I have been meaning to publish this story for a while, very excited to be collaborating with A. on this one:
Andrew: You guys have a (Two Bright Lakes) birthday coming up very soon. Are there any highlights from the last five years?
Hazel: I guess the very early days when we first started and were making everything up as we went along, and pretty much didn’t really know what a record label was. There was Seagull, Touch Typist and Otouto. We used to do tours up to Sydney and Brisbane, just drive around together, which was really fun, whereas we don’t do so much together anymore. The first one we did was great fun, we played in Sydney and drove straight to Brisbane after that gig, at one in the morning or something. But I guess the things that stand out are the points where we went ‘Oh this is feeling like it’s working.’ And that was when we got our first Triple R album of the week, which was Nick Huggins’ solo album, or when Kid Sam started to do really well and we started to get actual positive responses. I was managing, well pretending to manage, Kid Sam at the beginning and it got me really excited because people were replying to my emails. They’re the things that stand out I guess.
A: Two Bright Lakes came about about in part because of bands such as yours and Seagull recording with Nick Huggins. Can you tell me a bit about early recordings with him and meeting these other musicians?
H: When I met Nick he was playing in a band with my boyfriend at the time and it was through Nick that I met Tig, his brother and they grew up with Chris and Eddie from Seagull in Williamstown. They were old family friends and Nick was just starting out producing, so he was recording for free and it was just a really fun time. We were recording my solo stuff when I was 18 or 19, which is terrible, please do not listen to it! But it was great, Nick had the studio down in Point Lonsdale in his grandparents old house and he had been given a couple of rooms to deck out, and we just ate hot crossed buns and tried to go surfing in the morning and recorded all day and late into the night. I don’t know why we weren’t working at jobs then (laughs).
A: I understand that after that, there was a launch that got the ball rolling with a whole bunch of people coming together.
H: Yeah it was for Nick’s solo record Shipwreck, and Seagull played, and I played in Nick’s band for some of it and Chris who played on his record as well. Nick had a lot of friends who were doing all sorts of interesting things. I think there was a poet who had all of his poems projected onto the walls and there were some video artists and animators. So we had a party to launch his record with all his friends and Tig and Blake [Byron-Smith mixed-media artist, web designer for TBL] DJ’d afterwards. That was the first event that we did as a group and we had all of those elements tied in together with the music. That was the first one we did and it made us feel like doing it again.
A: So that started the idea of running a label – how were the early days starting out? Did everybody have allocated jobs?
H: Oh no! (laughs) It was Nick’s idea to begin with, to start a label, and he asked Chris and Tig and myself and Blake. It was exciting but we had no idea what it entailed or what it meant, so we’d spend hours and hours just sitting over lunch or coffee trying to work out what a label was and what we could do to try and learn more and who to contact. It was completely disorganised and in the beginning I think we only worked when we were together because we didn’t know what to do when we were on our own! So we’d get together and send some emails or something. And then eventually it became clear that we needed to do different things. We all had different skills. Blake and Nick knew more about making websites so they did that and they led in the visual side of things and, um, I didn’t have any skills to be honest, so I don’t know what I did to begin with, but eventually I started to do short business courses and talked to my auntie who runs businesses and tried to work out how to do it. We spoke to other labels, that was the main thing that helped us get started. We met with Lost and Lonesome and Unstable Ape and Crouchy from Polyester who ran Candle Records, who was my boss at the time, so I picked his brain a lot.
A: Who was the accountant at the start?
H: There wasn’t one! That was one of the things I took on, trying to manage our money and keep our records which was completely new to me.
A: And how does that compare to your role now? What are you in charge of with the label at this point?
H: I still manage those things but I work with an accountant, I oversee that and organise the payment of the artists twice a year. I also manage the legal side of things, the contracts and speak to the lawyers.
A: And you’re doing a law degree now?
H: Yes, I’m in my first year.
A: And is that decision related to what you’re doing with the label?
H: Yes, that was a decision that I made a couple of years ago because I was having to deal with contracts and learn about copyright law and the rights of our artists and the label. I decided to try and learn more and it seemed like the logical thing to slowly start doing even though I can’t actually look at those areas of law for years and years. I liked learning about the other side of things and not just playing in a band. And the more I did, the more interested I got. And then the more I did, the more accountable I had to be as well. So, the more artists we take on we have to know our shit (laughs), and make sure that we’re doing right by them.
A: What do you think you’re still learning about at this point with running the label?
H: I feel like there’s always so much to learn still. And apart from all the backend stuff just the fact that technology is advancing so quickly and the platforms by which people consume music are just ever widening. I feel like there’s always things to catch up on in how to share music that we’re releasing. It takes talking to just one other person in the industry to realise that I’m not up to date with one tiny thing which ends up meaning a lot. I went to Big Sound last year and learned so much and I went to CMJ again and came back and felt like I was completely behind the rest of the world even though we try and keep up with that stuff.
A: It’s quite an exciting time for smaller labels because of the possibilities.
H: Yeah, it’s all accessible, it’s all there for us to be a part of as much as any other label. It’s definitely exciting and liberating, it feels possible, compared to ten years ago when it might have seemed a lot harder.
A: When did you start playing music?
H: I think when I was about 14.
A: Obviously your sister [Martha], she’s a member of Otouto so she’s creative musically, what’s the rest of your family like?
H: Our parents met in art school and both were sculptors and also social workers. And they took us to a lot of folk festivals growing up so they were very into encouraging our musical interests. And then we’ve got an older sister, she used to play music as a kid but now she’s studying social work.
A: As well as the folk influence you mentioned half jokingly on your online that you like to think of Otouto as a hip hop act. Can you tell me how you think Otouoto and hip hop relate to each other?
H: (Laughs) Kishore [Otouto's drummer] wrote that. I think it’s just the fact that Martha and I listen to a lot of hip hop and a couple of times we’ve gotten together with Kishore to write, most notably for the song W. Hillier, we’ve deliberately employed a hip hop or an RnB song as an influence. For W. Hillier we listened to the Destiny’s Child song Soldier to begin with and picked out what we liked about that song and thought ‘let’s write something with a feel like this or a beat like that.’ And it will never turn out similar so that’s not a worry of ours, we couldn’t write that if we tried but we liked the idea of seeing what comes out.
A: A post-modern deconstruction of an RnB song, that’s quite an interesting angle to come to writing music from (laughter).
H: So that’s the only sense in which we consider ourselves to be hip hop, cause we don’t really, Kishore was just being a dick (laughter).
A: With all of these different things going on, how are you going juggling a band, a label and a law degree?
H: I’m constantly working out ways to make it work better. Because it definitely is juggling – I also manage two of the bands on the label now: Oscar and Martin and the Harpoons – so that’s something I struggle with week by week. I’m always trying out different ways of managing my time, to block out time for different subjects and work out how to concentrate better in lectures and not check my emails. No matter what I do, if I stop one thing I’m always going to take on three more. It’s just a part of my personality I think, to take on lots of different things which I’m not very good at (laughs).
A: Obviously it’s really enjoyable, does it get stressful?
H: Yeah, what stresses me out most though is the fact that if I fall behind in TBL I’m letting those artists down who I feel quite privileged to be working with and they could be working with somebody bigger or somebody better so that’s a bit stressful. And just being quite time poor and not earning very much money can be stressful, although this next half of the year I’m trying something completely new: I’m studying full time and I’ve quit my jobs.
A: Speaking of the future, what are you getting up to over the next 12 months?
H: The band is currently taking a break. For the label I’m quite interested in doing some more events, so taking on international bands that are being toured by other companies, we’re working with Astral People quite a bit. When I was working at Penny Drop earlier in the year I learned a bit more about tour booking so I am quite excited to do that properly and do that for TBL but maybe just Melbourne based. We’ve got KNXWLEDGE touring and there’s a couple more unconfirmed tours for the rest of the year. Tig will be working hard on Sugar Mountain [music festival] and we’ve got quite a few releases coming up – Collarbones and Fox and Sui. Then there’s a guy called Nicholas Krgovich, who’s from Vancouver, we’re hoping to put out his record later this year…
A: What would you say to someone starting up a label now that you know what you know?
H: When I first started I definitely thought that one day if I worked hard enough I would be able to do it full time and get a full time wage and it would be like any other business. I don’t think that’s going to happen for me now but I can definitely find enough joy in it to do it anyway. So I guess I would talk to somebody about that and say ‘make sure you’re in it for the right reasons’.
Listen to Otouto: http://www.myspace.com/hazelbrownmusic
Find out more about Two Bright Lakes: http://twobrightlakes.com/
* some of the images and interview originally published in Extracurricular magazine