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www.musicweek.com INTERVIEW LOUISBLOOM BLOOM WITH A VIEW


Island’s head of A&R on a stellar year, the label’s recipe for success and his ambitions for 2013


A&R  BY TIM INGHAM


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sland Records has run away with the No.1 spot on UK A&R success tables so often in recent times, it’s easy to suspect that the label has some sort of automated formula for triumph. As ever with A&R, however, successes or failures ultimately come down to the execs on the ground – and Island has some of the industry’s very best. After a year to remember in 2011 with the likes


of Jessie J, Florence + The Machine and James Morrison, the group has rarely looked in danger of losing its industry-leading position in 2012. Here, Island UK head of A&R Louis Bloom discusses recent successes such as Gotye, Mumford & Sons and Ben Howard – and looks forward to unleashing some more top talent in 2013…


What’s been the secret behind Ben Howard’s success? A solo male artist with a guitar – they’re not exactly foolproof elements in this day and age. I’ve always loved singer/songwriters, whether it’s Paul Simon, Cat Stevens or Nick Drake. I signed Scott Matthews a few years ago and have always been on the lookout for another one that can compete with the Island greats, including Nick Drake and John Martyn. It was actually an intern here that was playing Ben and when we heard his voice, [Island A&R] Annie Christensen and I immediately fell in love. We rushed down to Devon to check him out. The environment reflected the music; you were in his world in Devon and it wasn’t tainted by any inner-city bollocks. It was very pure. He’d been allowed to develop to the heartbeat of the countryside and the sea, rather than Camden with A&Rs everywhere chasing him.


What made you chase down a relatively unknown singer whose demo was played by an intern? It wasn’t even a demo – the intern was on Myspace and our ears just pricked up. I believe the best signings are head and heart signings. Ben had built up a bit of momentum online and he was touring, but ultimately he made an emotional connection. For me, it never felt like a risk.


Was he surprised to see you arrive in Devon? He was suspicious for sure, and rightly so. But we bought into his vision. He needed someone to help him get these recordings made in a barn to sound like a proper record. We really encouraged him to write new songs – Only Love and The Fear, both singles, came after signing. We put a bit of pressure on him and he rose to the challenge. We decided early on we didn’t want to take him into a big studio. You can actually hear farm animals and rainwater in the background of Ben’s album – that’s what gives it personality.


With Mumford, where does the involvement from Glassnote – who they signed to in the US – end and your involvement begin? I’ve known [band manager] Adam Tudhope for 10 years, and he’s always impressed me. I got to work with him on Keane’s Perfect Symmetry album and he was a joy. He invited me to see Mumford at The Camden Crawl in 2008. There was so much passion and it was visually incredible. In 2009, the opportunity came up to work with


Markus Dravs, that was the point we were doing the deal and Adam was having a conversation with Daniel Glass as well. We fought very hard to get America, but Adam is a gentleman and he agreed with Daniel he’d do the deal with him. Daniel’s done a fantastic job out there, but we


started the process: we went to radio first, and both the artwork and the record was made in the UK. As a band, Mumford know their own minds, and they’re not about the short-term or the fast buck.


Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know has topped 1.2 million sales in the UK. Did you think it would become that big a hit? For Island, this year has been about things that aren’t initially obvious being taken to the mainstream. When I first heard Gotye, I fell madly in love with it, but we didn’t know it would be playlisted by every radio station. That used to happen all the time, but it’s pretty much unheard of these days.


How did you sign it? I met the manager, weirdly, playing cricket – and I’d never played cricket in my life. Adam Tudhope put on a match against an Island team led by [GM] Jon Turner. Adam brought [Gotye co-manager] Danny Rogers along, and we hit it off, partly because we didn’t know what the hell was going on. A few weeks later Kevin at Communion sent me a link to the song and I immediately called Danny. We as Island are very passionate about Wally’s [Gotye’s] music.


What’s going to big in 2013? We’re excited by a lot of things, but at the moment Angel is looking really great. [Island A&R] Ben


ABOVE


Success stories: Island has enjoyed A&R hits with the likes of Ben Howard (left) and Gotye (right) in 2012 - overseen by Louis Bloom (inset, top right)


“I believe the best signings are head and heart signings” LOUIS BLOOM, ISLAND RECORDS


30.11.12 Music Week 23


Scarr has been working with him and we’ve just come off a big hit with Wonderful. It feels like there’s finally a UK songwriter in the R&B world who’s really delivering. We’re also excited about our blossoming relationship with PMR, which is Jessie Ware’s label. That’s working out brilliantly and I’m predicting big things for their act Disclosure.


Why does Island’s A&R team have such consistent success? I think we have a real team spirit. The core of the team has a long history so we know each other very well and I think that helps keep the quality control up. It spreads from [Island co-presidents] Darcus [Beese] and Ted [Cockle] to the rest of the company who work tirelessly from day one with as much passion as the person who signs the act. We are also constantly aware of the legacy of [Island founder] Chris Blackwell who set a ridiculously high benchmark. It’s always important to be brave in our signings and we try not to sign identikit versions of someone who has just been successful. Also, we try to be market leaders. It doesn’t


always work but, when it does, you get a Florence or a Mumford. There is a real passion for music and for breaking artists here. It’s important to have a laugh and enjoy the madness of it all, but we also know that if you are complacent or take anything for granted you will get eaten alive.


Universal is the biggest record company – and Island Records is its UK star - which means both of you face a lot of potshots from rivals. What’s your view from inside? I simply can’t complain about Ted, Darcus, David Joseph or Lucian Grainge – they’re all creative people who love music. They believe in A&R and they encourage us to take risks. And Universal invests so heavily in breaking artists. Who else funds and supports as many artists as Universal and has an infrastructure with such great, dynamic people in it? Surely it should be applauded for that? Artists wouldn’t sign to record companies if it was all bad – there’s tangible results here and careers being made all the time.


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