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InterviewsA Look Ahead to 2014 with Rocksector Records Mark Appleton

Posted on Sunday, January 05 2014 @ 12:23:13 CST by Dean Pedley
Heavy Metal Since its conception back in 2007 Rocksector Records has proven to be a real success story, garnering multiple "label of the year" awards and more importantly having built a reputation in the industry for trust, honesty and integrity. The artists on the Rocksector roster range from NWOBHM veterans Tygers Of Pan Tang and contemporary rockers Exit State to the modern metal onslaught of Triaxis, Incassum and Absolva. In February they release the new album from Italian band Martiria, featuring none other than Vinnie Appice on drums. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Dean Pedley caught up with label boss Mark Appleton to reflect back on 2013 and get the lowdown on the labels plans for 2014 and beyond.

Hi Mark and welcome back to Sea of Tranquility, how are things in the Rocksector camp right now?

Very good thanks Dean. Apart from the enjoyable seasonal festivities, I also enjoy this time of the year as I always get chance to take stock, look back but most importantly look forward and re-energise our plans.

Looking back on 2013 did you set out what you achieved to do back in January?

Yes. Even though 2013 wasn't the milestone year that 2012 was, the majority of things went according to plan. During the previous year we'd increased the number of albums released, especially the releases towards the end of that year (Tygers of Pan Tang, Absolva, Triaxis, Babylon Fire, Incassum). We'd also set some financial milestones for ourselves which were important going forward operationally and we succeeded with those also. All of this enabled us to go into 2013 with quiet confidence and the chronological approach was reversed whereby there were several releases in the early part of the year this time but in the second half we wanted to concentrate on the live shows/touring for our bands which is exactly what we did, whilst the number of releases was modest.

We spoke a while back and discussed the balance between signing new artists to the label and moving forwards with the existing roster, what are your thoughts on that and do you think you have the right balance now…

That's a great and interesting question especially in the context of my answer to the last question whereby you can see how we did several releases early in the year but toured, promoted and concentrated on the existing roster in the second half. For me, although that approach was part of the plan at the time, now I don't feel the balance is right which is why in 2014 part of the plan is to keep the number of releases bouyant whilst developing all other aspects continuously. That takes manpower and so we have extra staff coming on-board beginning on 1st January.

Some of the artists you also provide management for which I know is welcomed, what are some of the advantages / disadvantages of this from your perspective

On the one hand I like it because it gives us quality control, overall planning control and we can oversee and implement the entire band operation. On the other hand it's a lot more work and that's why we manage a relatively small portion of the bands. I expect that number to remain relatively small and the ideal scenario is that the bands have good managers on-board that we can work alongside. I do think we have a lot to offer nevertheless in helping to develop bands via the management role.

Let's talk about some of the new signings, firstly tell us about Captain Horizon, a band from my part of the country who have a good reputation

Captain Horizon are relatively alternative/progressive in musical style as far as the label is concerned. Very briefly, we saw them play live on a recommendation a few years back and although we certainly didn't dislike them at that point, they didn't blow us away and given a much more recent opportunity to see them again, frankly the difference was staggering. What a live impact they made and listening to the songs on their "The Lights Of Distorted Science" album, (especially the highlight single "Patch"), the potential is clear. We'll be re-releasing that album in digital format as a bonus edition very soon, with different versions of "Patch" and a further two previously un-released songs. Then later in the year, a new album is to come and we're very much looking forward to working with the band.

And then you also have Martiria featuring none other than Vinnie Appice…

Yes, it was a great surprise when I first realised Vinny was involved with this album and a major bonus when I discovered he played on all the songs, not just one or two guest spots. His playing style and quality is clear when listening to the album, unmistakable really. I'm a particular fan of Dio era Black Sabbath which was the beginning of Vinny being involved with Sabbath and I like all that stuff going forward up to the most recent Heaven and Hell release and tours. So, I'm definitely not too big to admit it's a real thrill to be releasing an album with him involved. Overall, the album is unique from the early influence of Candlemass giving a doom metal side, through to the uplifting epic sounds on a more power metal and classic metal side. There's one or two little medieval kind of sounds on there also which is manna from heaven for me. Release date is 10th February and we're currently looking into the feasibility of some live shows later in the year - if that's at all possible, taking account of everyone's schedule, it'd be fantastic.

One of your flagship bands is Absolva and they have a new album coming soon. It's been a good year for them with festival exposure but they also lost a member which can impact on any band. What can we expect from the new album…

The new album sounds brilliant. We hope to have a single and a video ready as early as possible in January. Album release date is 5th May to coincide with the UK tour. The album was recorded at Axis Studios (Doncaster), with producer Matt Elliss who also did so well with the first album. It's broadly similar to the first album "Flames Of Justice" but I think the variation in intensity is more dramatic and the song-writing has developed. Absolva's short history really has been a roller-coaster - as you say, festival exposure has been great, they've toured widely, the first album sold extremely well and quickly, yet the loss of Tom Atkinson (second guitar) just one week after recording the "Beyond Live" live album and DVD was a bitter pill. Nevertheless, the European tour continued without him and without a mis-step which is credit to the other three guys for their determination and skill - they were galvanised. In the end the decision to remain a 3 piece was spurred by the phenomenal response to the European shows with Michael Schenker, and justified by improvements in live performances and now studio recording. The band seems to be on a roll.

Absolva have been to mainland Europe for a few visits, you seem to do well in places like Belgium with your bands. How does the club gig scene differ over there, are there more opportunities for original acts?

This is a really interesting point. It's "better" over there in Europe in some ways but I think the difference is currently being greatly exaggerated. Many of the venues are more switched on in terms of looking after bands - sound, food, drink, parking for the van - including the small things behind the scenes that make a band feel welcome and comfortable. Yet, not everywhere in Europe is like that and it also doesn't necessarily follow that those venues that are not so sharp on those things are bad gigs - many of them are still great shows. Some of the fans over there have a refreshing attitude in terms of how far they will travel to see a show. That's great but it's only the same as those great British fans that do the same. I think there's maybe just a higher percentage in Europe that are prepared to travel. If any band thinks it's a piece of cake to waltz into Europe and the shows are just automatically amazing compared to UK, they're going to be disappointed. It's hard everywhere. It takes work, determination and sacrifice to build up the shows everywhere - from the bands, the labels, the managers, the promoters etc. I love it in Europe, have made some really fantastic friends and contacts, but we also have a lot to be proud of back home, and fans that deserve our 100% appreciation for their dedication and support.

You signed Tygers Of Pan Tang, your first heritage act if you like – Ambush got good reviews so you must be happy with how this went. Will we hear more new music from the Tygers and might you look to work with more veteran bands in the future?

It was a privilege to release "Ambush" and it's done extremely well. As you say, the Tygers were our first heritage signing. Founder-member Robb Weir said to me a while ago something along these lines - if Rocksector had been the band's label at the very beginning maybe the band wouldn't have dis-appeared off the radar as it did for several years after its' initial success. Those are very kind words and I'm not sure just how literally accurate they are given the band was with MCA Records back in the day, a huge label. Nevertheless, those words made me proud and made it all worthwhile, notwithstanding any commercial success we've had with "Ambush". At this precise point I have to say I don't yet know what the Tygers' next plans are - we haven't discussed it yet and there's still plenty of work to do with the current release. They've just recently stepped up their touring activity and had some fantastic shows. As for other veteran bands, I don't think it's Rocksector's main marketplace and I don't believe there's many at all that are of equivalent standing to the Tygers, but there are a few out there and I'd certainly be interested in talking to them.

Exit State released a great album in 2013 with Let's See It All; in the past they toured with Schenker. Are support buy-on tours becoming harder to finance / are there more barriers to getting bands support tours here in the UK?

The buy-on scenario is new to some people but has in fact been around for many years. Love it or hate it (and for most people it's the latter) it does have a role to play. Thankfully, there are still some bands out there that don't rely on that scenario and organise support slots in ways that some people see as more fair. I'm sitting on the fence to be honest because I've seen buy-ons work extremely well on occasion, with long-term benefits but I've also seen the downside. There are undoubtedly sacrifices in this business - the buy-on is one of them but it's definitely not the only way of going about things. The main barrier is just competition for places - it's like a traffic jam!

Each year you have the SOS Festival which runs for 2 days and features many of your bands aswell as giving a chance to unsigned acts. How is 2014's event shaping up, I know you get a lot of bands asking if they can play…

We've just recently announced our Sunday headliners - I AM I on the Dean Hocking Stage (main) and Blaze Bayley on the acoustic stage. The festival runs firstly as a showcase for our bands, secondly an extra outlet for Manchester area bands to play and thirdly, we like to pull in a bigger name headliner where budget allows and also at least a small number of international bands. Last but not least, we also like to invite other emerging bands from around the UK. In 2014, there are still a good number of Rocksector bands involved but some of them are concentrating on the acoustic stage this time - that's firstly because they've developed brilliant acoustic sets during the past year or so (Incassum at the 2013 SOS Festival was a definite highlight), but also it keeps them involved whilst I can still freshen up the main stage line-up so things there don't become stale.

The festival scene had a tough time in 2013 with a lot of smaller events being cancelled, is it becoming overcrowded or are some just poorly promoted / timed / managed?

It probably has reached saturation point. It's hard but in 2013 there were perhaps some very good people that had events which mis-fired because they didn't do some of the obvious traditional promoting activities which can really make a difference to the success of the event. They'll either not bother running events in future or learn a bit from the experience and hopefully come back stronger and better-placed. I hope there's enough room for us all!

On a personal level what were your Top 5 releases in 2013 and how did you enjoy Rush this tour, I know you are a huge fan

The Rush show this time was epic.. again! I can't get enough of that to be honest and I now have the "Clockwork Angels" DVD courtesy of Santa Claus so I'm happy! In terms of other non-Rocksector albums during 2013, as well as the Rush "Clockwork Angels Tour" release, I'll go for Black Star Riders "All Hell Breaks Loose", Alter Bridge "Fortress", Dream Theater "Dream Theater", and Newsted "Heavy Metal Music". Also, cheating slightly, Santa also brought me Iron Maiden's "En Vivo" live album which was a 2012 release which somehow previously passed me by - lovin' it!

And finally was there anything else you wanted to add and can tell us about what you hope 2014 will bring?

Only now before answering this last question, have I looked back at the previous interview you and I did. First of all I can't believe it dates back to September 2011! I thought it was only about a year ago! Secondly, it struck me how much has changed. The label itself has settled down incredibly since 2011 when at that time we'd been finding our way for only 2 years really since it all got serious from 2009. Looking at what we said about the bands at that time, it's frightening how much has changed - Fury UK now on long-term hiatus and morphed into Absolva following the departure of Luke Appleton to Iced Earth, Tygers of Pan Tang have recorded, released and now we're starting to move on to "what next?" for them, Nightvision are no more due to the tragic death of bass player Dean Hocking (his name now permanently graces our main stage at SOS Festival in tribute to his memory). Lots of other stuff has changed too & it hammers home the impermanence of life in general and indeed the music business. With that in mind, can I just thank everyone for the amazing support for our bands during the past year and wish you all long life, health and happiness in 2014.

Rocksector Records Home Page - http://www.mwaweb.com/rocksector.htm
SOS Festival 2014 - http://www.mwaweb.com/sos_home_2014.html
Martiria - http://www.martiria.com/


Interview by Dean Pedley
Live Images by Rob Nankivell of Shoot Plymouth - http://shootplymouth.co.uk/


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