Chapter Music is the stuff of legends when it comes to Australian independent music labels. Started in Perth by Guy Blackman over 25 years ago, initially as a fanzine to Pink Floyd’s first singer, Syd Barrett, the label has now released albums from over 60 Australian and international artists. Chapter prides itself on its diverse and exciting roster; unbound by time, genre or location. The label is responsible for releases by luminaries such as Twerps, Laura Jean, Goon Sax and NO ZU and has been run for the last two decades by Guy and his partner Ben O’Connor. Having recently joined forces with the distribution arm of the US label, Secretly Canadian, the bright path forward for Chapter Music and their artists shows no signs of dimming. Noisegate sat down with label heads Guy and Ben to find out more about the label’s past, present and future.
Many independent labels begin as passion projects, releasing the music of friends and documenting music scenes for the love of it. Was there a specific release that signaled a shift for Chapter Music from hobby to something more?
Ben: We still think of the label as a passion project and we’re still releasing music by friends and documenting music scenes we’re interested in. We’re still doing it for love not money. We did make a conscious decision around 10 years ago to promote our releases more intensely, and to utilise the internet to do this. This was around the time of releasing Crayon Fields second album.
You celebrated 25 years of running Chapter Music at the end of last year. What do you see as the biggest change within the music industry over that time?
Ben: The internet has pretty much changed everything. Music and musicians are so much more accessible now. The ways people discover, listen to and buy music have completely changed.
What goes into a decision to sign a new artist to Chapter?
Ben: Guy and I loving an act is the most important factor for us. We don’t really consider data, or whether the artist has a team. We prefer working with artists who’ll play live and support a release but even that isn’t always a deal breaker. Basically, the music has to resonate really strongly with us personally.
How do you feel about genre? Is it important to you that your artists share anything musically in common?
Guy: Genre has never been a big factor for us. We like a lot of different music across a lot of different styles. The only thing I would say our artists have in common is that they express something strongly personal and unique. That’s what we respond to most of all!
Can you talk about your relationship with Secretly Distribution? How did that come about and why is it important as a next step for you as an independent label?
Guy: Our relationship with Secretly stretches back to the 90s, as fans of their early Secretly Canadian label releases. We’ve still got a compilation tape of Secretly stuff that came out with an Australian fanzine in 1996! It wasn’t until much later that we started writing to them and sending them some of our Chapter releases. As they grew and expanded over the years, we started talking about working with their distribution arm, but they were understandably cautious about taking on a label from the other side of the world. It took years of discussions and negotiations, getting a few runs on the board by ourselves, plus a visit to their headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana, before we officially joined forces early last year. It feels good to be the first (and so far only) Australian label they work with – it’s a tight knit family of labels on their roster, and they work really hard and personally with each label to make the most out of each release. As a result, Chapter’s international reach has grown hugely over the last two years, and we really value the support they’ve shown us. two years, and we really value the support they’ve shown us.
Guy, you’re a musician yourself as well as running the label with Ben. Does being a musician have an influence over the way that you want to run the label?
Guy: The two roles have pretty much always gone hand in hand for me – I played my first ever live gig in 1993 at the launch of Chapter’s second tape – so it’s hard for me to identify how one influences the other. I do hope that we’re extra sympathetic and supportive to our artists because I have some understanding of what it’s like to be one!
What releases do you have coming up for the rest of 2018?
Ben: We’ve just released the debut album for Tasmania via Melbourne legends Little Ugly Girls. We’ve been trying to get them to release something for almost 20 years and we can’t believe it’s finally happened.We’re releasing Gregor’s debut album, Silver Drop, in October. It’s a gorgeous and curious record. We released School Damage’s debut last year and they’re following it up with a cracking second album A to X on August 31. The Goon Sax’s second album We’re Not Talking is out September 14. We loved their debut but this is a massive step up. We’ll also be re-releasing 1984 album Restless Faithful Desperate by US avant-folk legends Kath Bloom and Loren Connors on vinyl in October.
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