Tom Bridgewater set up Loose Music the independent record label based in Acton, London in 1998. Previously he was behind the vinyl only record label, Vinyl Junkie. With roots singer-songwriters, Americana and country providing the core direction they heave released music by the following artists: Giant Sand, M Ward, Mark Mulcahy, Neko Case, The Handsome Family, The Felice Brothers, Dawes, Deer Tick, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Johnny Fritz, Israel Grips Nash and Danny & The Champions Of The World. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to ask some questions from someone operating in that side of the process.
Your musical ventures have always been related to Americana/Roots/ Country music. When did you become aware and awakened by that genre of music?
An old family friend - the actor Kenneth Cranham - used to make us tapes to play on long car journeys. The beautifully decorated tapes were made up of music by the likes of John Prine, JJ Cale, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman and Jesse Winchester. So I became unusually fond of country music as a youngster.
Did DJing at Nashville Babylon point the way to releasing music through Vinyl Junkie and Loose Music?
I had already set up Vinyl Junkie (and then Loose Music) by the time that we found ourselves in Dublin in late 1998, spinning tunes and drinking Guinness by the gallon. But it was all part of the journey.
In the current climate it’s tough to sell records yet you seem to have found a balance to make it work. How have you done that?
Loose is run on a wing and prayer and we have always spent our budget of half a shoe-string. But we manage to trudge on heroically! People ask me “how’s business”? and I proudly say “well, we’re still in it”! I reckon thats no mean achievement these days. How have we managed it? Thanks to the good people who buy records by our bands. We salute you!
For Loose is the physical product still outselling the downloaded versions?
Indeed it is, but digital sales are increasing while physical sales decline. We issue most of our albums on CD and LP these days. We usually make the LPs limited edition and numbered with download codes included. I think that the limited edition element helps. To me it’s all about the physical product. Having something to hold in your hands.
In the CD versus Vinyl debate where do you stand?
Personally I like both but if I really love an album then I will usually buy it on vinyl. Artwork is a big but increasingly forgotten element of records and obviously you cannot beat the sound of an LP. Thats been scientifically proven, by Neil Young! And some people say that records smell of bananas so thats good too.
There was a time when it was though a single act could break through for Americana - Nirvana style - and thus focus attention on the music. That look’s unlikely now but do you see a similar possibility for mainstream success?
We work with a number of bands that really could appeal to a wider marker: Danny & The Champions Of The World, Israel Nash Gripka, Treetop Flyers and Frontier Ruckus (if they write a chorus!) to name but four. However, to “break through” you need serious marketing muscle which Loose simply does not have. So we depend on good press, radio, online and TV where possible. If you can achieve all those four pieces of the jigsaw on a decent scale at the same time then you have a chance. With The Felice Brothers we had “Frankie’s Gun” on two TV shows at the same time: Outnumbered on the BBC and Skins on Channel 4. It soon became our biggest selling record.
How frustrating is it to know you have a great album on the label but the actual sales are not commercially significant?
I made a change in career about 20 years ago and started to put records out. It wasnt really that I saw myself swimming in a banjo shaped swimming pool and admiring my platinum discs on the wall of my Malibu beach house; it was because I wanted to see if I could enrich people’s lives with the music that I love. To me the best moments are seeing any sized venue full of smiling faces watching one of our bands that the crowd probably wouldn’t have heard of if we hadn’t signed them. Thats something that makes me very happy and proud. Its not all about commercial success, to me its about doing something worthwhile with your time on this earth, man.
In choosing which acts to release do you rely on your own judgement or are there any other criteria involved?
We have a very small team here at Loose and we all have to agree that its a good plan to sign a particular act. We sometimes play them to our distributors in other countries but really its down to us. You just have to go with your gut instinct.
You are based in London and have released a number of UK acts. In that light you must fell that these acts are as good a those from the US. Would you agree?
Some are. Danny & The Champs and Peter Bruntnell and Treetop Flyers definitely are. To be honest, I don’t really like comparing USA and UK acts but I certainly wish that here in the UK and Ireland we started getting more behind our own talent rather than giving disproportionate amounts of airplay and column inches to American acts because they come from towns with romantic sounding names.
What do enjoy most about running the label?
As I said before, seeing happy faces at gigs and that feeling of doing something artistic and creative with my life. It’s also good to be your own boss and just not turn up to work occasionally.
Has your love and enthusiasm for the music been diminished by the financial side of making music happen?
Not really, I find it more disheartening when we lose a band because some bigger label comes along and lures them away from us with offers of all the gold they can eat. If you want loyalty in the music business get yourself a dog! There are of course exceptions to this rule and I am forever indebted to those acts that have stuck with us through thick and thin. They know who they are and I love them.
What have Loose got in store for 2014?
Fabulous music from friends old and new. We just want to keep on keeping on.
Interview by Stephen Rapid
Link to current Loose Sampler: