with Steve Dewhurst of Jehu and Chinaman
Name: Steve Dewhurst
Label: Jehu and Chinaman
City: Nottingham, UK
Artists Roster: Komodo Haunts, Derek Rogers, Wizard Of, Rejections, Invisible Path, Lutto Lento
QRD – When & why did you start your label?
Steve – I write about music for several websites & a lot of my colleagues on those websites run labels. With those guys & all the other people I was coming in contact with I felt a bit left out, decided I needed a new hobby & started Jehu and Chinaman in October 2012. So we’re really new! Our first batch of tapes came out in December 2012. It was a hectic couple of months.
QRD – Where did you get the money to finance your first few releases?
Steve – What money? I had to convince my wife it was a good idea & paid out of my own pocket. She’s still not convinced it’s a good idea.
QRD – How many releases have you put out?
Steve – Just six to date – Komodo Haunts Dance on the Serpent’s Neck; Wizard Of Lifer/Exister; Derek Rogers Mist & Drift; Rejections The Vertical City EP; Invisible Path Dreams Woven Within the Tapestry, & Lutto Lento’s Partition.
QRD – How many releases would you like to do a year?
Steve – So far we’ve been releasing in batches of three. The plan is to release a further three in May – which we already have lined up - & then make a decision as to how we go forward. It might be that we drop surprises here & there or that we do bigger batches, or both. Whatever, it’s going to be cool.
QRD – How many hours a week do you work on the label & how many would you like to?
Steve – That’s hard to say. I work on it whenever I get chance, but with my day job & the writing it gets busy. I put in at least a couple of hours a night amongst writing reviews. I’m sure I’ll find a balance soon, when I get used to it.
QRD – What are the fun &/or rewarding parts about running a label?
Steve – There’s a lot of fun. The people I meet are great, the nervousness of waiting for email replies is in its own way is pretty cool... even when you get rejected it’s like, “Well, at least I tried”. But funnily enough I haven’t been rejected too many times yet. Also, I have monthly “label meetings” with my man Tom, who helps me with the financial side of it (I suck with numbers) & the digital distro. The meetings descend into drunken idiocy pretty quickly & we end up just writing stupid raps & stuff & listening to “Liquid Swords” ‘cause that’s our fucking jam. We might ask GZA to do a tape actually.
QRD – How have your motivations for having a label changed?
Steve – It started out as an experiment, like “Can I do it?” But when people started getting on board things came together pretty quickly. Release days are such a great rush. I can see it getting pretty addictive, that feeling. “Yeah, I released that”... it’s a pretty cool thing to say & if I make enough money to cover the next batch then even better. But truly I just do it because I love music so much.
QRD – What do you feel is the biggest waste of your time running the label?
Steve – Having to justify shit all the time gets tiring. The tape scene in the UK is slightly behind that in the US, so I get questions all the time & some people making fun of the fact I release music on cassette.
QRD – What are some labels you admire or feel a kinship to?
Steve – I’m lucky enough to have met or got to know quite a few label owners through the writing I do. There are so many people doing great things; but as far as cassette labels go, I think Daniel Voigt’s SicSic is hard to beat. If I could get anywhere near that level I’d be more than happy. I met Daniel last year at a Hering und Seine Seiben Sachen show & we had a couple of beers. I think that might have been the night I first thought about starting Jehu and Chinaman. God, there are so many labels I admire. I could probably list a hundred. Lubomir Grzelak’s Sangplasmo is great. I’m right behind all the European labels. There are some cool ones in Russia, like Monochrome Vision. Baskaru’s products are always beautiful too.
QRD – How has your physical location affected your label?
Steve – Like I said earlier, the UK is a little behind with the tape thing. Even my friends don’t really get it. So I do feel like I’m wading against the tide sometimes. I live in a small town with virtually no music scene, so promotional opportunities are few & far between, but recently there seems to be a little spark. A gallery called Decimal Place has started putting shows on in Lincoln, which is about 30 minutes away & Audacious Art Experiment in Sheffield (about an hour from me) has put a couple of our artists on. So I’m hoping it could be the start of something.
QRD – Do you enjoy music as much now as you used to & how has running a label effected how you listen to/hear music?
Steve – If I couldn’t hear music I think I would die. I am not a musician, so I have a very emotional response to it as opposed to a technical one. I can’t listen to music & go, “Oh, I see what they’re doing there”, because I don’t know what they’re doing most of the time. Tom, who I run the label with, does all that. He goes, “Yeah, that’s easy – he’s using this pedal & looping this & that...” & I’m sat there kind of absorbing it like a drug just letting it wash over me & not caring whether it’s easy or not. I don’t care as long as it makes me feel good. Because I’m a music writer too, I like to research. I can become obsessive. I start at the start with everything. If someone’s first album sucked notoriously I’ll still start there. It’s important to know where an artist is coming from. When I first got into the blues people were telling me, “Oh, you must listen to Lead Belly & Charlie Patton & Son House...” & I thought “I’ll get to that, but first I’m gonna get my hands on the first thing they ever recorded” & I tracked down Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” on the internet & read all the Alan Lomax books I could get my hands on & bought huge thick histories & worked my way through chronologically. It’s the only way, for me. I like to be able to put things in context. So to answer your question, I don’t think running a label has affected the way I listen at all. Not yet, anyway.
QRD – What’s your demos policy?
Steve – You can submit them through our site. We listen to everything we get sent & will reply most of the time, but it might take us a while because we are both busy with day jobs.
QRD – How do you find out about new artists for your label?
Steve – Mainly through the writing I do. I review something I dig & then contact them & ask what they’re up to & whether they’d be interested. I don’t care who I ask. You’ve gotta take a risk, right? I asked Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt/Black Pus last week during an interview I was doing. He hasn’t got back to me though... dude doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.
QRD – How do most fans find out about your label?
Steve – Through Facebook mainly, I guess. I send emails out every now & then, but mainly to press. I should be better at promo than I am.
QRD – What are some things that would make you stop working with a band?
Steve – I used to be a stage manager & some of the bigger names were unbearable. The tour managers were just as bad sometimes, coming in with their little bands going, “We must have this light here & the sound is shitty”. The band had sold, like, 200 tickets in a 1000 capacity venue & they’re going around in their tight jeans with their dicks up each other’s arses & I’m doing eighteen hour shifts accommodating their every whim. “Get us some vodka, but not that vodka.” I had to pay out of my own pocket for them sometimes because the crappy venue I worked for only stocked these huge cheap bottles of vodka & – I’m not kidding – the shit glowed in the dark. So I had to go to the off license & get them better vodka. I can’t name names or I’ll get in trouble. The best band I worked with though was The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I don’t dig their music all that much, but they were funny guys. So what would stop me working with someone is just if they were an arsehole I guess. But you don’t meet many at this level.
QRD – How involved do you like to be in the artwork design for a release?
Steve – Mostly the artists do their own art or they know someone who they want to do it & so far it’s all been cool. I have a friend called Stephen Freeman who is a really great photographer & we’re trying to get him as involved as possible. He did the art for our Rejections tape & it looks superb.
QRD – If you really like a band, but aren’t sure you could sell many copies of their record; what do you do?
Steve – Probably do it anyway.
QRD – How is financing of a release split between artists & the label?
Steve – I pay for the whole shebang & the artist gets 10 copies to sell themselves for however much they want. Sometimes the artist buys extra copies on top, which is rad. I’m just grateful they want to release music with me! So I don’t expect anything but the music. That’s enough, right? That someone wants to do that... We also have a digital distro deal that entitles our artists to 50% of whatever we make through digital sales. I dunno what the going rate is, but I think that’s quite generous. We get our stuff on Boomkat, Amazon, iTunes & so on.
QRD – Do you have written contracts with your bands or handshake deals?
Steve – We have a written deal for the digital stuff. Whether it’d stand up in court or not is debatable. It’s kind of like the Factory Records/signed in blood thing, but without the blood. Tom does all that stuff because I’m simply not switched-on enough when it comes to finance & percentages & all that confusing brouhaha.
QRD – How important is it to you to have touring acts on your roster & what do you do to encourage it?
Steve – We’ve actually been really lucky in that two of the artists in our new batch are about to embark on tours. It wasn’t planned, it just fell that way. So I’m hoping that it will drum up a good deal of interest. Lutto Lento is touring Europe, including some UK dates & Rejections has been playing across the UK too.
QRD – Do you handle promotions in house or hire out & why?
Steve – In house, because I haven’t got the money to hire out. I think it’s fun anyway & it’s easier to maintain relationships.
QRD – How do you maintain contact with your fan base?
Steve – Through Facebook & Twitter at the moment. I need to sort out an email newsletter for people to sign up to.
QRD – How big of a staff do you have & how big of one do you need?
Steve – Just me & Tom. I do most of the hands-on stuff, like folding j-cards & numbering them & sticking stickers on tapes. Tom travels a lot for his job so he handles the finance from a distance most of the time. It provides a challenge, because we only manage to get together once every month or so. There’s a lot of emailing & texting involved.
QRD – What do you do to build relationships with radio stations, magazines & blogs?
Steve – I want to shout out to Lorrie Edmonds who does the I Will Not Return Your Records show here, because she’s been a big supporter of ours from the off. I don’t know how I made that connection, it just happened. I think Derek Rogers put us in touch, the beardy git. Otherwise, I email out to stations, magazines, blogs etc. on a regular basis. Things are starting to tick now… we’re picking up some decent press.
QRD – What is the job of your distributors?
Steve – Our digital distribution is handled by Kudos in London. They get us on Boomkat, iTunes, Amazon, & all kinds of other sites. We haven’t got involved with physical distribution just yet - we’re working out our options in that respect & we seem to be doing OK as we are.
QRD – How do you decide how big the initial pressing of a release should be?
Steve – We only make 40 copies of a release. If Chippendale gets back to me then I might be tempted to do 50 for him. He’s getting 10 of them like everyone else though, even if he threatens to drum me to death.
QRD – Do you sell merchandise other than the music (t-shirts, etc.)?
Steve – The plan is that we’ll do laptop stickers & t-shirts eventually. We’re in the early stages of planning that.
QRD – How has running a label affected your own artistic career?
Steve – My artistic career is largely limited to my writing. I can’t play an instrument, although Tom & I did start a noise band called dgbscts a few years ago. We recorded something one night when we were drunk & it was awful. That was where we got the name Jehu and Chinaman from actually - that’s what we called the track we made. I was reading Captain Scott’s diaries at the time & he had these ponies in the Antarctic with him called Jehu and Chinaman. They were too old for the job, but they battled on bravely & got into some hilarious japes. They evolved personalities & Scott’s crew really grew to like them, but sadly they were the first to die & they got fed to the dogs. We call them “The Heavenly Steeds”. There was a cat on the boat too – I can’t say its name without causing bother, so look it up – but the cat went all the way to Antarctica with them, survived the whole trip & made it back to the English Channel where it fell overboard & drowned.
QRD – Ideally, would you release your own material?
Steve – I think Tom would like to release some of his stuff. He’s a talented guy.
QRD – Do you think the album format is dead?
Steve – I hope not, but it depends where you look. If you’re looking at the pop charts then I think albums are pretty much obsolete. It’s usually just a couple of singles surrounded by guff. My wife likes Top 40 stuff & when she has her music on I hear the same five or six songs over & over. One Direction, Robbie Williams, Take That, Adele, Florence & the Machine… you know, they might make great individual pop songs, but does anyone really ever listen to a whole album of theirs? It’s shuffle-culture. Whatever happened to the album track? When you look back at great albums from the past you could listen to them from the start to the end even if they were huge sellers. Think of the Beatles, the Stones... the Smiths, Bowie & even “entertainers” like Sinatra to an extent – In The Wee Small Hours is a bitchin’ album & you totally have to think that motherfucker through. I think the last “chart” album I did that with was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Janelle Monae’s album. They both have a remarkable level of ambition & that’s something that’s been lost, I think: artistic ambition, not just the ambition to make a shit load of quick cash & get laid. That’s a by-product, not the main focus. People are too happy to be spoon-fed & told what to like. It’s just lazy.
QRD – Do you think the return of vinyl & cassettes is a fad?
Steve – Ha. Yeah, maybe. Again, I really hope not. It’s something that gets brought up quite often by my friends – “Why cassettes…?” & all that. I may stop seeing them. I love cassettes though – I love that they’re handmade & I think that comes through on the physical products, the fact you’re holding in your hands something that has been home-dubbed, handmade, hand-numbered & so on. It’s gone from one caring pair of hands to another, just like a mix-tape would’ve done back in the day. Remember how much they used to mean to you? It’s just not the same feeling with a CD. The sound of cassettes gets unfair press too. I find it incredibly warm & gratifying – not unlike vinyl, in fact.
QRD – What do you think of ultra-limited runs of releases (less than 100 discs)?
Steve – Well, we only make 40 of everything so I guess I like it. Actually, I know I do - I have an irrational attraction to anything “limited edition” or specially packaged. Sometimes you get these “limited edition” versions of albums & it’s basically just a fancy box with one bonus track or a five minute “making of” DVD or something & I’m like “Woah! Gotta get it quick!” & three years down the line it’s still available but it’s £3 in the bargain bin.
QRD – How much content do you feel should be available free to fans?
Steve – We like to make stuff available for streaming on our Soundcloud page, but mainly for promo purposes. Our stuff is available on Spotify too. Because the stuff we have released so far is pretty long-form we can only get a song per side sometimes, so if we were to give too much away no one would bother buying the tapes. With our first batch we did a free bonus tracks that were pre-order only. So there are literally about five people worldwide with one of those little babies. Talk about hot cakes.
QRD – What do you do about people distributing your music without financial compensation (piracy & file trading)?
Steve – It’s pretty sickening. I’ve noticed a couple of our releases showing up on file sharing sites of late & you kind of get this feeling in your stomach. I mean, these things are still for sale. I have a stack of them in my spare room & some dick from Turkmenistan or somewhere thinks it’s cool to put it up for free. I don’t know where they even get them from. I’ve never sold anything to Turkmenistan! People don’t think about the hard work & money that goes in to it.
QRD – What’s something you see other labels do that you think of as borderline unethical?
Steve – Somebody somewhere is telling Morrissey his music still matters.
QRD – What would you suggest to someone starting a label today?
Steve – It’s too soon for me to start dishing out any advice; but I would say that if you want to do it, then just go for it. You can’t say you never tried even if it doesn’t work out. Also, release what you love.
QRD – In 20 years what do you think/hope your label will be known/remembered for?
Steve – Our limited edition GZA/Lightning Bolt collaboration. Or we might shoot a president or something if we get desperate.