Glass celebrates 20 years of The Leaf Label
Renowned for their eclectic roster of artists who push musical boundaries, The Leaf Label was founded 20 years ago by dj and 4AD alumni Tony Morley alongside friend and collaborator Julian Carrara. Since then the pair have not only negotiated an industry flipped upside down by the advent of the internet but also discovered a host of top musicians along the way. Now, amid the release of a celebratory box-set and a series of live events, we spoke to Tony Morley to find out more.
How did it all begin?
It started as a hobby while I was still working at 4AD. I was djing a lot, starting at the chill-out rooms in the clubs and a night called Electronic Lounge at the ICA and that was a great way to make contacts. The band Bark Psychosis had just finished a deal with Virgin and wanted to try out some stuff so we pressed up 1,000 records, which all sold out and it went from there.
What do you look for in the artists you sign?
My taste has always been very broad and that’s been reflected in what’s been released. Everything’s a bit different from everything else and I try not to repeat myself too much. The artists we work with have similarly eclectic tastes, so it’s music that comes from lots of different places and is put together in a way that we haven’t heard before.
How do you find exciting new artists?
It used to be all about signing bands from demos we received in the post – Efterklang, Caribou and Colleen all came about that way but that’s pretty unusual now. A lot of things also come through people we know or international distributors, who might say, “I think Tony might like this”. Because we have a bit of a niche we can go for those artists that don’t get picked up by other people and we like to take things that exist outside the mainstream.
What other major changes have you witnessed in the past 20 years?
When we started we didn’t even have an internet connection. When that came about it made it much easier to contact people around the world and we saw borders coming down and we could get stuff from all over the world.
More recently it’s become a lot more complicated. It’s a level playing field and everyone gets access to the same stuff yet as a result there’s a lot of noise out there. When we started, the labels acted as gatekeepers but now there are many more routes to get music to people.
What’s the defining element of The Leaf Label?
I don’t try to second guess things and I don’t sign things just because I think they’ll be popular. Whenever I sign an artist I look at it for the long term, rather than what often happens when bands are hyped up on their first record and then records sell in ever decreasing numbers from there on in. I prefer to build a sustainable career that grows organically.
What have been the major milestones for the label?
It’s been a number of records – the boxset I’ve put together is made up of a series of landmarks by those artists who have made the difference. The first artist we had was Susuma Yakoto – we put out six albums by him and they continue to sell and sell. A few years later we released the first Caribou album under the name Manitoba and that was really important, while Efterklang’s first album was the first overseas album we’d had success on.
What do you notice about the industry now?
Vinyl is becoming a much more significant thing – people are wanting to own the artefact as well as just playing it. I think that in future music will all be streamed on demand, so then if you want to really show your commitment to a musician you’ll buy the product from the band itself. It’s great to be able to put these records out on vinyl – these things are always cyclical but I’m certainly enjoying it while it lasts.
by Ben Olsen
Photographs: Rasmus Weng Karlsen, Jacek Zmarz
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