Grow Your Own Records is a UK DIY punk label that grew from humble beginnings and has snowballed over the past few years. Since 2015 the pages of Louderthanwar.com have featured reviews of at least 26 releases associated with the label. They don’t have a fixed label “sound” as such but they have an aesthetic which exudes a mix of anarcho-punk, playful art and down to earth honesty. They celebrate the old while championing the new, which gives them a multigenerational appeal.
Nathan Brown, who wrote for Louder Than War about 21 of the aforementioned releases, pinned down Gary and Steph for an interview in between assembling some of their latest releases. This interview took place before the recent release of albums from PedAgree Skum and Bug Central and a special re-issue of The System Dogs Of War EP in memory of Jimi Maguire.
LTW: Introduce yourselves please. What do you do outside of Grow Your Own…work, music, leisure?
GYO: Gary is the singer in Anthrax UK and works as a groundsman, and Steph is guitarist in Anthrax and Hagar the Womb, she works for a housing charity for people with learning disabilities.
LTW: Give us a potted history of the label. How and when did it start? At what point did it start to grow? Was this planned or organic? What was the motivation to move beyond releasing Anthrax’s own output?
GYO: Gary set up GYO in 2007 to put out the Anthrax retrospective One Last Drop, and then All for the Cause, an album of Anthrax’s new material, in 2012. Gary had always wanted to do a record label putting out material by other artists and decided to give it a try in 2015. At the time a lot of small music venues were starting to close down, and a lot of the DIY record labels seemed to be giving up the ghost as well, so it really felt that there were less and less spaces left for anarcho/DIY bands. We wanted to help redress the balance, even if it was only in a very small way.
Also at the time old anarcho bands including Anthrax were being offered money for their old material. The offers seemed good on the surface but we realised that once we signed over the rights the songs were no longer ours, a situation we and a lot of other bands got into when we were younger and more naive. So we decided to give it a go ourselves, and the idea was to put out other bands where we would fund the release, pay the bands in records that they could sell at gigs and on their own platforms, and we would recoup the cost from record sales. But we didn’t buy the rights and the material is all still owned by the bands.
The first releases were a split 7” single by The System, Virus and Bug Central, and a 12” studio-quality live recording by The System, from a gig we put on in Gravesend that year.
LTW: How much time do you put into the label on average? And how do you find that time? Does it ever get “all-consuming” to the exclusion of other activities?
GYO: Yes – every night of the week after work! We print and build most of the covers and booklets ourselves at home, sometimes people don’t realise how much work goes into getting the records out over and above our day jobs.
LTW: You’ve got a clear affinity with what remains of the anarcho-punk community, including reanimated bands such as Exit-Stance, Omega Tribe, The System (and of course Anthrax and Hagar The Womb). Is this deliberate or just “happenstance”?
GYO: In the beginning, we were just putting out stuff by our mates really, or people we knew on the scene who just wouldn’t have been able to finance their own records. But we were also really excited by what young bands were doing and what they had to say, so once we had a few releases under our belt we felt able to approach newer bands that we got to know through playing gigs. In 2016 we released the debut record by The Fleas, who we had played with at the Cowley Club in Brighton and have been big fans of Emily Flea since then. We brought them down to the studio we use in Kent and the result was The Heartbreaker 7” EP. It had a ’79 vibe but with a really fresh feel to it. We also put out the 12” vinyl edition of Free Bleedin’ by The Menstrual Cramps. We saw them live, loved them, and bought their CD. When we realised it wasn’t out on vinyl we asked if we could do it on GYO and they said yes. We find the young bands really refreshing, they seem fearless, and (rightly) so confident in their abilities and opinions.
LTW: The musical range covered by GYO is fairly wide, albeit within a notional label of “punk”. How do you decide what you will release? Is there stuff that you won’t touch because it’s outside your field of vision?
GYO: Pretty much everything we put out is just because we like it. We have both got pretty eclectic tastes inside and outside of punk and listen to all sorts of stuff, but because the people who approach us are somewhere on the punk DIY spectrum that hasn’t really been an issue so far. There is definitely a limit though – our audience is small and relatively niche, and there have been things we have put out where we thought every aspect was brilliant – the music, the package, everything – and they haven’t done nearly as well as we thought they should. It won’t stop us doing these projects as long as we can afford to, but it is something to bear in mind.
LTW: The art and packaging in Grow Your Own releases are clearly important to you. You take DIY one step further than most labels by printing and building the covers yourself. Is there a particular reason or motivation for this? Are you ever tempted to just outsource this aspect and just have a pallet of completed records turn up?
GYO: When we put out the Anthrax album All For The Cause, which had a gatefold cover, poster and booklet, the printing was very expensive and a lot of the printers messed us about and didn’t get it right. We thought there must be a way to get around this.
Part of the reason for starting up GYO in addition to the musical side was also a bit of an art project. We wanted to experiment with what could be achieved on a home printer, and cutting and sticking the covers together on the kitchen table. It has been fun thinking about how we could do a cover differently for a particular release, then working out if it was possible, drawing up a new template, looking at the different ways it might work. Sometimes we had to abandon a great idea just because it would have taken so long to put each individual cover together! We also started doing lyric booklets in different sizes, and often make up badges, stickers, posters and the occasional fridge magnet that we chuck in with the first so many copies of an album.
We have always outsourced some of the covers but did most ourselves. This worked fine at the start but as the back catalogue has grown this is now becoming unworkable so we are now outsourcing a few more covers but are still doing some ourselves.
LTW: What has been the impact of Brexit on GYO? Has it affected the pressing price and timescale? What about international orders?
GYO: It’s a bit too early to say really, but postage costs have shot up for international orders plus people also now have to pay tax. Timescales for pressing have got a lot slower now, and prices are increasing in April so we will have to see what happens as the year goes on.
LTW: Have you hit any low points with the label?
GYO: It can get quite stressful when we have lots of orders, for instance when new releases have just come out, and it’s sod’s law that printers fail when we are most busy! Luckily the vast majority of people who buy our stuff are understanding if we occasionally get a little bit behind.
We’ve also had a few people having digs online which can be quite disheartening when you are working really hard in your spare time and putting your hard-earned money into something, but we tend to take it as a sign that we’re doing something right :-)
LTW: I know it’s a labour of love rather than a profit-making venture. You seem to treat artists better than some other small labels. How do the economics work? Is this a money pit or does the cash flow move quickly enough for you to manage to recycle it, with one batch of releases selling enough to pay for the next batch? Does that have an impact on how much you can release?
GYO: At the start it was a money pit and we nearly gave up a few years ago, but then things picked up and now it sort of balances out though still not enough to pay back the original funding put into it. So for everyone who thinks we’re making loads of money – we’re not. Although it’s not about profit we do still need to sell enough to fund future releases as well as studio costs for bands that can’t afford it, rather than put more and more money into the label.
LTW: I can remember talking to you, Gary, in about 2015 and you mentioned at that time it was getting harder to even shift 300 copies of a 7 inch. Has that changed?
GYO: It is still really hard to sell 300 copies, but things have changed with lockdown as people are buying more online. Also as the back catalogue has built up more new people buying our stuff which is great.
LTW: I was told that 10-inch records are difficult to sell as they don’t sit easily with 7 inches or LPs yet you have put out a series of 10-inch albums (Some longer than 12″ LPs I own). How has that panned out?
GYO: Gary was told by a US distributor that he would only buy old material, and that 10” wouldn’t sell, so he decided to do it anyway. The 10” is a good format for bands who don’t have quite enough material for an album but have too many songs for a single. Gary had always liked the 10” format since he bought Live at the Electric Circus. They look and feel nice and they have sold well.
LTW: What would you say has been the highlight of running the label?
GYO: A few highlights: getting to know some lovely people; giving a platform to bands who might not otherwise be able to get their stuff released in a physical format; getting a creative project off the ground and learning so much as we go along how the process works and how to do things better.
LTW: What exciting things have you got in the pipeline?
GYO: New Anthrax album; Kiss Me, Killer; Bug Central; PedAgree Skum; Icons of Filth; Emily Flea. Also, Gary is setting up a small old school studio in his house so we are hoping to get more into the recording side of things.
You can download and purchase physical copies of Grow Your Own releases from their Bandcamp site.
They are also on Facebook.
Bands with releases on Grow Your Own including Anthrax, Exit-Stance and Armoured Flu Unit are playing Bristol Punx Picnic 16- 18 July.
Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.