Your New Favorite Label: Safe Suburban Home Records

Posted: by The Editor

Ok, let’s go! What made you want to start a label in the first place? 

I started the label back in 2018 for a few reasons. I’d been playing in bands for 20 years and it was getting harder and harder to remain committed to rehearsing, performing, having a full-time job and a family. If I’m honest, I’d always been better at organizing stuff (I was always in the de-facto band manager role) rather than playing stuff, so I wanted to get more involved in trying to help artists progress musically by taking some of the administrative pain away. Around that time, I’d started buying a lot of physical merch from bands and I started getting a real buzz from deliveries arriving at home. I decided that I wanted to try and beat the streaming model, creating a ‘physical first’ label could really help the DIY scene. 

I’ve always been label obsessive since I was a teenager, I’d buy releases from Sub-Pop purely on the strength of the label reputation. There were also a couple of labels in the UK doing subscription type releases, such as Art is Hard Records and the Too Pure Singles Club and I loved the idea of curating music to an audience. So initially, I set out trying to release singles in quick succession. 

What was the first album you put out and what was that learning process like?

I have a couple of answers for this 

The first release we put out was a 7″ single for a band from Malta called The Velts. The single was amazing and it was everything I was looking for genre wise for the label. Chuck into the mix the band are totally lovely, they were willing to take a chance on a brand new label, and they were also about to undertake a UK tour. Based on all this, we decided to make the decision to invest in vinyl. The whole experience from my point of view was incredible, but I learnt a lot and lost a fair bit of money on this release. We then did another 10 single releases (mainly on cassette) where I talked to as many people as possible and learnt as much as I possibly could before trying to sign our first album deal. 

The first album actually arrived in my lap as a single submission from SubmitHub (see there are real people on there!). It was a band from Sweden called Lula. The music was a total breath of fresh air. Super melodic, great choruses covered in lovely noise. The sort of stuff I’ve always loved. The back story was cool too, as it was recorded by a bunch of friends in a cabin by a lake in Sweden. I really enjoyed a longer campaign with the band, releasing a few singles before the album drops and building up more coverage via radio and press. I think this was the turning point of the label. Moving from an expensive hobby, to a more sustainable business (urgh) model. 

It really worked in terms of reshaping how the label operates and we tend to do long EPs and albums now, unless we’re really wanting to start a long term relationship with an artist. The learning process never stops though, with each release I find slightly different quirks (some nice, some not so nice) and then adapt again for the next release. I’m constantly battling with trying to meet artist expectations of being on a label, and the practicalities of not having an unlimited pot of cash to throw at releases. It’s a really hard balance to get right, but I think the majority of artists appreciate the amount of effort and hours we put into their releases. 

I just checked out the Lula album, it’s so lovely! 

What is your favorite part of running the label? 

In my opinion you really can’t beat a release day! It’s where all the hard work and planning comes together. Sometimes it can be 9 months in the planning to get to release day, there’s a lot of ups and downs along the way, but it’s really a great day to appreciate the record you’ve just put out. 

I complain about it a lot, but when life’s busy and there’s loads of label admin going on (and there’s a lot of label admin), it’s easy to lose track of what we’re actually doing. Sharing a record with the rest of the world that we believe they need to hear. 

I get truly obsessed with the music we put out at SSH, I’ll listen to tracks hundreds of times throughout the release process, and I know the tracks inside out, sometimes I feel like I know the tracks better than some of the band members. I use this attention to detail of the music to try and generate as much exposure for the artists as possible. The entire process is tiring and it’s a true labor of love. I don’t think you can run a DIY label successfully without knowing everything inside out. 

Release day is a release of all the pent-up worry, anxiety, stress that’s built up and then all those feelings disappear as the day progresses and people start listening, talking about and buying the records. 

I think I understand that feeling on a micro level. It’s like when I finish a piece I’ve put a lot of work and research into, and it finally gets posted! It’s a great feeling. 

What do you feel is the hardest part of running Safe Suburban Home? 

Yeah, I bet that’s a great feeling, especially when people appreciate, comment and it generates conversations! 

The hardest part of running the label is fitting it all in. SSH is a one-man show, previously I’ve been in partnership and had other people helping, but the desire and level of commitment required (for no cash) rules most people out of the DIY scene. 

I think fitting in a dynamic release schedule around day jobs and families just makes the sporadic label demand on people’s time impossible to plan, and therefore impossible to run in any other way than a solo endeavour. I think most of the DIY labels operating in the same scene as us are probably the same.

This does bring me a lot of pride as I know I’ve done it all myself, but also adds a lot of pressure trying to meet artists expectations of what a label should provide, and it means working weird hours and long tiring days trying to fit everything in. Fortunately, I work at home for a day job so that gives me some flexibility and my wife is super supportive, which really helps balance everything! 

I definitely see the benefits of working solo, even though it probably makes it 10 times harder. 

Are there any labels that inspire you? Were there labels you loved before you started your own? 

I was really inspired by Art is Hard Records and the Too Pure Singles Club to start my own label. I just loved everything that they were both putting out and how consistently good it was. I was fascinated how they built such a loyal fanbase in a scene that was pretty underground. Too Pure had some bigger name stuff, but Art is Hard was really creating its own thing. More importantly for me, their output was both physical first. 

In the early days of SSH I was inspired by what I’d probably class now as my peers. What Filip at Z Tapes (now Start-Track) was doing was something I was keen to replicate. But more than anything I just adore the attitude and community mindedness of some of the labels I work with a lot. A big shout out to Galen at Repeating Cloud, Brian at Totally Real, Manon at Hidden Bay and Al at Meritorio. All these people have provided advice or helped me directly over the last couple of years. 

The motivation now is to try to continue to grow the label organically to that sort of next level. I’d love to get to the level of Trouble in Mind, Slumberland, Double Double Whammy, but with that in mind any growth must be organic. I have had a failed attempt to throw money at a release and I’ll never do that again. Stretching yourself beyond your means just brings out the worst decision making (as does chasing a profit, rather than following your heart) so I will hopefully just continue to grow artist by artist making the correct ethical decisions along the way. 

Wow, there is a lot of wisdom in that last sentence. I think that applies to all creative endeavors, I love it. I also love how supportive and collaborative DIY can be. 

I want to ask what the biggest lesson you’ve learned from running a label, but also what is the best advice you’ve gotten from anyone about running a label? 

Yeah, the DIY label scene is the absolute best, it’s so great, fun and supportive! 

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt, and I’m sure this will make people happy, is that money won’t buy you success. You can pay for the best teams of people, but even if your music’s put in the best shop windows it’s not necessarily going to get you instant stardom. The key to success is to build a loyal fanbase based on truly wonderful music. Once the music’s good enough you need to get out there and interact through playing shows and probably even more importantly, going to other peoples shows and sharing their music too. It’s incredible the number of artists who complain about not getting the shows they want, but at the same time not putting anything back into their own scene. 

I’m lucky, because all the bands who’ve been through SSH have the right mindset and I think understand this. I’ve been guilty about getting carried away in the past, but I’m now generally grounded about what to expect from releases. 

I hate the conversation on-line these days about ‘industry plants’. It’s false, and normally an accusation aimed at female musicians. As I mentioned earlier, if the music isn’t good enough, even if it’s on the front cover of every magazine, it just doesn’t guarantee longevity. 

The best advice I’ve had about running a label came from a good friend in the York music scene. He said “Jim, whatever you do, don’t make it a vanity project”. That really hit home, and I always think back to that when I’m making decisions. I’ve had the opportunity to sign lots of bands that would have sold hundreds of records, but it’s not all about that. For me SSH is about putting music out that I’m in love with. I obviously want that music to be successful for the artist and the label, but I’d prefer to sell 5 copies of a cassette I adore, rather than 500 copies of some garbage laddish lager lout nonsense. 

This is really good and helpful advice, I hope anyone who wants to start their own label reads this! And thank you for saying that about “industry plants.” I have noticed that trend of it being aimed at women and I feel like it is the new way to discredit them. 

Also I am going to start using “garbage laddish lager lout nonsense.” That is a fantastic descriptive phrase and I feel like it would be fun to say out loud hahaha. 

What do you think makes Safe Suburban Home Records unique? 

There’s a whole bunch of things I tried to do differently or uniquely when I set the label up. Being physical first and having artist friendly terms were the main objectives. In 2018 I was convinced no one else was doing that. How wrong I was!!! There’s such a lovely collection of DIY labels who are totally in it for the right reasons. 

Anyhow, I digress. I’d say the one thing that makes SSH unique is the artist selection process. We look for something very specific in the releases we put out, but that something specific can be in any genre, from any location, from anyone. 

The SSH selection criteria is quite simple really. Firstly, every track needs to have a hook, something truly memorable. Next that hook needs to be hidden somehow, noise is normally the best way, but it could be in weird sounds or just so subtle you might not notice it on a first listen. Then I look for some ‘wonkiness’, something interesting about the song or the delivery or the artist’s back story. Finally, it has to be interesting enough for me to obsess over it, listen to the lyrics, want to work out the chord changes etc. Once the tracks pass those tests, then I’d try and open a conversation with the artist. I reckon that process is pretty unique, and I use it for everything I release. 

Wow, you really have a thought-out process! You are really curating your roster, which is cool! I think some of the steps you listed are the same for me when I am looking for music to write about. Definitely the hook, the wonkiness, and the interesting part. Ok, last 2 questions: 

Is there anything you would change about your experience running a label if you had to do it over again? 

and finally, are there any upcoming releases/etc. that you are excited about? 

This is such a cliché response, but there really isn’t anything I’d change. Everything good or bad just needs to go down as experience and something to learn from in the future. Every decision we’ve made as a label or suggestion we’ve acted on from an artist has come from the right place, as in, everyone involved is trying to achieve the best! That’s the real thrill of operating in a small DIY label space, there’s no rhyme or reason to success and you just must keep trying new things. It’s equally as exciting as it is heartbreaking! 

YES! I’m so excited about the new Teenage Tom Petties album that’s coming out in November. This is a band that we’ve had on the label since their first release and it’s great to see how they’ve evolved, both in terms of the sound and the followers. 

There’s been a really cool natural growth of their fan base and people are talking about the band outside what Galen (Repeating Cloud) and I have been working on from a PR perspective. It’s lovely to see and it feels like Tom has really found that sweet spot of nostalgia, mixed with perfect noisy pop or jangle punk as we’re calling it these days. 

The new record is sounding huge, the band has been moving gradually from a one-man bedroom project to a full band and you can really tell the difference. There’s been a few checks put in place to make sure the project retains its original charm, and I think people are going to really enjoy it. It’s coming out on a lovely vinyl package and the band are doing a few UK shows with some other SSH bands around the release date.

Check out Safe Suburban Home’s Bandcamp for their release roster and merch.

Jami Fowler | @audiocurio

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