HS: “Many of our favourite bands have been involved in the Fortuna POP! label, and we think of it as one of the actual independent labels that are not just new majors, but which also have the imagination and competence to release consistently and help their bands grow. So we thought it would be great to talk to label boss and founder Sean Price.”
What inspired you to start the label?
John Peel, Sarah Records, Bill Drummond and The Jesus and Mary Chain. The stultifying boredom of the east Midlands. And the music that my younger brother and his friends had started to make.
Where did the name come from?
From the street that I lived on in Manchester, Fortuna Grove. Factory had released a box set called Palatine named after the road they had their offices in so I guess that was in my mind. The POP! was supposed to be a Roy Lichtenstein pop art type POP! and I imagined the logo would look that that, but the brother of a friend designed me a logo using a picture of Brad Dourif in Wise Blood and that stuck.
Did you look for inspiration from other labels such as Postcard, Sarah, Factory? or any other labels?
Yeah. Not so much Factory, I don’t think I was as into their bands, bar New Order, but definitely early Creation and Sarah. Postcard had run its course before I got into music but I loved the concept of it, of this guy Alan Horne taking on the majors from his closet in Glasgow.
Sarah really were the ones who gave you a sense of the possible. The fact that you could write to them and they would write back, and you knew that Matt Haynes lived exclusively on carrots to fund the label, and it made you think you could do that. That they weren’t in London too, unlike Creation who were and seemed unlikely to be living off anything as healthy as carrots. I was a big Bunnyman fan too and, although I was too young to be involved, I loved the idea of things like Crystal Day in Liverpool where you would cycle round Liverpool and eat at the band’s favourite cafe and stuff, the tour they did of ley lines, and the dressing up in army surplus gear. I quickly realised this mainly came from the fertile mind of Bill Drummond and that was another inspiration.
Who were your favourite bands and artists, growing up?
Depeche Mode were the first band I really got into, around Some Great Reward time. I got a cassette of the album from my parents for Christmas 1984. And then the Mary Chain, after I saw them on The Old Grey Whistle Test TV show in ‘85 and read a review of Some Candy Talking in Smash Hits that referenced the Velvets.
That got me into The Velvets. I took VU out of the local library in the village! and then I got into the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Orange Juice, Billy Bragg, The Cure, Bowie, Lloyd Cole, Aztec Camera, Bowie, etc. It happened really quickly. By the time I went to university in Manchester in 1987 I knew EVERYTHING.
Who are your top five bands at the moment? They can be on Fortuna Pop.
I do tend to listen to a lot of stuff on Fortuna POP! Er, I’ll probably avoid that pitfall. I guess Father John Misty, Courtney Barnett, Tuff Love, Ezra Furman, Hookworms are the bands I’ve listened to the most this year, if that’s the question. Or, if you want my top five of all time… shit, who knows? It’d be something like The Velvets, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The GoBetweens and Jonathan Richman. Maybe.
What has been the hardest in trying to sell records and get bands out as a smaller label?
Time and money. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and finding the time to do it to a reasonably professional level while holding down a day job is a real killer, and I always think I could make a go of it full-time, but it never makes enough to enable me to do that [I hear you – RE ed.]. But if I had more time I could put in place some of those things like publishing that you do need to go beyond breaking even, so you end up in a catch 22 situation. Ultimately, nothing sells without the oxygen of press and radio and as a small label you have to fight twice as hard as a large label to get your bands heard.
Who have been the easiest bands to work with? And why?
Oh, I work with some fantastic bands so it’s really hard to pick any single one. It’s an absolute joy to work with The Spook School, just because they are enthusiasm personified. Martha are the very epitome of DIY – so many bands claiming to be DIY seem to completely forget it stands for DO IT YOURSELF. But Martha really get off their own backs and make it happen. September Girls are just amazing, such a talented bunch. I ask for new press shots and get them a week later and they’re exactly what I need; I ask for a video and it’s ready to budget on time and looks totally pro. Chorusgirl have been brilliant to work with, Silvi has driven the whole thing. Allo Darlin’ and Tigercats, both bands wonderful to work with. I’m worried I’ve missed a lot of people out now.
What has been the most fun record to put out, and why?
I suppose The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart album. Just because of everything it led to, and the sheer craziness around it. Hordes of people running towards the stage at Primavera, sold-out shows, being quoted out of context, it was great. It really was just a lot of fun, living the dream of success, although I did lose my mind.
When you play records out and about, what record do you always put in your record box?
Let’s have a look. I would say that both New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle and The Snake by Al Wilson are the two real ever-presents.
What have you got coming up in the twelve months? What can we get excited about?
Hey, it’s funny you should ask that, cos next year it’s the 20th birthday of the label. I’ve got new albums by Pete Astor, Flowers, Steven James Adams (ex of the Broken Family Band), Martha, September Girls and Evans The Death, and I’m planning a series of gigs to celebrate. We did some shows for the 15th birthday at the Scala under the banner Fifteen Years Of Fun, so this is gonna be Twenty Years Of Trouble.
We’re kicking off the year, as usual, with four nights at the Lexington for our Winter Sprinter. We’ve got all-dayers planned at MOTH Club for Labelmates festival and another Shake The Shackwell (Arms), and then I’m talking to Wales Goes POP!, NYC Popfest and Ramsgate Music Hall about shows. Basically I want a flyer that says “Fortuna POP! Twenty Years Of Trouble London - New York - Cardiff - Ramsgate”. And then we’ll do something a bit bigger toward the end of the year. My plan is to hire a magician to make me disappear on stage on the last show and I’ll never be heard of again.
What are your favourite shows of the last year?
The Julie Ruin at the Electric Ballroom sticks in the mind as a pretty exciting show. I’d just seen the documentary The Punk Singer and it reignited by love of Kathleen Hanna. She was good value at the gig. Such a sharp, smart, witty person. Father John Misty at Glastonbury was incredible - he’s one hell of a performer. Does Stewart Lee count? I’ve seen him three times in the last three months and he’s the best comedian I’ve ever seen.
What is your favourite book? Or who is your favourite author?
The Catcher In The Rye for fiction, Head On by Julian Cope or 45 by Bill Drummond, for music books. Although I’ve been saying Catcher… forever, so maybe I should re-read it. I don’t tend to read a lot of the same author but I like Bukowski a lot and all those white, middleaged, patriarchal writers like Roth, Updike and Bellow. Go figure.
What is your favourite science fiction movie?
Probably The Man Who Fell To Earth, with Alphaville in second place.
And finally, if you could be anyone else in the world regardless of time or reality who would it be? and why?
I’m kinda obsessed by the twin poles of creativity in New York and Liverpool in 1979, that’s my time, so it would have to be someone from then. I guess I’ve always wanted to be Bill Drummond, but I somehow think it would be more fun to be in New York, so maybe I’ll go for someone impossibly cool like John Lurie or Debbie Harry.