One of the most successful record labels in Brighton, Tru Thoughts has retained its independence and integrity over the last 18 years with truly brilliant artists on their books, including Quantic, Hot 8 Brass Band, Robert Luis and Alice Russell. To celebrate their 18th birthday, some of their top acts will play an incredible one-off show at Brighton Dome on 18th October.
We recently asked Tru Thoughts MD, Paul Jonas to tell us about what has shaped the label over the last 18 years and how it has developed.
Congratulations on your 18th birthday! So, what have been the major highlights of the last 18 years?
Thank you. That’s a big question. We have been growing every year since we started and that’s quite a thing to be able to say, with the music business changing from physical through to digital and now on to streaming. We are really proud to have kept growing, releasing music we believe in and for every year to be bigger than the last. When Robert Luis (the A&R and co-owner) asked me if he could mention his new record label on our club flyers 18 years ago, neither of us expected it could become what it has. There are so many highlights: massive festival shows, doing our own tents at events, club nights (our six years of phonic:hoop and Etch with Mr Scruff in Brighton being very special), boat parties, seeing musicians and producers develop their music and profile, and occasionally seeing a video get over 1 million views. The upcoming Dome party is also a really wonderful part of our hometown celebrations.
What’s it like working with so many great artists? Do you have any inside stories?
I have some stories that I can never tell, which is a bi-product of a label like ours, where the acts become our friends. But rather than get in trouble, I think the best story has been watching the career of Quantic, who has been the backbone of the label since 2000. He came to our then office (above the Prince Albert on Trafalgar Street) and was really young, but had the most incredible music knowledge, drive and talent. Years later when people were sampling vocals from old soul tunes, Will (Quantic) went to the states to find Spanky Wilson, who famously did an amazing version of Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ and did a full album with her. He then moved to Colombia and worked with musicians there, and now lives in New York where he has set up a studio. His musical and personal journey has been amazing and we have presented that journey.
Of all the amazing artists you’ve signed over the last 18 years, do you have a favourite?
Ha ha, that’s not fair! We have had the pleasure of working with such a large number of acts as we release around 12 albums a year, so everyone on the label has formed part of the history. We have also had moments of working with people who are highly rated in their genres (Rodney P/London Posse, Peshay, Zed Bias, Omar etc.). Watching Rodney P MC for Robert Luis on the decks at one of our Koko London parties was definitely a moment where both label bosses were reduced to massive fanboys.
What is your favourite Tru Thoughts release and why?
Again it is hard to choose a favourite and over 18 years there has been so many different stages of the label, with some music representing a shift of styles, some receiving amazing support and the odd one not connecting as we’d hoped, but remaining some of our favourite music. I think Bonobo’s ‘Animal Magic’ being our debut artist album (and his own debut album) was highly significant. It created the foundation for us to even have the notion that we could run a record label and maybe make a living from it. Now Bonobo is with Ninja Tune, who we love and work with, and is playing at the Brighton Centre in November. It’s a proud story and I like that it’s nicely timed around our 18th birthday. Si (Bonobo) and I used to talk about him playing the Dome, which we promoted a few years ago, and now we are helping with his Brighton Centre show, which is a milestone neither of us ever even mentioned as an option. It shows how good music can make its way to lots of people.
Was it difficult to get all the artists together for this special event?
I have wanted to get Hot 8 Brass Band, Quantic and Alice Russell on the stage of the Dome for a long time. When I started noticing that the three acts were all in the UK at the same time I was quick to try and nab them. Luckily all three acts wanted the same. Add to that Werkha, Bryony Jarman-Pinto, Wrongtom, J-Felix and of course Rob, and it feels like the perfect party for our hometown and home of the label.
Do you think your fan base has changed over the years?
I think part of being such an eclectic label is that you gather a diverse range of listeners. This is most obvious in the way more and more DJs, from a variety of scenes, want our music. In the case of BBC 6 Music, who have been incredibly supportive, we have seen plays from almost everyone on the station, so you have to have music that fits with their varied tastes. Last year, they made Anchorsong’s ’Ceremonial’ album 5th Best Album of the Year and that could only happen with support from a range of the presenters and producers.
How have you weathered the changes in the music industry over the last decade and how has that impacted on Tru Thoughts?
We started in 1999 and the digital age was just taking hold, so labels who were around longer than us were starting to see the negative effects of illegal downloading, sharing and copying. Whereas, we were new and had to work in the new marketplace, so we didn’t expect to sell 100,000 albums, but if we could sell 40,000 then we were doing very well. We had to cut our teeth on the new business, but we knew no different. We started by having everything in-house – so we have our own very successful publishing company, promotions company and online store – as well as often driving the band’s vans, managing some of the acts and generally doing whatever we could to help push the music. We have pretty much maintained that attitude, now with 12 staff here in the UK and two in LA, to ensure that our acts get the best possible service we can provide. We move with the times to embrace new ways of getting the music to the most ears. We have sadly seen a lot of our peers give up on music and labels collapse, and it has been a tough time for the business, at a time when there is more and more music around.
What do you look for in a potential new artist?
Rob (and Jasmine who does A&R work for us in the US) are always looking for something new and different. We have had a policy at the label from day one that we won’t sign multiple acts of the same genre, as we want acts to have their own positions on the label. There are acts that have similarities, but we consciously try to bring in music that complements the other acts, but has its own niche. So at the moment, we have acts like Hot 8 Brass Band (New Orleans’ brass band), Flowdan (grime), The Seshen (electronic soul), Wrongtom Meets The Ragga Twins (reggae, ragga) etc. It makes every day interesting and in terms of people around the world contacting us to use music on TV, movies and adverts, we have a catalogue of music that fits for lots of different situations.
Who’s hot on your books right now?
All of them! But we have three albums out in the last quarter of 2017 that are all really interesting projects. We have Rhi, a female singer, writer and producer, who makes really lovely, mellow tunes. From New York, Sly5thAve has done orchestral compositions of Dr Dre tunes, which may sound strange, but this guy has played with Prince, Janelle Monae and Stevie Wonder, and knows what he’s doing. Finally, Space Captain, also from New York, who have a brilliant psychedelic, jazzy, poppy album that is really special.
Tru Thoughts Recordings 18th Birthday Party
Brighton Dome, Wednesday 18th October 2017
Interview by Emma Baker