Four Tet: Text Is a Context
Part 2 of 2: An Extended Conversation with Kieran Hebden
Dimitri Nasrallah - May 26, 2011
In advance of Four Tet’s Nocturne 4 appearance at MUTEK 2011 on Saturday, June 4th, MUTEKMAG caught up with Kieran Hebden for an in-depth and wide-ranging conversation. Today, in Part 2 of our extended talk, we discuss his label, Text Records, as well as the desire to do something different in the music industry and his longstanding friendship with dubstep icon Burial.
4. TEXT RECORDS
Your label, Text, has been getting a lot of attention lately. How much of an investment do you have in that?
The label has been no less than 10 years, and we just hit 10 releases.
Slow and steady.
Yeah, the existence of the label was purely, at first, to have the experience of releasing a record myself. I was involved in music and I had this idea of experiences, you know. I started DJing because I was like, ah, I wonder what it’s like to DJ? I really want to have a go at that. Things were kind of Faustian. Things were going so well for me, I had this kind of real confidence and I wouldn’t think anything of phoning somebody up with ‘Oh, can you book me to DJ?’ And they’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll try and arrange it.’ Things would fall into place nicely.
The same way, I was like, ah, I wonder actually what it’s like to start a label with with distribution and stuff? The first record I put out was by a Canadian, this guy Koushik, who was a friend of Dan Snaith [aka Caribou] from Calgary who I met through him, and had this demo that was fantastic. So I said, ‘Okay, well I really, really love this music and I’ll put it out’. I did a little 7-inch EP, and then I put the next Fridge record out.
Doing the Fridge record, all the band were involved in it. That was an experience in the beginning. I thought, one day I’ll have an album out, we’ll do shows and we’ll sell the CD from the front of the stage to kids afterwards. Here’s an album where we’d written and produced and recorded all the music. We’d done the artwork ourselves. We manufactured it ourselves. And sold it and all that, and now we’re selling it direct to people and that was a really nice experience. To have the music come out like that and get it to people where we’d totally done every single element of the whole process.
So then the label just sat there and people contacted me every now and then. There isn’t even a website for the label. It’s purely just to put things out I’m involved in here and there, where there isn’t another label involved. I don’t want it to be too stressed or pressured. Sometimes it’s just like easier to put it out myself.
I released the Rocketnumbernine record. I figured I’d been on tour with them, and there was this song they were playing every night. I was just like, this song needs to be captured now. They were absolutely on fire. And we went into the studio a few days later and recorded it, and I thought, well, I’ll just put it on my label, otherwise they might spend months trying to shop it around.
The last release you had on the label was quite high profile.
Yeah, to work with and to finish tracks with Thom Yorke and Burial, and to be singing on that music, the whole hoo ha that would be involved with getting another label in there, there’d be another agenda. They’d be like, how should we do the promo for this; they need to be thinking about it from a business point of view. The releases I’ve done – especially the two with Burial involved – it was really, really important for us that we managed to try and whittle it down to being just about the music as much as possible.
Those records had to be made in the way and put out in the way they were put out. We would just put them out without any artwork or anything, and then we’d just kind of go silent about them. Just let everybody discuss the music, and just let that be it.
But with this Burial and Thom Yorke record, it was a bit more than that even. In England, with the radio and NME and all the kind of music magazines, over here they all want it kind of to be done on their terms when music comes out. It’s turned into a bit of a circus in a way, where the media here and the record companies are very much kind of in cahoots with each other. They’re helping each other out rather than putting the music as the absolute focus. It’s funny for me to be able to put out a record that I know magazines and I know radio or whatever will be so distressed that they didn’t get sent a copy a month before everybody else. Or that nobody’s phoned them up begging them to write about it. In fact, when they wanted to write about it, they were told they couldn’t even have a copy.
Explaining that to another label rather than just putting it out myself, it just really makes sense in that light. The only problem with me doing it myself is that I’m not very well organized. There’s a lot of work that goes into putting out records, more than I ever would’ve imagined. And then everybody around me kept saying, ‘Well, all these Radiohead fans are going to want it and all these things. But you know, I’m just paying for it myself. I don’t want to end up with 5000 copies of these things in my attic, so I’ve been quite cautious about that.
How many copies of that single are out there now, would you say?
I think there’s about 7000 out there now.
That’s quite a bit for a piece of vinyl.
Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s a ridiculous amount. It’s a lot more than vinyl normally sells. But The Guardian wrote an article on it and said that it was limited to 300 copies worldwide, and nobody knows where they got that from. It’s just totally incorrect. Maybe they spoke to a shop that said there were only 300 copies, meaning that that shop only got 300 copies to sell. But once something like that gets out, I just got these people contacting me endlessly distressed that they can’t get a hold of a copy.
So, yeah, I’m pressing more at the moment and trying to meet demand because Thom, Burial, and I made a pact that we’re going to be silent about this record when it comes out. And then here we are at this point where people couldn’t hear the record and I’d be getting contacted by people who were genuinely worried about it.
5. THE MEDIA
Once the rumour mill gets going, you just have to correct so much information that’s out there….
I don’t mind that. That’s the only information I kind of like. It makes me so happy when, I don’t know, Pitchfork or something puts up a new story about the record that is completely misinformed and wrong. Because some of these music publications or websites and such, they’re just way too arrogant. They really think they’ve got the music industry in their pockets because they think they are incredibly powerful. I think people need to stand up to them every now and then and show them that people can do things completely without them as well and make them look stupid, all simultaneously.
Speaking of things that one can find in the media, am I mistaken in reading that you and Burrial know each other form high school?
No, that’s true. We went to school together and things so uh, that’s how – I’ve been in contact with him since the first Burial 12-inch came out. We’re friends, but I think once he started making music, we sort of had this interesting kind of mutual respect for each other in music. It was like, oh, you know, massive fan. And I heard his stuff, and I totally loved everything he was doing. Straightaway, we were like, we should really try and make some music together. The whole thing was kind of set in motion for us to work together like 3 or 4 years ago.
Would you have expected that all the way back in high school? Was there that kind of feeling that he was going to go into music, or you were going to go into music?
Oh, it was a total surprise. He was not involved in music at all when I was at school. I went to this crazy school that turned out to be a melting pot of musicians, and nobody’s kind of sure why. All the guys from Hot Chip I was at school with, and the guys from XX, loads and loads of musicians, lots of very successful classical musicians. And it was just a regular state school that had a terrible music department. There’s just some kind of weird phenomenon happened where a lot of musicians all came from there.