Miles Cleret [Soundway Records]
Soundway Records is a name that will resonate with anyone interested in high-quality reissued music. Accolades abound, the English label started out in 2002 reissuing music from decades past, from all corners of the world. Its founder, Miles Cleret, is a meticulous collector of rare and obscure records and will be serving up a selection to one lucky dancefloor in Auckland at the end of October. Keegan Fepulea’i caught up with Miles ahead of his show with Frank Booker and Flamingo Pier.
Keegan: Soundway is a London-based label – what was behind your decision to move to Australia?
Miles: I’ve got 2 boys and I just wanted them to experience something outside the UK, so we lived in Indonesia for 2 years and during that time we spent quite a bit of time visiting friends, old mates and family down in NZ and Australia. When the end of the 2 years was up in Indo I just couldn’t quite bring myself to go back to the UK. We got a bit of a taste for the space you get down in this part of the world, being away from the craziness of Europe. I thought it would be a good thing to bring kids up down here. Soundway’s a pretty international thing these days – we’ve got artists all over the world, including 3 in NZ, and we’re about to sign some artists from Australia. We’ve got projects in Thailand, South America, West Africa, East Africa, South Africa, Europe… Although the office for Soundway’s still based in London, it doesn’t really matter where I am as long as I’ve got an internet connection.
You’re working on so many projects – how do you manage them, how do you keep tabs on it?
First and foremost, I try and pick artists and musicians whose music I really like. That’s always number one. And it’s a hustle, the music industry’s a hustle, you’ve always got lots of balls in the air, you’re dealing with artists who sometimes don’t necessarily want their music or their art to be commercial so you’re always trying to balance that side of things; making it work financially with trying to allow people to do what they want to do. It’s trying to build trusting relationships with artists and trying as much as possible to let them do what they want to do, and sign stuff you like. It is hard keeping tabs, keeping in touch with people in so many different timezones, but that’s also part of the appeal. People say sometimes it can be hard work and it can be a bit stressful, but then you’ll bump into somebody in the city and they’re just doing a 9 to 5 and you realise that you’re actually pretty lucky to have that freedom. That you’re able to travel the world and interact with amazing musicians and artists. It’s a privilege to be able to do it.
Why do you think there’s such an appetite now for all the reissue stuff – it’s not strictly house, it’s not strictly reggae, why do you think there’s this renewed appetite and love for it?
Well, obviously the internet has changed everything in the last 10-15 years. People have the ability to be put in contact with so many different kinds of music at the click of a button and communicate with like-minded people. I guess before, if you grew up in a place like Wellington and you were into something really out there, you may have still had a small crew of people who were into it but to connect with other people around the world might have been tricky. Whereas now you can just be in touch with people all over the world wherever you are, whichever city you’re in; whether it’s Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, London, Byron Bay, or wherever…you can just be in touch, share your opinions on music, and find other people that are into what you’re into. People are always looking to hear something new, and I think that’s a healthy thing. Especially when young people these days are so musically literate in a way that…I mean my generation – I’m in my mid 40’s – I’ve always been into music, but when I was 18 it was hard to find music that was outside of the ordinary. I mean I always tried – that was my thing, looking for music that was outside of what you could find in the record store down the road, even in a place like London – but these days there’s just so much music out there. It’s extraordinary. There are 7 billion people on this planet. A lot of different tastes, desires, and reasons to why people listen to different things.
And it’s not just a solo effort, obviously there are other people involved in the label…you’ve just got Jeremy involved – Jeremy Spellacy, I think that’s going to be quite a powerful partnership.
Yeah he’s great, and then I’ve got two amazing women in London: Alice Whittington, who’s actually from Adelaide originally but she lives in London; and Paula Durán from Colombia. Over the years we’ve got lots of different people. And I’ve done a lot of DJ’ing over the world so people quite often put me in touch. Jeremy and I have been working for the last few months, and he’s one of these people who’s just got this really encyclopaedic memory when it comes to certain records, and also a dogged obsession with tracking people and artists down, he’s just got incredible patience when it comes to finding people. I knew him as a kind of record digger and a record dealer and a DJ, and I just saw that the way that he sourced music on vinyl from all over the world was something that would translate well to licensing. He just has that ability to stay up late and find people, whether they’re in Trinidad or New York or wherever they might be.
Dogged is a very apt term for Jeremy
You talk about the technicalities of licensing…how do you approach that? For me it’s one of the most interesting aspects and, ethically, it’s really restricting for a lot of my purchases when it does come to reissued stuff… these things need to go correctly. You know there are hundreds of thousands of stories…
It’s a minefield. Because quite often obscure records will have very little information about who wrote or produced the track, or who owns the copyright. Quite often you’re going on what people tell you. We’re 18 years into this business. We’ve had people swear till they’re blue in the face that they wrote that track, and then you license it off them and it’s their name on the cover…and then suddenly the guitarist will come along and go ‘Oi wait a minute! I remember that. I wrote that track, it wasn’t you!’ People often forget, you’ll get little arguments between band members, you get arguments between label owners, producers and artists. Sometimes artists say ‘Oh no I recorded that and I only licensed it to the label’, and they’ll go ‘No I paid for that, that was my master recording’. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. It’s detective work, you’re trying to do as best you can. You hope that the information that you have on the original recordings is true. For instance, in the last 2 months, I’ve had a situation where I tried to mediate a massive argument between a producer and an artist. The producer was in Paris, and the artist was based in LA, they were both Armenian, and they both swore blue that they owned the copyright, and they were attacking each other on these emails. I was trying to do the right thing and trying to license off the right person trying to get to the bottom of it and in the meantime, another label came along and just took the first thing that they could get off the artists and so it went to another label! You’re trying to do things properly, and you have to accept that that sort of thing happens sometimes. Jeremy and I just put together a compilation of crossover west Indian Soca music from the ’80s and ‘90s. There were 2 tracks on that list that I really wanted to get on that compilation, and we even found the artist in question and tracked him down to somewhere in the Carribean. We licensed the track off of his best friend, but he just wasn’t having it. He just didn’t want to do it, for one reason or another, however hard we tried he just wouldn’t budge. He just didn’t want his music reissued.
Do you think for those people it can almost be a triggering thing where it brings back possibly being ripped off or some weird situation in their life?
Exactly, you just never know what’s going on in people’s heads. Sometimes people have become born again Christians and they don’t want to go back there, they don’t want to revisit that life. Some people just don’t want to get into arguments with band members that they’ve fallen out with. There are a million and one stories out there, and that’s the thing when you go into this process you have to understand. You have to respect people’s feelings and occasionally it goes wrong. But I think you’ve just got to set out to do the best possible job you can and to try and do things as ethically as you possibly can. That’s the way to do it, and unfortunately, some labels aren’t like that. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bootlegging that goes on. There’s a lot of competitive licensing where people are just desperate to be the first people to reissue something. Maybe they’ll be a bit green, new to the industry, they’re trying to start a new label…there are thousands of new labels that have been started in the last couple of years, which is great on a lot of levels, but there are a lot of people who don’t really know about music contracts and rights. People who don’t even know the difference between publishing rights and mastering rights, or recording rights and authors rights. It’s a minefield, so you’ve just got to do what you can to feel like you’ve done it with the best intentions.
Of late you’ve started putting out new music, how does the old music you reissue inform the new music that you’re trying to put out?
For me, music is music. It doesn’t matter if it was made in 1955 or 2020, if I like it and I feel like it’s something that deserves the attention of the people that follow the label then I’ll release it. There are lots of records both old and new that don’t even break even, that we’ll occasionally lose money on. Everyone’s got to balance the books, everyone’s got to keep going financially, but at the end of the day art is art and I think if you believe in something, you put it out. You might not break even immediately but maybe there’ll be some young dudes in 20 years knocking on my door thinking ‘Ohhh yeah…that obscure record that hardly sold any records back in 2019, we wanna reissue it!’ For me it just got to a point where I felt like to be really a new record label, I had to start putting contemporary music out. I had to start supporting musicians that are living now, and it’s felt good. People like Mike Fabulous – Mike August, Lord Echo – you know, kiwi guitarist who’s this incredibly talented guy. He probably is our most successful contemporary artist now, and to see somebody who has so much integrity with his art actually get played and checked out…that feels good, that feels like what it’s all about.
You do have this awesome relationship with NZ, you’re putting out Julien Dyne’s stuff now, I think you did some of the Flamingo Pier stuff…why New Zealand?
Good music just keeps coming out of there I guess! It’s one of those places, I don’t know what it is about it but the stars align, and for your small population, you definitely punch above your weight in terms of music. Good stuff comes out of there. Like I say, if somebody sends me music that I like, I’ll do my best to try and put it out. I’ve always loved NZ, I’ve got a great relationship with the place unto itself. I’ve gone to the bush with my kids, I’ve been doing it for years and there’s just this connection to the place and yeah…good music!
You’re coming out for Flamingo Pier’s new party series this month…what is a Miles Cleret DJ set?
Well…it’s pretty diverse! I play only vinyl so it can go all over the place but yeah, it can literally be anything from [ audio muffled ] to disco to [ audio muffled ] with a touch of house music from NY to funk or afrobeat, bubblegum, kwaito, it’s kind all over the place but it somehow fits. I like to take people on a bit of a journey. I like playing people music that they wouldn’t necessarily hear and for better or worse, I’d never just play a set of pure disco or house, even if I set out to. When you bring vinyl to a venue you’ve only got what’s in your bag. I think in a way crowds are a bit, especially younger crowds who have grown up with DJ’s who have huge digital collections on a couple of sticks…it’s better for the DJ, that’s for sure because you can always go wherever you want, but I believe in trying to take a set and bringing your one bag of records and that’s what I’ll play. Definitely for an open-minded crowd, but hopefully playing music that people can get down to as well.
Miles will be joining Frank Booker and Flamingo Pier for the final edition of PLEASURE! this year at Las Vegas on Karangahape Rd, Friday October 25th. In the meantime, check out some of the recent releases on Soundway: