whole other level with crazy rhythms. Lyrics that were like a William Burroughs novel, surreal but painting vivid pictures and telling stories. It all seemed so effortless when they performed this devilishly complex music too. I was just blown away, there was nothing around like it. They were doomed of course, the world wasn’t ready for them!
The label also has a literary wing with a couple of books under your belt – how did this come about and how does it fit in with your musical output?
Sarah: Pete and I had both written novels and decided we’d take the DIY ethic of music, and apply it to publishing. There’s lots of common ground between literature and music, loads of cross-over creatively but in the industry too.
However, while being DIY in music is seen as a legitimate choice and not a reflection of your ability or the validity of your work, it still feels like self-publishing has a bit of a stigma to it. There’s a feeling that self-published authors must be going that route because they have no other choice, they aren’t good enough in some way to be backed by a traditional publishing house. We wanted to challenge that, while keeping creative control over our works.
Out of the two books mine has a subtle musical thread through it but it’s more about the attitude than the novels themselves. We see ways authors could be treated better in publishing, we wanted to challenge that view of self-publishing, and we liked the idea of applying our grassroots DIY enthusiasm to an industry neither of us knew well. Plus, we love the idea of not only having music in our catalogue – creativity is so much more and we don’t want ever feel we can’t explore beyond our main line of work.
What have Reckless Yes got in store for us in the near future?
Sarah: We’ve got a huge year brewing and our first couple of releases are already headed out – debut EPs from Captain Handsome and Eilis Frawley, a new album from Grawl!x, a first single from GodNo! plus singles from Bugeye and Fightmilk soon too. Later in the year we’ve got new albums from Fightmilk, and Chorusgirl, the Bugeye album, and a co-release with Gringo Records for Order of the Toad’s second album.
We still think we have a couple of new signings and releases to announce too. We can’t wait to share it all – with our members and then on general release. It never gets less exciting to be working on new releases with our lovely roster of bands and we’d love for people to join us as a label member – we see it as a brilliant way to discover your new favourite band while saving yourself money without taking away from the artists.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone thinking of starting up their own label?
Sarah: The advice I’d give to anyone thinking about doing something – be it starting a label, putting on a show, making music, writing, anything – is do it, say the reckless yes. When it feels like it’s outside of your comfort zone and the doubts start creeping in, that’s when you say yes and go for it. It’s where the opportunity is – sometimes hardship – but always where you learn something.
I’m definitely a proponent of the the idea the only real failure is in giving up before giving it a go. So, do it. Don’t be scared of trying to make something from nothing, try to turn limitations into advantages. Work out how you can do something within your means and with what you’ve got, find others who can collaborate with you or simply support you, and just fucking do it. There’s more than enough room for all, and trying to make a difference and make things better is beautiful, so join us!
Pete: Dare to be different, don’t shy away from challenging the status quo. There are a lot of indie labels out there, they come and they go and they always will. There were a lot of records on Factory that no-one has heard of, but everyone knows Tony Wilson, because he was a visionary. They didn’t need and probably couldn’t afford that ridiculously extravagant boardroom table, but he knew it would just add to the legend. There aren’t many record labels that get a movie made about them!
Check out Sarah & Pete’s Reckless Yes playlist below: