Today Fierce Panda Records celebrates its 20th anniversary. On the occasion of the birthday of this great record label and long-time client, we interviewed Simon Williams, the man behind the music; talking about the past, the future, an upcoming compilation and The Crookes’ new album.
While reading, enjoy the playlist we put together featuring our favourite Fierce Panda releases!
20 years ago, when you started, you had no long term plan at all, do you think this is what has got Fierce Panda this far?
I think it is, yes. I’ve seen a lot of labels start up with big dreams and massive ambitions and bags of cash and I’ve watched them crash and burn in a horrible mangled mess. You can spend all the time and money you want on a clever logo and a nice office but ultimately beyond the first 1000 caring indie kids most people don’t care about the brand, they only care about the bands and if you haven’t got one of those then you won’t get anywhere. Also one key to our success is our lack of success: in 20 years we’ve never had a hit and again I’ve seen some of our nearest and dearest labels killed by a hit record: either they have a massive number one album and then waste their time and money trying to replicate that success and become totally disillusioned, or they try to have a hit single and it costs them so much money they go bust. Fact: being a failure doesn’t mean you’re actually failing.
Do you have a plan now? What does the future hold for Fierce Panda?
We have new albums by The Hosts out now and Tom Hickox coming soon. And The Crookes’ third album is coming out in April. And we are talking to I Am In Love about putting their album out in the spring. And that’s about as far as we go in terms of planning – I find that if I look too far ahead I get a little bit dizzy. What I definitely know is that we are putting out an album called ‘endangered: Fierce Panda 2004 – 2014.’ It collects together 18 of the saddest songs we’ve released over the past ten years by people like Goldheart Assembly, The Walkmen, I Like Trains, The Raveonettes and Ultrasound. It’s a sad compilation because that is generally the state of the world for indie labels like us nowadays, and as of our birthday on February 24th it will be available for free to anyone who buys an album from www.fiercepanda.co.uk – which is quite a cheery use for such a maudlin collection.
Is your label name inspired by an encounter with an actual fierce panda?
I am old enough to remember seeing real pandas at London Zoo, so I’ve definitely encountered one. Was it fierce? No. No, it wasn’t. But Sleepy Boring Panda seemed like an even worse name for a record label than the one we ended up with.
Of course asking a record label boss what his favourite releases have been over the years is a bit like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. But we thought we’d ask the question anyway…
I only have one child in real life so favouritism never enters into it. I’d say ‘Transatlanticism’ by Death Cab For Cutie captured a brilliant moment in time, as do a lot of other people.
If you could now meet your 1994 self, what would you say to him?
“Really do try to have a smash hit record by 2006 because at that precise point the music industry will go completely tits up and you’ll never be able to get near the charts again.”
Do you have any anticipation for The Crookes’ new album ‘Soapbox’?
Heaps. This will be their third album in four years, which is a phenomenal work rate for a modern band. Throw in the multitude of tours The Crookes have rocked on in that time and it’s clear that they are one of the most seriously undervalued – and indeed underrated – combos of this era. ‘Soapbox’ is also their third album release on fierce panda, which makes The Crookes the first band to achieve that feat since…well, since Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘Transatlanticism’, which was their third and last album for us ten years ago. We like to keep things tidy.
[Drawing by Lorna Tiefholz]