Clue Records – Music & Mergers: Interview with Scott Lewis

With the global pandemic robbing us of gigs, festivals and so much more, the music industry has had little to celebrate in 2020, which makes stories such as indie label Clue Records celebrating its eighth year of productivity and a successful merging with fellow Leeds label Hatch Records all the sweeter.

With new signings on the horizon and the boat party to end all boat parties envisioned for their decade celebrations, I spoke to Clue boss Scott Lewis over Zoom to discuss all things Clue, beginning with a brief back and forth bonding over a local record shop which led us to consider the sustainability of the independent music business in 2020…

RB: So, speaking of longevity in the music business, was that something you had in mind when starting Clue? Were you thinking in long term ideals, plans…?

SL: I don’t know really. It’s funny, I’ve just started lecturing about business enterprise at Leeds College of Music, and it’s got me thinking back – I didn’t set up a business plan for Clue, no five-year plan, etc. We started with little bits, like if we could release a record, a vinyl record, then that would be mint, but it was more – let’s do it and see where it goes from there really.

RB: I suppose that’s why Clue has been successful, because as corny as it sounds, you don’t necessarily get into these things for the money, or ‘success’ in business terms.

SL: No, that’s bang on. It gets a little more difficult down the line – there’s a mid-point as somewhere it goes from being purely a passion project to a feasible, financially viable thing. But I mean I’ve always been doing it ‘cos I wanna do it, ‘cos I love the bands.

RB: With that in mind, is there or was there a criteria for artists to be on Clue, other than first and foremost you being excited about them?

SL: Yeah, I’ve got to be a fanboy, the buzz you get when you find something new and amazing… it’s hard to capture really and actually if I find artists who I love, and I find out that they are working with someone else I won’t mind, I’ll still follow them ‘cos I’m a fan anyway! Perhaps in recent years I’ve become more knowledgeable and I want bands to work alongside us for the best results, bands that graft and work hard – I can put energy into bands like that.

The origins of Clue come from Scott and fellow boss Ste Langton, school friends from Stockton who bonded over a love of music and, after being in and out of bands and a brief stint in basic music marketing (Scott acted as marketing director for the Oxfam music festival ‘Oxjam’), felt as though they had something to offer some of the exciting acts they were following.

SL: I came across these bands who were great and, for whatever reason, struggling and I felt that I wanted to help, maybe some admin or boring backroom stuff. So that was it, backroom of the pub, back of a beer mat – let’s do it. That was in 2012 and Narcs was our first band.

RB: Both being from Stockton, how did you end up in Leeds and how much of that locality was a driving force behind Clue?

SL: Well I had been wanting to move out of Stockton for a while, and Ste had just got a job in Leeds and had a spare room and there was just a great scene at the time going on; NME termed it “The New Yorkshire” – bands like Kaiser Chiefs, !Forward, Russia! and The Cribs were all a big part of it and it just seemed like a cool place to go. It wasn’t too far from Stockton, and whilst Leeds isn’t a small city, it wasn’t London – so it felt tangible that we could do something.

Hatch Records was founded a year after Clue in 2013 by Tony Ereira, (whose surname I embarrassingly require Scott to help me pronounce – which he does, with a chuckle) and the relationship between the two began through the Leeds based independent music publication ‘Come Play With Me’…
(Header photo – left: Tony Ereira, right: Scott Lewis)

RB: So, talk us through the merging of Clue with Hatch, which is run by Tony Ereira – where did you first meet Tony? He’s involved in Come Play With Me, as are you I believe?

SL: I am! I’ve fingers in all the pies (laughs). I remember I went to the launch of Come Play With Me and so I met Tony then, and just kept bumping into him at events, gigs etc. in Leeds. We were planning to do a local profile on all Yorkshire indie labels, so Hatch, ourselves at Clue, (Wakefield based label) Philophobia, etc.

I had a job offer last year for another label, but it would have had to mean I would leave everything else I’d worked on; Clue, Come Play With Me and so on. And at that time Tony broached the idea of merging the two labels, and being in similar places it just felt like a natural thing to do and so we all sat down towards the end of last year, crossed the Ts and dotted the Is and it’s worked out brilliant.

RB: How does it work with the artists who were attached to Clue and the ones who were on Hatch, are they now all under Clue now?

SL: All previous Hatch releases are now under a Clue/Hatch heritage; we don’t ever want to pretend that Hatch never existed, they were two different things. I’m not sure what some of the artists are doing at the minute, but if the opportunities are there and it works out right for us to release with them then we’ll look at it when it comes round.  

RB: Was there ever an arm wrestle between you and Tony on which label would retain the name?

SL: No (chuckles) we never had to battle, it was very civil, I think Clue had more on at the time and it felt natural to move into that direction.

RB: I suppose if you’re all under the same umbrella and working as a unit the name is just for ego’s sake at the end of the day…

SL: Exactly and considering it’s Clue which has kept the name that must mean I’ve the biggest ego out of everyone!

RB: All of these new exciting opportunities and of course releasing Team Picture’s debut album The Menace of Mechanical Music, it must have been disappointing to have been restricted due to the pandemic; how have you found it, what are some of the difficulties Clue has faced? 

SL: Its hard, cos we are trying to get something across which is essentially entertainment when there is a lot of serious, heavy shit going on in the world and we’ve got to be considerate of that. In terms of Clue we’ve had a relatively quiet year, ‘cos a lot of the artists would have either been touring or recording and that just can’t happen. We’ve released Team Picture’s album this year and we’ve booked a tour for next year but with the way things are going, you’ve just gotta deal with it in the safest way. Some of our bands have been offered shows and come to me and the first thing I ask them is, “Do you feel comfortable with it? Do you feel safe? Don’t worry about the money or the need to perform, if you don’t feel comfortable don’t do it”. It’s more important for us to look after each other and focus on other things; write, record etc. Team Picture did something really amazing with their video for Handsome Machine, a 3D interactive space where if you watch it on your phone, you can walk around your room but you’re walking around in the video – which to me was brilliant innovation ‘cos everyone was obviously staying in their homes and it brought an experience to them.

RB: Aside from your own projects, what are your favourite things going off in Leeds now, what’s exciting you at the minute?

SL: In terms of bands, Yard Act are amazing. Culture wise, The Brudenell Social Club has just gone from strength to strength and what Nathan (Clark, owner) has done there is incredible, the community and culture created at Hyde Park Book Club is amazing and Chunk, who I think are looking at a new location, they had one of the best DIY spaces in Leeds, what they were doing was unreal.

A slight bias, but I’m working with a company called Music: Leeds, what they are trying to do is provide opportunities in Yorkshire for people who want to work in the music industry and I think what they are doing is accessible and vital for working class backgrounds. I’m from a working class background and one of the things that I do worry about in this pandemic is that money will come out of the industry and artists will massively struggle to be able to create, and so I think what Music: Leeds is doing is amazing.

RB: Mentioning money, I’ve just read today that apparently one third of musicians are considering quitting the industry due to Covid…

SL: I saw the post about that statistic, I have no idea if it’s accurate. I don’t think you get into making music or writing music to make money, it’s more because you want to do it, but I can see why it could be accurate in some respects, because it’s gonna be hard.

How do we make bands now? You can’t meet anyone to talk about putting a band together and even if you did, you can’t get in a room to do anything! The accessibility and the enjoyment found in the community of going to gigs is just not going to be there in the same way it was and it’s worrying.

RB: On a positive note, going forward with Clue, where would you personally like to see the label go? Any concrete plans?

SL: Well we are about to announce a new artist we have been working with which we are really excited about, and what would I like to see in Clue? Well in two years the label will be 10, and I’d like to have a big party on a boat with loads of bands playing! Open top deck boat party! In two years time it might be well needed after all this!

While we’re waiting for that boat to come in, you can check out Clue’s full roster of excellent artists here

Photos above – left: Van Houten by Sam Joyce, right: Yowl by Holly Whittaker

Interview by Ryan Bell

 9th October 2020