[sic] Magazine

Label Focus: Cuckundoo Records

Cuckundoo Records was incepted by long-term school friends Ben Winbolt-Lewis and Andy Jones, who were keen to tap into the emerging pool of talent emerging from their native Leeds, while unearthing original and unique artists from around the globe.

As an employee of the famous Leaf Label imprint, Winbolt-Lewis especially had a clear understanding of the nature of eclecticism and finding rough diamonds that are just ‘that bit special’. Cuckundoo, over their two year lifespan, have adopted a measured, patient approach to signing bands and artists.

An approach that has paid divedens when you consider the success of Vessels, easily one of Britain’s best bands right now, whose effortless disregard of genre restirctions has brought them to the attention of mainstream Radio and Media. Also on their roster is quirky American Escalade (pictured below) –imagine a kooky collison between Sonic Youth and Polvo.

It’s safe to say that both artists have their own unique sound and Cuckundoo deserve to be commended for their style and approach. Ben Winbolt-Lewis spoke to [sic] Mag detailing the ins and outs of the young label and just what it takes to join their fold.

[Sic Mag]: What influenced you to start your own label and how have your values differed from your original aim?

Ben Winbolt-Lewis : It’s an ambition I have had for a while mainly from loving music so much but not being talented enough to be a musician. I like to evangelize about music that I really like, so this would be a great, creative way to do this,

How does your label differ from others? Are there any distinguishing characteristics that give your label its own identity?

BW: Cuckundoo is still very young, and with records by just two artists released, so I feel it’s a bit too early to talk about identities. With Vessels, in particular, it’s very hands on where I act as a quasi-manager to them, giving advice as a friend rather than as a company! That’s the way I want to work. It’s a lot easier to get behind something once you establish those relationsips.

How difficult was it to get your label established and what does it take to survive and prosper?

BW: The hardest thing is getting the money together and taking the leap of faith and just do it. I had procrastinated for many years. Books, record label courses and work experience can all help, but nothing makes you learn more than doing something, and there being a necessity.

We put out 3 7-inch records first and have now realized that singles generally make a loss, so the plan now is to use them as a promotional tool towards a longer release.

At such a transitional period of the music industry, it is too hard to predict what will lead to prosperity, but I’m sure flexibility is key, so you can adapt as things change. The other thing is not to try and second guess people’s tastes, but go things with which Cuckundoo are passionate about…

What do you consider to be your label’s proudest achievement and why?

BW: I was so chuffed for Vessels when they went to the States to record their album with a favourite producer (John Congleton). To be involved in helping people realize a dream does make me feel proud.

When signing new acts, are there any particular attributes or factors that you look for?

BW: I’m not too fussed about sticking to particular genres, I just look for something unlike anything I have heard before. Playing live is a key factor. I have ummed and erred over some artists before, but the key factor was that they would not be touring the UK regularly. It is such an important promotional tool.

If money was no object, which artist or band would you most like to work and why?

BW: I’m sure there are millions! Any of my favourites I guess, like Radiohead (see left), Animal Collective, TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene etc

With so many formats now available, from digital through to various physical products, which one do you see thriving in the future?

BW: Digital will keep growing, whether it is in downloading or a streaming context. I’m sure there will always be a market for a physical product. Cds may die before vinyl, as vinyl still has that attraction to many people.

Illegal file-sharing is obviously the burning issue in the music industry. Should labels embrace or distance themselves from it?

BW: It happens and I know musicians, people who work for labels and people who consider themselves very ethical do it, so it is not a black and white issue. I used to download quite a bit for free, with the aim of buying all the things I really liked on cd, In practice, this doesn’t always work as I’d ideally like. However, if I have liked an artist, I would try and see them live, buy a t-shirt or other releases by them.

Nowadays, I download very little illegally, especially after seeing the drop in sales at the label I work for over the last few years. As long as money keeps going back into the industry, things will keep ticking along.

The main thing in how the future of music will be determined is how today’s kids will value recorded music…

What advice would you give to budding label owners?

BW: Put the work in, be passionate, keep your head up and always remember why you decided to do it in the first place – you love music!

Finally, in five years time, where do you see your label?

BW: Who knows?! It would be great to be releasing a few albums a year and be able to make a living, but it’s too hard to even begin to start speculating…

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Vessels – A Hundred Times in Every Direction from LEFT EYE BLIND on Vimeo.