Greetings nerds....this is one of the things I love about my non-job....job, interviewing intelligent folks in the business that aren't afraid to deliver the music they love. I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Alex Chase of One Handed Music (UK)/Stones Throw (U.S.). As the owner of One Handed, he prides himself on putting out quality music while not focusing on making a quick buck which is rare in today's musical climate. Its always great to see people adding to the culture as opposed to taking away from it. We spoke on everything from the current state of the industry to which producer he would save from drowning....
FN: Tell us a little about One-Handed. How long have you been feeding the ears and what makes you different from other indie labels here in London? Alex: One-Handed started in 2007 with Paul White’s debut 7”, The Dragon Fly, and we took nearly a year to follow it up with Bullion’s Get Familiar. That was a hit (in the most modest underground sense) and suddenly it felt like we were onto something. The OHM family has grown haphazardly from there. We have plenty in common with lots of indie labels but in terms of our peers, I think a big difference is that none of us are especially interested in making club music, and that reflects our listening habits. You’re more likely to hear a Lithuanian fiddle solo than to be wobbled to death. It’s a crate-digging hip-hop aesthetic that I suppose is a bit old school nowadays. Also, OHM artists get regular statements and get paid on time, and you’d be surprised how rare that is!
FN: What is your role and what is a day in the life of Alex Chase like? Alex: OHM is pretty much a one-man show though I’ve had a lot of help with the new website and the odd great intern. As for a day in the life, my job is to run Stones Throw Records in Europe so I fit OHM in around that. My colleagues in LA get up about 4pm UK time so I work all sorts of hours. Until recently my job involved sending hundreds of emails a day and groaning when they generated hundreds more. I’ve cut down, it’s a bad habit.
FN: I get the notion you’re a vinyl junkie. Do you have a deep collection? What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a record? Alex: I love vinyl. I still buy a lot, mainly old stuff. I wouldn’t say it’s deep compared to some people I know, something over 3000 records. Since I moved in with my girlfriend I’ve decided to keep my record collection the same size, so for everything I buy I have to get rid of something else. Luckily, I bought a lot of crap when I was DJing regularly so it’s only been an improvement. As for the most expensive, I still haven’t hit 3 figures! Got fairly close once or twice. This one just got reissued.
FN: What’s One-Handed’s relationship with Stones Throw and how did that come about? Alex: There isn’t one, except that I run OHM and work for Stones Throw. I co-released Paul White & The Purple Brain with Now-Again, which is owned by Egon (Stones Throw’s General Manager) as he helped get it together and we could promote & distribute it better as a team.
FN: One-Handed Music’s roster is fairly small but filled with quality artists/producers. Do you plan to keep the roster small? Is there a certain aesthetic you look for when it comes to acts to sign? Alex: Thanks! Yes, we’ll always have a small roster. It makes much more sense in the long term to develop artists and an identity than to fire out one-off singles and hope they stick. It’s also crucial that an artist is doing his or her own thing and not trying to fit in; it’s the hard road but it’s the only one worth taking. Stubbornness and single-mindedness are key qualities in an artist. Mainly though, it’s about enjoying a working relationship with someone whose music inspires me.
FN: I had the chance to interview Onra (producer from Paris) and one thing he stated was that he feels music should not be free. What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry and the effects the digital world is having on it? Are you a believer in free content at all? Alex: I’m afraid Onra is in for many years of disappointment! I could write about this for hours but in short, the digital revolution has improved much, much more than it’s harmed. Most artists who complain about piracy and free music culture would never have had a deal in the first place under the capital-intensive pre-digital system, and don’t mind promoting their music via soundcloud, facebook etc for (close to) free. I do get frustrated when I see some of the idiotic arguments people wheel out to justify the fact they don’t want to pay for something they can easily take, but then I also used to resent spending £15 on a CD when I’d only heard one track on the radio, only to find out the rest of it was shit. Most music will be free for the foreseeable future, and yet many artists have more opportunities than ever. It requires a significant change of perspective.
FN: If you had the power to build a new business model for everyone to follow, what would it look like? Alex: It’s increasingly,(and brilliantly) impossible. I think the key today is to play to your strengths. If you’re the next Grateful Dead, give your music away and tour yourselves to death. If you’re an anonymous drone artist, sell intriguing pieces of vinyl to enhance your mystique. I can’t think of any way to make everyone rich & famous, but I do know we can dispense with the cookie cutters.
FN: Tell me about the last major life lesson you learned in regards to One-Handed Music. Alex: Here’s one I learned the hard way: trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy about something, don’t continue till you’ve worked out why & responded accordingly. Regret is such an unpleasant emotion.
FN: I read a funny quote today: "If you’re going to be an independent record label owner, you’re going to have to be kind of insane" Jac Holzman, Elektra. Any validity to this? Alex: Of course – in an industry with a failure rate of well over 90% what kind of person can stay optimistic? Only the deluded survive, and we cherish our delusions. Did I mention I’ve just signed a huge hit?
FN: And last but not least, you’re on a raft and Paul White and Bullion are overboard drowning. You can only save one of them. Who do you save and why? Alex: I suppose it depends who I owed the most money to at the time…