I first came across Alexis through a borderline obsession I have with one of his acts, We Cut Corners, and have happy memories of fireside fun down at Other Voices in Dingle a couple of years back. I didn’t realise at the time just how far-reaching Delphi Label really is, but as my knowledge grew, I recognised the Alexis’ outlet as something a little bit unique on the Irish music scene.
I was particularly taken with their special edition releases, such as the handcrafted five-copy only four-EP release for Record Store Day 2011 (see below right), which remains one of the most treasured items in my record collection. They put out a similar release a year later. This is a small label that takes its image and integrity seriously, and does the best it can to produce something unique and interesting at every corner. In connections with Le Galaxie – who’ve now made their way to a major in Universal – and We Cut Corners, the label is also home to two of Ireland’s hottest acts. I was delighted, then, when Alexis agreed to give me his take on Delphi, and Irish music in 2015. Kindly legend that he is, he’s offered up the most in-depth ‘State of the Nation’ to date.
What are the greatest challenges facing a small label in 2015?
Well, the obvious answer is the perennial challenge to release hit records! Whatever else you could say, every small label is hoping to have that success. It’s the one thing that can provide the revenue and reputation that allows you to stick at it and grow.
We still by and large live in an economy where it’s necessary to pay the going rate for any number of services and overhead items, and that’s the same for the things labels require, be it office costs, staff, advertising and promotion, design, manufacturing of physical product, but people consume music in a way which is economically completely unlike that. The reality is that unless you have an out-and-out breakthrough hit it is very hard to make the numbers add up, certainly if you’re releasing physical product. There is the argument that the digital age has provided the opportunity for artists and labels to enjoy a commensurate fall in their cost base, in terms of harnessing digital know-how and technology for recording, production, artwork and design etc. The reality is that professional product still requires professional services, studios, engineers, designers, videomakers and everyone needs to be paid. The sums are often not so pretty! A recent article reported that 1% of artists are earning 77% of all revenue from recorded music, I’m not sure how that compares to 20 years ago, but it is something which generally does not bode well for new, independent labels… so back to finding that hit!!
How do Delphi pick your artists?
‘Pick’ sounds a bit like going into the artist shop and browsing the rails, and not many artists, managers and labels are pret-a-porter. In our case it is a pretty organic process, firstly we want to be confident we are dealing with something really exceptional creatively. Then it’s about nurturing a relationship and ensuring there is a fit in temperament and vision for the shared goals of artist and label/manager. So the process is generally gradual and requires patience, and releasing records takes time. Sometimes I get emails from bands saying they want me to release their record and they’ve already set the release date for 6 weeks time, that’s obviously totally unrealistic! For a small label like us, we can only ever work with a small number of artists anyway, so committing to a brand new artist is pretty rare. You quickly learn that you can only ever do things in which you have complete conviction, for the simple fact that you have to champion it day-in day-out, so without that you soon come unstuck.
We Cut Corners and Le Galaxie are both obviously a huge deal for the label. What are your hopes for the bands?
They’ve both been great, in fact they are also quite different. I’ve managed We Cut Corners since 2011, and Delphi has released their two albums, whereas in the case of Le Galaxie it was not a management relationship, and the release of the Le Galaxie 10″ Fade 2 Forever was a stand-alone project. Not to take anything away from it of course. I loved the tunes on that EP from the first time the guys played them to me, I had already been a fan of the debut album so it was something I really wanted to do. Also we got to do a white vinyl 10″, which remains one of my favourite Delphi products! It’s been great to be involved with them and watch them go from strength to strength. As a somewhat outside observer now (they are managed by the amazing Joe Clarke, a one-man advertisement for all that’s good in the Irish music industry), I hope they can take their live show and tour it all over the world. That’s their killer asset, they can bring the Le Galaxie party anywhere they go, regardless of whether anyone has yet heard their tunes or even heard of them. Then they obviously have the tunes and recordings to back it up, so that can take them very far.
For We Cut Corners, I hope they will find the spark outside of Ireland to get the kind of recognition and associated success they are already building at home. They’re creating an amazing body of work which will serve them well when they get the breaks. That has already begun, with shows internationally, most recently in the UK, Spain and hopefully this year several other places in Europe. I would love to see We Cut Corners get the breakthrough success at Irish radio that will open them up to a broader audience. Despite all their success and plaudits, and decent radio play for previous singles, it’s still true that only wider radiobrings your music to the casual listener and grows the audience beyond a core of dedicated music fans.
What are the best and worst things about the Irish music scene today?
I hate to not answer the question, but it does presuppose that the music scene is this single coherent thing, which is obviously not the case. ‘Music’ takes in all manner of sins, both in terms of content and outlets, so it’s hard to broad-brush.
Of course as a label you’re ultimately looking to sell records. How difficult is that today, in terms of distribution, costs, the public’s interest and funding the releases?
Public interest in music is undiminished, which is great, but like me I think the majority of serious music fans are consuming music in the streaming format, not even as downloads, be it via Youtube or Spotify or Soundcloud. Making your music available to streaming audiences is of course very easy, but getting their attention is as difficult as ever.
You’ve done a lot of interesting ‘special edition’ releases over the years, especially for record store day. Do you feel you need to do something special to sell hard copy records now? What’s the inspiration behind them?
I’ve worked in artist management for about 11 years now. In 2006 I found myself involved in creating a label to release the music of an artist I was assisting managing with my then boss in London, which gave me a taste of it. As things progressed in the digital area, it seemed that more and more at grass roots, management and label were becoming so intertwined they seemed like natural complements. So when I set up Delphi and began working in Dublin I decided to take that approach. It can work well, but I’ve also learnt that labels require a special commitment to the releases as distinct to the commitment a manager has to the artist. You need to be watching retail, keep on top of distribution, keep promoting the releases. It needs manpower to focus on the label functions away from management to work best. That is one of our challenges in 2015!
What are your plans for the coming year?
State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here.