Holy Roar Records has been growing strong since it formed 10 years ago and it is home to some of the biggest underground bands in the country including Rolo Tomassi, Slabdragger, Svalbard, Wren, OHHMS, Employed to Serve, We Never Learned To Live, Body Hound, Giants, Apologies I Have None and many more. Now part of the Pink Mist Collective, it has become one of the most respected underground record labels in the country and a household name within underground circles. Before they celebrate its 10th Anniversary at The Dome in London, I spoke to record boss Alex Fitzpatrick about all things Holy Roar.
Jack: Hello, thanks for taking time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Alex Fitzpatrick: Yeah not too bad! Final preparations for HRX are proving a little stressful right now, but the more we get sorted in advance means the more care-free beers I can drink on the day!
Jack: Holy Roar Records formed ten years ago, did you ever imagine it would be going ten years later when you formed it?
Alex: Not at all. In some ways it feels like I started Holy Roar 5 minutes ago rather than 10 years. It’s gone so fast – and I think that is in a way a testament to our work rate and passion for it! I feel I should also say there was no grand plan and I certainly did not possess the foresight to think that we would be still going (and growing) ten years in….
Jack: When you first started Holy Roar back in 2006, did you ever consider going full time from the start or was it just a hobby then?
Alex: It wasn’t even a consideration to go full-time from the start. We had a small loan (essentially just to manufacture our first 3 releases) but there wasn’t anywhere near enough money coming in early on for me to have tried doing it full-time from the start. When I took the plunge to go full time with it, which properly materialised in 2008, there still was nowhere near enough income to support me, so I drove bands round in vans, managed a couple of bands, ‘DJ’ed’ (I use the term loosely) and near-constantly sold my rare records and t-shirts for a while, not to mention selling my car.
Jack: I read in your interview with Metal Hammer that you had to work a day job before Holy Roar went full time, was this a struggle at first?
Alex: It was a huge struggle – as said above, I worked various side jobs, sold a serious amount of my own stuff, went and temped in my old line of work too. I’m not saying this for people to potentially feel sorry for me – I was just determined to make Holy Roar work for me. I did not want to go back to working in media. To give you an idea why – one day I walked into my media job with my guitar because I had a gig after work. A girl who worked there asked me why I had a guitar and why I would rather do that than go out drinking with them that night. I rest my case.
Jack: Was there any sense of worry when you went full time that the label would collapse or were you confident you’d reach the stage you were at now?
Alex: I still have that sense of worry every day! The more we grow the bigger the sense of risk. For example – I reached a point where I realised that in order for us to carry on growing I would need to employ someone else rather than depend upon interns. This obviously greatly increased our monthly financial burden. Also now – many of our bands have got to a size where their records need repressing as they sell out and again, that’s a chunk of money going out where there’s not any significant immediate return….it’s hard to constantly adjust to these new strains on our money as we grow. I’ve never felt comfortable to be honest.
Jack: Have there been any bands you regret not signing or wish the deal never fell through?
Alex: A deal fell through early on with Fuck Buttons. We were also due to do records for November Coming Fire and Narcosis, but both split up. We were sent early demos by Tubelord and Pulled Apart By Horses too. PABH we ended up working with for a split 7”, but we could have done more there early on potentially….
Jack: Bands on the label really seem to enjoy being a part of the Holy Roar family and they mention they feel supported. Do you think your experience in playing in bands such as Pariso has helped form Holy Roar into what it is today?
Alex: Ah that’s nice to hear, I’m glad our bands are either saying that or that general feeling is perceived by the (interested) public! I’ve just always done my best to treat bands as I would like to be treated myself. I’m only human and have fucked up a couple of times along the way of course though! I don’t think it stems just from my time in Pariso though – I started off by putting on shows in Birmingham where I went to university and quickly realised what made bands comfortable and happy! Then my time in Cutting Pink With Knives, Pariso and my short stint in Hang The Bastard all helped inform my judgement of how to treat bands. It was like “well, it’s pretty easy to see why this record label or promoter is shit to this band, we won’t do that” – I don’t think any of it is rocket science. At the end of the day a record label lives or dies by the quality of the material the bands release. Record labels don’t exist without bands and artists. It’s hard enough for our bands going out there, taking time off from their jobs, playing pubs and clubs, most of the time getting no rider or a minimal one, then sleeping on people’s floors. It’s not glamorous at all, so Holy Roar should not be another pain in the ass for them.
Jack: Some people I know feel that Holy Roar has carved out their own personal niche in UK punk and heavy music. I’m inclined to agree as when I first heard Svalbard and We Never Learned to Live I felt they were Holy Roar bands. Would you agree that Holy Roar has carved out a niche in this sense?
Alex: I guess we have yeah but I find it interesting because OHHMS, for example, totally embody the Holy Roar spirit or ethos to me, yet they play prog-doom and sound nothing at all like, say, Employed To Serve – who equally embody the same values. It’s this that allows these bands to play gigs together and nothing else. I find that fascinating as it’s something that has developed organically. I’m really proud of that as it is testament to our bands and the people in them. I don’t think we have a ‘sound’. I think we may have a sort of middle-ground with our label with bands like Rolo Tomassi and Svalbard for example…but then we have a punk band like Giants, and an alt-rock/almost folk-punk band like Apologies, I Have None, through to Conjurer who are really metal and Slabdragger who are cosmic-doom!
Jack: A lot of people have discovered bands purely because they were on Holy Roar, do you feel Holy Roar has become a brand so to speak?
Alex: Unintentionally yes. Again – it’s something I’m very proud of and do not shy away from because it’s almost like it acts as a stamp of quality. Most people don’t like all the bands on the label, but usually you can see that they are at least a good example of what they are doing, or are doing something somewhat unique. I would defy anyone keyed into our rock/metal/hardcore world to hand on heart say “all those bands on Holy Roar are shit”.
Jack: Holy Roar has a wide range of bands on its roster, from doom and sludge acts like OHHMS, Wren and Slabdragger to hardcore bands like Giants. Do you think labels should be open to anything or is it okay for a label to only go for one genre?
Alex: We do what we want within some vague parameters – for example we aren’t going to swing into Hip Hop or Electronic music anytime soon…but it might organically happen somewhere down the line. I like the fact that we are varied and that our musical goalposts are forever slightly shifting. It makes it fun. With no disrespect to anyone out there – I personally can’t understand how a label can just release straight up hardcore for example. I would get so bored and I would feel musically fatigued. If I did that I would end up viewing it as a job as you’re essentially selling variations on the same ‘product’ surely? I admire such focused dedication to a genre though.
Jack: Let’s talk about Holy Roar today, how many people does Holy Roar employ?
Alex: Well there’s me and Justine full-time. I tend to make all the major decisions, sign bands, figure out our schedules, talk to external PR/distribution, pay the bills, sort all the data of the label as well as a bunch of other different things every day. Justine does a lot of graphic/layout work, wholesale and direct distribution, and again a million other random tasks, plugging the gaps I either can’t do or don’t have the time to do. We currently also have a couple of interns on top of that who do mailorder, website maintenance, gig listings, some social media etc.
Jack: Holy Roar is part of the Pink Mist Collective with other labels, what is working with Pink Mist like and what does the alliance entail?
Alex: We initially came together to share an office space, lower costs for us all in a variety of ways and get better distribution deals for us all. We achieved all of that and spawned a live music arm run by Ross Allmark. He is solely responsible for that and it’s success. It’s now much looser – with the labels scattered around the place and on varying levels. We did also actually release a couple of records along the way under the Pink Mist banner for Tubelord and Make Do And Mend.
Jack: One of the things I love about Holy Roar is that you do the 12 days of Holy Roar where you give away music for free around Christmas, what inspired this?
Alex: Pretty sure this was initially Justine’s idea! We just figured it would be a nice way to let people check out records they may not have taken the plunge on, get our bands music out there to the more casual music fan and collect some email addresses in the process! It was a Christmas present. A bunch of people actually also paid something for the releases, which was cool. I am currently thinking we won’t do it this year though, because I want to keep things fresh. We will come up with something new. I also don’t want people to expect us to do it and think that they can just wait until December and get all our stuff for free digitally!
Jack: When doing this do you have to get the bands permission to release their music for free?
Jack: On the 21st May you’re putting on the Holy Roar 10th anniversary show at The Dome headlined by your success story Rolo Tomassi. Did you plan on doing an event of this scale when you started out?
Alex: I’ve always had fantasies of doing awesome big gigs but again never looked too far ahead with planning when we were a younger/smaller label. I guess we now have the infrastructure in place to do this properly via Ross @ Pink Mist (as mentioned before) and I didn’t want to let our 10th anniversary slip by without something decent to mark it! Justine certainly egged this idea on in its early stages and we started seriously considering it last Autumn approximately.
Jack: Playing this show is Hang the Bastard who will soon be calling it quits. How did you first become aware of this band?
Alex: An early intern for Holy Roar bought their debut CD-EP and told me to listen to it. I was instantly blown away and went to see them play a show with Brutality Will Prevail in Camden, which was awesome all round. It was a good time. I think I simply emailed them asking if they fancied doing a record….and they happened to be writing what would become Hellfire Reign at the time. I became friends with the band and became one of the 17 bassists they’ve had! That was a lot of fun – getting to play across Europe with them (including 4 shows in Romania), Ieperfest and a show with First Blood.
Jack: Before you started Holy Roar you used to put on shows including shows at your house. Do you still put on shows or you don’t have time due to Holy Roar?
Alex: Well obviously I’m part of putting on HRX! Ha. We used to put on some free shows at the Old Blue Last in London and a couple other venues, but generally I’ve tried to steer clear of putting on shows since my early/mid-twenties, because it’s stressful and I don’t enjoy it any more really.
Jack: Finally, where do you see Holy Roar in 10 years’ time?
Alex: Hopefully a bit more comfortable financially and with continued growth whilst continuing to do what we want to do. If anyone wants to buy the label for a load of money or put me on a good wage to run it in exchange for a stake, that would be cool though. Fuck it, I would sell out in that way – would be nice to not worry about the bills and concentrate on just pushing bands as hard as possible! I’d never let anyone else tell us what bands we should work with though – fuck that.
Jack: Thank you so much for your time and I’ll see you at The Dome.