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Sunday, August 22, 2010


Andy discusses the APE House

Andy discusses the APE House

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Dame Fortune," is from Volume 1 of the Fuzzy Warbles series, released from 2002 to 2006. Those who've been with us a while will remember that Todd and Andy talked about this one back in June 2007.

Why are we posting a song from the Warbles? Because, dear readers, this week we're continuing our broader look at broader issues -- in this case, what is the APE House, and how is it doing? We hope you enjoy this little excursion into Andy's life as high-powered record-company executive.

TB: So, why did you start a record company?

AP: [chortling] Why did I? Once the contract that Colin and I, as XTC, had with Cooking Vinyl records finally elapsed, we were able to get away from a really pernicious situation. We were being robbed blind. It took us ages to figure out the scam, but we found out that things like the Transistor Blast boxed set, which was selling to dealers for something like £20, was being sold by Cooking Vinyl to itself for 50 pence a time, as a foreign company. The label head was selling them to Cooking Vinyl Spain, or Cooking Vinyl Italy, or Cooking Vinyl Germany -- which is basically him -- for that price, thus giving us 50 pence to take our royalty out of. Of course, he was still selling them for the $50 asking price, or whatever it was, and keeping all the difference.

It was a case of out of the frying pan with Virgin into a much-hotter fire with Cooking Vinyl -- and TVT, for that matter. The situation got so bad with them that they just stopped sending us accounts. We had a few accounts from them, and then nothing. We never saw anything for any downloads, we never saw anything for any CDs after a couple of accounts. I'd ring up and I'd try to talk to the head of the label, Steve Gottlieb, who up until that point had been Mr. Niceness Himself to me. I remember thinking, "Why does everyone say he's a nasty piece of shit? He's always been really nice to me." But then one time, when I was firm one time with him about getting some accounts from them because we hadn't had any, he just turned into Joe Pesci on me! [New York accent] "You fuckin' fuck, I'll fuck you up really good, you fucking fuck!!"

So, I began to think, "Ooh, suddenly I understand why people say he's a nasty piece of work." We lost a small fortune -- or, we had a small fortune diverted away from us -- and thankfully they went bankrupt, so we got the potential rights back to Apple Venus and Wasp Star in the States.

TB: What about your relationship with Pony Canyon?

AP: Pony Canyon were very noble, actually. They're the bright spot in all this. Up to that point, we'd sold okay in Japan, but 'round about the same time that the deals with Cooking Vinyl and TVT came up, a deal with Pony Canyon in Japan came along. We didn't know who the hell they were, but we went with them -- it was a bog-standard deal, and things went very well with them. They were very good with advances, which enabled us to basically record those two albums.

They never did us any wrong, but things have elapsed now with them, so we have no deal in Japan. But Cooking Vinyl's Martin Goldschmidt was evil incarnate, and TVT's Steve Gottlieb was Little Nicky to all that.

So, when we finally got away from those deals, very wounded financially, Colin and I said, "That's it -- no more record labels. We'll start our own label and sign ourselves. We're not going to rip ourselves off." So we started up Idea Records.

TB: Wasn't Idea already an entity while you were on these other labels?

AP: Yes. We had a manager at the time called Paul Bailey who suggested, "Look, before you take these deals on, sign yourself to a label in name, and then sign the label on to those companies." It was like a little protection for us. So yes, Idea did exist. In name, anyway -- it wasn't a practical company, but more an umbrella for us.

After we got away from those companies, it was a case of, "Right, here we are. We have a label, we have a studio, let's sign up some other bands! It'll be great -- we'll have a real label." But Colin didn't want to do that. He didn't want to spend money on any other musicians or groups.

I was a little frustrated by that, because my dream was to be associated with a label that had great-sounding music, was scrupulously fair to its artists, and made beautiful products that were a delight to hold and see and listen to. But I was stuck in a company, Idea, where my partner disagreed, so it was a case of, "Okay, I'm going to have to start my own company if I want to do these things."

It's a dream I've had for quite a while. I'm no businessman, but I do think I have a pretty good ear for good-sounding things, and I think I have a good eye for packaging them and making them a lovely entity, so I started up APE -- or APE House, to give it its correct title, because APE had already been taken.

It's APE, because it's "AP," my initials, and then the "E" on the end stands for anything from "entertains" to "enterprises" to "ego trip" to "egregious" [chuckles] -- it's just something that begins with E, I guess.

Of course, I started a record company at possibly the worst point in history for starting a record company.

TB: [laughing ruefully] It's that impeccable timing you have.

AP: Yeah. The nature of great comedy is timing. Why aren't I laughing?

I'm the head of a record company losing money [laughs] hand over fist because for every five legal downloads there are at least 95 illegal downloads. For every one person who bought your record, there are 10 of them or more who have taken it for free from an illicit site, and this is an incredibly tough struggle.

TB: Yeah, the whole paradigm of the music industry has changed.

AP: And it's mutating constantly!

TB: Profitability is largely based now on many more things than just selling albums.

AP: It's gone kind of 180 degrees, because it's all about driving people, by whatever means, to live shows. And seeing how none of the APE people are particularly keen on playing live, I've got to be honest -- I'm really struggling with trying to just sell the music. You talk to any other record-company people, and music is now considered lower on the scale of importance than things like badges. You give music away for free to drive people to live shows, where the ticket prices have gone up tenfold or more.

In the early '70s, you could buy a Rolling Stones album for £2.99, and you could go see them for £2.99. Now, you buy a Rolling Stones album for £6.99, but you can't see them live for less than £100. And of course, when you pay all that money to go see a band live, you're probably going to want the t-shirt, the jacket, the mug, more records, the badges, the photos, the ironing board cover. All that kind of thing. The music has become a kind of worthless thing that just hooks you into going to spend lots live.

TB: It's become a means to an end.

AP: Totally. Record companies now want a big proportion of your merchandising, a big proportion of your live shows, a big proportion of any appearances -- they call them 360-degree deals. They don't just want it on the sales of your records -- they want it on everything you do. I don't do this, of course.

TB: Why don't we talk a little bit about the structure that you set up for your artists, and the deal you offer, and then we can talk about each of them.

AP: Because we'd been burned so terribly, culminating with very bad burns with Cooking Vinyl and TVT, I pledged to myself that if I had a label that took on other artists, I would try to be as scrupulously fair as possible.

Everybody gets the choice of two deals. The first is a 50-50 profit share -- although I can't pay to record the album, I can pay to master it, I can pay for the artwork costs, I can pay to have it manufactured, I can pay promotion people and so on. So, I'm putting all that money up front, and then as soon as the thing goes into profit, the profit is split 50-50 between the artist and the company. Unfortunately, a lot of APE artists haven't gone into profit, which is a shame.

The other deal is 20 percent of the dealer price. So, say we sell it for £4 or £5 to a dealer, the artist will get 20 percent of that. As APE, I'm also supposed to get 20 percent of it, and the other 60 percent pays for the manufacturing, promotion and so on.

Either 50-50 profit share or 20 percent of dealer works out around about the same.

I won't give people advances, because if I had to do that, I'd have to keep their music for a long time, to make the money back. That's like our deals with Virgin -- perpetuity deals. When we signed to Virgin, anything that we recorded, although we borrowed the money from them to record it, we had to pay that money back and they kept the music forever.

What I do is, I'll keep the rights for five years, and then the artists can have them back. So, if things aren't going well, or if they want to move on to another label, or if they want to carry on -- whatever the situation -- they can have their music back after five years. And that's pretty damned fair. I don't want to do any of that perpetuity thing.

TB: You were talking about the dealer price -- how does it work when somebody buys directly from the APE website? If somebody really wants to support you and the artist, is that the better way to go?

AP: Absolutely! Though it's not pure profit, by any means. Up until very recently, I was paying any APE artists a portion of anything direct from the website, but it was costing so much money to keep updating stuff -- I've got to pay [manager] Steve [Young] to work things for me, I've got to pay fulfillment fees to get all this stuff packaged and sent out, and so on -- that I've actually had to start to call myself a shop now. I have to take the stuff on a dealer price. I use the difference in the money to pay for site updates, and to pay Steve and all the other costs on top of that. I was losing too much, if you see what I mean.

But I'm trying to keep it as above-board as possible. None of this "selling boxed sets to myself for 50p." None of that evilness. You can't do that to people. I've been on the artist end of it -- I know what those scams feel like! They hurt like hell. I can't do that to people. Like I said, if anybody's upset, five years and here's the music back. I think that's a healthy situation.

TB: Well, let's talk about the artists then. The first project that came out on APE -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- was the Fuzzy Warbles series, right?

AP: Fuzzy Warbles came about because I was totally sick of people bootlegging my stuff and ripping me off! So I thought, "If you can go and buy discs upon discs of stolen XTC material -- you know, demos and outtakes and those kinds of things -- well, I've got all those things in much better quality than they've got them! I'll bootleg myself!"

I invited Colin to take part in the procedure. In fact, I spent nearly two months remixing what few demos he had left -- he was a great rubber-outer; he'd just take recordings and then re-demo over the top of them -- but for some reason he pulled out of the whole thing, so I thought, "Well, I still want to go ahead with it, because I'm sick of people stealing from me and I think some of these tracks are pretty damned good and I want to get them to the world." So, that's why Fuzzy Warbles is made up of only my songs.

TB: You released those albums over time, and it's been one of the success stories for the label, right?

AP: Because I signed myself to a 50-50 deal as an artist, I'm one of the few artists that's made a fair amount of money, because it sold well. I think Volume 1 sold more than 10,000, while Volume 2 was 9,000 or something -- weirdly, they went down in amounts of sales. Not that the volumes are worse than each other -- maybe people bought one and thought, "Well, this is not for me," or something.

But because I get a great deal from APE, you're right, it was a financial success. So, the other artists just have to sell as many as that, and they can do well, too!

TB: Is there a break-even point, in terms of number of units sold, or does it depend on each album?

AP: It depends on how much has been spent on packaging and other things. For example, the Monstrance discs -- I like to make beautiful packaging, and it was very expensive to have two jewel cases with that clear plastic wrapper, and the artwork took a lot of tweaking, to get it to work as an object, if you see what I mean. That was so much money to get that up and running that by the time Monstrance went into profit, to print another run-up -- because we'd sold out -- [laughs] immediately put us back into terrible debt again!

TB: [laughing] That's a little paradoxical.

AP: Yeah, it's like those little record labels that used to say, "We became bankrupt because we had a big hit." You know -- if you've got to keep pressing up lots of records, because it's becoming popular, it can bankrupt you. I used to think, "Well, that's nonsense!", but no, I can see that it's not.

First of all, it's got to be the music, because that's what you're buying, and I won't take on any music that I'm not in love with -- but the packaging, to me, is of equal importance, because of my graphics background.

TB: And in this world where digital downloads are ubiquitous and can be easily shared, good packaging -- which includes content like liner notes and other things like that -- is one way of differentiating the physical product. You can say, "Here's why you should buy this -- you're going to get value here you wouldn't get otherwise."

AP: Yeah, there are a lot people who still like the object. I want to get more and more into vinyl, because vinyl sales are going up, and the Dukes vinyl did pretty well. We've got the rights back from Virgin to put out all XTC material on vinyl. I want to make sure they sound excellent, I want to make sure they look excellent -- no more of wrong labeling, no more messed-up images and not-quite-right packaging.

Right now we're doing Skylarking as a double vinyl album, so we can cut it really clean and loud. We've found out that there's been a technical problem with all of the CDs and vinyl ofSkylarking. It arrived from [producer] Todd Rundgren with the polarity reversed or somehow messed up, which I suppose is one reason why it never sounded very full to us. It always sounded a little hazy and thin. But something as little as a connector wired wrongly in Todd's studio put the polarity out, and nobody spotted this in England during the Virgin era, so all of these CDs and vinyl that came from that era all have the wrong polarity.

The masterer I use in England at the moment, John Dent, told me, "I reversed the polarity on it, and it's now pushing out of the speakers, as opposed to pulling in." You know, the speaker was acting as if it was pushing backwards, because it had reversed polarity. I've heard the master tapes with the correct polarity, and they sound so much nicer. So, we're going to be putting out a beautiful Skylarking set that's going to sound nicer than you've ever heard it, with lots of notes and photos in the book.

TB: Are there going to be extra songs?

AP: There won't be on the vinyl, because we don't have the rights. And actually, there are very few extra cuts on Skylarking, because we just did what was required. Anything else -- say, for example, "Let's Make a Den" -- was never finished.

TB: How about "Extrovert," though? Would a B-side like that be on there?

AP: "Extrovert" is on Rag and Bone Buffet, which we have the rights to on CD and vinyl. So we'll probably leave it on there, rather than double it up on another disc.

TB: But both "Mermaid Smiled" and "Dear God" will be on the vinyl?

AP: They'll both be on there, because they were on different combinations of the record.

TB: Well, let's do a little bit of "speed dating," then, where we talk about each one of the artists as you signed them, and why you liked them.

AP: [laughing] "Speed dating"!

TB: [laughing] As you said, Milk & Honey Band were your first band, and [sotto voce] you never forget your first band.

AP: Ahhh ...

TB: So, you'd started a record company, and were getting boxes of demos...

AP: I still get boxes of demos! I'm literally leaning on one at the moment. I've got two big cardboard boxes of demos, and a huge bin liner with hundreds of demos in it as well, spilling everywhere.

TB: But you're not in a financial position at this time to sign anybody, right?

AP: I'm not. In fact, people are asking, "Where do I send my CD?" and I'm saying back to them, "Look, just hang on to it for a bit, because I'm barely keeping my head above water at the moment. It would be nice to be flush with cash, because then I could take on a lot more people. But I've got to be so careful right now.

And they have to please me aurally. [laughs] I mean a-u-r-a-double-l-y! I've got to fall in love with the music. People can send me beautifully recorded music, but unless it presses my personal buttons, I just don't want to get behind it just because it could be commercial. I don't want to do that. I've got to have the hairs on the back of my eyes stand up [chuckles], and I've got to say, "Wow! I love this."

That happened with the Milk & Honey Band. I got sent an album called The Boy from the Moon, which came out on a tiny label years ago called Ugly Man, and there was a covering letter saying, "We don't have a deal right now, but this is the album that came out, do you want to hear some of our new stuff?" I thought the album was wonderful! It was pretty much the album that we remastered and put out as Secret Life.

I called up Bob White, and he was a very friendly fellow. He sent me CDs of 30 or 40 tracks, and I thought, "Wow! This fellow is just a giant explosion of great-quality material, and nobody knows about him!" I just had to say, "Look, come get involved with APE. This is fantastic music."

Not only was it great-quality stuff, but there was so much of it. You could pick and choose -- "Well, I've have that track there, and what do we do with the other three albums' worth? Let's see how this goes, and test the depth with some downloads" -- you know, that kind of thing. And he's still doing it! He's still knocking up mountains of great material. We did The Secret Life of..., and then Dog-Eared Moonlight, which I thought was a beautiful collection, and he still has about two albums of material left over from that. So we're putting out another of the best of those called In Colour.

So, it happens -- you can hear very talented people when you're not expecting it. I mean, they're all going to be love at first listen -- all of these people you're going to talk to me about. That's the way it works.

TB: As you said, you have to love the music, but are there other considerations you have?

AP: I think these days I have stricter qualifying limits. I think now I would have to insist that the artist or band play live a lot, because in the current climate, as we discussed, it's all about seeing people live, or else you're just not going to sell the disc. So, I think one of my criteria for taking on people now would be that they have to be a live entity.

TB: Of course, the irony of this is not lost on you!

AP: [laughs] The irony is not lost, but I like to think that Virgin got more than their money's worth out of XTC touring. When we weren't playing live -- which we were doing most days of the year -- we were in a studio working on an album. It wasn't that we never did play live, it was the fact that we played live too damn much! And had a corrupt setup where we never saw a cent for it.

TB: I think the Blegvad Orpheus album was the next release?

AP: I think so, yeah. Actually, I'm working with Peter right now -- I'm recording some stuff for a new record with him, once every couple of weeks, in between his lectures and his artwork. And now I've got to wait three weeks because he's going to Africa to teach. [laughs] He's a walking soup of shots at the moment. So, Stuart Rowe and I are continuing to work on the album.

We never intended Orpheus to come out as a record! It was a kind of therapy thing -- we used to get together, whenever we had some spare time, to mess around. Over the course of 13 years or so, we'd just record stuff and not do anything with it. It was a case of, "Wow, I've got a record label! Why don't we put this stuff out?" So we did, and it did pretty well. Again, it got into a second printing and nearly destroyed me, with the cost of the books and the special metallic ink and all that stuff, but I hope it'll go back into profit again soon.

That was a great one to do. It got excellent reviews, and people have used it in ballets, and on soundtracks to stuff. It's a very odd thing. People must think I'm insane, doing a poetry album. Want to make your money back? Don't do a poetry album! But it was lovely stuff. He's a genius -- maybe only with a small "g" and when he's in his jeans, but he's a genius.

TB: What is the new album like?

AP: It's probably part of the way back toward his love of songs. I worked with him in '83 doing The Naked Shakespeare, and I think it's part of the way back toward that territory. It's part song, part poetry -- it's pongetry. [chuckles] That's what it is.

TB: Is it another duo album?

AP: Well, I said to him, "Look, why don't we just make it a Peter Blegvad record, and the fact that I and Stuart are making it for you and with you won't matter so much." But we've yet to decide what name it's going to come out under. I'd like people to concentrate on Peter. It's his words and his voice, but the majority of the music is made by myself and Stu, so I don't know. It might come out under the three names, or it might just come out under Peter's. We'll have to see when it's finished.

TB: So, you're recording it at Stu's, and he's playing, as well as you?

AP: Yeah, it's just a case of "Here, play this, grab this. Ooh, we need a little bass thing on there," or, "Hang on, let me go and put this tambourine on, because I think this needs a tambourine against that conga beat there." It's a real group effort, you know?

We're discovering it as we're recording it, because we start each session not knowing what the hell we're going to do. Peter brings reams of words down, and he'll just jump in and say, "I like these words," or I'll pull a couple of paragraphs out and say, "I really like that." Then we will have a little discussion about how it might go. He might say, "Well, I might like to make it voodoo-y sounding," or Stu and I might have gotten together during the week and put together an old '40s-type piece of music or something, and he'll say, "Let me try it over that."

So, it's largely improvised, but shaped as we're improvising it. We're sort of writing and constructing and editing and discovering all at the same time.

TB: Sounds like a great creative process.

AP: It's pretty damned good! I like it. My working with him, doing what was to become Orpheus, was a kind of therapeutic session for both of us after my divorce. We'd go and get drunk at the pub afterwards, and it's [laughs] sort of continuing the process now, but Stu's in the mix as well.

TB: What was it about Veda Hille's music that attracted you?

AP: It was just so bloody unusual! It reminded me of modern-day Weimar Berlin music. I thought, "This is fascinating stuff."

It was the same process, really. A disc arrived, "We're looking for a label -- this is Veda, she's a Canadian singer-songwriter." It was a case of love at first listen. It's not to everyone's taste, but as long as it presses my buttons, then I'll move forward.

A couple of reviewers have said, when they're talking about APE, "APE, which is Andy Partridge's vanity label." At the time, I thought, "Ooh, that's so unfair, because it's not about vanity, it's not about me -- it's about the artists on the label." It's about me loving what I hear in people, and wanting to package it beautifully and make a gorgeous thing out of it -- a thing that sounds great, it delights your eyes as well as your ears, and all that. If I could get some nice smells on it, I'd try to!

So, Veda did it for me very much, but I can see how it's not everyone's cup of tea. It's odd stuff. Of course, apart from a couple of forays into Europe, very briefly, she pretty much stays in Canada, which is a little frustrating. If she's playing festivals and theaters and stuff over there, I can't delight in the feedback loop, if you see what I mean.

She's always very busy. She's always writing operas, and film stuff, and stuff for people's movies, or stuff for other people to come up and sing with, or things for other musical projects. That woman cannot stop. She's just a big powerhouse of creativity.

TB: Is there another APE album in the works?

AP: Her discs are not selling very well at all, unfortunately, but we're in negotiations for releasing more music.

TB: Tell me about Monstrance.

AP: Monstrance was something that Barry Andrews and I had been talking about doing for a long time, starting in the late '70s, before he left the band. I think the concept then was to create music that sounded as if the Soviets ruled the world and were beaming improvised Soviet jazz from Sputnik down to Earth in the near future. There's no bass because it was being beamed down -- tinny Soviet muzak coming in from Sputnik via Moscow.

Of course, he left the band and nothing was done. When I met up again with him in the mid '80s, I reminded him of this concept, and he said, "Yeah, I'd be in for that!" I wasn't until -- duh -- that I end up with a record label that I realized, "Hey, we could actually do this!"

We didn't really know a bass player that we felt okay with, but we went with Martyn Barker, because Barry had played with him in Shriekback and a few other things. The Monstrance sessions were something like three days of improvisation.

TB: I think Martyn did a fantastic job.

AP: He's a great drummer! I think, in terms of musical roles, I probably fitted more into what Martyn and Barry did during recording. They had more of a musical conversation going, I think -- I felt like the outsider, because they'd played quite a lot together before.

Apart from the fact that I was given tinnitus in those sessions by a very clumsy engineer, I think that a lot of good stuff came out of it. Certainly it was two discs worth of good material. Recently I've been going back through the sessions, as well as the session we did for the BBC -- for the Freak Zone show, where we did another day's improvisation -- I've been going back through all that material, and finding a lot of stuff where I thought, "Damn, why didn't we use this? It's pretty good!" So, when I get a spare moment, I'm mixing that stuff, and I'd like to boil that down to "the best of the rest" as well, if we can. Because [laughing] Monstrance are in the red at the moment.

TB: Because of that second pressing, right?

AP: Because of the second pressing and the fact that not enough people are liking it to give it the momentum to make money. When people see "improvised music," most of them are going to say, "Uh-oh, not touching that." Plus, a lot of people who got it were disappointed that it wasn't White Music II! "Andy Partridge and Barry Andrews together! Wow! It'll be just like the old times." No. We've grown, we've moved on from that, folks. We're not going to reproduce 1977 over and over. But, yes, we did go into a second pressing, and it did put it into the red, unfortunately. It will eventually get back into the black, I hope.

But the sound of the discs is so unusual, and I was so proud of the packaging. It kind of looks like you could stand it on the mantelpiece of a 1930s Art Deco house, you know? An objet d'art.

TB: Yeah, on either side of the mantelpiece -- the blue and the orange versions.

AP: Exactly! And honestly -- we're not fooling you -- the blue one is rarer. We didn't have so many blue ones made up.

TB: Lighterthief was next, I think?

AP: I think that's right. I've only known Stu for four years but it seems like we've been good friends for ever. It's his positive good nature, I reckon.

I was in the Swindon College studios, the Headroom, recording the first Monstrance sessions, and in wandered Stu to say hello, as he sort of knew Barry. He teaches recording technology there, amongst other things. We got chatting about guitar effects and he said he had a Pod floorboard controller and asked if I wanted to borrow it for the session, as I was having to twiddle my little kidney bowl Pod manually and the ability to stomp out the sounds might help. It did, and I thought, "What a helpful character!"

Anyway when the engineer we'd been allotted for the session messed up some recordings, destroyed my hearing and gave me tinnitus, I said, "I'm not working with him anymore." I asked Stu if he and I could mix the album. We did, and have worked together since.

TB: What's his setup like? I know you work there a lot.

AP: His original home set up was very humble -- in a small box bedroom -- but when he got to see my slightly less humble shed, he decided to get something purpose-built in his garden. It's about four times the size of my place, and he did a great job with effective soundproofing and separate control room all proper like. [laughs]

He got to playing me some things of his, under the name of Lighterthief -- sort of experimental, trip-hop type of stuff. I was pretty impressed and we just gravitated to working together. Me showing him all I knew about recording and mixing -- that took four minutes or so! [laughs] -- and him being a pleasure to hang with.

Over time I began to spend more time at his place. It's much better than mine, and it's so much more fun to work with someone else, as opposed to working alone. Now the poor bugger can't get rid of me! Of course we fell into recording more experimental types of stuff and began to squirrel it away for a rainy day -- improvising song ideas, cutting up beats, trying outrageous techniques and combinations of sounds, and having musical fun generally.

TB: What plans do you guys have?

AP: Things are kind of fluid right now. When Jen came on the scene, we started sending her the recordings and she'd add vocals and ad-libs. Slowly we began to see that this thing was kind of morphing into a three-way band beast, which we've christened The Clubmen. We're planning to release the best of the works on APE later.

The toughest thing to decide is where to put the recordings -- is it Lighterthief or is it the Clubmen? A lot of it crosses over. I or Jen can improvise a vocal on a Lighterthief track and also on a Clubmen track. The personnel may be the same on both pieces of music, but one may feel more Lighterthief than Clubmen, if you see what I mean.

It's tricky to explain, suffice to say lots of good tracks coming out under both names. I think the consensus is that if the three of us are making it, it's Clubmen. If it's more Stu and friends, then it may be Lighterthief, but it's not set in stone.

TB: Let's talk about Pugwash.

AP: I'd been aware of Pugwash for many years. Thomas was working with Dave, and he and I had even been writing stuff over the phone. He'd be calling me up, and we put together the songs "Anchor" and "My Genius" like that.

I would have liked them to have been on APE earlier, but it didn't work out. But once we reconnected, I was happy to release their stuff, because I think they are possibly the best undiscovered Pop band of all time. Let's be honest. They're Beatle-ifically good.

TB: What makes you say something like that? It's a pretty bold statement.

AP: They're great songs. They're really beautifully constructed, beautifully arranged, nicely recorded -- what's not to love? It's like some bastard child of ELO and the Beatles, you know? It's very likeable stuff.

Here's a band that I knew had gotten close to being signed by a big label in America, but Thomas didn't fit their usual idea of a pop star. I like to think I'm not as shallow as that! I just love the music. I thought, "This is fantastic stuff."

And I still do! I still think all of the people I've signed, whether they're in the red or in the black, are fantastic! That's not in doubt. It would be nice if some of them would sell some more copies, to make me back my hard-earned investment -- let alone make me some money on top of that! Just making it back would be a delight.

But I can't fault the musical side of Pugwash in the slightest. They've written some beautiful songs.

TB: So what's next for them?

AP: A lot of Thomas's time currently is taken up with promoting the very successful Duckworth Lewis Method, which was the Cricket-themed album that he made with Neil Hannon. I think at last count that had sold about 100,000. And if it sold that many, you know how many copies are out there illegally! I also know he's working on the next Pugwash album. I would like him to get out with Pugwash and tour, though. As I say to all these people, the only thing stopping you being rich and famous is the fact that people don't see you live.

I think every successful band has a kit. They obviously have to be good musically. They have to tour -- and that's 100 percent important in this day and age -- and they have to have a great manager. The people on APE are all wonderful musically, but most of them don't play live much, and most of them don't have managers or agents. For every great artist, I think there's a great manager.

TB: Yeah -- the business engine that helps drive the band.

AP: Right. I think if you look all the way through the history of recorded music, you'll see that's true.

But, at the same time, if all these acts had all the kit, would that mean they'd get on a major label and wouldn't need the services of a tiny independent like myself? That's a tricky one.

TB: Your latest signing is Jen Olive.

AP: Jen is the latest one, yeah. Again, I heard an album that she'd recorded at home, and was selling on a website and at gigs she did around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Though it was rough-and-ready, I thought, "Wow, this is fascinating stuff." All of the songs seem to be in half-a-dozen time signatures simultaneously, and she has a thing for multi-layering her voice -- which is beautiful -- and has the most precise finger-picked guitar I think I've ever heard. It almost sounds like it's programmed, but it's not -- she's really playing it.

I thought, "Well, okay, I can't afford to bring this person into a studio, because I haven't got the money," so I called her up and said, "Look, I'd love for you to be on my label. Why don't you record the material at home, like you're doing, making a few adjustments -- turn your fridge off when you're recording, because I can hear the hum on the mic," and stuff like that. After a while, she padded a cupboard out and sang into that, so it wasn't all echo-y in the kitchen or the Jacuzzi shed or wherever she was recording it.

She would upload material and then I'd mix it here. Then, if there was anything wrong, I'd ask if she could do it again or ask if she wanted me to re-do the odd instrument. I couldn't afford a studio, so she had to record it; I couldn't afford a mixer, so I had to mix it; and over the course of a year, or however long it took us, we ended up with a great-sounding album!

TB: She's staying the UK for a bit, correct?

AP: She's here in the UK, yes. She's looking for a manager and an agent, and maybe she needs to go the Seasick Steve route -- just get in a camper van, turn up at all the festivals in the summer, and the little pubs and things, and just build it from the ground up.

TB: I think you might need to engage the services of Ken Worthington to help her!

AP: [laughs] No, he'll want to do everything on glossy paper.

TB: So, what does the future hold for APE?

AP: I really am envious of labels like Island or Immediate or Vertigo. I know there was a hell of a lot more money behind these labels than I have, but you knew that if something was going to be on, say, the Island label, it was going to be great. It may not be exactly my kind of music, but I knew it was going to be great.

TB: Because it was going to be music with integrity.

AP: Yeah! And if you didn't like it on first listen, after half a dozen you were going to love it, because it was going to ring true.

I'd very much like APE to be that way. I don't think there's anyone on APE now where you go, "Oh, that's just awful. Why is that on the label?" So, as long as APE survives, I have to keep that uppermost. I want people who hear our music say, "Yep. There's integrity there." I do want it to be the most high-quality music and visuals I can get to people. If it's on APE, it's a guarantee it's going to be good stuff.

TB: Plus, it's a way of tapping into your good taste and point of view about music. If you're a fan of Andy Partridge, you most likely will be a fan of the music that he likes as well.

AP: Yeah, hopefully! And if you can't stand me, then don't come near, please. Stay far, far away!

10:34 PM

©2010 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.