15 years. 15 albums. 15 stories.
Hassle Records are celebrating 15 years of supporting the best in underground music in some style.
Set up in 2005 by Nigel Adams and Ian 'Wez' Westley after working together initally at Mushroom Records before starting their own ventures in the form of Eat Sleep and Sorepoint, Hassle has since become the cornerstone of excellence on the UK scene. With no sound too out there and no stone left unturned, the label are marking this huge occasion with the reissue of 15 of their favourite records from their illustrious back catalogue.
We jumped on the phone with Wez and project manager Mease to chat through the 15 albums and what part they all play in the history and the ethos of the label...
JULIETTE AND THE LICKS - …LIKE A BOLT OF LIGHTNING (2004)
Wez: “Chris Baker, the guy who used to do Mease’s job, brought this to us. I came in the office one morning and he said to me, ‘Juliette Lewis is going to put a record out’. I said that usually actors doing records is a no-go, it’ll be shit. He went on to play it and it was actually really good.
“She was signed a very small American indie called Fiddler, who we had been working with on The Bled. We called them up and asked if they needed a hand with this in Europe and they did. We then spoke to Juliette’s manager, who was her sister and managed both her theatrical and musical career, and she knew nothing about music. These people are pretty larger than life. I’ve never dealt with a Hollywood star before.
“There was some trepidation because she was this big star, and still is, and had done all of these big films. She was engaged to Brad Pitt. We didn’t know if she would want to put the work in, but she really did. We told her our plan and said we would do the EP but could she tour, and sure enough she got in the splitter and did The Barfly and clubs like that with one crew member. She really paid her dues and built it over the course of a year. Then she came quite big.
“I still think that EP is fucking brilliant. Tracks like ‘Shelter Your Needs’ with those lyrics had such grit and power, and she could really sing. Her performance was unbelievable as well.
“It was a really brilliant re-launch for Hassle. We had to re-launch because we were called Sorepoint but we had some legal issues and had to stop that. We had to reboot everything with Hassle and this EP was the perfect launch.”
CASEY – LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH (2015)
Wez: “A friend I know who runs Monnow Valley Studios called me and said I needed to hear the tracks from this band. I got in contact with Tom [Weaver, Vocalist] and he sent me ‘Teeth’. They had just released a video for it where Tom literally learned to sign read for it, and you got the sense he was the sort of person who thought about every little thing the band were doing, especially in the lyrics. That’s what drew us in.”
Mease: “I remember they came over to the office to meet us and Tom was always their best salesmen even though he was never trying to sell what the band was. You could see his passion and his vision. We also heard the tracks from this album as instrumentals first, and without that lyrical intensity it’s quite different. They had all been in bands before and learnt how to do things along the way, but they knew this band had a specific purpose and they wanted to do it right.
“Tom meant every single word that he said on these songs and that totally came across. That’s the reason that people gravitated towards it so much. All the way through Tom was also very clear that he wasn’t in this band just for the sake of making this music. If at any point he didn’t feel like this was a genuine thing they wanted to do, then that was it. It was just amazing to see the growth of them and see how much these songs meant to people, and to also see that in such an organic way.”
FRNKIERO ANDTHE CELLABRATION - 'STOMACHACHES' (2014)
Wez: “This came about because we used to be the European licensee for Universal outside of the stuff they would do. Universal only used to pick up one or two bands from them and we would do the rest, because we loved it and we were good friends. So one of the guys said to us that BMG was their licensee now and they had this record they didn’t want, did we want it? Fucking right we did.
“When we heard it, and even though it was raw, you could hear a lot of the My Chemical Romance songwriting in there. You can hear his influence in MCR in those songs. He’s also the nicest bloke in the world. He just got in the van and toured as well. Nothing was too much for him.”
Mease: “There were definitely those parallels with Juliette Lewis. I remember meeting him at the services on the M4 to give him his merch stock. He was totally down to earth and really easy to deal with. I did some promo trips in Europe with him and did some acoustic sessions, and I just wanted to talk to him all the time. He was never bothered about where he was playing or where we were staying. He just believed in his material and getting back to what it meant to write songs like this, get them out there and promote them. That’s what we were there to do after all.”
TUBELORD – 'OUR FIRST AMERICAN FRIENDS' (2009)
Wez: “I think there’s a raft of bands that came through at the same time as this album that unfortunately didn’t go on to do more than two albums and that scene kind of died because of it. I think those bands were ahead of their time, and Tubelord were a part of that. It just never connected further than small venues so the band could never really go on to bigger things and make it their career. I think that the only band who managed to make it through from that scene really was Biffy Clyro.
“Before this we had been licensing a lot of American record, but then we found that there was a good scene coming through in the UK. We were really interested in getting involved in it.”
WE ARE THE OCEAN – 'CUTTING OUR TEETH' (2008)
Wez: “I remember seeing the band for the first time at The Astoria, and seeing Dan [Brown, Vocals] and all of his energy and then Liam [Cromby, Vocals and Guitar] adding the melodic part. It was like, ‘Holy shit’. They were so young when we singed them as well. When we signed them Alfie [Scully, Guitar] was 17 and he had started touring at 15. It felt like a really exciting time. Those few years around this release were really good for British rock music.
“One of the problems now is that these sorts of bands don’t get played on Radio 1 anymore. As we built this band up, we got two of the tracks on the third album A-listed on Radio1. That’s 30 plays a week. That’s a lot.”
LONELY THE BRAVE – ‘THE DAY’S WAR’ (2014)
Wez: “This band just grabbed me. They played one of the most exciting debut shows I’ve ever seen supporting Fatherson at The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town.”
Mease: “We had heard these tracks before we saw them as well. We were immediately grabbed by the tracks. Those recordings had such a huge impact straight away, and we heard them a good period of time before the album actually came out. It was a really long campaign but seeing the band go from the back of that pub to main stage Reading & Leeds and then support Biffy Clyro across Europe was incredible.
“We always thought that Dave [Jakes, Vocals] would become more comfortable playing bigger shows, but he really couldn’t handle the spotlight. It was sometimes heartbreaking to see just how petrified he was of playing those shows and not enjoying those big moments. He was such a huge talent though.”
FOUR YEAR STRONG – ‘RISE OR DIE TRYING’ (2007)
Wez: “Mike Hemsley, who used to work for us, was really into this sort of thing. He wouldn’t stop playing these songs and saying that we had to do this. The way that Hassle works is that anybody can bring anything in and suggest that we work with them. It’s not just one person signing the bands, everybody brings the bands in.
“It’s a really great record and really set them up nicely. We really liked how polarising the sound was as well. We’re not a genre-specific label. That’s why we like to sign what we really like at the time.”
CANCER BATS – ‘BIRTHING THE GIANT’ (2006)
Wez: “The band were originally signed to a label called Distort, who we had been working with on Alexisonfire. The guy who ran it was called Greg Below and these guys were his next band. He came over when Alexisonfire played Download Festival and I drove him up. He had me captive and said, ‘You need to hear my new band’ and it was this first Cancer Bats record. I loved it. I’m a sucker for riffs and I loved the way that Scotty [Middleton, Guitar] plays them. They melded those riffs with the punk ethos in completely the right way.
“The most impressive thing is that they would come over with five backpacks full of merch they made themselves from Canada to sell over here and sell them all. That’s how they survived. Liam still has that ethos in the way that he works. He’s still very grassroots in everything that he does, and that hard work mentality just shone through from the very beginning.”
PETROL GIRLS - ‘CUT & STITCH // THE FUTURE IS DARK’ (2019)
Wez: “Somebody we know got in touch and said they had seen this band at Rebellion Festival and said, ‘I’ve just seen the next Rage Against The Machine’. The process of getting the actually know the band took a while though. They have really strong principles and they wanted to make sure that any record label and partner they had had similar principles to them. Although we’re not activists, we wholly support what they do.”
Mease: “It was probably about six or seven months that we were talking to them about everything. It took a long to get know them individually and for them to know us individually too.”
Wez: “They are true to what they do as well. They were worried that some labels wouldn’t accept their requests but we always tell them that we will advise them but they have artistic control over this.
“We enjoy what we do and we enjoy the fact that we get to meet bands like this because of it.”
BRUTUS - 'BURST' (2017)
Mease: “I just became obsessed with the demos we got sent through from their manager. I was hand stamping 300 Casey EPs and just listening to these rough ‘Burst’ demos on repeat again and again. On the face of it, it felt quite a risky one for us. It’s a three-piece punk band from Belgium. We’d never signed a band from there before. They had done a lot of touring but only in their home market. They had just done a couple of 7’ releases. They were at a really small base. I basically just kept playing the tracks until Wez said,’ Fine, we’ll do this’.
“We got the band over to London and supporting another one of our bands at The Black Heart just so we could see it. It was the same feeling as it was with Lonely The Brave. To then see how they have grown now and how much their confidence has built. They all care a lot about their music and they are an absolute pleasure to work with.”
Wez: “They have been together for five years and we’ve been working with them for four of those. It’s just really amazing to see how far they have come in that time.”
Mease: “It’s part of why we do this. We want to find these bands and this talent and just help develop it. These things take a long time as well. But seeing them develop is the best part of the job.”
ROLO TOMASSI – ‘HYSTERICS / COSMOLOGY’ (2008/2010)
Wez: “This was an interesting one. The guy who brought the band in I feel like brought them in just to piss us off. I honestly think that. He brought it in and we said, ‘This is mad different to what we have done in the past, let’s do it’. He was like, ‘What?!?’ The band came in and grilled us a little because we had been putting a lot of American stuff out at the time, and the only reason we did that is because we couldn’t find any British stuff that we actually liked.
“There was the technical playing from James [Spence] and the band, then you have Eva [Spence] doing what she does. It was really interesting to work with. It’s really good to them still them still doing what they do now and pulling in even more people.”
BLAKFISH - ‘CHAMPIONS’ (2009)
Wez: “This album was so different but so British. They were such a great live band as well. They really took it by the bollocks when you had the chance to see them. They had the energy and they had the songs. It felt really exciting to be such a part of it.
“If they could have held it together I really feel like they could have been big. They split up whilst they were on tour with Biffy Clyro. They were in Europe and we were thinking how good it was that they were getting these shows, then they called us and said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re splitting up’. I haven’t listened to the album for such a long time, but listening to it recently for this celebration has made me realise just how much it stands up. It really sounds great right now.”
TURBOWOLF – ‘TURBOWOLF’ (2012)
Wez: “People often ask us what the process is when we want to sign a band, and there really is no process. For example, I heard about these guys and went to see them in Bristol. It didn’t really work, but at the time they had a different bass player and a different drummer. I left it a little bit but kept in touch. Over the course of a year to 18 months they got some new members in and got better live and then in the end I really wanted to get involved.”
“Once again, I’m a sucker for riffs. ‘A Rose For The Crows’ and songs like that still really stand up now and they are ultimately really powerful. They were also a bit different because they had that weird keyboard thing they would do.”
PRESS CLUB – ‘LATE TEENS’ (2018)
Wez: “I think albums like this represent the diversity of Hassle the best. Press Club are hard to pigeonhole and having that diverse level of artists related to what we do. They could sit more comfortably on an indie-type label but they also work here.”
Mease: “We wanted to include some new bits in these 15 albums because one of the things I remember from growing up is looking at logos on the back of records and seeing who the label was and then going and looking at something else that they were doing. That association of bands that I might be into just because of the label they were on. That’s something that we hope is a part of out history as much as what we do currently.”
TRASH TALK – ‘EYES & NINES’ (2010)
Wez: “With a band like Trash Talk you don’t really have that much input into what they do. They’re quite single-minded. They would just deliver an album like this to us in the way that it is.
“The way that we got involved though was a friend in America introduced me to them and it coincided with them doing some shows at SXSW. I saw them play five times in two days. I literally followed them around from venue to venue. Every single show felt dangerous. They did a guerrilla show on the bridge across the river in Austin. They set up a vocal PA at two in the morning, 400 kids turned up and they played a set. A Converse rep came along with about 20 pairs of shoes for the band and they all ended up in the river. The cops came along after 15 minutes and broke it up. It was absolute insanity. We just knew that we had to do them."