Interview with Ian Hawgood, owner of Home Normal by Headphone Commute
Hey Ian… How are you today, and what did you do this past weekend?
Hi. Yeah, really great thanks. This past weekend I finished mastering some work by some Japanese artists plus the latest Jasper TX work, sent out some shop orders, listened to about 7 demos, bought a bunch of used stuff for my new apartment with my girlfriend, we then walked across north Tokyo twice with shelving in light snow. Sunday we were exhausted so lay in until 2pm, had sushi, bought a coffee table, had an izakaya dinner and drank too much sake, went home, compiled some photography and did a little bit of design work. It was a pretty great weekend.
Tell us how you got involved in music.
Not sure really. I mean, my family is a musical one. I grew up with a guitar, organ, piano, violin, saw and lovely radios and an old record player so I guess that’s how. I was sort of forced into playing piano aged 4 but hated it as I had some hearing problems… but something stuck for sure. I guess that’s how initially at least.
And when did you begin producing on your own?
I recorded guitar elements onto an old tape recorder when I was 16 or 17 but didn’t really know what I was doing. I recorded on other people’s gear for a bit after that with other musicians, my favourite being a cellist I briefly knew. At university I recorded onto answer machine and different types of tape but when I was 19, Ben (who was in my halls and whom I shared houses in uni with… he also helps me with Home Normal now) bought a four-track. I had all sorts of gear and pedals by this point, including a big organ in my room which was pretty hilarious. Ben was a drummer and played a bit of guitar and we just started to do weird things in the middle of the night with the gear. We both became pretty obsessed with tape after that…
Who are your inspirations in terms of artists and, of course, other labels?
I know its a bit of a cop-out, but I can’t name a few as there are just too many. I have never been that interested in following labels… except maybe early Warp, Rephlex and 4AD. But even then I got tired of the directions these took. I could however, say that the new labels in the UK are really inspirational. Labels like Hibernate, Under The Spire, Dead Pilot’s – they are all run in a very appealing way for me. I also think Experimedia will develop into one of the cutting edge labels. Jeremy’s vision is second to none, and the soon to be released Aaron Martin album ‘Worried About The Fire’ is very special indeed. I know it seems like I am name dropping labels I am on, but I also think Dragon’s Eye is a superb label and I am very proud to be on Yann Novak’s label as I am a big fan of his work, as I am many of the other artists. Right now, I am really into the Bedroom Community work as well… those guys are pretty damn talented.
And at what point did you decide to start your own label?
Its been in my mind for a long long time… I always wanted to run one but didn’t think I ever could. Sometime very early in 2008, Will and Dani (Celer) sent me a heap of CD’s – and Dani’s work with their CDR’s really inspired me and I thought I should just do it. So I went about planning what has now evolved to NKR. However, while that and Tokyo Droning took a while to sort out, December 2008 I was speaking to Jeremy (Bible) and was compiling some photography I had done and looking at his newer work, and I just thought how beautiful it would be to run a label with these photos (or kind of photos / work) as the covers. I had work for NKR already by Library Tapes, Celer, offthesky, Konntinent and some other work, and I just realised that some of these would suit this a little better. I wrote to Jeremy and explained the concept I had, I also did the same with my good friend Christian Roth. Within about three days, after two designs by Jeremy and only one by Christian, I had it sorted and agreed really. It was that quick – one of the benefits of working with people who understand you and know what they are doing. Plus they are both workaholics like me so that’s good.
What is the synergy between you and Ben Jones?
I brought Ben on board when I realised printing in Japan would be a pain given how the distribution was set up. I needed someone in the UK I could trust as I live sort of between Tokyo and London, and someone whose opinion and ears I respected. Things have been so hectic that I have had to just drive things on really but Ben gives me a second opinion if I need it and if he disagrees with me he will tell me why totally openly. Ben sorts out the UK orders when I am in Japan so we are in daily contact about orders and updates etc. Its not a perfect balance at all which is what I wanted, but Ben is essential for me to run things smoothly, or at least as smoothly as we can manage.
Tell us about the artwork and packaging design for your releases.
I asked Jeremy to do the designs as I wanted something very minimal, focused on the photography/art in its design and I knew Jeremy could do this better than I could. I designed the logo and just told Jeremy to come up with something white, discreet and which gave very little away in appearance. We talked about having each release with a kind of library book referencing strip down the side of a flat package. I wanted photo gloss card for the artwork but the truth is the packages got hidden away due to the lack of a spine, specifically in the big record shops. Also, the card we were using was really expensive and scratched easily on dark colours, so I decided, after speaking with David Wenngren actually, to go with the new matte digipacks. I am really happy with how they have turned out and the great design by Jeremy has transferred really well.
How do you describe the output of Home Normal Records?
Beautiful, soulful, unique, independent, organic… at least I hope that’s what people get from each release. I don’t want people to go ‘agh yes, that is the Home Normal sound’. I have a very strict sense of what that sound is in my head, my heart… but I don’t want to run a label that has a very specific, obvious sound… running a label can be more fun and far-ranging than that, for me at least.
I always wondered, where does the name “Home Normal” come from?
I was in the UK (‘home’) at my parent’s place in December 2008. The music I was listening to felt very homely and I guess living in Tokyo, feeling a little alien from everything… I was searching for a sense of ‘home’ and ‘normal’. I seem to hop from country to country so its more out of my desire to settle, to remain still… yet that normality and home is filled with beauty and comfort. Its what connects each release for me… that sense of homeliness…
Tell us about the very first release from Library Tapes. How did that come about?
I saw David at a show in Shibuya about 6 months or so before, organised by a friend of mine – Dela from CMFLG. It was the perfect example of what essence I wanted in the music for my label. I wrote to David about my original concepts for the label and David was into the idea, and just very approachable. He wanted to re-release Sketches as a full-blown CD… I LOVED the album so I just knew it would be a great way to start the label off. Its also great as Danny Norbury appears on it and both of them have become good friends and have released on Home Normal since (as Le Lendemain) and will release under their own names in the future too.
In 2009 you released 8 albums – how did you manage such a busy schedule?
Jeremy, Christian and Ben. They work to my schedule and without them it would be nothing really. I can also work on just 3 – 4 hours of sleep per night which helps.
And in 2010 you already released 5 albums, and we’re only in February – isn’t it financially taxing?
Both Ben and I have full-time jobs which is good, otherwise we wouldn’t cope. I have also had to restart doing mastering, engineering and exhibition work again which I swore I never would 3 years ago. I am actually really enjoying doing these again and getting paid – but as I have a teaching job in the day, does mean I have to work into the night quite often. But without this, we wouldn’t cover the costs quite so its good.
Do you have a favorite release on Home Normal, or any special albums that you’re proud of putting out?
Honestly, I am really proud of them all. But, if push came to shove, releasing ‘Slow Films In Low Light’ has meant a lot as it involved artists I love and respect reworking/remixing my own work. All the money we are making from it is going to The Archway Foundation charity so not only am I proud of putting it out, but I am very proud that we have done something which helps others in a direct way.
What are some of the hardest aspects of running your own label?
Given my various work commitments, time is always an issue it seems. Its become more apparent recently as I have had to work harder on a day to day basis just to help fund Home Normal really. People often expect replies in hours from me for various reasons but the truth is I rarely reply in a timely manner anymore, whatever the query is. Another annoying aspect has been postal issues in the UK, strikes and delays, and we have also had issues in Japan – its just frustrating when stuff goes missing or gets severely delayed.
What are your thoughts on illegal downloads?
Whilst I accept its a natural development of the industry, it seems more about ‘sticking it to the man’ than anything else. Such ignorance bothers me immensely as there is a lot of time, effort, energy, money and artistic integrity which has gone into each release we do. A good example would be the Slow Films In Low Light – its bizarre that sites have it up for free download BEFORE official release – which means in the hundred odd promos we send out we might have an issue somewhere. Considering its for charity, we are selling it cheap as well. I just find that pretty hard to take. It’s perhaps less about the fact that it’s out there and more about the lack of art behind the sites and the ignorance of the thinking as well. If people think a label like Home Normal, which is essentially funded by mine and Ben’s own work, is representative of ‘the man’, then they need to do a little more research or get a better education frankly. The ugly sites and the fact that people get paid a lot of the time for putting up links to others’ work… well, it’s stealing, no matter how much you cover it. And each time I see the label releases, even my own up, I feel slightly abused and as if the work has been tarnished in some way. Something about the purity of the art and spirit it was made just goes right out of the window.
And what are some of the rewards of running your own label?
The initial purity of art and the spirit its been made. The first time you hear a record which only you or a few have ever heard, and it just blows you away. Making friends with like-minded artists. Seeing all the work in your hands and able to send out to others. Getting messages saying how much people enjoy the work the Home Normal family have done. The list goes on, but for sure, the creative side and the appreciation of that creativity.
How would you measure the success of your releases?
I really don’t know. I don’t really try to assess that as odd as that might sound.
Any advice for someone interested in starting their own label?
Have a vision and stick to it without being too stubborn. Don’t let the bullshit drag you down.
Tell us a bit about your sub-label, Tokyo Droning.
A couple of years ago, when I first got the Celer CD’s I mentioned earlier, I had the idea to run a label where each release had the same packaging, no photography and was just a kind of a series of releases by artists who understood the concept of being part of something, creating a whole from their part as it were. Tokyo Droning was my way of following that once Home Normal had established itself somewhat as I really wanted to release music which was perhaps a little wilder or at least, more open to experimentation in some ways. Tokyo Droning was held up though as I wanted to use very specific materials for the project… I eventually got everything I needed and found a great stamp making company in the UK. The only snag was how long it took to make each CD, as I sit there over a few days with a hot gun singeing my hands with these rather lovely old style stamps. Its really nice to press 100 only of these wonderful releases… makes each one that more worthwhile in some ways. The first release was by my good friend Jason Corder, under his offthesky moniker, the second by the rather excellent Segue (Jordan Sauer).
There has been a hold up though due to the rather long postal strikes in the UK over the summer… we couldn’t get the parts in my time-frame as I am only in the UK for 5 weeks in the summer. However, I am going back in March, hot gun and materials at the ready so that over April and May we will have a fair amount of rather fabulous music to release by the likes of Jeremy Bible and Jason Henry, Tanner Menard, David Newlyn, Elian, The Green Kingdom and loads more.
How do you select the music that gets released on your label?
Initially it just has to have a whole sound, like its been made in the right spirit. By right spirit I mean people who aren’t afraid to put themselves in their music. Too many artists try to sound like other people… I don’t have to hear something wholly new to grab me, just so long as there is that mysterious something when you just know its come from within, whether its the head, heart or both. When people access who they are in a musical form, its very powerful indeed.
Any artists that you dream of signing to Home Normal?
Not really… really happy with who we work with and can’t think of anyone else really. Well, Steve Reich would be nice, as would Brian Eno in the 70’s… and if I had a time machine then Nick Drake would be at the very top, perhaps in collaboration with Morton Feldman.
What advice would you give to artists interested in getting their own record deal?
Make something that is true and real to you, ignore the scenes and do your thing. But also remember that labels aren’t run by idiots, mostly… we can tell when people blanket send and it shows a lack of self-respect nor respect for the people involved when you have no clue of the label and their direction. In other words, know your shit.
What is in store for Home Normal in the future?
Well, in the next 6 months we will probably be breaking some kind of record for releases I think. I have been sitting on some incredible work which will be seeing the light of day, most immediately in March we will be releasing work by the enormously talented Chris Weisman and Greg Davis, Tobias Hellkvist and Michael Santos. Beyond that we have work by some great new artists, plus bvdub, Gurun Gurun, Nils Frahm and Tsukimono, David Wenngrenn and a re-issue of Engaged Touches by Celer in our new digipack format in April (one year on from its initial release). Pretty exciting all in all.
Thank you for your time. Any last words for the readers of Headphone Commute?
Your welcome and thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Last words? Thanks to everyone open enough to enjoy and listen to music which does things beyond the surface. There really aren’t enough of you out there.
Be sure to also check out a Label Sampler mixed by Headphone Commute:
At Home With Home Normal