Based in the North West of England, Rocksector Records has built an impressive roster of emerging talent that includes Fury UK, Nightvision, Exit State and Falling Red. With a number of releases in the pipeline the label have recently announced they will be releasing the next Tygers of Pan Tang album, which has the working title of Ambush, in the first few months of 2012. Dean Pedley chats to label boss Mark Appleton to discover the Rocksector story so far...
Hi Mark and thanks for talking to us here at Sea of Tranquility. Can you kick off by explaining the background to how and when the label began?
Thanks Dean, very happy to talk & I always appreciate your interest in the bands & on this occasion the label itself. The label had 3 beginnings! Let me explain…. firstly, it lies in many years helping bands & especially since the turn of the century when most things in music had become more accessible, I became involved in recording music & putting it out there on the net , enjoying that people on the other side of the globe were able to listen, feedback & correspond. Secondly, following a slow progression into band management, in 2007 the label was officially born & we began putting out records officially. Lastly, & for me most importantly, it all stepped up a gear in 2009 when we'd begun to find our feet & released both Nightvision's & 4Bitten's debut releases in April of that year, & later the same year we released Decadenze's debut & Fury UK's 2nd album "VR". From 2009 onwards it felt like the "real deal" whereas prior to that, mainly, we were just helping people along.
How many releases have you issued so far and how many people are involved with the label?
19 records since October 2007, 14 of which were from April 2009 onwards so that puts the perspective on what I said about 2009 onwards getting serious. We have 2 further releases this year. I'm working full-time as label manager/managing director/coffee-maker, plus 2 employees/co-directors working part-time who help out significantly with A&R & also PR. We've had other good people come in & help/consult/work from time-to-time with varying degrees of success on PR but for various reasons at least for the time being we work better with our own resources.
Can you take us through your up and coming release schedule and tell us a little more about the artists...
The next is on 19th September which is "Consequence Of Sin" by Nightvision. A Lincoln-based band, playing music right on the threshold between rock & metal, & have just stepped over the line into metal whereas their first album "As The Lights Go Down" in 2009 was just a little more rock. The reviews have been brilliant, reaction to tracks streamed online has been great & the guys have made a video with our associate video production partners Video Ink. The video is stunning & we're very confident of some TV airtime, & overall this album has the huge potential to enable Nightvision to really step up a gear.
The second upcoming is Exit State's "Black Veins" which is their second album, following up on last years' "Death Of A Rockstar" which the band released on a different label. Exit State have a truly amazing crossover appeal touching genres of rock, metal, alternative, pop & punk. Great references would be Foo Fighters, Therapy? & Metallica. Last year they had a successful spell in the Top Ten of the Kerrang TV Chart Request Show, finally reaching no.1, rubbing shoulders with Stone Sour, Paramore, Blink 182. They have a new video, like Nightvision produced by Video Ink, & again we have very high expectations.
You've built your reputation on releases by emerging UK talent – what qualities does a band have to have for Rocksector?
We look for music we really love - quality classic metal and/or hard rock songs, well-recorded, by dedicated & committed bands, who've learned their craft not least in the live arena & are prepared to get out there & tour with a record. Don't expect the label to be a "bank" because it's generally not like that these days but we support the bands in every way we can whilst extending them the artistic/creative freedom they deserve. That's it in a nutshell.
Aside from new bands you've signed one of the stalwarts of the NWOBHM...what plans are there for Tygers of Pan Tang?
It'll be a great day when that release comes to fruition. I saw them play live in Manchester back in their early days & like many I remember them as one of THE original bands of real significance to emerge in the NWOBHM era. The guys are currently writing material for a new album with a working title of "Ambush" & we hope to see them into the studio within the next couple of months & by the turn of the year, we hope to have most of the recording work done. If that goes according to plan a release by March, maybe April, will be on the cards. In true Rocksector style, they will then be hitting the road in the UK, a little more widely than they have done during the past few years, but a big focus will also be in Europe where they remain ever popular.
A band which I am really impressed by is Fury UK, you must be pleased with their progress to date...what's next for them?
Fury UK have all the right ingredients as a Rocksector band, are renowned for their relentless touring & yes, their progress has been great to see. In fact, the past couple of months has been the first time they've really taken a break from live work & frankly, behind the scenes they've hated it! They will hit the road again in the UK for a handful of shows in September & October, but we're eager to announce a good number of European Tour dates for November & December. With a little luck we should be able to confirm within 2-3 weeks max.
They're writing for a new album but I wouldn't expect a release before mid-2012. Fury UK have proved that the commitment of touring, playing shows big & small, will ultimately pay off, generate a fanbase & create album sales. Their latest & 3rd album "A Way Of Life" has been the clear best seller for the band so far & indeed the best seller of any of the label's releases as a whole. It's a traditional formula in that sense but it works.
What are your five favourite albums released by Rocksector so far?
That's a tough one & I guess I run the risk of upsetting someone along the way here! I'll say Fury UK's "A Way Of Life" first-up. As a long-standing Rush fan I've always had a soft-spot for 3 piece bands & with this album Fury UK reached a brilliant point which summed up the band & kind of wrapped up chapter one in their history. Next I'd say Falling Red's "Shake The Faith" album. I'm not a natural glam/sleaze fan, I'm more of a hard rocker/metalhead but when we hooked up with Falling Red we relished & enjoyed the excitement & fun associated with everything they stand for. Another band which has that work-ethic in terms of live shows & in "Shake The Faith" they delivered a much-needed short, sharp shock to the UK glam/sleaze scene & in my opinion have continued to lead the pack ever since.
Next I'll go with Fantasist's "Giggle Juice". I couldn't stop smiling when I first listened to the songs these guys recorded. The album is gloriously melodic, cleverly progressive & insanely catchy. Next is Attica Rage's "Road Dog" which contains so many twists & turns in terms of song-writing. That album was a long time in the making & it shows. There's so much more to this band than their original "biker rock" tag would suggest.
Last but not least, I'll go for Velvet Star's "In The Face Of Vanity". We signed them from nowhere, relatively-speaking, but when I first saw them live & then when the recorded tracks first hit my CD player, their infectious 70s/Iggy Pop-tinged punk has screamed potential, & now a few months later we're beginning to see that come through. So that's my five. I could have said Fury UK's "VR" which is an album I love but they had their shot with "A Way Of Life". I could have said Citizen Charlie's latest "Up Yours" but I believe Charlie has an even better album in her. I could have said Nightvision's debut which is a terrific record but their next one is such a step up. Please don't ask me to nominate just five in a couple of months' time because with Nightvision & Exit State's new releases in the mix, I'll have a real problem deciding on the cut!
Turning to business matters what have been the high and low points of running your own label?
There's many of each. Amongst the highs there's the simple buzz of when an album is first delivered, boxed, packed, great artwork, all ready for shipping. There's the buzz from feedback from fans & especially pleasing is that the label seems to have a growing scene around it. Nothing's taken for granted but we're moving forward. The low points are when I see the artists getting frustrated. Working in music we're all trying something which can be intense & difficult.
You only have to look at how many good bands have fallen by the wayside during the past couple of years to understand this. The bands put SO much into what they do & when the rewards aren't forthcoming it's tough to keep positive but I do believe the best bands ultimately do that. We've had some releases which have underperformed & sometimes there's no clear explanation & that's hard to take. Patience, staying calm & quietly determined are definitely virtues for the label & bands alike.
You've had some great reviews...is it frustrating that these don't always equal strong sales?
Yes it's frustrating & as I said in my previous answer it's easy to be dis-enchanted but you have to be very strong about it…. believe in what you do, be quietly determined. Don't lose the love of the music & the sense of humour & fun which undoubtedly exists around it all. We've had bad reviews too & that can be hard to take but ultimately the people vote with their wallets & either buy a record or they don't. I can't complain overall.
What are your longer term plans for Rocksector over the next few years?
Longer term, although there's still much work to be done in the UK & we want to grow sensibly without un-necessary risks, we have to establish ourselves in additional marketplaces like Europe, Japan & the USA. We need the right partners in those territories & we know that won't come easy but we'll get there on our own terms eventually.
Vinyl seems to be making a comeback of sorts...do you see this having an impact in the medium term?
It's something we haven't yet tried but I'd like to deal with at some point. In the commercial sense, however, I don't think it'll have a big impact.
A more personal one now...take us through your Top 5 Desert Island Discs?
Rush "A Farewell To Kings"
Thin Lizzy "Jailbreak"
Richie Sambora "Stranger In This Town"
Gary Moore "Run For Cover"
And finally is there anything else you wanted to add...either about the label, the bands or anything else in general?
2011 has been a tough year for live music. The promoters are having a really hard time & whilst some of that is self-inflicted, much of it isn't & it's more a reflection of the overall economy. My plea is for people to come back to the venues, tell the promoters which bands you want to see, stop watching telly & get out! Yes, I'm in the business of selling records but live music is at the root of it all. Come to the shows & if you can buy an album there & then or later on from Play.com etc then that's great but please support the live scene at all costs. Lastly, make sure it's the original bands you support, not the cover bands, not the tributes. Dio has gone, Gary Moore has gone & there will be more losses, naturally, so please support new original music & help us write the future!
Thanks Mark and all the best