Household Name Records are a mainstay on the UK punk scene. Established 10 years ago, and having released near to 100 records it felt like time to have a decent interview with them. I don’t remember where or when I first discovered the label. I do remember when I first met Lil and Kafren though, the two were stuck behind their distro, and were both welcoming and informative as I discovered my first copy of Maximum Rock’n'Roll and bought some CDs.
As a label they introduced me to so many amazing bands, from Capdown to Five Knuckle or Knuckledust. They’ve put on some of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, and helped open an amazing shop, All Ages Records, in Camden three years ago (they’ve since passed on the shop to co-founder Nick). In short, for me, they’re one of the most important labels to have released punk records in this country. What’s more they’re still putting out incredible music such as the recent Hostage Life album, ‘Walking Papers’, and even more recent Indecision Alarm and Enemy Alliance split CD. I was ushered into Household Name’s headquarters at the beginning of August to discuss how everything began, the adventures they’ve travelled through and what the future might hold for the label.
LH: So how did you end up putting on gigs?
K: Well, I met him. But before I met him I was in Croydon at ‘Shake some Action Records’. And I made some friends down there who I started to put on gigs with. We used to go down to the Ship in Croydon every Saturday afternoon to listen to people DJ. And there was some people who DJ’d at the Ship who did a club at the George 4th in Brixton, and one night they were short of someone to do the cloakroom and I offered. Whilst there I got bored, and realised I could do something better. So my friends and I started doing club nights there, which slowly turned into doing regular gig nights. After that I met Lil and Alex, who’s a friend of ours. And we started putting on shows together really.
L: We were putting on gigs in North London because we mistakenly believed that there was no gigs that we wanted to see on anymore. I think it was the height of the ravy-culture, whirlygig type stuff. And all my friends had stopped listening to anything with guitars in, unless it was sampled. And I thought this was terrible. Plus I’ve never got on particularly well with drugs so I didn’t fit in there! And so we started doing these gigs. It was mainly because we wanted to see a band called the Boredoms when they came over. And I’d previously seen them in the Garage and them being great. And they came back and they were supporting someone who was playing at Brixton academy and I had no interest in going to Brixton Academy because I don’t like the Academy.
So we just started putting on small gigs for bands we thought people would want to see.
K: Though, it was mainly bands that you wanted to see. And you’d try and encourage other people to come along.
L: Yes, though it didn’t always happen.
LH: So was it a natural progression from putting on the gigs to putting out the first record.
L: The arrogance that made me put on the gigs stayed with me when I felt that people wanted to buy records by these bands as well. So we put out a compilation.
K: And the compilation featured many of the bands that we were putting on at the time.
L: I think we could get them easy. We just thought that we could do it. We didn’t really know what we were doing, especially with the artwork.
K: That was the time before the days of computers.
L: And yet we did it on a computer (laughs)
LH: So was there a gap between the compilation and the next record?
L: There was only supposed to be one record. Unfortunately we had a launch party and we were selling the CD at the time. And one of the people on the CD had another band. And he came up to me at the end of an emotional night and said, ‘If you’ve got this much money I can put you part shares in a new record that you can sell’. So I handed over the profits from the night. And in that one fell and unfortunate swoop we became a record label because we had two records.
K: Because you’re only a record label if you have two records. We weren’t one when we had one?
L: Well it’s a declaration of intent.
LH: Was the name not a declaration of intent. Or was it a joke?
L: Oh no, that was one of those massive flashes of inspiration that comes to me. No actually I spent more time working out what it should look like as a logo than what the name should be.
We came up with the name because we thought of all these bands, who slog away at doing these things, and have parents and other people who go, ‘Why are you doing that? Why are you still in this stupid band?’ But we thought, ‘Well if they’re on our record label at least they can say, ‘Its okay Mum and Dad, we’re a Household Name band” And it would put them at ease. However, what we have discovered subsequently is that, this only works in the UK. We went to Germany and various other places and they asked, ‘Why do you have such a stupid name?’
K: ‘What does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything.’
L: And we’d go, ‘Yes it does.’ So you’d explain it to them, and they’d just go, ‘Oh’. (laughs) It doesn’t translate at all. And we thought everyone would get this as a slightly twisted in joke. But no, it’s just crap. Because that’s probably the best idea we had when we started the label – or at least I did. Call it something funny. Except it wasn’t funny. Shit!
K: Your sarcasm doesn’t translate well in print does it?
L: No, not in the past. But this can be a brave new dawn. People can get me at last.
K: Or not. (laughs)
LH: So in the beginning you were very much involved in the UK hardcore scene that happened in what, ‘95?
L: Yeah, what’s your question?
LH: Where did it all go wrong?
L: Well, I think one thing that we must point out with our label is that we are fans first and foremost, so we get into stuff, and get very excited about it, and gradually new things come along and we get excited by that. So a lot of the reasons that our label does lots of different things is because we try not to be narrow minded. Having done this for 25 years or longer I’ve seen many trends come and go. I heard things like The Specials before I heard hardcore, and I loved it. That was my cult, youth culture thing. At 13 I bought in totally to the whole two-tone thing. Then things like Husker-Du came in afterwards and I got into that. But I still love both of them. And I’ve always wanted our label to reflect that I like loads of different stuff. It’s not meant to be just a, ‘Oh, that label does this’ because that’s kind of boring. You know labels like SST that I really looked up to didn’t do that and I don’t see the point in doing the same old stuff. Because with any genre you’ll have the people that start off a scene and then you’ll have followers and followers and followers and it just distills down to being quite dull until someone comes along and kicks it up the arse.
That’s just by the by because people often say, ‘Well you don’t do this anymore’ and that’s because we’re only a reflection of the band’s that are out there. If there was a band out there making that kind of music that we were really excited by then we would probably put them out tomorrow. But if they’re not then we won’t.
But the hardcore thing was because I went to a show upstairs at the Garage and I’d heard about all this stuff, and having seen bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today when they’d come over back in the day and seeing the straightedge movement back in ‘87 it was quite exciting. I was quite excited to hear that eight years down the line there was going to be a hardcore scene again because it had basically disappeared when grunge showed up and no one was doing it. So I went to see these young kids and they did put on this most amazing show. And I was just hooked, and that was it really. So I wanted to know more and more about it. It was just chance that we happened to have a record label at the same time. I still would have gone to the shows whether we had a record label or not and checked it out.
K: It was a really great group of people as well. Everyone was friends with each other, and everyone was contributing in one way or another. If you weren’t in a band you were doing a zine, or taking photographs. It was great.
L: Yeah, it just seemed exciting.
K: It was quite open as well.
L: And people were coming down from all over the country. People were just, these kids who were starting it were Light the Area Effect kids in Manchester, then Pierre and all the Knuckledust people with, and I shudder to say, LBU, because it doesn’t mean today what it meant back then.
K: Time For Some Action people.
L: But all in all it was just quite exciting because I’d always wanted to know that people would be enthusiastic about doing what they’re doing.
So it was just really, really good and exciting. And every nth person was trying to put on an event, or start a band, or take a chance. And when you see that sort of thing going on you can’t help but get excited about it. And for a good couple of years a lot of bands were playing together. You’d have your really posi-straightedge bands and then your freak noise stuff like Canvas, and your New York influenced ones like Knuckledust or Special Move.
K: But they were all playing together at that time.
L: They were all playing together and everyone was very appreciative of each other. But as with everything else it didn’t last forever.
K: Gradually people split up and did their own thing.
L: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure there’s any real explanation for it, it’s just one of those random things. Like random atoms touching and moving on. But it was great. And we were lucky enough to put out some of the records at that point. Most of the records at that time don’t sound like the band did. I don’t think any of us really understood going into recording studios or anything like that. Most of them are pokey as hell. But they’re a document. It was much better to be there, I’m sorry to say. The gigs were a lot better than the records that were produced. So there you are, there were some great bands out of it like Imbalance or Knuckledust.
K: It was fun!
L:I think it got weirder when we started putting on the militant straightedge bands from the States. That seemed to force a load of people with maybe odd opinions together. And I think the tolerance stopped more there. I think some of the more beer drinky people didn’t like being told what to do, and some of the more straightedge people didn’t like being around people who didn’t like being told what to do. And it all got a bit fractious. Previous to that no one had really mentioned straightedge. I don’t call it a problem but it had been one thing on my mind when I first went to these shows and wondering whether I should go and get a drink, and then worried about having a cigarette because I could remember when there had been really militant views about straightedge. I suppose I didn’t really want to offend anyone more than anything else.
LH: Okay, you then have Capdown join the label? And that’s the first full time band that you sign?
K: They weren’t full time at that point.
L: No, the poor bastards fell into having to be full time. Yeah Capdown was a strange one, because I got it as a demo and I just played it and played it and played it. And I thought it was wonderful melodic punk music. And people will not believe this but until we actually put them on live – and I waited for ages for the right gig to put them on and then Link80 came up – and we came up to the soundcheck I had no idea they played a sax. I had no idea about this! And I remember standing there in soundcheck thinking, ‘Oh he’s pulled out one of those, ohh, oh I say. Is that going to be used tonight? That’s quite novel’ (laughs). And I really had no idea that they were going to be tagged as a ska punk band. And I never personally thought of them as such. So there we go.
But there we go, we got ourselves a ska punk band. So we put out a record. And they seemed to want to tour. A lot!
LH: Did the label become more full on because of Capdown, or was it already fairly full on?
L: It was going through changes. We had had a lot of success and attention. Actually I’m not sure about the success part. With the label it’s always been more about getting attention but then not huge sales! On the second release we did of Medulla Nocte, their ‘All our friends are dead’ 7”, it got single of the week in Kerrang! Which we didn’t understand and never will do, but just before it got released some guy rang up and said its single of the week send me a cover over email. Weeks later I was still trying to do. Eventually he suggested I just pop over with it. So that was quite exciting. And then we did the UKHC album which did really well. After that nothing did really well for a while but all were fun to put out and that sort of thing.
K: Capdown came out just after we had put out bands like Canvas and Special Move and things like that. It was interesting putting out hardcore bands followed immediately by Capdown.
L: So we did a few things, but they just seemed to be quite good because people liked them. And then we discovered there was a correlation between playing to more people and selling more records. New to us! (laughs) And this seemed to work, and it worked for them too. Then they did an album, ‘Civil Disobedients’, that did rather well. It continues to do rather well. People like that a lot – rightly so! And that’s done us a lot of favours. And it let us do lots of interesting things with Capdown. And they got to do amazing things like play at London Arena to 10,000 people. First on mind you. 10,000 people only got in after their third song! And they did really weird tours like Deconstruction when that was actually a tour. Then they got to play Reading and with big bands like Reel Big Fish, and Less Than Jake. So we got to see that they were doing really well, and got to wander round with them a bit. And sold some records. So that was good. Then we did a second album, and a split with Link80, and a split with Hard Skins, which is always good.
Anyhow, from Capdown we sold a few more records, got a bit more attention and we really liked what Capdown were doing back then, and what was happening for them.
K: They were really fun live. It was always amazing to watch them.
L: Yeah it was fun because it was around the time that people were co-towing to the Epitaph, Fat Wreck sound. And if any band came over that was on either of those labels came over they were clearly some sort of guilded god. And then Capdown would play and the US band suddenly ceased to be a guilded god, and instead were just the pretty average band that they were, and the British band was quite good! And everyone was like, ‘Yay, the British band!’ And that was kind of nice. Made you feel good.
LH: So was it through Capdown that you came across bands like Five Knuckle, Adequate Seven etc.?
L: Yeah, of course. The influence of Capdown and ‘Civil Disobedients’ in particular to actually getting kids to form bands that were going on to do something can’t be overstated enough. Or understated maybe? All those bands heard ‘Civil Disobedients’ and saw them live and were absolutely blown away by them, and wanted to do something like they were doing. So as much as a band like Knuckledust got other bands started up and got people really excited by what they were doing Capdown did exactly the same thing. And I think their legacy was to bring a load of different bands in that you wouldn’t have heard of. And of course because Capdown was on the label we were lucky enough to be working with them. I think that’s basically how it worked. That’s how we got to know about them. And of course because Capdown were on tour a lot they got to play with a lot of these bands so they’d tell us if any of these bands were any good or not. And that was always helpful. Though I would hope we know if someone’s any good or not! But it was kind of fun because much as the hardcore scene before hand had been like it all these bands wanted to do stuff together. And all were mates and liked playing together and proving that it was fun to do, and doing it with the label too. Fun!
LH: Was that when you started doing the label as a full time thing?
K: No actually. Well Lil’s been doing it as a full time thing for a long time.
L: I’ve been doing it full time all the time because I don’t like being on the dole. It’s rubbish, there are too many forms to fill in. Fuck it, I don’t want your free money. I will live on 50p. Yeah, I’ve always done it as full time as I can be bothered.
K: But, you have since I’ve ever known you you’ve been doing it full time.
L: I think that came out a lot of doing the distro. Because the distro became quite big and took over half this flat at one stage. And we were getting £2-3,000 worth of wholesale stuff delivered to the flat which would then go out. Which, we didn’t touch upon, but we’d take this stuff when we did gigs and have this huge table at the back of the gig where we’d sell this stuff, and people wanted more stuff so we’d get more stuff.
K: But we never had a car. So we used to go on the bus with our big backpacks full of CDs.
L: Till it just got too much. We’d get away with getting a taxi if we were putting on the show ourselves because we’d bring the food or rider in there with us, so we could bring more with us on those days. But on other days if we were just turning up at a show we had an enormous rucksack, which I think is responsible for a lot of my back problems these days. I think we carried 300 CDs at a time on our back. Stupid! But kids they wanted them! So, yes that was keeping us very busy. So just to fulfill mailorder I needed to be here all the time. A lot of the CDs we were doing at the time were also doing very well so they needed to be re-printed, sent to distributers and a lot of press, mailout and fliers. It was the time I made a flier a week, which I then took the photocopy shop. And that was the only way we could afford to publicise say Capdown being on the road all the time. Bless ‘em! Needed a flier for every new tour, which we’d send out to poor hardcore kids and bombard them with apparently ska fliers. That made sure that people across the country knew this band was touring. So that was why it was full time.
LH: So when did you decide to turn the distro into the shop [All Ages Records] or was that a seperate thing?
L: Kind of a separate thing. We started to slow down on the distro when we started to do less shows. It became far too time consuming for me to write up new distro lists around the turn of the internet and send out eight page distro lists that you typed up on Publisher. It became a pain in the arse to be honest. We had previously sent all this stuff out to our mailing list of 700 or so by hand. But that just became physically impossible when the mailing list started turning into 2,000-3,000.
K: And ridiculously expensive in terms of postage when you had to send it out to that number.
K: And there were other people doing hardcore distros at the time.
L: Yes there were, better ones than ours. Like Troy’s. So yes, people were doing better and we weren’t going to so many shows. So we decided to set up a shop to fleece European hardcore people when they came over and sell them back their records.
K: That’s completely not how it happened Lil, you’re such a liar! (laughs)
L: Really? That’s how I remember it.
LH: So how did it happen then?
K: It happened through Al.
L: Yeah, the oppurtunity came about from someone who was working with us here [at Household Name] and he was running a shop, which wasn’t doing very well, and I waited for my moment to say, ‘I’ve got a couple of quid saved away, I could invest a bit’. And I’ve always wanted to do a shop.
K: We’d been talking about doing it for years.
L: Yeah, I’d been wanting to do it for years. So we took the distro with us and put it in the shop! Recently [after four years] we left the shop and bought it back here. (laughs) So it’s good stuff, which will be on Ebay any second now! We just wanted to do a shop for the same reason we ever do anything. We thought it would be nice to have a meeting point in London, because there never really has been one where people could go and buy punk and hardcore records. I mean there has been Rough Trade don’t get me wrong. But I think I stopped going to Rough Trade to buy punk records a while back, and I think they do other more eclectic records a lot better. I don’t think they’re as stuck in the mud as just wanting to sell punk records. We just thought it would be fun. And it was. And it was an amazing learning process. But ultimately it was just a bit too much work once we had a child.
K: It was way too much work before that as well.
L: Was it?
K: Do you not remember that summer when you were in there every single and bearly got any sleep. You lost a lot of weight.
L: You’re right I did. People thought I had cancer. (laughs)
LH: Good times clearly!
L: So that’s what running a shop’s like, eventually people think you have a serious disease. So it was good and we enjoyed doing it. But it was just too much. I think we also did it just at the tail end of when people actually wanted to buy records. I think if we had done it say in 2000 when we put out the Capdown album and people were just voraciously buying CDs, I think our desert island would be well populated by now. No in fairness we would have probably just spent it on something else. We wouldn’t have used it wisely. But yeah… it would have been amazing. Unfortunately though from year one to year three you could see a marked drop from the amount of people coming in and being interested in buying records at all. And that conincided almost exactly with the advent of more broadband on this fair isle. And more intelligence amoungst the younger generation to get free records. Why waste your time with artwork and picking up bits of plastic. Don’t bother. You’re just going to put it on your computer anyway.
www.householdnamerecords.co.uk. Thanks to Lil & Kafren for the interview and for all the help/ advice they’ve given me over the years!