Gary Powell is many things, a grandson who just can’t wait to see his gran in New Jersey, a member of The Libertines, and the founder of the indie label 25 Hour Convenience Store. He’s also someone who is here talking about the label’s big Steam Packet Tour that kicks off in Birmingham on October 7th at The Rainbow.
The Steam Packet Tour features an array of bands including Bear Park, Dead Freights, and more. We talked to Gary Powell not only about the eclectic mix on the upcoming tour, but also about the importance of having a wide array on a label, whether or not branding is essential to artists today, and more.
Kendra: In your career, you’ve gotten a feel for what it’s like to be on a major and an indie label, so when it came time to lay the groundwork for 25 Hour Convenience, were there aspects of each that you particularly liked that you wanted to implement in your label, as well as parts of those types of labels that you wanted to omit and never have be associated with what you were creating?
Gary Powell: This question for me is as easy as it is hard to answer – purely by nature of my position within Libertines when we first started, because there was only so much information that I was privy to in order for me to make conscious decisions or to have an opinion on. Our initial management. Made it very clear that all decisions were to be made by Peter and Carl regardless – of the effect it had on John and myself and although once there began an upward trajectory for the band and there was a swift change in management the status. Quo was set and it was hard to be able to gain relevant information from the label.
One of my first goals, when I set the label up, was to have a ‘port of cal’l that was open and relatable to all whom we were associated with and although initially there were many a mistake made, they were all made open and honestly with the best intent for all concerned at heart, meaning that there was a learning to curve to everything the label had ever accomplished. To this day we still live by the mantra that music is music and the firm belief that we not only assist in the creative development of the artists associated with us but we give them a better understanding of what it is to be part of the cutthroat industry of music.
Kendra: People always go on and on about representation and whatnot and don’t realize that it does indeed start with who is calling the shots. Being in the driver’s seat you noted that this label is about giving artists who can sometimes fall by the wayside a platform to say what they want to say. Thus far, what’s been songs from bands on 25 Hour Convenience that have made you proud to represent them?
Gary Powell: I often think about my position within the industry, questioning. Whether I am doing enough to be representative of the type of person that I am or the type that I would like to project onto others. I still understand that the color of someone’s skin still holds barriers of access to certain walks of life and I want to not only assist break down those barriers by helping those who are being left behind but I also want to be the person that ignores those same barriers of entry.
That’s why I set up Unity Rocks a few years ago to help tackle the increased amounts of Hate Crimes (whilst Britain was going through its Brexit referendum) and I’m working as an ambassador for the charity Stop Hate Uk to help bring awareness to things like the 72% increase in hate crimes in the UK alone. I’m also working with the charity Restore the Music as an ambassador to help bring much-needed funding to schools and other centers of creative learning to areas of poverty, helping to bring a much-needed creative outlet to the young people around the country that are in desperate need of stimulus and are being let down, sometimes by their community but definitely by the political climate.
With this in mind, it has been great working with many of the artists that we have had come through the door at the label especially some of the indie bands like the Jacques and Bright Young People, whom under no circumstances would have even considered working with me minus my connection to the Libertines, hence reducing lines of color and focusing on the music. I also loved working with and releasing the Black Einstein (Colin Emanuel) ‘Whatever Happened to Major Tom?’ a concept release by a hip hop producer re-crafting and imagining David Bowie’s work. That release was pretty freaking mind-blowing. As of now I am loving working with the band Dead Freights. My label partner in Crime Eric Longley and I went down to see them play in their little. Studio in Southampton and not only were they a great band full of intelligent fun guys but boy could they craft a song, and were happy and not too precious to have me come down and work with them on things, and now I am producing their album.
Kendra: I feel like labels have always focused on the branding of artists, that’s just a given with mainstream music but the way this idea of influencer culture and content creation has infiltrated music even more so in the past decade has been overwhelming to some artists I’ve talked to who’ve said the additional pressure to post on Instagram daily can get to them when they just want to focus on making music. As someone who’s lived pre and post-social media, do you feel like the internet has in some ways made music secondary for artists, with their socials taking priority?
Gary Powell: I do understand the argument from an artist’s point of view for sure. You learn to play an instrument and practice really hard to improve your playing or singing, to improve your social media status? No! I am pretty sure that there is not a single artist out there trying to forge a career in music who is doing so to improve their social status on Instagram, or to make the best TikTok video ever. That is not a thing. But in saying that, the understanding of the world we live in today is of the utmost import to any up-and-coming artist. Back in the day, one would have to load up their vehicle and travel across the states or throughout whichever country they live to make people aware of your existence.
In short, one way or another you gotta pay your dues. The plus side to social media is that you can instantly create an audience. Lest we forget that the reason we make music is because first and foremost we want to communicate ideas, emotions, social dynamics, it’s not just about writing a good song and now the artist has the tools to cut out the middleman and. Talk directly to the audience about who they are, and what they are trying to accomplish. So in short. Be lucky you have a platform to easily create and communicate, or else you might just be another bedroom artist that no one ever hears about…
Kendra: Nevertheless, it is a double-edged sword because you need those socials to promote things like album releases and tour dates. Which, let’s talk about the label’s showcase tour coming up in October with Dead Freights, Casino, Bear Park, and Young Culture. Will you be heading out with them to make sure things run accordingly?
Gary Powell: This tour is happening around about the same time that the Libertines will be completing dates for the Up The Bracket Tour so I will be doing my best to pop in and pop out. But regardless of my attendance, this will be the perfect opportunity for each of the acts to shine and be amazing beacons for the label. The music and its performance is far more important than whether I shall be in attendance!
Kendra: All these bands bring something different to the table and make for a great deal of music. With that, when you look at this lineup, how would you describe the overall vibe they’re going to deliver each night?
Gary Powell: The one thing that I am adamant about regarding the label is that it will “not be a beacon” for one particular style of music. It would be so easy for the label to just be indie guitar band oriented as that is my professional background, but my music love extends far beyond guitar, bass, and drums. I love jazz, from Coltrane to Metheny, Chic Corea to Ella and Chet Baker, I love jazz! I love electronic music and its many subgenres and I create a lot of my own as well as being an avid fan of dj culture. I’ve DJ’d for years and love creating mixes and throwing Blok parties or doing events and fun nights. All of the acts that are touring have their own flavour, from Casino that are definitely groove orientated with lavish arrangements to Dead Freights who are desert garage rock with a little bit of math rock thrown in for good measure… Youth Culture who are reggae/dub orientated, taking the listener back to Birmingham in the mid-’80s, and Bear Park, who are Frank Black, indie guitar inspired, there is plenty to keep the listener entertained through the given evening!
Kendra: The Stream Packet tour will kick off in Birmingham with four dates following. Are there any plans to bring the showcase to the US after that?
Gary Powell: I would love nothing more than to bring a tour to the US. if only to see my grandma and the rest of my family! Music is purely about communication and I’d love for the American audience to get a real flavour for what it is we are trying to do here in England with the label. I tried to sign a band from New Orleans years ago called The Beautiful South, but with time differences and the obvious finances that would need to be generated it was just a bridge too far. I once brought another, Jenna Vee and her band, to come play as she has been a friend for a long time and now plays with Eagles of Death Metal and Palais Royale. Let’s just hope that the tour is massively successful so I can increase my base of operations to my gran’s house in New Jersey!
Kendra: Lastly, you’ve got this tour happening this fall with US fans hoping to see it stateside, but other than that – what’s on the table for 25 Hour Convenience next?
Gary Powell: As I say on my Boogaloo radio show – COMING UP NEXT! We have a new release coming up from the Dead Freights. That I think folks will find really interesting and brave from the boys. We’ve been working really hard on the upcoming release so I am excited to hear what people think about it. Eric and I are all in the process of trying to sign and work with the artist Brown Bear, I’ll be meeting him later on as I’m now in a hotel in Edinburgh and have a Libertines show tonight and he just so happens to be from here.
Other than that? Who knows! The label goes where the wind and music carry it….