An Oral History Of Hassle Records: One Of The UK's Most Important Labels

For 15 years Hassle Records have been at the forefront of rock music in the UK – this is its story

An Oral History Of Hassle Records: One Of The UK's Most Important Labels
Mischa Pearlman

Fifteen years ago, Hassle Records was set up by Ian ‘Wez’ Westley and Nigel Adams. The pair had worked together at Australian label Mushroom, but decided to go it on their own when that label was sold to Warner. They chose two: Eat Sleep for the more indie-oriented stuff, and Sore Point for the heavier end of things. The latter put out Take This To Your Grave, the first Fall Out Boy album, as well as releases by Alexisonfire and The Used, but were forced to essentially start again due to circumstances beyond their control. And so, in 2005, Eat Sleep was reincarnated as Full Time Hobby and Sore Point as Hassle Records.

Ever since, Hassle has been at the epicentre of the UK’s independent rock scene, offering up an international roster of artists such as Cancer Bats, Rolo Tomassi, Blakfish, Lonely The Brave, Trash Talk, We Are The Ocean, Juliette & The Licks, Casey, Tubelord and some guy called Frank Iero. Currently, the label boasts a stellar line-up that includes Petrol Girls, Press Club, Brutus, Blood Command, Wess Meets West and Swedish Death Candy – in other words, some of the most exciting and innovative bands around.

To celebrate their 15th birthday, Hassle are releasing special anniversary vinyl pressings of 15 key releases from their past and present that illustrate just how instrumental a role the label has played in the world of alternative music over the past decade and a half. So, Wez spoke to Kerrang! about the history and ethos of Hassle Records, as well as the importance of the independent scene…

Before Hassle Came Sore Point... Briefly

“We started Eat Sleep, which was the Full Time Hobby-type label, and we also had a label called Sore Point. We operated that for about two years, but we had an affiliation with Ministry Of Sound and after about 18 months they got really bored with us. We agreed to go our separate ways, but to keep the name we would have had to pay them a lot of money, and that’s why we changed our name. With Sore Point, the Fall Out Boy album [Take This To Your Grave] did really well for us, and we initially signed Alexisonfire before we brought them over to Hassle, so we’d had a bit of success before we started Hassle. So we were gutted that we’d done all that hard work to start with because we were doing really well, which meant that having to change was disappointing, but there was nothing we could do about it. We just had to get on with it.”

The First Hassle Release Was The Debut EP By Juliette & The Licks

“We had a guy who worked for us called Chris Baker. We got to the office one morning and he said, ‘Oh, Juliette Lewis the actress has got a band,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s bound to be shit.’ And he was like, ‘Well, listen to this EP,’ and he played me the six tracks of …Like A Bolt Of Lightning and I’m like, ‘Wow, actually this is really, really good.’ It was on a U.S. label called Fiddler, and we knew those guys, so we called them and asked what the story was and they said, ‘We’d love to work with you.’ So we licensed it in Europe. The EP was great, but she was great live, too. What really impressed me about her is that, at the time, she was getting a million dollars a film and the first tour she did was in a splitter with her band and one crew member, so she really wasn’t scared of hard work. She did that for nine months and it grew really quickly, and before the second album came out we’d sold out the Astoria [in London]. So it did really, really well for us.”

Hassle Records (And Sore Point) Helped Define And Cultivate A Scene In The UK By Licensing A Lot Of U.S. Bands

“That time did feel pretty special in terms of what was happening – mainly in the U.S. – for that kind of music. We were working with a lot of those bands – Brand New did well for us, but there were also other bands who didn’t do quite as well but were equally good, like Recover and The Beautiful Mistake. And of course bands like Dashboard Confessional started doing really well. We didn’t just want to license records, though. It was just something that was easy to do because there were all these brilliant bands out there that needed a home and nobody was interested, so we were like, ‘We’ll do it!’”

...But They Wanted To Do Much More Than That

“A lot of time when you’re licensing, you’re not involved in the creative process – you’re just delivered the album and the artwork. But we like to be involved from the very beginning if we can be, so we moved into signing more bands directly. That’s probably about 80 per cent of what we do now. A lot of the time, friends or people we respect will recommend things, or maybe you’ll listen to a small radio station in America – which is a much easier thing to do than it was 15 years ago because of the internet – and they’ll play a track. But we’ve been doing this a while now, so we’re well-connected with lots of agents and promoters. It’s a symbiotic relationship – you have to work together to bring a band through. And it’s disappointing when it doesn’t work out. I don’t want to say we take it personally, but we kind of do, because we’re pretty close to most of our bands – certainly for the period that we work with them, and a lot of them we’re still friends with post-working with them. It’s somebody’s life – it’s their aspirations and dreams, so when it hurts them it hurts us. Obviously we don’t mind people not liking stuff, but if they’re taking a pop at something just for the sake of it, we get pretty pissed off. But that’s because we care. The happiness of a band is paramount – if they’re not happy, they’re not going to be as creative as they possibly could be. You need to be there to support them, not just with the release but in any other way that you can – a lot of the bands we work with aren’t managed, so we end up doing a lot of management and admin for them, which we don’t get paid for. But that’s not a problem, because we see it as part of our role.”

Hassle's Independence Has Always Been At The Centre Of What They Do

“There’s a big indie sector that makes up about 40 per cent of the world market, and that doesn’t really get talked about. I have a lot of friends who work at major labels, and it’s not that they don’t care about the music, it’s just that there’s a different thing going on there, because they have to deliver for a corporation, as opposed to being close to the artist or owning their own business. It’s a different ethos. I think everyone on the independent sector does it not for the cash but for the love of it, and hopefully they can get paid as well.”

While They've Supported British Music For The Last 15 Years, They've Also Looked Beyond The Border

“We don’t do this to create scenes – we just sign stuff that we like. The whole Tubelord/Blakfish/Tupolev Ghost scene was a great British scene that fell away quite quickly, which is a real shame, because I think if those bands had managed to get to their second, third and fourth albums, I think we’d have a very strong British scene now. But unfortunately, those bands were developing when streaming wasn’t really a thing and the internet had demolished a lot of sales, so to make even a little bit of money was quite tough, so that scene fell away and it was a real shame. But now, we’ve recently signed Brutus, a great Belgian band that are kind of their own genre, and what we’re seeing now is this whole raft of European bands that have got very interesting sounds. A lot of UK-based labels seem to just focus on the UK, whereas we have a worldwide focus. We tried to sign an Iraqi band about seven years ago which didn’t quite come off, and we’ve had two or three Russian bands come in recently, but they weren’t quite good enough. But we’re happy to sign a band from anywhere in the world.”

Hassle Relish And Respect Their Contemporaries In The UK Scene

“I think, genre-wise, there aren’t many labels like us in the UK. There are in the States, like Rise and Equal Vision, but in the UK a lot of them get bought up by other companies. I don’t really know where we fit in with everybody else – we just kind of do our own thing in our own little universe and we enjoy that still. We think there’s a good future for bands if they can stick with it, even though the genre’s been forced back underground again. We have competitors, but it’s never an aggressive thing. In fact, we talk to our competitors about business, because we all have the same problems and we need to share information to make sure that we’re not being fucked over by people. ”

Independent Labels Are Still As Important As Ever

“They’re essential. They’ve always been essential. Let’s take Biffy Clyro: their first three albums were quite angular. Would they have survived on a major? Maybe not. We did the first two Muse albums on Mushroom, and there’s no way Muse would be a band today if they weren’t on an independent first, because it took too long to develop. You need independents to bring through bands for the right reasons – sometimes they go onto majors and sometimes they don’t. A band like Clutch are bigger than they’ve ever been and they self-release their own records now. So I think independent labels are more essential than ever to develop bands and talent and give bands and artists that first opportunity.”

Hassle's 15th birthday vinyl pressings are released October 30 and are available to pre-order now

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