Way back in 2001 when I first started Americana UK on a shoestring budget (not even a shoestring to be fair, it was zero) one of the first labels to kindly start sending us through stuff for review was Loose. The albums were not only by some of the best names in americana but always beautifully packaged too, proving that you can have style and substance – indeed many people came to the genre in the first place through their amazing compilations they would produce in the days when everyone still bought CDs. At this year’s AMAUK awards which take place in Hackney at the end of this month, Loose perhaps more than any other label will have a major presence there, with two showcasing artists, three nominees and a special conference session reflecting on their two decades at the forefront of the genre. AUK caught up with label founder (“Le Grand Fromage”) Tom Bridgewater and discussed the conference, what’s changed over 20 years and separating the wheat from the chaff.
It’s been a hugely successful year for Loose with 3 nominees at the AMAUK awards and Courtney Marie Andrews winning 2 categories in our end of year poll. Does this feel like an exciting time for the label?
We’re just really pleased to still be in business! As a label we made a conscious decision (as opposed to the usual semi-unconscious decision) to specialise in Americana. Our aim was to be the best Country/Americana/Alt. Country label this side of the pond. And I guess that we’ve kind of achieved that ambition, which is pleasing, but hey there aren’t many of us about! So really to win awards and top the americana charts was all part of our evil master plan – if we can’t do that we might as well pack up our stuff and go home. It must be said that the folks at AMAUK have done a great job promoting the Americana scene in the UK – and the introduction of the UK Americana chart has certainly been a big help for Loose.
It’s 20 years you’ve been around now. How much do you think the music industry has changed in that time for you? And is it for the better or worse?
It seems that you have to work much harder these days which is a real drag. Loose was kind of like the bastard child of my first label Vinyl Junkie when I released vinyl only country compilations curated by DJs Mary Costello and Johnnie Walker. Many people rightly scoffed at this concept but I just love vinyl, always have and always will. Loose then came along and it was all CDs (ugh). So here we are all these years later and we’re putting every album we release on vinyl, CD and download, so we’ve come a full circle. Loose started in 1998, not a great time for the music business – so we never had expense accounts and fast cars at our disposal from the get-go. What you never had you don’t miss I guess.
Your AMAUK panel discussion is entitled “Swimming Against the Tide” – do you feel like you have been?
When we started the label there wasn’t an Americana scene. What we were doing was pretty unfashionable. But it was music that I loved. I scoured the pages of No Depression magazine looking for bands that I could send faxes to! Some of them replied and we began to piece together the first Loose compilation. Then Keith Cameron gave us a 4-star review in Mojo saying that we’d managed to “separate the wheat from the chaff”. That was pretty cool. Bands like The Handsome Family, Scud Mountain Boys, Richmond Fontaine, Lambchop & Calexico got their first outings on a UK release. Maybe we were onto something. Ultimately I’m pretty proud of those Loose New Sounds Of The Old West compilations. People still say to me that they introduced them to a whole new scene, so maybe we’re less swimming against the tide, more swimming in uncharted waters. But I’ve always loved swimming in the sea.
Loose does feel like a special, very intimate label with some artists who’ve been on it for years such as the Handsomes – have you developed personal friendships with them?
Along with Danny Wilson’s (of Danny & The Champions Of The World) wonderful band Grand Drive, they were our first signing so they will always be a special band for us. 20 years later and we’re all still working AND working together. Now that’s pretty special and let’s face it, amazing! Here’s a bit of a scoop for you Americana UK – we’re re-issuing the first album we released by The Handsome Family “Through The Trees” on sky blue vinyl with a bonus CD of outtakes and live tracks. Twenty years later. Wonderful. I love those guys. We’re all one big handsome family.
There’s a real feeling that americana is kind of having its second wind in the UK and around the world, with even Justin Timberlake describing his next album as “americana with 808s” (!) Why do you think it’s having such an impact again?
Pendleton shirts never go out of fashion. Neither do cowboy boots. Or cowboy hats even. But seriously it’s just bloody great music that I don’t think ever really goes out of fashion, Americana is the acceptable face of Country – real Country Music even. There’s really no substitute for a great song and a great voice. That’s all we look for, so in theory my job is a piece of cake. Americana music (as we’re all calling it now), when done well, definitely ticks both those boxes. Songs that people can relate to, sung by voices like Sturgill Simpson and Courtney Marie Andrews, Andrew Combs, Danny Wilson, Ruarri from William The Conqueror or Reid from Treetop Flyers. That lot’s going right in my basket.
Which artists broadly under the americana umbrella are you listening to right now?
Of the new stuff I’m enjoying Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, SUSTO, Nadia Reid, David Ramirez. The last albums by Jeff Tweedy and Iron & Wine were aces too. Obviously I can’t tell you about our new signings in waiting. The likes of Rough Trade & Bella Union will nick ‘em! Haha …it’s like the classic conversation between two A&Rs at SXSW, “What you seen that’s good?” … ”Oh no nothing special really, you?”. But seriously, I like listening to the old stuff. Waylon, Willie, Merle, Linda, Lucinda, Emmylou, Lefty, Townes, you just can’t go wrong with the legends. Did I mention The Boss yet?
Other than your panel discussion, what are you most excited about for the AMA-UK awards at the end of the month?
It’s exciting that Courtney Marie Andrews, Danny & The Champions Of The World and William The Conqueror have all been nominated for awards. And Courtney is going to sing a song at the awards night. That’s going to be flippin’ amazing! We always have fun at Oslo afterwards, gallantly trying to drink our body weight in lager. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
The AMAUK conference and awards take place in Hackney from 31st January – 1st February. Tickets are available from the AMAUK site over here. Americana UK will be there to report on any exciting shenanigans going on.