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Wild Animals Records interview with Dan Williams

I talk to a lot of musicians but I don’t get the chance to speak with the label owner’s responsible for putting out all the amazing music that we love to listen to nearly often enough.  If it wasn’t for people like Dan Williams of Wild Animals Records, people like me wouldn’t have anything to listen to after all!  After hearing the new Lonely Wholesome Vanity 7” I started looking into the burgeoning label and doing some nosing around to see what I could find out.  Formerly located in the UK, Williams recently relocated to Australia and made the switch from meticulously crafted handmade CDR packages to vinyl.  I’ve always been interested in the DIY punk and psychedelic approaches to releasing music, the by any means necessary motto, and there are some boutique labels in that vein killing it recently.  Wild Animals Records is definitely one of them.  Every one of their releases has an independent life of its own, existing as a sentient being within a larger collected framework.  With mostly minuscule runs of less than fifty copies, a lot of people probably haven’t come across Wild Animals yet, but they will.  If the Lonely Wholesome single is any indication of what Williams has up his sleeve for the impending future, people are definitely going to be seeing some amazing stuff from this sweet outfit.  Kick back with a cup of coffee and take a quick trip through time with Wild Animals Records, and remember to keep it psychedelic baby!

Listen while you read:

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I’m thirty-five, born one clear month after Sid Vicious died.  I’m originally from the rolling country side of North Hertfordshire in the UK, just fifty odd miles north of London, specifically a small town called Stotfold.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Were you very involved?  Did you see a lot of shows or anything growing up?  Do you feel like that scene played a large part in shaping your musical tastes or making you want to start a label later on?

The local scene was and is very strong in North Herts.  Nothing ever happened in my hometown of Stotfold, but there were always gigs in the surrounding towns like Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock and Stevenage.  Hitchin still has a strong scene going on.  I worked in the local record shop in Letchworth, David’s Music, from my mid-teen until my mid-twenties, so I’ll always be trying to champion my favourite local bands.  I used to do flyers and stuff for them.  Looking back, I’m not sure my early years in the local scene did influence what I’m doing now…  Who knows?  I suppose it must have had some impact.  Later on, I started my own band and put on shows.  I guess that made me appreciate the local bands a lot more.

What about your home when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or maybe just extremely interested/involved in music when you were a child?

No one in my family is massively into music.  There are no memories of the olds putting needle to vinyl or anything like that.  There was no ‘hand-me-down’ record collection.  Although, I have got a couple of reel-to-reel tapes of my mother recording the Rolling Stones off the radio, you can hear my gran calling her for dinner in the back ground.  Brilliant!

What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music to be?

I used to pinch tapes off my eldest sister, Madeleine, Guns and Roses, De La Soul, and these early Deep Heat compilations which were like UK rave and electro albums, HA!  I think my best steal in the early days was a Fats Domino greatest hits out of my dad’s car.  Still love a bit of Fats.  Later down the line, I remember a mate buying Nevermind by Nirvana, I wasn't totally convinced so I went out and bought Bleach which was far more up my street.

If you were to pick a single moment that seemed to open your eyes to the infinite possibilities that music presents and seemed to change everything for you, what would it be?

My sister Charlotte was dating a rocker.  He came over one day with a new single he had bought, he waved it at me and said, “Go and get the heaviest, fastest track you’ve got and put it on, this will be a hundred times better”.  I went upstairs and looked through my CD collection, we’re talking like eight CDs here, ha-ha, and I pulled out “Negative Creep” from Nirvana’s Bleach album.  We sat through it for about forty seconds before he took it off and put on “Suckerpunch” by UK rockers The Wildhearts.  It blew my tiny mind clear out of my head!

When did you decide that you wanted to start releasing music?  What brought that decision about for you?

My old band had an album recorded and a label that was due to release it.  It was our second album, it was taking ages for the label to do anything and it was a really loose agreement.  So, I decided I would put the album out myself.  The rest of the band was kind of over the whole band by then, so they gave me the okay to put something together for some final shows.  The album itself was only like twelve tracks, but I found enough demos and stuff to end up doing 100 copies of a two-CD/DVD set, which I packed up in a nice sleeve with stickers, badges and even an individually numbered Polaroid picture before the price for the film went mental.  That was probably the first release for the label, before it was even realized!

Do you act alone in the business or do you have any partners that you operate with?  When did Wild Animals Records start and what brought that about? 

It’s just me at the moment…  Normally, a few vodkas with apple juice and lime help me get through the time spent over the cutting board.  I would say the real birth of the label was when I asked a friend’s band, Sons Of Guns, if I could put their album out.  They had done some CDs in thin, boring card sleeves.  It’s a cracker of an album and I did a nice sleeve that you had to destroy to get into, I was well into making packaging that looked really special but you had to badly damage to get to the music.  The band loved them and doubled the prices of their album on the merch stall there and then, ha!

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that you run the label by?

Musically, I guess its pretty genre non-specific…  Although, it is all pretty guitar based, I suppose.  I only put out music that I like or music from people I like.  I’m not always sure anyone else will like it, but who cares?  I’ll just make twenty copies and keep those twenty people happy.  I like to think I understand the limited demand of these things. 

What does the name Wild Animals Records mean or refer to?  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?

The name Wild Animals is a total reflection of my hedonistic nature…  I was the front-man in a band called Dan Williams Allstars!  Wild Animals is an anagram of Dan Williams, I couldn’t resist!

Where does Wild Animals Records operate out of?

Wild Animals currently operates out of Box Hill in Melbourne, Australia.

What’s the local music scene like where you’re at?  Are you very involved in the local scene?  Do you usually draw from local bands for releases, or do you just release whatever happens to catch your fancy?

I’ve only been over here for about a year, but I was lucky enough to know a couple of people who were in bands over here, so I’ve been dipping into the circles they turn in.  I’ve got a few things penned in for some bands over here in Melbourne.  There are a lot of great bands in Melbourne, so there’s no need to look any further afield.

Did you start Wild Animals Records with any sort of goals or in hopes of accomplishing any certain plans you had in mind?

When I started I just wanted to get some friends’ bands’ a bit more exposure and flex my creative muscle a bit more.  If I hadn’t known people in great bands I could have ended up making wedding invitation, ha-ha!  But as the ball got rolling, I starting realizing that I could start approaching bands outside of my circle of friends and I have a secret, and ever-growing, wish list of bands I’d like to put records out by.

Can you walk us through the typical release process for a release from start to finish?  How long does that usually take you to accomplish?

It can be different for every release, but mostly it takes ages!  I’m not sure there is a process, but I guess, I start by getting in contact with a band and seeing if they want to do a release.  If they’re up for it then we can hammer out some sort of plan…  Who’s doing the art, what sort of packaging, how many tracks, how many should we do, etcetera.  All releases involve a lot of guilt and forgiveness and heaps of care, love and attention.

What was your first release on Wild Animals Records?  Can you share some of your memories of putting that first release out?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you o just extremely nerve-wracking and difficult?

It’s difficult to say what the first release was really.  I did a few things under the Wild Animals banner, but the first release that I actually decided to give a catalogue number to was the Crap Crab 7” Crab Riff.  It involved a lot of the aforementioned guilt, with a certain amount of panic and delirious excitement.  Crap Crab gave me a few tracks, some artwork and pretty much free reign to do what I wanted.  Ordering the vinyl itself was scary, it’s not cheap and every time I checked my email I was expecting an email from the band saying they had split up or something, ha-ha!  I did my own screen printing at home in the bathroom.  I’d never done screen printing before and only did a little bit of research on how to do it, so I pretty much guessed my way through it…  There were so many fuck ups, but it turned out okay in the end.  I was super exciting finally putting all the parts together for it and having two hundred copies with different coloured sleeves ready to go.  It was a 7” with a CD and a couple of inserts with a download code.

What, if anything, do you feel like you’ve learned since you started Wild Animals?

Patience and endurance.  I’ve spent hours, days even, hunched over the cutting board breaking my back cutting out sleeves with weird folds, burning holes in card sleeves along with my fingers, making tiny fishing nets until I’m in tears, rubberstamping with broken stampers, dripping paint on the floor of a rented apartment, getting blisters from hole punching through a three-fold of thick card…  The list is endless.  I just remind myself there are only another sixty copies to go, or two hundred copies, or ten copies…  Whatever…  There is always hope, and a light at the end of the tunnel.

How is everything going for you as far as running Wild Animals Records at this point?  Is it a fun thing for you or more of a labor of love at this point?

It’s always fun and never a labour.  If it wasn’t fun then I wouldn’t bother, but I can’t really envision a point where I won’t want to be putting out great music.  Creatively, it’s actually pretty addictive but financially…  Well, let’s just say that the day I break even on a release, I’ll have a little party by myself, ha-ha!

You released your first vinyl that I’m aware of, the Vanity 7” by Lonely Wholesome.  Most of your stuff previously has been CDRs with a tape earlier this year as well.  Are you looking to make a shift away from the CDR market or are you just playing at adding some more formats to your gambit of tricks?

The first vinyl release was actually the Crap Crab 7”.  I would rather do vinyl every time, but it’s expensive, especially over here in Australia.  I’m still doing CDRs for bands too.  I’ve got some blank minidiscs around here somewhere…  Maybe I’ll do that next.  Maybe not, eh?!

You’ve already released the Bohemian Crapsody cassette, the Sheen CDR and the Vanity 7” this year.  Are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for Wild Animals Records at this point?

Yes!  There are so many things planned for this year, a six track 12” from Claws & Organs from Melbourne, the first solo album from Raul Sanchez from Magic Dirt/River Of Snakes which will be 73 copies on CDR, a CD from a mate of mine from London who does bluesy stuff, and I’ve also just got the okay on a split 7” from Hey Colossus from UK and Hotel Wrecking City Traders from Oz.  Luckily, I just got a bonus from work, ha-ha!  Beyond that, I want to do a 7” compilation featuring some right noisy bands including current faves, Ex-Wives from Scotland.

Was the move into cassette and vinyl something that you’ve always had in mind, or is it something that just happened as a logical extension as things have progressed for Wild Animals?

The move to vinyl was definitely planned and I want to do more vinyl.  The cassette was a bit of a laugh really, isn’t that what all the cool labels are doing these days?!?  Ha!  Seriously though, I’ve bought a few tapes recently.  Not positive they are not making a realistic come back, but they are a bit kitsch and kooky, so I thought, “Fuck it”!  The band didn’t actually know I was going to do a cassette.  I kind of surprised them with it…  Luckily they are still talking to me!

Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the label to a large extent?  Stuff like cover designs, logos and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or aesthetic that you’re trying to convey with your art?  Is there anyone you usually turn to when it comes to that kind of thing?

I do put a lot of thought into the aesthetics of the releases.  I like it if the band has an idea in their heads of how they want something to look or have an image they want to use in mind.  If the band has a decent photo of themselves I can get put on a rubber stamp or single screen for printing, I’m happy.  For the Crap Crab cassette I commissioned a chap called Gutterwipe from back in North Herts in UK.  He did an amazing job and I will one hundred percent use him again.

Do you all accept demos and if so how’s the best way for people to get stuff to you?  I always hesitate to ask whenever I talk to label owners, but I’m sure you all have to get a million and one inquiries about it anyways so I kind of figure it’s a way to clear things up and maybe save you some headache in the long run, ha-ha!

Ha-ha, I get no-one sending me stuff!  Well, maybe once or twice.  People can send me whatever they like, just drop me an email I would love to hear some odd music from outside of my bubble.

Are there any major goals or plans that Wild Animals is looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

My one major goal would be to maybe break even on a release, ha-ha!  No real goals I guess.  I’ve not done a full album on vinyl yet, that would be nice.  I just want to keep the ball rolling and not end up living in a box under a bridge.  Rather like running before you can walk, I don’t want to crawl before I can drag myself along the ground.

With the completely insane international postage rates these days I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up imports as I can.  Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up Wild Animals releases?

I’ve sent some copies of the Lonely Wholesome 7” over to the US what with it having a more international appeal, especially in the Americas.  Some decent shops in New York are carrying it, Other, Rough Trade.  Permanent has it and I sent some to Aquarius in San Francisco too.  But Aussie records are way too expensive for you Americans, you lucky buggers!

What about out national and international readers?

Really, just email me, I’ll ship it as cheap as I can get away with and we can haggle out a decent deal.  Saying that, you should all shop in your local record shops, so maybe tell them to email me and I’ll send them some copies.  Record shops might not always feel like the friendliest of places but they’re okay, believe me.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news from Wild Animals Records at?

I’ve got a website and you can get on my mailing list if you like.  Other than that, I don’t have a Facebook page or twitter or anything like that; too many passwords to remember.  While in the shower today I did decide I need to sort a SoundCloud page.  So, I’ll do that before Christmas!

Having something to physically hold and experience along with music has long since been an obsession for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?  If so, did that play any role in your want to start a label?

Yes, one hundred percent.  A few of my releases have come about from a band telling me their latest music is a digital only release.  I just think, “Great, I’ll do the CD for you”.  I’ve always bough physical releases.  Although, when I decided I was moving to Australia I put all my CDs onto my hard drive and sold the lot.  It was all good until my hard drive died…  Oh well.  I also sold about fifty percent of my vinyl collection, but now I’m a ninety-nine percents ‘vinyl only’ shopper when it comes to music.

There are up and downs to everything but as a label owner during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Who cares about digital music?  I think it’s pretty boring.  There’s nothing exciting to me about a digital release of an album, or a song, or whatever.  I’ve tried it; I just wasn’t turned on by it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll occasionally buy the odd Bandcamp thing, but I don’t really dig giving iTunes or Amazon my money.  I’d rather email a band direct and say, “Send me your MP3s and I’ll send you some money”, but it doesn’t really work like that does it?  I understand it though, people like the ease of typing in a band’s name and being told what else they might like.  And for bands, it’s an easy way of getting their band out there, but they don’t make any money out of it.  No-one makes money out of music anymore.  It makes me laugh that people are still trying to make money out of the natural basic elements of this business.  Having a great song is not enough to make it big these days, you need to have a great song that’s on a TV commercial every five minutes, or have a bunch of fancy haircuts that will get you into every magazine.  I worked for a couple of record labels; it’s a bit of a mess these days…  I could go on for ages but I won’t, I’ll bore myself!

(201?)  The Bullet Catch – Complete Recorded Works – CDR – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 33 numbered copies)
(2012)  Crap Crab – Crap Crab – 7”+CDR+Digital Download – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 200 hand numbered copies)
(2013)  Arms & The Man – Bloodjunkie/Pure Luck – CDR – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 50 hand numbered copies)
(2013)  Crap Crab – Crabton Comes Alive! – CDR – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 100 copies)
(2013)  Sons Of Guns – Bad Blood EP – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 41 copies)
(2013)  Sons Of Guns – Bad Blood/I’m Not A Battleship – 2xCDR – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 16 copies, contains Bad Blood EP and Sons Of Guns first album I’m Not A Battleship on CDR)
(2014)  Crap Crab – Bohemian Crapsody – Cassette Tape – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 25 hand numbered copies)
(2014)  Lonely Wholesome – Vanity – 7” – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 284 copies on Black Vinyl, 41 copies on Pink/Purple Marbled Vinyl, 26 copies on Blue Marbled Vinyl, 25 copies on White Vinyl, and 24 on Green Marbled Vinyl)
(2014)  Sheen – Sheen – CDR – Wild Animals Records (Limited to 42 hand numbered copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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