28 October 2009

Interview with one of our favorite humans: Patrick Boissel of Alive Records

Patrick Boissel, Alive Records
Interview by Will Bray

Blues is a continuous growing genre. It always has been and always will be. What the exact reason for this universal obsession which started as nothing more than cotton field folk music, no one can really tell you. Maybe because of it's natural sound, maybe because blues is so personal, maybe because it welcomes influence and maybe because blues tells great stories. More than likely it's because of all of those.

Blues has been passed from father to son for generations and each time gathering momentum. Now taken on by niche record labels which push the boundaries of this folk music make it more exciting than ever.

A man leading the charge is Patrick Boissel, owner of Alive Records. He has been solely responsible for bringing the likes of The Black Keys, Two Gallants, Black Diamond Heavies, Left Lane Cruiser and so many more to our shores. Alive Records has a unique sound and a belief in pure, natural music which maintains its identity by bringing through bands with a defined raw power. This can only make for great records.

WB. What's your background in music? How did you start out?

PB. I've been involved with music since the early eighties, from manager to sales rep, to radio host, to promoter, etc. It all came together in the early nineties when I met Suzy Shaw of Bomp, moved to LA and married into the clan.

WB. You have both Bomp and Alive, what's the difference and why?

PB. A label reflects the taste of the person who runs it and Bomp was Greg Shaw's vision. Alive on the other hand is my baby, it really came into its own after Greg passed away and I was able to dedicate all my time to the signing of new bands. Greg had been sick for a long time and I was taking care of a lot of the daily duties for him, so I couldn't focus on my own label as much as I would have liked to. In terms of difference I'd say the Alive sound is certainly more roots oriented than Bomp ever was, although I do like psychedelia, garage, punk, and pop too.

WB. What do you most love about Alive and what do you most hate?

PB. I love the freedom of not answering to anyone and releasing the records I like. I hate when a good record is ignored or put down for the wrong reasons.

WB. Alive has been behind the major successes of both The Black keys and Two Gallants, what do you think are the key parts in this?

PB. I think heavy touring was very important to their success, although both bands got a little help from the mainstream press. In the end it's about talent combined with hard work, plus a little luck and good timing. There's no recipe for success. Every record, every artist takes its own path, whatever it may be.

WB. Alive is a highly regarded label in the UK by music fans (such as myself). What do you think makes Alive stand out and attract its own fans?

PB. Thank you. I'm really grateful to the fans who follow the label, and I try to keep a standard of quality, for my sake and for theirs. I basically release records that I like with the hope that someone else will share my enthusiasm. The bands on Alive tend to tour a lot, and in terms of recording they can go into the studio and knock out a new record in just a few days so that you're able to capture real emotions on the tape. It's easy to fake it with the current technology but I think the bands on the label are the real thing and it does come through.

WB. Here in the UK we are witnessing a 'blues second coming' reminiscent of the late 50's. Why do you think there is such a strong bond between folk America and London's Thames Delta regions?

PB. I'm not sure, maybe it's something in the water? The British blues started a worldwide music revolution back in the day. I can't wait to see what a second wave of nu-blues is going to bring us.

WB. What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry? Would you say there are similarities between the US and UK? What would you change?

PB. This has always been a tough and unreliable business but it seems to be getting worse. This said we're not really part of the so-called industry although we have a toe (rather than a foot) in it. I would say that we're part of the rock 'n' roll business more than anything else, we cater to a select audience who cares about music. I'm not sure about the UK but in the US the industry has been manufacturing music in the same way the food industry produces fast food. Now with file sharing the audience has finally come to associate corporate music with a low end, disposable product. You download it for free and trash it when you're done. Developing long term artists is probably one of the solutions to the current problems the music industry is facing. That's how they used to do it in the fifties and sixties and although the profits were lower, the quality of the music was much better.

WB. Blues is such a long standing and powerful genre which seems to re-create itself and gets re-discovered. Why do you think this is? What makes blues tick?

PB. It's one of the uniquely American art forms like jazz or the western movie. The beauty of it is that there's always someone that manages to get a new spin on it. A whole new generation of fans has been emerging in the past ten years; we'll see how far they can reinvent the form.

WB. What are you listening too right now? What are your all time favourites?

PB. I recently bought reissues of Dennis Coffey's recordings for Westbound, and a reissue of Isaac Hayes "Hot Buttered Soul," I really like Dan Auerbach's solo album. I'm mostly into the classics Johnny Burnette, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love the Rolling Stones, the Troggs, Stooges, the Velvet, Canned Heat, early JJ Cale, the Meters. In the Jungle Groove by James Brown is a favorite. The early Funkadelic records are amazing. Dr. John, Betty Davis, Dr. Feelgood period Wilko Johnson, John Cale, early Jam, the Feelies, early Roxy, Ramones, Suicide that kind of stuff. It's a mixed bag really.

WB. What has been your favourite find/new signing and why?

PB. It's hard to say, I think I've had a good run lately. I'm certainly proud to have helped launch the Black Keys and Two Gallants' careers and I love the first SSM album, unfortunately that one passed unnoticed. In terms of new signings I love Brian Olive's debut. It's one of the best albums I have ever released also I think Thomas Function and Hacienda are two great bands I hope will have a long run. I'd say I stand behind everything I've released in the past two and half years.

WB. What does the future hold for Alive Records and Patrick Boissel?

PB. Just keep doing what we do.

WB. What has Alive just released and what's to come?

PB. A couple of reissues just came out, the Nerves live in Cleveland in 1977 and the Breakaways which was the band Peter Case and Paul Collins formed just after the Nerves and before the Plimsouls and the Beat. I also just put out Nathaniel Mayer's posthumous album. It's mostly the rest of his 2007 session with members of Outrageous Cherry, Black Keys, etc. We also released our first UK band, Henry's Funeral Shoe. They're formed by two Welsh brothers and play a form of hard primitive blues. Coming this winter is the new Black Diamond Heavies "Alive As Fuck," a live album as its title indicates. Also coming soon is the new Brimstone Howl "Big Deal. What's He Done Lately?," and a new T-Model Ford album titled "The Ladies Man". It's all acoustic, raw blues and his voice sounds amazing. I also signed a hard psychedelia band called Mondo Drag. They're from the same scene as Radio Moscow. Their album should be out next February. I'm keeping myself busy.

Thanks to Mr.Johnson for this!

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