Andrew Horne is the head honcho at Specialist Subject Records, based in Exeter, probably the most consistently good UK-based punk rock record label. Particularly over the last 12 months. Awesome releases from Bangers, Shit Present and Great Cynics stand out in 2015, but I’m pretty sure they have all been good. It is one of those labels where I always keep my eyes peeled for the next releases they have planned (FYI, I believe it’s a new album from Muncie Girls coming up next). If you don’t know this label at all, they have put a free downloadable compilation of the 2015 releases online to give you a taster (link at the bottom of the page).
Andrew is also bassist/vocalist in Bangers, that modern punk rock institution who never disappoint. They just released their new album Bird, which definitely demonstrates an experimental progression, but is also still definitely a Bangers album. Probably my favourite current UK-based punk band.
I chatted to Andrew about both of these things. Enjoy.
Talk us through a brief history of Specialist Subject Records! How did you form?
It properly started around 2009, I’d just finished working at a classical label in Cornwall which taught me a bunch and we needed a platform for self releasing some Bangers records and records by a few friends (like Caves and The Arteries). It’s just slowly progressed from then on.
What made you want to run an independent punk rock record label?
I never really set out to run a real record label, in the early years it was just something I did to help out friends whose music I liked. There weren’t many active labels at the time that would have been interested so I was just trying to do my bit, I didn’t really have a plan. But as things went on the label got busier, I started doing more releases, setting the sights a bit higher each time, it’s just grown in to what it is now, which I think is somewhere near a “real record label”.
How did you find setting up Specialist Subject Records initially? Were there any particular challenges in the early days?
I wouldn’t say there were too many challenges early on, I’d learnt enough from working at a label and doing various self released projects before to know the basics and working with friends expectations were realistic. It was just fun really, I was touring a lot, playing music a lot and it was just an exciting time. Things have got more challenging as time’s gone on I think!
Specialist Subject records is based in Exeter. What are the links between the record label and the punk scene in the South-West? How has being based there impacted on SS?
Well I grew up not too far from here in North / East Cornwall, and used to go to gigs and play in bands in Plymouth and Exeter so I’ve known and had some involvement in the music scene round here for a while. The first release for the label came out when I was living in Leeds, the next few when I was living in Falmouth and then spent a couple of years in Birmingham before moving back to the South West a few years ago. So the label’s never really been defined by its location
Since being in Exeter the past few years we have been releasing more things by bands from round here though and it’s cool. We’ve got an office right in the centre of the city and we get to see people from Muncie Girls, Shit Present, Great Cynics, The Fairweather Band on pretty much a daily basis and it’s a really nice way to work with bands, when it’s not an email based relationship.
What do you make of the punk scene in general in the UK right now?
The punk scene’s as good as ever, I think it’s always been consistent, just depends what you’re into. At certain times trends shift and different sub genres get more attention than others but there are always other bands if you don’t like what’s ‘in’!
I turned 30 this year so 2015’s punk scene probably isn’t going to be a definitive time in music for me personally but I’m still regularly finding new UK bands that really excite me. I guess when I don’t then it’s time to call it a day!
As an independent label selling cassettes and vinyl, how do you find the state of the record industry at the moment? How long do you think the vinyl revival will last?
Hard question, the state of the music industry is one of constant flux, the goal posts are constantly moving and no one really knows what the fuck’s going to happen. Really all physical formats are “unnecessary” but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still buying them. What we’re really talking about is a piece of art so if seeing, touching, reading lyrics and liner notes as well as listening to an album improves the experience for people then people will continue to buy physical products. How long that will last though is anyone’s guess.
To be honest I hope the ‘vinyl revival’ doesn’t last, it’s getting pretty tedious. For punk rock (and dance music / hip hop) vinyl never went anywhere, when the mainstream music industry turned its back on the format small independent punk rock and indie labels never did. So to have a situation now where pressing plants (which may well have shut down in the quieter years if it weren’t for those punk releases?) are backed up with major label represses and needless Record Store Day Releases, with small punk labels getting pushed to the back of the queue, absolutely sucks.
Many bands and labels have already moved to cassettes as a cheap and quick alternative to vinyl as it’s getting more and more difficult to press records. Hopefully when the vinyl bubble does burst it isn’t too late that small labels have all moved on out of necessity.
How has 2015 treated Specialist Subject?
2015 has been nuts, by far the busiest year we’ve ever had and I’m super proud of every release we’ve done (I was going to list some but you could just listen to this sampler we did: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/specialist-subject-records-2015). It’s been pretty stressful at times but it’s a constant learning process, as with any growing endeavour we’re constantly trying to do things we’ve never done before, so hopefully this year we’ve learnt some lessons for the future or maybe they won’t even be relevant for next year’s challenges!
How successful has the Subscription Service been?
The subscription service (or Season Ticket as we’re calling it – I thought it sounded more British) has been great, when we decided to try it at the end of last year I had no idea if anyone would sign up for it and we put it together on the basis that if 5 people signed up we could pull it off. In the end we had 30 people sign up, which surpassed all my expectations and financially it’s a huge help for the label. It wasn’t actually that hard to stay on top of either, I think all the releases went out on time (Kay’s very organised, not sure I could pull it off without her!), and it seems like people really enjoyed it.
We’ve already had more people sign up for next year and we haven’t even announced much of what we’re going to be putting out yet, so it’s super humbling for people to have that much faith in us!
What does the future hold for Specialist Subject? What are the plans for next year?
Now that we’ve decided to run the Season Ticket again next year means at least another 10 releases! I was kind of scared about that for a minute but we’ve actually got a really good few releases lined up already. The Muncie Girls album is coming out in March which is super exciting, they’re planning to tour loads next year and getting a bunch of good attention from press so it should be a good year for them hopefully.
Ok, a few questions about Bangers now and the new record. You just released your fourth LP Bird earlier this year. How do you feel the album turned out?
It’s actually our third, or maybe fifth depending on how you define it, sorry we’re annoying! I’m super proud of how Bird turned out, I honestly think it’s our best record yet.
How was the recording process?
I really enjoyed the recording it, we’ve never really been to a real studio before all the other records were done on the cheap in various sketchy situations with the help from talented friends (like Oli Wood from Above Them) to make it sound okay.
But this time round we thought we’d try something new so booked into Greenmount in Leeds for a week and it was great, the guys that work there, Jamie and Lee totally got what we were after from the very start and nailed it! It was great to go in and focus on it completely while we were there and come out with a finished record a week later.
How do you think Bangers have developed over the last few years? I have developed noticed a musical and lyrical progression in the last album or two, particularly on songs such as “I Don’t Feel Like I’ll Ever be Clean” or “Trousers of Time”.
We’ve definitely developed, I’m not sure exactly how, I think as time goes on we’ve become more aware that we can do different things and because it’s still us, it’s still the same instrumentation, even the ideas we think are a bit too far out there still end up sounding recognisable as Bangers.
And I guess it’s just different influences creeping is as we get older, none of us really listen to the kind of music that we did when we started the band or any gruff / punk rock / org punk bands that we get associated with so I think it’s different influences creeping their way into what we’ve previously defined as our sound.
I also wanted to ask you about the Mysterious Ways 12”, which came out this year. You recorded the whole thing in 48 hours. What is the story behind that? How did the idea come about?
It’s basically a dumb idea we had on a long drive, we have lots of those that never come to fruition but this one did. We were about half way through writing Bird and we were basically discussing getting together for a weekend with some recording gear and trying to write another 8-10 songs as an experiment, see what came out and then salvage what we could to use on the album. Then that somehow turned into actually releasing what we came up with no matter what!
I’m really proud of how it turned out and I really think it helped with writing the rest of Bird, for the previous album Crazy Fucking Dreams I think at times we overthought things and doing Mysterious Ways just kind of reaffirmed that sometimes it is cool to just do the more obvious thing or the first idea that pops into your head.
Ok, final question. I won’t be mean and include things you released yourself, but what is your favourite non-Specialist Subject records release of 2015?
I was thinking about this the other day and I thought it would be hard to pick one record, then I looked at my Spotify your 2015 in music thing and there’s one band that I’ve listened to over 1000 songs by this year so I think that’s does it.
Tenement – Predatory Headlights
It’s so rare to hear a band pull off something original that still sits within the realm of punk music and a 25 song, 80 minute, double album would be a risky move for most bands but I totally love every second of it. Some of the best 3 minute pop songs, with added strings, jazz parts, even a 9 minute percussion interlude. Loved everything that they’ve done before but this record is even better than I’d hoped it’d be.
Check out the new Bangers album here: http://bangersbangers.bandcamp.com/album/bird
Check out the Specialist Subject: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/specialist-subject-records-2015