Fierce Panda, fiercely independent stalwarts of the 90's UK indie scene, are still very busy being one of the UK's few record labels with integrity, style & panache. It's been a long old 8 years & much has changed - it used to be all fields around these parts etc - nowadays you carnt see The Wood for The Trees (neither The Wood or The Trees are currently signed to Fierce Panda, by the way).
Holding yr. head up in increasingly difficult times - keeping the goose at arms length - & defiantly shouting "BOO" - is no longer as easy as it once may well have been.
Fierce Panda boss, Simon Williams, takes time out to answer one of our annoying Q&A type things;
trakMARX - Did you ever imagine Fierce Panda celebrating its 8th birthday at the inception - 100 not out and still at the crease?
Simon: Never in a million years. The whole reason for setting up Fierce Panda in the first place was to release the 'Shagging In The Streets' EP as a tribute to the New Wave of New Wave scene. If I'd had any idea that we'd still be bunging out records nearly a decade on I wouldn't have called the label something as stupid as Fierce sodding Panda.
trakMARX - Has the "industry" changed much in the ensuing years?
Simon: Totally! Major labels now understand how to market alternative rock acts with the same degree of menace that they've always shoved pop acts down The Kids' throats. The indie chart is useless, dominated as it is by Britney Spears. And - crucially - major labels have understood that they need to be much more flexible when it comes to chasing after new bands, and so now Virgin has Radiate and WEA/London has B-Unique and Parlophone has Regal, all imprints/offshoots which can nip in early and offer one-off singles to bands without scaring them, which is exactly what Fierce Panda has always done. Darn.
trakMARX - The New Wave Of New Wave is now only a ghost that haunts the IPC 'Create a Scene' department. Were you sad that These Animal Men, S*M*A*S*H and their ilk failed to ignite?
Simon: I'm not sure they were failures, to be honest. Certainly S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men got a stack of press, signed major label deals, got on Top Of The Pops and in the Top 40 and appeared to have a whale of a time for 18 months or so. They didn't sell as many records as Travis but then again 'Speed King' was never going to set Radio 2 alight, was it? Besides which, without NWONW there would never have been a Fierce Panda...
trakMARX - Are you a fan of corporate non-linear reality scene creation?
Simon: I'll come back to you on that one. Eventually.
trakMARX - Although we're sure you never imagined the fates awaiting Coldplay, Placebo and Embrace at the time, how do you view the monsters you helped create now?
Simon: If you've worked with young enthusiastic musicians on their debut release, seen them overjoyed at selling 1000 records and then watched them go on to have grown up hit records and sell out Brixton Academy it's really hard to see them as monsters!
trakMARX - As Idlewild make that difficult transition from cult alt.rock icons to cult REM wannabies, does it ever make you think: what's it all about, Alfie?
Simon: Mmmm I do have to say that around about the time that Idlewild were releasing our single, 'Chandelier', and preparing for the 'Captain' mini-album on Deceptive Records I reckon they were my totally perfect band - really rough, really edgy but with great tunes and a good attitude. Yes, they've mellowed out a bit since then but gawd bless 'em, it's turned them into pop stars, innit?
trakMARX - Where did it go wrong for Tiger - ahead of their time or behind it?
Simon: Neither. They just should never have signed to a major label expecting instant chart success.
trakMARX - Considering your current roster, do you feel Fierce Panda has become more eclectic with the passage of time?
Simon: Well, I thought that putting out singles by Kenickie and 3 Colours Red back to back would have suggested we were fairly eclectic a few years ago. The thing is, we do weird electronic and classical stuff like Twig and Lapsus Linguae which I think is brilliant but nobody ever hears about them so we are always seen as That Indie Label. In certain people's eyes we could put out a Mozart requiem and they'd still dismiss it as indie nonce.
trakMARX - Have the criteria you employ when deciding to sign a band altered in any way over the years?
Simon: The criteria has certainly changed - at one point three years ago we were getting a good demo, phoning up the band responsible and offering a single deal on the spot! Now we are a lot more cautious and thoughtful and choosy about our bands. So I haven't got a clue why we've got 12 records coming out in the next two months
trakMARX - Have any other areas of operational policy changed?
Simon: There's more than one of me now and it isn't run out of my living room anymore, but apart from that it's the same as it was eight years ago, ie frisky.
trakMARX - You must be very pleased to have The Parkinsons on board - do you fancy their chances in the bun fight?
Simon: The Parkinsons are nicer blokes than people think and much better songwriters than they are given credit for. I reckon that with the right label backing (ie more than Fierce Panda's usual twenty pence and a bus pass to Lewisham) they'd easily break the Top 40. Consider that last year they squeezed first on on the Carling Stage at Reading / Leeds and that this year they are co-headlining the same tent with Ikara Colt and they aren't doing too badly.
trakMARX - Any news on the Parkinsons' 45 yet? Title? Format?
Simon: The debut Parkinsons single will be called 'Bedsit City' and is due for release on Fierce Panda on September 9th 2002. It is backed with the great live favourite 'Somerstown' and will be released on 7" and - a first for the Panda, this - CD digipak.
trakMARX - Who, apart from the world's number one Bolan fan, is Simple Kid? Rumours, conjecture, spite - go on - spill the beans.
Simon: Simple Kid is a young fellow from Ireland called Ciaron. Those of a nervous major label disposition may care to recall that he was the singer in a bunch of glammy troubadours called the Young Offenders. Thankfully, he seems to have recovered with the important senses, ie the ability to write a tune, intact.
trakMARX - There's a bit of a buzz going around about Coin-Op. What can you tell us about them?
Simon: UmmmmBrighton fourpiece with a good looking singer who make rocking noises which make people think of Clinic playing really, really early Blur. Great fun, great kids, mini-album due on Fierce Panda on September 2nd.
trakMARX - Death Cab For Cutie were a brave signing - how's it going with them?
Simon: Very nicely, actually. 'The Photo Album' continues to sell well six months after its release date and on August 19th we're having a Death Cab jamboree with the release of a new single ('We Laugh Indoors') and the first UK release for the band's second album, 'We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes' to coincide with them coming over for a quick tour and slots at Reading & Leeds Festivals. They could easily sell a lot more records - they were offered the whole of the Seafood tour a couple of months ago but turned it down - but long ago Death Cab For Cutie made a very clear decision that life is for living, not wasting away in a transit van on the road, and we have to respect their decision.
trakMARX - The general press reaction to Easyworld has been somewhat muted, to say the least. Considering their talent does this surprise/sicken you?
Simon: Neither surprised nor sickened, really. If the press wants to embarrass itself by devoting acres of space to average Antipodean barroom bands and ageing American 'soul' troops then so be it. Easyworld are just one of the many UK groups who've been virtually ignored since nu-metal swept in, to be followed by all the rock'n'roll stuff, and frankly it's getting boring. But, like The Cooper Temple Clause, if Easyworld start charting the press will wake up.
trakMARX - As an ex-hack - what do you make of today's r&r press?
Simon: It's being PR'd to death, but apart from that it's still going to be saddled with the same old loathe-'em-or-loathe-'em vibe that the press has always had.
trakMARX - Have you checked Careless Talk Costs Lives?
Simon: It's a great idea and it's got off to a good start, but I wouldn't mind a little less cynicism. And even though they are quite literally amazing I don't really see what four live reviews of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs in one issue does for anyone. Weren't there any other bands playing that month?
trakMARX - Do you still buy NME?
Simon: As a record company we advertise in the NME which means we are their clients which means that - ta-daaa! - we get it sent free every week.
trakMARX - When unloading your pipe in front of the fire for a good curl and relax would it be, perchance, Ucunt or Mofo that helped you pass away the wee small hours on a slow telly night?
Simon: To be very truthful, I find it very difficult to tell the two apart. As an elderly gentleman, however, I do have to say that The Eagles front cover on the new Ucunt (I think!) looks very enticing. And as a record company boss I do have to say that the stories you read in those 'mature' mags about the troubles some of the all-time great bands have endured to make classic albums and some of the cock-ups made by superstars down the line are proof positive that you aren't the only one going through hell on a weekly basis. And is there such a thing is a fast telly night??!