Label Of Love: Part 1
From a bedroom in North Fitzroy, Ash Miles and Sophie Best have developed Mistletone into one of Melbourne’s most successful indies. Ahead of their Summer Tones series of gigs, DARREN LEVIN speaks to Best about Mistletone’s unique collectivist spirit.
Indie labels through the ages have always been painted, unfairly perhaps, with a unified sound. Flying Nun had jangle, Sub Pop grunge, early SST was synonymous with hardcore while K Records made its name with twee. But mention the “s” word around Sophie Best, former music journalist and co-founder of Melbourne indie Mistletone, and she gets noticeably uncomfortable.
“I’d hate for there to be a Mistletone sound,” she says from her North Fitzroy home, which also doubles as the label’s office. “Our last few records that we’ve put out have been all really diverse. That might be confusing, but that’s okay. I want people to judge each record on whether they like it. Not whether it’s a Mistletone thing.”
In just over two years, Mistletone – the brainchild of Best and her partner, former music retailer Ash Miles – have built one of the country’s finest emerging labels and touring companies. They began with an international release – House Arrest by US pop oddity Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – but Melbourne bands have come to define their roster.
Mistletone have released acclaimed records by Kes Band, Fabulous Diamonds, Actor/Model, Beaches, Panel of Judges, Ross McLennan and Mark Barrage. And while there’s little stylistically uniting those acts, there seems to be a shared ethos; the kind that comes from living in the same city, moving in the same social circles and being inspired by one another’s creative energy.
“A lot of it is home recorded and a lot of it is coming from a very individualistic place,” Best explains. “People are being true to themselves and doing whatever they want to do. If there’s a similarity in sound and aesthetic, I guess that’s where that comes from. A lot of the music on our label has come from people following their own creative spirit.”
Mistletone might not have a sound, but that's probably because there isn't a name for it yet.
I wanted to start off with The AMP nominations for Beaches and Ross McLennan. Did you ever imagine you’d get two?
We were quietly hoping that we’d get one, but we never in our wildest dreams imagined we were going to get two out of nine. It’s a really big thrill.
How do you rate your chances?
I don’t know, I don’t really want to think about it [laughs]. We are all going to go to the awards night because that’s probably the only chance we’d get to go to an awards night. So that’s really exciting. It’s such a strong field this year, so it’s hard to be overly confident really.
“I think it’s a really exciting time for people like us, who don’t have any external funding support, to get in there, get involved and be part of all this exciting stuff happening.”
Were you surprised with the success of both those albums [McLennan’s Sympathy, For The New World and Beaches’ self-titled debut]?
Yeah, totally. It surprises me when people say that there’s hype around Beaches, because we’ve never really spent any money on advertising. We just got it out to the right people. A lot of journalists particularly fell in love with it. It’s really struck a chord with music writers. I think that Beaches are a really likeable band. A lot of people connect with them. The band haven’t even been feeding it [the hype] either. They haven’t played live that much.
Is that the philosophy at Mistletone, that you let things grow organically?
I think it’s the only way to go. Even if we had the big budget to spend, I don’t think we would. I don’t know if that sort of stuff [advertising] works anyway … Ash and I both believe that good music finds its audience. Our job is to facilitate it by doing practical things like giving it a release, sending it out to the media and having a website. That’s really the extent of it … You don’t have to force stuff.
Tell me about the label’s beginnings in 2006.
We decided to tour Ariel Pink, just because we were a really big fan of his. Ash and I had organised a few tours, and worked on other people’s tours before, but this was the first tour that we did ourselves. Then we realised that his albums didn’t have a release in Australia. We had an opportunity to start a label because a friend of ours works as a distributor, and so that was the catalyst really. We’ve both always dreamed of running a label. I guess all the stars aligned.
When you started out in 2006, the industry was in a real state of flux. Was that a concern at the time?
Not really, and it’s still not really. The industry is still in a state of flux, it remains to be seen what’s going to happen. Making money has never been a big motivator for us. We’d ideally like to make our income from Mistletone, but like a lot of people who work in entertainment/music that’s a dream, it’s not what really drives you.
It’s really just the opportunity to work with something that we both really believe in. From that point of view I think it’s a really exciting time for people like us, who don’t have any external funding support, to get in there, get involved and be part of all this exciting stuff happening. And it’s happening all over the world. People in their bedrooms are starting up labels and organising tours and shows. That’s the great thing about the breaking down of the music industry. Everything can happen at grassroots level.
It’s interesting because all the things that major labels perceive as negative things – downloads and MySpace – smaller labels like Mistletone actually embrace.
It’s only negative if you perceive it purely in terms of money. Money’s important but it’s a very small part of what makes all this happen. It’s easy to have a negative view of downloads, because it’s depriving you of income. But we totally encourage people to download. I mean, we download music. Pretending that downloading is the enemy seems really weird to me.
Are you guys still operating out of your home in North Fitzroy?
We are, but we’re reaching breaking point. I think we’re going to have to get an office. Ash and I can no longer handle the workload, so we’re going to need to get people to help us. And the only way we can do that is to get an office because we can’t really get people to hang out in our lounge room. I think we’re going to have to become a bit more professional this year. It’ll be a bit of a challenge [laughs]. When you’re working at home and when you’re a couple as well, it’s very easy to do things in your own ad hoc way. If we have to bring other people in, we’ll have to smarten up a bit I think.
Have your respective backgrounds played a role in the way you approach things?
I think so. I guess for me, having been involved in community radio for quite some time and then working as a music writer, I know a lot of people in that world. It probably gives you a bit of insight into how that world works, how to get music to people and how to send out press releases. And Ash, working his whole life in music retail, just knows a hell of a lot about music and also understands the whole retail side of things. So I guess in hindsight, our lives were leading up to this point.
PART 2, AVAILABLE HERE: Best on the Melbourne music scene, the genesis of Summer Tones and the label's plans for trans-Hume expansion.
Friday, February 27
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Buy tickets here
Saturday, February 28
The Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday, March 1
Venue TBA, Adelaide, SA
Friday, March 6
The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD