Home Normal is a relatively young and small independent ‘organic-minimal-electronic-folk’ record label with currently 66 releases, based in Nakajuku, Tokyo, Japan and every now and then London. The five-years-old label is curated by Ian Hawgood, co-run with Ben Jones, with design assistance from Jeremy Bible and Christian Roth. However, Home Normal is not just any kind of sound factory. Ian personally takes care of every minuscule detail that might seem invisible to the listeners at first… but once you’ve held a record manufactured in their magical laboratory, you are going to remain faithful to the end. Offthesky, Chihei Hatakeyama, Bvdub, Library Tapes, Celer, Christopher Hipgrave, Federico Durand and Tobias Hellkvist are just a few examples from the roster who managed to slow down this crazy world a little and make it a better place for us.
We’ve talked to Ian to find out as much as possible about this special little world he’s created with so much honest enthusiasm and hard work. You can read about the history of Home Normal, the birth and concept of its sublabels, the exclusivity of each release, the importance of supporting each other and some exciting future plans. Ian also did a smashing 2 hours (!) mix featuring some of his favourite releases and plenty as-of-yet-unreleased tracks from the future – exclusively for the readers and listeners of Sounds Of A Tired City.
(Also, while we’re at the topic of supporting each other… Could anyone explain how come Home Normal has less than a thousand followers on Facebook? How about showing some love?)
How did you first get involved with music?
There have been so many key stages for me. To be honest, until the age of ten I only heard classical music from my dad’s record player as I had intermittent hearing problems from birth until then. When I finally got full hearing I obsessed over Michael Jackson, PM Dawn, and a compilation called Hits Seven until the age of fifteen for some reason… after moving on from that I found myself fascinated by all sorts of music and have really just wolfed anything I can since. In terms of label and my own work, I played the BEAF festival in 2006 supporting Prefuse 73. I was hanging out with friends, and people like Chihei Hatakeyama, Greg Davis, Sebastian Roux, and just decided that I really wanted to start a label and share my music properly. It has moved on from there really.
When and how did you get the idea to give birth to Home Normal?
I’d always wanted to start a label for as long as I could remember. It was (and is) all very innocent with a simple desire to release truly soulful music, with depth, spirit, and passion. After BEAF 2006 I spent almost 3 years working on various package designs and concepts, and these went on to form the basis for the Tokyo Droning and Nomadic Kids Republic labels. After working with various people to get these off the ground I got a little frustrated with the lack of direction and purpose from others, and out of that Home Normal was born. It was Christmas and I would often chat to Christian Roth and Jeremy Bible who had become very good friends. I came up with a very clear concept around music I had already been sat on from friends like Elian, Library Tapes, offthesky, Konntinent, Celer, and more, so it was suddenly very clear. Christian and Jeremy came on board and from initial concept the site and everything was up in less than a week. It was just something that had bubbled away for years, then suddenly wham, was there.
How would you describe the sound of Home Normal in 5 words?
Soulful, organic, homely, true, aware.
What is the concept of the label?
To release organic (in every sense) music that takes time and is really the antithesis of the modern world ʻrushʼ.
How do you usually find and select the artists/music youʼre going to sign to your label?
At the beginning I simply asked a few friends. People like offthesky, Konntinent, Elian, Nicolas Bernier etc… all became friends as we had released music on the same labels in the fervent net-label scene. Then there were people like The Boats who I knew through Craig after releasing with Mobeer/Moteer myself, and through them and David (Library Tapes) I got to know Danny Norbury, Miles Whittaker, Yasuhiko (aus) from flau… it just bloomed naturally really. So yeah, pretty much with that stable we started getting a lot of demos, and we kind of went on from there. Saying that, we’ve gone back to our roots and working mostly with friends or people we know well more or less now.
You also run these two sublabels (Nomadic Kids Republic and Tokyo Droning) which are leading quite separate lives from Home Normal. Why did you feel the need to start Nomadic Kids Republic if you have featured more or less the same artists there as on Home Normal.
Nomadic Kids Republic was pre-Home Normal and was set up to represent a slightly wider brush shall we say. However, certain music we got fit the Nomadic Kids Republic aesthetic a lot better, and with that we did get cross-over. I paused Nomadic Kids Republic over two years ago now as I needed to focus on Home Normal, and wanted Nomadic Kids Republic to go off in a very different direction that didn’t crossover at all really. Over the past year I have handed label set-up responsibilities over to two very talented friends, and together we are sorting packages and the site now for re-introduction mid-2015. It will exclusively be an electronic label that releases work by people all around the world, and we have some pretty incredible music ready for that already. There is also KOMU which is my own collaborative label – but the difference is that is work I do exclusively with friends.
Tokyo Droning has a really exciting set of rules for composing the music and the artwork: base materials must be bought within 10 minute cycle ride of, anywhere you have lived in Japan, each release will have a different stamp and photo/polaroid/negative/kodachrome which is not copied and is thus totally unique, packing must be pure origami (ie. no glue, tape etc. to actual cover). However, you have only released 6 albums within, the last one coming out 3 years ago. Do you have further plans with TD or it was just a brief experience that you wanted to play with?
Tokyo Droning was set up as a way of working on more experimental works, also live works as they are so different from many artist’s albums due to the nature of how people work of course. We used only local stock for everything, but after the 2011 earthquake many of the businesses we worked with closed down due to damage, shitty insurance companies, and zero government support. We were forced to put it on hold, although we have spent the past 18 months working on the packaging for that and still get requests to re-issue work. You can still find it in the art/special packaging cabinets in stores here in Japan which is nice. Now it is being repackaged as a label called Tyo-Kyo with again, very strict rules based on its influences and packaging. I can’t say much else now but the label needs to be local but mobile at the same time, if that makes sense, as we got burned when the local industry folded. Working with small companies is really important for us, but we learned that you have to be careful when being overly-strict with location management. The basic idea will continue to focus on a set area, no matter what, but we move around a lot so need to be relatively flexible… that’s all I can say for now!
What do you find the most stimulating/disappointing thing about running a label?
Working with artists who understand the whole picture… the collaboration, the workload, the giving, the lack of self. Seeing the response from people, whether a handful or more, to that work is amazing. The negative? Always feeling that the music is not getting anywhere near the attention it deserves. Ever. I push myself way too hard to get the music out there, and the only person it affects are loved ones as I just don’t have any time in the day. The industry, even at this small end, is incredibly fake for so many people. If you want to keep things pure you have to work constantly to keep up with people who throw money around, massage their numbers, and gain promotion of their work through very dark means. People are not active in searching for good music now, they just want to be spoon-fed, which leads to horrible behaviour from some labels, promoters, and distributors… people care less now about music that takes its time. We’ve lost our sense of deeper awareness now, but maybe that is more me raging against the modern world – it’s all connected though right?
Do you think that in our digital era the non-musical elements – eg. album artwork – are overlooked and not appreciated enough? How important are these kind of aesthetics for Home Normal?
I do, but not in an especially overt way. Our focus was always on minimal, beautiful presentation, but down the line things get on top of you, notably demands from certain people, and your view of the whole wavers. We’ve come right back around this year and are now mostly using our own stock, from our own small plot of land, and presenting things in a minimal but homegrown organic way. The packages are bold but not overly done at all so yes, they are very important but the aesthetic is less waffle more minimal substance in terms of art and packaging. I think a lot of people have tried to go a little over the top with packaging frankly, a little too elaborate. I think its great but I don’t feel making crazily expensive packaging is a way of ‘fighting’ the whole digital evolution. Half the time I can’t handle all the bits and bobs to releases, and I am still very much a fan of the old vinyl which had wraparound sheets added for their artwork. It is easy to forget that people, still, like a nice record they can just put on, admire the lovely image no matter what it is, and that is it.
How does a ‘regular day’ look like at the Home Normal office?
I work a couple of jobs, so there isn’t really a particularly ‘regular day’. However, I basically get up at 5am and walk our dog. I will try to do a little label work before I start work, will check out some masters (I’m a sound engineer) on my way to my day job. Work throughout the day and come home about 4pm, walk my dog again, then apart from cooking dinner for my wife around 7pm am working on mastering, label work etc. all around that. I don’t have any free-time basically unless we regain control of the odd weekend. That will change when we eventually leave Japan as I will be focused on working on the land we have in Oxfordshire, but for now that is the deal.
Are there any artists you would secretly love to sign to Home Normal?
Not really. I love what we have and will put out, and who we are working with right now. It is genuinely some of the best music I have heard in my life, so no…
Do you have a personal favourite among your releases? Which one are you the most proud of?
I shouldn’t answer this question, and always avoid it when asked. I’ve spent the past month making mixes of our releases and have to date come up with 30 mixes of various works from the label as I love it all so so much. I’m excited to walk around Tokyo and London and drop them into record stores, galleries etc. so people discover this amazing music for free. I genuinely find each release to be completely brilliant. That said, I will answer the question directly. Elian’s ‘Whispers, Then Silence‘ is possibly my favourite release by anyone ever (not just on the label). From the magical introduction to the very end, it is a work of such beautiful restraint, melody, and amazing structure. It was the first release we did that really split people as it isn’t the easiest to get into for some, and came right after we released The Boats ‘Sleepy Insect Music‘ with flau… so we had this really large fan base at the time and people just sort of went ‘what the heck is this’? I actually went to Tower Records in Shibuya and watched people listening to it on the listening post, and just to see a very visible (‘what the f&%$’) reaction from people who clearly didn’t get it was actually kind of cool. It is an album you either love or hate, there is no in-between… I really love that. His follow-up ‘Harrowgate’ will be out next year, and that is just…well, wow!
Do you remember a particularly wonderful moment in the history of the label?
There are so many! I think our last series of shows really. We brought Gurun Gurun and Gareth Davis over to London with the wonderful help of the Czech Centre London in March, and Cafe Oto was completely packed. I always see Home Normal as a tiny label really, especially as we have almost no web presence (I am awful with social media in truth), but then to see so many people turning up and enjoying this utterly bonkers music is amazing. We also had a Black Elk tour in December, and I really didnʼt know what to expect, but sure enough each show was packed out with Black Elk, Danny Norbury, Clem Leek, and Home Normal fans. I think just meeting the real people behind the orders and emails etc. is what really makes me feel fulfilled. In that sense, each show we have done really touches me… I am often stuck behind a screen with the label, so to go out and actually connect is always a wonderful moment for me and the label.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own label?
No matter what, always remember why you started the label. People will push you as much as they can, but keep chill, take your time, donʼt rush, and stick to your vision.
What is the latest news at Home Normal? What should we keep our eyes and ears on?
So much…we recently released amazing albums by Wil Bolton and Islands Of Light, and next month will hopefully release the new album by Melodía. In January we will re-issue the Butterfly in the Snowfall album in our own washi stock. We’ve also got a bunch of albums coming up in early 2015 we are thrilled about, and Leonora (my wife) and I will be cultivating more washi in January for the packaging and learning new techniques for the stock production which should be nice! We are also going to be dropping free mixes digitally and physically all over the place, posters, postcards and other goodies…basically taking a guerilla route to show people just how wonderful our releases are. Keep yours eyes and ears open for that! 🙂
MIX by IAN HAWGOOD
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