We chat to Holy Roar Records founder Alex Fitzpatrick to celebrate!
There are a lot of labels out there. Most come and go – flashes in the pan, unable to sustain their vision – and so for those that make it for to the mighty mark of an entire decade of operation, there is reason to celebrate.
2016 marks just that for Holy Roar Records, a label so deeply entrenched in punk music that they’ve probably got some kind of PTSD. So rich is their catalogue of releases that, in browsing, you’ll probably find a bunch you didn’t even know were them – a phenomenon that happened to us as we researched this piece. Hand in hand with flagship acts like Rolo Tomassi, the label has released records by Gallows, Will Haven, Touché Amoré, Kayo Dot and Coliseum, alongside a slew of fantastic groups we’ve covered in detail, such as Employed To Serve and We Never Learned To Live, Down I Go, Svalbard and Alex Fitzpatrick’s own Pariso.
Needless to say, we’re big fans. With a DIY ethic and pretty ubiquitous presence, it’s hard not to be – but if you somehow haven’t come across them, we sat down with Alex to get the skinny on the label’s formative decade, some advice he wished he’d had, and what the future holds for Holy Roar.
Hey Alex, thanks for chatting with us! The obvious question first: what’s the story behind Holy Roar? What prompted you to start the label?
No worries! Well, firstly, the story on Wikipedia is completely false! It was put on there by a friend of a friend and it’s too hilarious for me to want to extinguish that fire. So go and read that if you haven’t and you want a laugh.
The real story is far more boring: I was a teenager who lived in the countryside and bought loads of CDs. Once I got to university I realised, shockingly, that you could do more with music than simply listen to it and I started a webzine and started putting on gigs. This snowballed and we put on shows for Darkest Hour, Throwdown, November Coming Fire, Rolo Tomassi, Curl Up And Die, Zao, Martyr AD, Jeniferever and many many more. Me and my girlfriend of the time moved to London about a year after university was wrapped up, and we had an offer of a small amount of money to carry on putting on gigs. We used the money to start a record label instead. Holy Roar was born.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet…
Would you say that Holy Roar has a sound associated with it? Is there any particular thing you look for in a signing? What impressed you most about/prompted you to work with the first band you signed?
Funnily I’ve heard plenty of people over the years say “oh, they are a Holy Roar sort of band” even when the band actually haven’t been on the label. I find that both comforting, amazing and perplexing. I both feel like I sometimes know exactly what they mean, and sometimes think they are jumping to the wrong conclusion entirely! Ha. But I guess you could broadly call us a progressive hardcore label. I don’t mean that our bands just do complicated beatdowns; more that we have released a bunch of hardcore and post-hardcore bands but we’ve done loads of doom/stoner, instrumental, punk and much else besides too.
We look for bands who are good people, making excellent music, who want to work hard and play as many shows as their lives allow. I never really want to deviate from that philosophy too much to be honest. As for the first band I wanted to work with – that was Rolo Tomassi. I summed that up best in this little piece I did about them for HRX (our 10th birthday show on May 21st): “Playing an early show in my house in 2005, I instantly fell in love with them. They summed up everything that I wanted the initial blueprint of Holy Roar to be about – a loud, energetic vibrancy and intelligence that wasn’t cloaked in gimmickry, macho posturing or stupid imagery.”
How do you feel the past ten years have unfolded? What have been some of the highs and lows?
When I started the label I never thought it would become my full-time job, let alone still be going ten years later. I feel like we are constantly becoming a better label and that there is still so many ways we could be better. I’m glad that it’s still a learning experience. The ten years have gone by quickly, but everything has grown and unfolded organically. I’ve had a couple of times where I have very nearly given up on the label, but i’m glad I didn’t do that. So the lows were probably those times, because it’s incredibly frustrating putting all your time into something you intensely believe in and not have enough people buy the music that you love and support, to be able to sustain the label. So yeah – there’s been some financially tough times.
High points have been too many to mention really, but some highlights have been Rolo Tomassi returning to the label and doing better than ever (winning a Kerrang award, supporting Faith No More, licensing Grievances to Ipecac for the USA), Throats playing Sonisphere and the final record they did in general, the slow rise of Slabdragger, the phenomenon that is OHHMS, getting What’s Left Of Me by More Than Life out there and the resulting tours…the list goes on.
What does reaching ten years mean to you?
It’s a nice marker, and we are celebrating it with our 10th anniversary show, but really i’m just amazed it’s happened. It’s time for a little reflection and a pat on the back, but really we are just pushing forward constantly so i’m not letting this totally dominate my thoughts as we have so much we still want to do!
Is there anything you know now you wish you knew when you started?
I wish I had known how little advertising means, unless you’re at the level of say Jack Garratt or something. I also wish someone had sat me down and basically said “no big bands and no magazines or media outlets will give a shit about you for years”. Not in a negative way, I just would have put my head down and not wasted my time chasing some of those things early on. It’s just the way of the world, and it’s fair enough – but it took me a while to realise that you just have to try and build your bands through gigging and relentlessly pushing them every way you can.
To be honest, that’s how we still approach it to this day. I don’t want to be trying to impress people by what sponsorships our bands (don’t) have, or by how many Facebook likes they have or any other crap – just listen to the music and watch the band live, because I really think that our bands rarely ever let you down on a quality basis. At the end of the day shit bands are shit and good bands are good, only so much subjectivity can be applied to such a statement.
You’re the main face of the label, but who else is and has been involved? Here’s your chance to herald their names!
Justine [Jones, of Employed To Serve] also works at Holy Roar. She is very important – she’s pulled us far more up-to-speed digitally across all fronts and she has a wealth of ideas. Not to mention that we now have double the (wo)man hours! We also have a few regular interns.
Other people important to the label currently and in the past include Alex Leat (who now co-runs our sister label Truthseeker Music), Simon Moody (art/design), Jamie McDonald (art/design) and Lewis Johns (producer). There’s going to be so many others I’ve forgotten, sorry!
Five landmark Holy Roar releases
At gunpoint, we forced Alex to choose five landmark releases for the label in their first ten years. He wasn’t best pleased.
“Thanks for trying to make me choose between my children. This sort of shifts every now and then of course, but right now I’ll say the following”
Rolo Tomassi - CDEP
“This release essentially started it all off, and without its continued success early on we wouldn’t be here today I don’t think. Can you imagine a CDEP of a new band on an (then) unknown label, playing synthy, mathy hardcore selling thousands and thousands of copies? Madness.”
Throats – Throats
“I think Throats were the first band since Rolo Tomassi that had a similar level of buzz about themselves and achieved things that, on paper, they shouldn’t have done. Sonisphere festival, a Kerrang nomination and loads of other ridiculous things, whilst sounding like the dirty child of Converge, Napalm Death and early Baroness.”
Coliseum – Sister Faith
“To an extent, I could have picked Trash Talk, Will Haven, Touché Amoré or Strife here too; all bands that I was a fan of already that I had the honour of getting to work with. In the case of Will Haven I had been a fan of them for almost 20 years!
But Coliseum takes the biscuit; I really couldn’t believe it when they asked if I was interested in releasing their (then) new album. Coliseum had been one of my favourite bands since university – an absolutely mindblowing, ever evolving band, with a consistently great message and lyrics. Releasing the album also enabled me to go to Australia with them to Soundwave festival, which was incredible. The album itself rules too, of course.”
Brontide – Sans Souci
“This equally could go to their second album Artery, but I think Brontide really helped open Holy Roar up. They are an instrumental rock band, with electronic and technical flourishes, which is and was something quite different for us, even with our diversity. I also love the fact that they have only ever had releases on Holy Roar, I love working with them and the care and attention they put into their music. I feel like the label and band grew up together. A pivotal, incredible band to both the label and in a more general sense.”
Pariso/Kerouac – split
“I’m being somewhat self-indulgent here as I was in Pariso, but if ever there was a release to do where you were never going to make your money back, then it might as well be your own band. It was nice to do something so good for Kerouac too. The reason we couldn’t make our money back on this release was because this was, and still is, our most extravagant release. A credit-card shaped cd and 5″ vinyl housed in a pop-up cd case, available in two colours of packaging. Ridiculous. Even more so when you consider that the entire running time of this release was about 5 minutes. But i’m still so proud of this one! Sometimes you’ve just got to push the boat out…”
What’s brewing next for Holy Roar? What’s the long-term vision?
More releases than we’ve ever done before, lots of new bands, returning old bands, surprising bands, surprise releases, our 10th anniversary party (please come!) and lots more. There’s still no real long-term vision other than wanting to stay relevant, keep our releases of the utmost quality both musically and in terms of art and packaging, and hopefully, slowly, becoming as respected/good as say Sub Pop, Relapse, Wichita etc…
Massive thanks to Alex for talking to us. Holy Roar X will take place across two stages on Saturday May 21st at The Dome/Boston Music Rooms opposite Tufnell Park tube station. Here’s to the next ten years!
10 Years Of Holy Roar Records – The Playlist
159 releases and counting makes Holy Roar one of the most prolific in their field. To get you up to speed, here’s an hour of the best tracks the label has put out, including cuts from Rolo Tomassi, Employed To Serve, Bastions, Brutality Will Prevail, Maths, Dananananakroyd and more!
Keep up with Holy Roar online at the following sites!