Bearded Label Love: Boss Tuneage

An inspirational interview from one of the country's finest, not just punk rock labels, but ambassadors of independent record production. If you're unfamiliar so far, prepare to become obsessed with Boss Tuneage records.

Posted on Feb 4th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Boss Tuneage / By Peter Clark
Bearded Label Love: Boss Tuneage It was over 20 years ago that Aston Stephens decided to take a positive step in his life and begin to do what he loves; putting out records. The world has changed dramatically since 1990, but one thing that remains is the passion and commitment distilled in a person who truly loves and believes in what they do. Remaining true to your values is something we at Bearded strongly admire, so we sat down and had a chat with the man behind Boss Tuneage Records, someone who is still defending the faith, and find out just what drives him on.

Hello! First off, who the heck are you and what do you do?
Hi my name’s Aston and I’m the guilty party behind the label that is Boss Tuneage!

Where does the name Boss Tuneage come from?
Well being a massive Descendents/ALL fan and their quirk of suffixing songs with “age” I came up with the name of Boss Tuneage as it was a bad pun on where I grew up (near Boston in Lincolnshire) and also was the reviews section name in Wolfie Retard’s old fanzines, Groovy Crush Vibe and Real Overdose!

How does the average day go for you?
Well, I work part time on Boss Tuneage, and also work for Key production, the CD and vinyl manufacturer – so when I am not doing stuff for Key, I am doing stuff for Boss T and vice versa! I put a new years resolution in at the beginning of 2010 to stop working at weekends – and so far I have managed to keep to it, as it was getting a bit crazy, 14-16 working hour days , seven days a week without a rest!

How did the label start out?
We started in 1990 when I was a 17 year old still living at home, I did a short lived fanzine, some comp tapes so the next step was to do a record. Our first release was a split 7” by GOOBER PATROL and VEHICLE DEREK, who were a kick ass band in the Snuff/Stupids tradition who used to put on shows in Boston at the legendary Indian Queen..

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"without Descendents there would not have been Green Day, and without Hüsker Dü there wouldn’t have been Nirvana."


You specialise in punk and hardcore music. What is it you look for in bands/artists to garner your time and effort?
It has to be something I like, or excites me! Its all about the music for us. We try and steer away from bands with “career” aspirations, just because we’re not that kind of label! We must also like the bands as people too, can’t be doing trying to work with someone you don’t get on with on a personal level too. We’re always 100% honest with bands as to what we can and can’t do, and I think people appreciate that honesty rather than a load of exaggerated promises that don’t then happen!

What drives you to keep pushing to discover and promote new music?
A fatal and hopeless addiction to releasing records – I still get that buzz every time a new release lands with us, and I am always playing the upcoming release stuff!

How do you measure success for your label and the bands you represent?
The fact that we are still here.. and if folks like what we release, and we manage to not lose money, then that’s the icing on the cake!

Last year you celebrated 20 years as a label. If it is at all possible, have you got any highlights and lowlights from your time?
Way too many highlights – although John Peel playing our first single we released back in 1990 was a big highlight - when I return to listen to some of our older releases from time to time its like meeting old friends.. I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone will like everything we release, but I’m immensely proud of the quality of the releases we have put out over those years.
Lowlights I guess have been the couple of times the label nearly folded, but each time we have managed to dust ourselves off and keep carrying on. Its pretty unheard of for a label to have released so much stuff and not had at least one release that has sold in the tens of thousands, so that’s quite an achievement that on the shoestring budget we have for most things that we have managed to release such a vast array of stuff!

bosstuneage

"I used to get really upset by filesharing, but now I realize that people who do it don’t really perceive music to have any value, so were in most cases unlikely to actually put their hands in their pockets and buy the release anyway"


How has your job changed over the past two decades?
The internet is probably the biggest change – its made doing mailorder much easier, and also keeping in touch with bands is a lot easier too, especially with overseas bands. I remember when we were working out to do an album by a band from Canada called Rise back in 1991/1992 that took months of letters going backwards and forwards or expensive phone calls to sort out – now with email keeping in touch with folks like that is just so much easier!

Having released in excess of 250 records, what records would you advise people to listen to who wanted to get into the punk rock genre?
For me, it’s the stuff that I got into in my teenage years (the late 80s/early 90s) UK punk scene that excited my love of hardcore punk and I guess that’s why we do the Boss Tuneage Retro series – reissues of predominantly UK bands from the late 80s/early 90s, which is kind of like going systematically through my record collection when I was 18 and making that stuff available again! So as far as melodic hardcore punk goes in the UK the first stop has to be The Stupids, who paved the way for the likes of Snuff, Leatherface, HDQ, Exit Condition etc – Heresy are also a must check out. Stateside, everyone should check out Descendents and Hüsker Dü – without Descendents there would not have been Green Day, and without Hüsker Dü there wouldn’t have been Nirvana.

You vehemently, like many other labels, push people to use independent outlets to purchase music. Much like the rebirth of vinyl, do you see a resurgence of independent record stores and outlets in the future, or is has file sharing taken things beyond repair? How much does this worry you?
Sadly I can’t see independent record stores making a resurgence because they simply can’t compete with the likes of Amazon etc with the overheads and costs of having a physical store. We have noticed over the past few years our store sales gradually diminishing whilst mailorder sales, and sales by the bands at gigs rising. I used to get really upset by filesharing, but now I realize that people who do it don’t really perceive music to have any value, so were in most cases unlikely to actually put their hands in their pockets and buy the release anyway. I think my main concern is that filesharing independent labels like us, where on a lot of releases the band has a financial involvement in the release as well, people seem to think that this magical hoardes of other folks are buying, so its fine, but it just means it's going to be harder and harder for the band to continue, unless they treat it as some kind of vanity project that they are willing to fund themselves.

The sad truth is the way things have gone we have had to be a lot more conservative as to what we will release and what we won’t, so you will find now it will get harder and harder for new bands to find a label to release their music, because at the end of the day its just too much of a risk now. Of course it’s a worry and its hard to turn round to a band and say I can’t do your next record as we have made a loss on the last one, even if they are a great band that I want to continue doing stuff by. So I don’t like that aspect that we can’t “take a punt” the same way we used to a few years back, but luckily we do have a gang of die hard folks who do buy our releases and support the bands, and like myself personally, think that the packaging / lyrics are just as important as the music, especially with punk stuff, downloading tracks just seems to me to be only getting half the story. I guess I just wish there were a few more of those die hard supporters so things weren’t quite a struggle as they sometimes can be!

In the ever changing world of music formats and distribution, how do/are you evolving and keeping current with today’s scene, and where do you see the future of Boss Tuneage heading?
We’ll keep releasing stuff in as many formats as we possibly can, for as long as we can – the death of the CD from our experience has been grossly over exaggerated – we still sell substantially more CDs against vinyl on releases we release on both formats, but things are constantly changing so you just have to keep your wits about you. If a few years down the line, if Boss Tuneage becomes a label where we just release stuff digitally, or you get an album as a free code with a T Shirt or something, I think it will be a very sad day indeed, but that could be the eventual end point, but I’m hopeful that music will survive on physical format!

boss

"I don’t like that aspect that we can’t “take a punt” the same way we used to a few years back, but luckily we do have a gang of die hard folks who do buy our releases and support the bands, and like myself personally, think that the packaging / lyrics are just as important as the music"


Any advice for someone wanting to start up their own record label?
Make sure you do all your sums, and really try to pin down exactly how many you expect to sell and make sure it makes sense to do; just because you and your mates like the band, that’s not going to mean you magically can sell 500 or 1000 of it, and make sure the band is actually not going to sit back and let you do all the hard work – nowadays its more important than ever that the band is actively working with you and you are realistic about how many you can sell!

Do you have an ethos or a mantra?
I guess its the same as it always was – release the stuff that I personally like, and hope enough people like it too! Its worked for the most part for two decades so we must be doing something right!