Tough Love label profile: “It has to be love.”

17.03.10, Words by: Ruth Saxelby

TOUGH LOVE RECORDS is a really good small label. It was set up in 2005 by Stephen Pietrzykowski and Ryan Taylor in their hometown of Coventry. Now based in North London, some of the bands and artists they have released records by (or are going to soon) include MALE BONDING, HEALTH (see their favourite noises here), BECOMING REAL (interviewed here), SPECTRALS, FAIR OHS, SEAMS (listen to Nightcycles on the right), GIRLS NAMES, WILLIAM and FAVOURS FOR SAILORS. I went and met them at The Social a couple of weeks ago for a chat. Here’s what I learned.

They don’t have a set sound.

Stephen: “I don’t listen to one type of music, you don’t listen to one type of music, no one who really loves music does. Tough Love just reflects two people’s taste in music.”

Ryan: “We don’t always agree straight away. And we always like a different song from the same artist the most, without a doubt.”

They fall in love with their bands.

S: “We were trying to think of a Tough Love dream band but you can’t leave anyone out, can you? If you asked us for our favourite band that we’ve released it would be like choosing between children.”

R: “And we’re terrible dads as well.”

S: “My two dads!”

R: “But with less jokes.”

They’re excited by what’s happening in electronic music.

S: “It’s got IDM, it’s got grime, a little bit of wonky and hip hop and dubstep all combined and something new entirely is coming out of it. Maybe it’s because people are approaching electronic equipment in the same way they used to approach a guitar, that punk mentality of just giving it a go. Because it’s not learned or studied, something interesting always comes out of it. When I listen to Becoming Real I hear ghosts from all sorts of music. But he’s talented enough to cast it in his own way so it’s wholly his own.”

They think the lo-fi tag is often misused.

S: “People say Male Bonding are lo-fi but if you listen to those guys, Robin is the best drummer I’ve ever heard in my life. He’s unbelievable. It’s only lo-fi because they didn’t have loads of money to go and record it. Or they didn’t until they signed to Subpop. They’re all really good musicians.”

They’re not in it for the money.

S: “Obviously we need to make enough money so we can release another record but if we were running an independent record label to make money, to be honest I think we’d be idiots. It’s just not going to work. It has to be love rather than money otherwise it makes no sense.”

R: “We get paid back in fun at the moment.”

S: “Yeah, we’re having a lot of fun. Our Old Money nights are giving a lot back, they’ve just been so awesome.”

But that’s not to say they wouldn’t want to be.

S: “It would be nice if one day Tough Love could pay for us to eat. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not shy about making money but it’s the thing you’re not allowed to articulate in independent music, it’s not a part of the ideology. But the reality of it is that it costs a shitload of money to put out a record. More times that not we’re not going to make any profit. So if someone gives you an opportunity to make money, I’d say take it because then that can pay for everything else. How do you think Domino get to afford to release Robert Wyatt boxsets or reissue albums that only 10 people are ever going to care about and buy? It’s because of Artic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand.”

They love vinyl.

S: “We like to think that our records are beautiful objects. From day one we’ve always wanted to make something that is nice to own.”

But they understand digital.

R: “Very early on we started doing an MP3 download with our vinyl. I think it was kind of unique or hadn’t been done very much at that time.”

S: “We did it for our second release at the end of 2005. To us it makes absolute sense.”

R: “I remember a story going up on Drowned In Sound about a label that had done the same thing and someone linked to it and said didn’t Tough Love do this a year ago? It’s basically because we had a clever friend who made our site.”

S: “He created our download system, the Selecter. It makes more financial sense if people buy direct from us because it means we can break even. To encourage that we offer a download code if they buy the record from our site.”

They don’t have a bad word to say about (almost) anyone.

S: “There are so many good labels but you can’t see it as competition because it’s contributing to the same thing isn’t it. We absolutely love Tim and Toby from Transgressive, they’re lovely. I don’t know anyone from Moshi Moshi but I really respect what they do. I love Paradise Vendors, Male Bonding’s label. Captured Tracks, Slumberland and Domino are all excellent. And our friend Mike is awesome, he runs Home.Under.Ground. He’s releasing Celestial Bodies as their first single.”

R: “I can’t believe you’ve not mentioned Creation, that’s your favourite label of all time.”

S: “Shut up.”

Fair Ohs/Spectrals split 7” comes out on Monday (buy it here) and Seams Nightcycles comes out on April 26th (preorder it here). Fair Ohs and Spectrals play at Old Money this Saturday at The Stag’s Head, London. It’s free.

Tough Love Records website

Read Theo’s interview with Becoming Real here.