Label Focus: Olive Grove Records

Having two of Scotland’s top bloggers behind a record label seems to make a lot of sense, but when Lloyd Meredith (Peenko) and Halina Rifai (Podcart) started Olive Grove back in the summer of 2010 they were just dipping their toe in.

Fast forward four years and they’re pretty well established and putting out records in pretty regular fashion, all the while sticking to the principles they set out with to remain non-profit and to provide a platform for the bands they like to make it to the next level.

When I caught up with Lloyd on his lunch break from his day job, that he tells me is too dull to discuss, I was interested to find out how Olive Grove came about and what does the future hold for the label that has launched the likes of Randolph’s Leap and The Moth and the Mirror.

As both Halina and Lloyd had been pretty intertwined with the Scottish music scene for years previous the two were quite familiar with each other, but it still came out of the blue when Halina phoned Lloyd one July night and said “I want to start a label, and I want to start it with you”.

At this point Lloyd had just been made redundant , so as he puts it “I had a bit of money and time to play with”.

“We got together and came up with an ethos, basically we decided that we’d release the bands we liked to almost provide a stepping stone to something bigger and we wouldn’t take any money from it, so it was basically just an extension of our blogs, cos it’s for the love of the music essentially.”

He laughs as he makes this statement, throwing in a “fucking stupid idea” and a “four years later we’re still not taking any money”, but that’s not to say he’s not happy with what he’s doing, running a record label for the love of the music has its rewards, but there is a lot of work to be done for no financial gains – it’s a frustrating life for people who dedicate a lot of time to help promote the music they love.

However, back in 2010 Lloyd had just done a show with Randolph’s Leap, who he now manages despite them leaving Olive Grove for well respected Eigg based label Lost Map, and it just so happened that they’d just recorded an EP, “so, we met up with them and asked if they wanted us to put it out, I helped fund that one and that’s how it started”.

From then on they did a Christmas single with Esperi and their first full length the following year with The Son(s), who Lloyd had gotten to know through the Peenko: “I’d done interviews with them but I’d never met the guy, I only actually met him about two years after we put the album out but we’ve met and we’re quite good friends now”.

Following that the releases rolled in, Pensioner, The Moth and the Mirror, Jo Mango, State Broadcasters, Woodenbox, Call To Mind and as I write this they’ve released Skinny Dipper’s debut EP.

At the time of our chat though it was Call to Mind who were fresh off the press with their full length The Winter Is White, and Lloyd just off the back of catching them at T in the Park states “I felt so bad cos it was at that point that it was so hot outside and you didn’t really want to go into the tent… they sounded great though”.

Over the four years Olive Grove has been on the go it has developed gradually to a point where it’s doing “reasonably well”, bands now know the label and should have a reasonable idea of the sort of sounds they release, generally stuff with folky, indie twinge to it, so they get approached on a fairly regular basis about putting things out, but Lloyd is the first to point out that they’re more of a facilitator, aside from the occasional release where the label has recouped expenses most of the releases are down to the bands own budget, but whether they can afford a full PR scheme or a run on vinyl or just a straight forward release with the duo using their own, pretty substantial contact lists to promote the record, if it’s something the two of them feel strongly enough about they are happy to put it out.

Still, with two individuals known for there strong opinions on the music picture in Glasgow there are bound to be cases where they disagree on a certain act, and Lloyd is happy to admit to this though doesn’t want to site any specific occasions.

“Sometimes we’ve had to knock bands that’d I’d really have liked to work with and vice-versa, basically we both had to agree otherwise it wasn’t going to happen.

“I lean more towards the folky pop sort of sound and Halina likes the rocky bands so there are a few that we had to leave, that we individually thought would have been good.”

Still, their existing relationship with the scene sets them in good stead, indeed Lloyd states that most of the acts Olive Grove has put out have had an existing relationship with at least one of them through their blogs, they do have an email address managed by Halina for demos, but Lloyd doesn’t seem to think this has came to fruition as any the label’s releases, still, the defining statement must be “we won’t want to work with them unless we both love their music, you’re not going to give up time basically for nothing if it’s for something you don’t like.”

And of course the bands these guys like should already know they like them, as they will have written or spoken about them at one point or another in connection with their sites, that along with the very cohesive sound that the label portrays, which seems to stem more from Lloyd’s tastes: “Halina likes more rocky stuff, which I’m not so much into anymore but I guess I’m more of a driving force when it comes to these kind of things.”

Still, he’s eager to point out that having bands with sounds that meld together on the same bill nicely has provided a few positives for the label, the seemingly endless cross collaborations between the acts on the label, label acts successfully touring together and a couple of label showcases (at Oran Mor for Celtic Connections and at Insider Festival) have demonstrated this superbly.

“I know it sounds wanky but I like to look at it like a family,” states Lloyd after listing off all the various connections between the acts he’s put his time behind, but it is a nice way to put it,  the togetherness and willingness to put these bands together on a label you would assume makes it that much easier for the bands connected with the label.

“Who’s sold the most? Who’s got the biggest dick?” quips Lloyd when talking about the biggest success story of the label, but these are things that are difficult to measure, and not ones you want to single out, especially when he’s put so much time and effort into the output of these acts.

“They all have different sections of being my favourite, The Moth and the Mirror album was phenomenal and blew up out of all proportions, we were promoting that over in America too, so it was going crazy over there, we just got such an amazing buzz from them.

“Having Jo Mango, who’s already well established, her album did ridiculously well in terms of what we’ve done, we released an album by Woodenbox who are one of my favourite bands, I remember when my daughter was born, listening to their first album on repeat and then two year’s later we’re releasing their next album, but the obvious one is to say Randolph’s Leap cos I’ve been there since the start, they’re my babies.”

Having all the acts from Scotland is also an active call from the label and a logical one, they’re following was already primarily Scottish and as Olive Grove has grown their fan base has become even more identified with the Scottish folk pop sound, but that’s not to say they don’t get people listening and ordering the records all over the world or acts from other countries approaching them, but as Lloyd puts it: “trying to pitch a band from outside Scotland to Scottish people when you don’t really know them would be difficult, I’m quite happy in my own wee Scottish bubble”.

Despite Olive Grove records being purchased around the world the best order for Lloyd personally was perhaps the closest to home: “I think the coolest thing for me was someone ordered The Moth and the Mirror album and literally he lived six doors down from me, I’d never met him in my life and I was like ‘someone in my street buying my albums!’, so I posted it through his door and left him a note, and eventually got to know him later.”

Talking about the worst thing about running a record label Lloyd is quick to give a pearl of wisdom about starting your own label: “I think anyone thinking of starting a record label has to be aware that you spend half your life in a post office queuing to post things, that’s what I spend my lunch times doing, most of the time.”

But moving away from the negatives I ask Lloyd to give us the defining moment for him in Olive Grove’s lifespan:

“We did the showcase for Celtic Connections at Oran Mor and we got pretty much all the bands on the label to play live, so we had Call To Mind, Jo Mango, State Broadcasters, Woodenbox and Moth and the Mirror all playing the same bill and we sold that one out.

“For me that took seven to eight-months planning and organising, so to pull it off and pack it out just meant a hell of a lot to me, but even small things, daft things like radio sessions, The Moth and the Mirror got album of the month in The Skinny, which was amazing, but for me the Celtic Connections thing stands out, plus we did a similar one the year before at Insider, we took over the Main Stage there for a bit and that was a pretty cool.”

So, what’s next for Olive Grove, for Lloyd, as Halina takes a step back from the label for a while, there does seem to be a few things on the horizon but it does seem to more of a case of keep doing what he’s been doing.

“We’re in new territory at the moment where we’re releasing a second album with a band, so I’m listening to The Son(s) record and bits of the new Woodenbox record and thinking hurry up I want to get it out, obviously if a bigger fish comes along in the meantime I’m not saying we’d happily give them away, but I’d be really chuffed if it gets them up a level, but if not they’re staying with us and that’s all good.

“We’re also doing a Jo Mango remix album, it’s kind of nuts, she’s been talking about it for a while, it’s basically the full album Murmuration but it’s going to be called Transformuration, we’re going to do a limited run of that for Cassette Store Day, but basically I’ve said whoever comes with a finished album first gets release first.”

So, basically get your boots on guys and get the albums ready, Lloyd’s waiting ready and willing to wait in the post office for you.

Read the ravechild review of Olive Grove’s Celtic Connections Showcase at Oran Mor

Ravechild reviews for Olive Grove releases:

Woodenbox King LiarWoodenbox End GameThe State BroadcastersRandolp's Leapjo mangoJo Mango - MurmurationCall-To-Mind-A-Family-Sketch-300x300

What the artists said:

The Moth and the Mirror: “Halina and Lloyd have been like loving and supportive foster parents to us, they took us in and looked after us, never asking anything in return, we have been lazy louts… I don’t think we’ve cleaned the dishes once!

“They are really an amazing example of how nurturing the Scottish music scene can be, in the face of recession and a topsy-turvy music industry, pure love of music still exists in the hearts of the Grovers; they’re the best!”

The Son(s): “Lloyd and Halina should be so proud of what they’ve achieved with Olive Grove, running a DIY label takes lots of enthusiasm, energy and lots of time, it’s the sort of thing that tends to naturally take a back seat as the rest of life butts in, so DIY labels don’t always live long or fruitful lives.

“Setting up a label, helping wee bands like ours make and release records – that’s hard work, having a growing stable of great musicians, regularly releasing good records – that’s impressive, but keeping going nearly five years with the same love and exuberance they had at the start…. that’s something much more; bless both their hearts.”

Jo Mango: “Olive Grove records have been the most unique and dream-like of partners in releasing our music, their non-commercial ethos and their commitment to the music itself and its producers (and listeners) rather than the machinations of the industry is something that is so rare it seems almost inexplicable.”

Woodenbox: “We have always enjoyed a DIY approach to releasing music, the only problem with being totally DIY is you need to be good at constantly driving all the elements to keep things moving forward.

“Olive Grove have a really great ethos in what they release and the methods of support they provide, I am proud to be associated with that passion and believe those guys are well driven in helping to push projects through that might get neglected if it were left solely to the musicians and bands.”

Call To Mind: “I’m thinking back almost a year ago, just as things were building up to the announcement that we’d be joining Olive Grove, it was very exciting, especially since we’d been talking about releasing a record with Halina and Lloyd for some time.

“Within our band, we knew about the folks already on the Olive Grove roster – lots of favourites, hidden gems and songs we loved.

“The common denominator with both Halina and Lloyd is their absolute passion for all things relating to new music: whether its talking about bands, gigs, new sounds – you can’t help but be infected by their enthusiasm.

“They’re really personable people, often an overlooked trait I feel, and that was a big attraction for us really wanting to do something with Olive Grove.

“I’ve always found them both to be really encouraging and engaged when it comes to our own stuff, certainly for a time when as a band we were slightly rudderless in what we were doing, I can point to a few instances, whether it was a chat at a chance meeting in town or an email, where some positive words resonated and made me think.

“They probably don’t know that, but even very little things can help to cast aside any doubts that folk have in them from time to time.”

“They are both a valued soundboard for ideas and things too (nobody wears green T-shirts!), a lot of the gig slots and festivals we managed to play over the summer have squarely been thanks to them chipping away for us, which has been amazing.

“When we’ve had good write-ups in the press or little bits of airplay here and there, I like to think we’re making in-roads to paying them back, helping push the Olive Grove label name where we can too.”

The State Broadcasters: “We were really delighted when Lloyd and Halina agreed to work with us, I’d become aware of them through the blogs and through their work with Randolph’s Leap and really admired their commitment to the music they loved.

“This commitment hasn’t waned over the last few years either, and the way Lloyd is able to get through an almost superhuman to-do list (with the label, Randolph’s Leap, being a family man and having a complicated job that I don’t understand) is testament to that.

“It has been wonderful being part of a label alongside such great musicians and people too, the label has fostered a lovely community spirit – the fact we love playing gigs together, guesting on each others’ projects, going to each others’ gigs, it really feels special.

“I just hope Lloyd and Halina like our next album – I don’t think any other label would be both charming and as indulgent of our glacial pace of activity!”

Words: Iain Dawson

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