Purveyors of some of the finest current Psychedelic music available, Northern Star Records, based in the North of England, is an independent label that specialises in downloads. Featuring a wide array of styles from tripped out fuzz to psych-pop heaven via lysergic drones, the labels founders Ollie (Andy Oliver) and Scott have an obvious love of the music they sell. They have also been involved in the underground music scene for many years, playing in bands and writing fanzines. We like them because they remind us of us. And we don't hold it against them that they don't include a link to us in their website. Here’s all you need to know about them.
Terrascope Online: First off, could you tell me a bit about your label? How did Northern Star come about and does it have any specific aims and objectives? Why did you feel that this was a good time to start a download label catering for psychedelic music?
Scott: We didn’t really think of it in this way – it kind of just happened. We both love psychedelic music which is why we specifically focused on that genre, but as you know psychedelia incorporates a wide range of music in itself. What we’re basically trying to do with the Psychedelica series is say ‘What is psychedelia?’ and use it to create interest in bands whose music we love.
Ollie: A lot of our music is experimental yet tripped out. Some bands conform to the traditional 60s paisley, garage or fuzz style; others to the indie/shoegaze canon of Spacemen 3, Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine; other bands are ambient freakout or space, and then we have the dreamstate playroom whimsical folk. All have a distinct contemporary flavour which somehow make them bands of tomorrow rather than yesterday. Psychedelia to me is any form of music that takes you into that other world and leaves you floating up there.
Scott: Northern Star initially came about as Ollie and I go way back to schooldays. We’d got back in touch in 2005. We were both getting music through from other bands. Me through my own band The Electric Mainline and Ollie through his online fanzine Coloursonic. Anyway, to cut a long story short we had a load of ace bands, no-one was putting them out so we thought we would. And the rest as they say is history.
Your first release was the rather excellent ‘Psychedelica Volume 1’. Was it always your intention to release a compilation first, and was the inclusion of some established names a deliberate ploy to attract people to the label?
Scott: Well no matter how well our intentions were, we had to be realistic. No-one would have bought a double CD compilation of unknown bands so we felt we had to ask some established names in order to gain the necessary attention for the project that these bands deserved. I asked two of my favourite bands (Telescopes and Brian Jonestown Massacre), Ollie asked two of his (Electric Prunes, Silver Apples). All bands loved what we were doing and lent their support, and then we knew we had something truly special in our hands. There are also bands that have been making a serious name for themselves since the first compilation e.g. The Black Angels, The High Dials, The Dolly Rocker Movement, The Lovetones, Say Jansfield etc.
Ollie: The main objective behind Northern Star is to bring in quality acts. I would say Psychedelica 1 was more limited in what we could offer and not necessarily the larger acts had the best tracks either. On Psychedelica 2, we have a very high standard of acts that are not really high profile (apart from Black Angels perhaps), but their music is pure excellence.
How do you find bands for the label? Do you actively seek them out, or do you find that they are seeking you out.
Scott: Both, really. We’ve always got our eyes open for new acts. Most of the bands on Psychedelica Volume 2 are new acts. It would have been too easy to do Psych2 with the same bands, but it was always our attention to highlight great new acts and we wanted to stick to our guns and put out our favourite music alongside some newer acts. Some bands like the Black Angels, the Stevenson Ranch Davidians and The Dolly Rocker Movement have been with us from the very start.
Ollie: What is great is that higher profile bands are coming to us, some not necessarily psychedelic either but are presenting tracks drenched in LSD especially to appear on our album, I love that! Psychedelica 3 will have Amy Winehouse singing ‘Signed DC’ by Love, Motőrhead doing The Byrds’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and Take That doing a cover of the legendary Prunes track ‘I Had to Too Much To Dream’. Well, we’re aiming for that at least. [Phil wonders if at long last he’s found a home for the hip-hop track the Edgar Broughton Band recorded for a Terrascope compilation several years ago…] It’s a real buzz at the moment and we’re loving it. I think bands pick up on this and want to be part of it.
Given that you are a download site, why do you think bands choose to let you sell their work, rather than sell it themselves through the Internet?
Ollie: We’re the only online vendor of digital psychedelic music. They respect our label and what we stand for and generally want to be a part of it. Bands want to be associated with the brand we’re creating. We have to be quite strict on quality control, though, as there is a limit on server space so only the music we feel everyone should hear gets uploaded - although we have adjusted our policy to give bands a 30 day chance to sell their music if we feel they should be a part of what we do.
Scott: Its basically a show of force. The Northern Star site gets an enormous amount of traffic. We’re a one-stop shop for great music. By all the bands pulling together with us, we’re making it happen for everyone related to the label. Everyone knows they can come to Northern Star and find a great new band they’ve never heard of before. All the songs are streamed off the site so people can listen in before they buy. Our customers know that when they buy off Northern Star, they’re receiving quality music direct to their hard drives with a click of a button.
The great flexibility of a download label means that potential customers can pick and choose tracks from bands rather than buy a whole album. Is this a good thing, meaning bands strive to ensure every track is worth buying, or do you feel that it may mean that albums begin to disappear in this digital age?
Scott: I think its great as it gives people both options. Individual song downloads has brought back the importance of the ‘song’ and has re-introduced song-culture for the first time since the 1960s to a completely new generation. Instead of buying a 7” though, people are buying a mp3 download, whilst still retaining the option of buying full length albums. I think its brilliant for the bands as well as it has completely kicked open the doors for unsigned bands with a limited budget.
I certainly don’t think it will kill albums though. We’re currently hosting a number of albums in mp3 format on the site that are only available from Northern Star and we have found that these have been selling more consistently than individual tracks. Plus with buying mp3 albums people save themselves postage and it is the most environmentally friendly option.
Ollie: I don’t think I have ever bought a single track. I’m a collector type and prefer the idea of an album as a whole - this seems to be the trend in our sales also. It’s important to point out that we’re not just a download label, we also sell CDs too, and we’re selling vinyl and T-shirts soon too.
You have both been involved in the music scene for a long time, playing in bands and producing fanzines. Can you give us some more details of your musical past and how it has shaped what you are doing now?
Ollie: I’ve been closely linked with the neo-psych scene for about 12 years since I first bought music from the Freak Emporium (when it was a booklet catalogue) along with Freakbeat and of course Ptolemaic Terrascope. In fact, I wrote to Phil McMullen asking for tips and advice on how to create a psych mag ikn 1997. He wrote me a letter back saying I was crazy even to try, which I took as a sign that he knew me well, and so I started Astro Zombie magazine.
I was also involved for years with Suicidal Flowers on Delerium Records and have played with Spacegarden and on Reefus Moons’ collaboration with the Flowers. Nowadays, I do lots of psychedelic music mainly with my two bands: Dust (a dark psych brooding desert surf band) and The Spirals (psychedelic folk).
Scott: I’ve played in many bands and music has always been a dominant force in my life. I’m an avid gig-goer. I even reviewed for a few fanzines including Ollie’s Coloursonic and Astro Zombie magazines. My current long-term musical projects are The Electric Mainline and Perfect Blue. The Electric Mainline is a guitar project in the vein of Creation Records style bands. I write, record, play and produce all the music. It’s a platform for my songs. TEM is currently just me although it has featured others over time and will do again. An earlier incarnation of the band appears on Psychedelica Volume 1.
Perfect Blue is a very different project which I have going on with Rob Allen (Nisei23). It was initially dance orientated but has evolved considerably and now incorporates experimental, ambient and electronica. We’ve had two EPs out and currently feature on Psychedelica Volume 2. We’ve about halfway through recording our debut album. We’d like to see this music used for film and TV, where it would be in its natural environment.
How do you see the label moving in the future, do you have a plan or will you play it by ear?
Scott: We have a loose plan but the music business being the way it is you have to have your eye on the ball. We’re flexible enough to change with the times. We embrace new music and new technology. We see the label evolving to become a one-stop resource for great music incorporating news, reviews, a community as well as great music. We also have some plans for other compilations as well as the Psychedelica series.
Ollie: It’s mainly the development of our label into more of a movement and we hope to get affiliated with some of the best labels and magazines in our genre. There are some very exciting bands that are coming up from different quarters of the psych genre. We’re confidently embracing new technologies and multimedia and are always researching the best ways of delivering high quality psychedelic content to our customers. We’re looking into video streaming also for live gigs/shows. It will all be good in the end.
Written and directed by Simon Lewis. (c) Terrascope Online, 2007
Northern Star website: http://www.northernstarrecords.co.uk/index.cfm