Noise Annoys: Quiet Arch boss Lyndon Stephens on celebrating Belfast indie label's fourth birthday
Quiet Arch boss Lyndon Stephens gets a grilling about his Belfast-based independent record label and its special fourth birthday bash at The Elmwood Hall tonight featuring QA artists Joshua Burnside, Ryan Vail, Malojian and Beauty Sleep...
HI LYNDON, happy fourth birthday to Quiet Arch. How did the label start, what was your initial vision for it and how much has it grown over the past four years?
It started out as an after-thought, really, rather than to be a thing of its own. We released a couple of records – one by Tucan and another [Sea Legs] by Ryan Vail and Ciaran Lavery.
It was really only meant to be a vehicle where we released music by artists who we managed [via Champion Sound Music], but the Sea Legs record was the first one which did pretty well.
Last year, we released Ephrata by Joshua Burnside and it won the Northern Ireland Music prize and wildly exceeded our expectations in terms of streams and sales. This was what made us decide to step up the operations of the label and make it separate from the management company.
In total, we have released six albums in the last four years but also have released some EP length recordings. At the present moment we have nine albums in production, seven of which will be released next year – it scares me even thinking about it, but I can't complain as it would be worse if we weren’t busy at all.
How do you decide which artists to work with – and is there a particular ‘Quiet Arch sound’?
No, not at all. We look for two things – genuine artistic merit and the potential to do well commercially at the same time. We get presented with an awful lot of things that have one or the other but its rare to have both at the same time.
The sound varies a lot – we have folk, electronica, electro pop, rock – the only common thread is that it's all from Ireland. Music is a very tight game these days so everything is pretty measured.
Are there any other labels you look up to in terms of the ‘influences’ on QA?
Yes, loads. I suppose I admire the UK indies and what they have done – Bella Union, Ninja Tune, Domino, XL, Rough Trade, Beggars – these are all labels that I have great admiration for in regard to their championing of and support for independent music and artists.
Locally, I think Faction records in Dublin have been a real inspiration. Their success with James Vincent McMorrow showed me that it was actually possible to break an Irish artist internationally with the management and label based in Ireland. No-one else has done this on the island as far as I know and it's a great achievement.
Which QA releases are you most proud of and are there any ‘one that got away’ style releases/projects which never quite happened?
Sea Legs is a great record, Ephrata by Joshua Burnside is also a world-class album and Ryan Vail's first album For Every Silence is a brilliant debut.
In regard to ones that got away, we did once work with an act called UNKNWN who I think would have had a great album in them. Unfortunately, they broke up after only releasing a couple of EPS.
Is this the first time you’ve staged a big birthday celebration for the label and how are preparations for the show coming along?
Yes, this is the first time. We have always had Christmas shows with Ryan Vail, Ciaran Lavery and Joshua Burnside in the past, but they were more stand-alone shows for the artists – we thought we should do something this year with everyone.
It's all going pretty well, ticket sales have been good and we have everything ready. Everyone is doing something a bit special for it and we have special merchandise made up for the night: T-shirts and posters.
It's all being recorded and filmed and we plan on releasing a live album next year.
What are your hopes for the future of the label – where will you be in another four years?
To have released at least 30 albums and have won a Mercury with one of them, to have worked out how to make YouTube work for us and to have sorted physical distribution in regard to US, Canada, South America, Australia and Asia, as we currently only license there.
So, just the small things really!
If you could change one thing about the music industry in Ireland, what would it be?
For more people to realise what absolutely fantastic talent and creativity we have locally and to give it more respect and support. There’s an awful lot of feeling still that things that are made locally aren’t as good as those that come from outside. So much great work gets overlooked for this reason.
Did you/do you have any musical ambitions yourself in terms of actually making your own music?
No. I was a DJ for around 20 years, learned how to mix records together to a decent degree and learned a lot about timing and structure in music, but never got around to making my own or playing an instrument.
I'm a pretty 'right hand brain' type person, in that I’m pretty mathematical in how my brain works. So, I'm actually better at planning, strategising and organising release campaigns and tours.
I can be creative enough in certain ways – I think business is an art in itself, to be honest.
What’s the best musical show/event you’ve ever attended?
Leftfield at the Ulster Hall was pretty great, also The Smiths at the Ulster Hall, Rolling Stones at Slane and Bonnie Prince Billy at Bangor Abbey.
Joshua Burnside and Ciaran Lavery have both blown my mind at times and one of the better live acts I have seen is Shame.
Who is your favourite band/artist of all time?
That is a very, very hard question as I have in fact got about a top 50, I'd say, which changes every now and again.
Currently, I'm really liking Slowdive and Low, but I love Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, The Jam, Pink Floyd, Ride, Neil Young, The Beatles, Jonathan Wilson, The War on Drugs, Van Morrison, Small Faces, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Who, The Kinks, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tim Buckley, The Smiths, Nick Drake, Nick Mulvey, Goat, Air... in fact, I could probably go on forever here, so I’ll stop.
:: Quiet Arch Fourth Birthday Party, tonight, The Elmwood Hall, Belfast. Tickets £12 via Tinyurl.com/quietarch4th