This label profile originally appeared in The Skinny.
We speak to Triassic Tusk label founders Ziggy Campbell and Stephen Marshall to find out how it all began and what’s next
“We’re not very good at this, we fuck up a lot of stuff, but I guess you just learn as you go,” laughs Ziggy Campbell, core member of experimental art collective FOUND, solo artist Lomond Campbell and co-chief of new DIY not-for-profit Fence Records offshoot, Triassic Tusk. “I don’t know if we’re in it for the long game, I just can’t predict how it will go. If it all goes tits up in two years at least we can say we’ve done some really cool albums.”
Campbell is labouring in the late spring sun at his home near Fort William; jubilant birdsong soundtracks the continuing toil refurbishing his Highland home. The once dilapidated, rural schoolhouse will double as a recording studio, eventually. It’s already heavily influenced the sound of his Lomond Campbell project, with the bones of the immense Black River Promise LP recorded there. It was the fledgling label’s debut album release proper, which snuck through without much fanfare at the end of last year. Buoyant with dense, spiraling string arrangements from Pete Harvey, it didn’t receive nearly as much exposure or praise as it deserved, and Campbell hints at a far more fitting re-release for the title via a “well-established label” in the coming months.
Triassic Tusk’s co-owner Stephen Marshall is in the departures lounge at Heathrow, feeling down about an impending week-long business trip to Japan. He recently reassessed his life, quitting a high-powered job in the whisky industry after realising aspects of his work were “fucking dull” to pursue things that mattered more to him – time at home, music and records. He’s got a serious collection, buying at least one piece of vinyl every day.
A chance encounter with Frànçois Marry (of Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains) where he suggested Marshall DJ with some of his impressive vinyl cache led to developing a series of club nights called Moon Hop with Campbell; they pressed a compilation of tracks from his collection (Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths) to promote the event. After the initial runs sold out quickly, there were a series of represses that led to the birth of Triassic Tusk. They’re still doing Moon Hop, though toying with changing the name. Recent events have been under the banner of Wax and Wayne but Campbell says Marshall thinks that sounds “too sexual”.
The label is a labour of love. “Fucking hell, it loses me money, it costs me,” Marshall admits. “If I charged the label for the time spent on it, it would have gone under.” He’s learning as he goes. “I deliberately left the whisky industry because I didn’t want to be in an industry and I learned very quickly that I don’t want to be in the music industry,” he states. “People in the music industry are exactly the same as people in any other industry; they’re pretty much self-obsessed, money-obsessed, and that’s why I’ll not be part of a music industry, writing promotional things to send to the radio stations. [It’s about] getting nice records out and dealing with record shops.”
He continues: “I was in Monorail yesterday. I took them in the new King Creosote single, and it was an absolute pleasure talking to them. They’re all really nice folk and we talked about records, I bought some records (including the beautiful new State Broadcasters album A Different Past). It was a pleasant experience and it’s simple and there is no underhand stuff. But they’re a bit of a rarity. I’d rather just deal increasingly with specific record shops that are actually good and supportive of new music, particularly new Scottish music, and ignore the others.”
Marshall’s simply motivated to make a difference, inspired by admiration for the likes of short-lived but hugely influential labels like Postcard Records. He’s uncertain if it’s sustainable long-term. “I think I probably pay everybody too much money for gigs, so the gigs run at a massive loss,” he laughs. Fence Records has also been a huge inspiration and Triassic Tusk is essentially a direct descendant of the Fife collective.
Campbell, who was involved with Fence in its early days, says they took a lot of cues from the label. “I really liked the way they worked and I liked the kind of ‘no star’ ethos… everybody mucked in,” he recalls. “It’s a nice affiliation, to still be in bed with them so to speak. I think Fence has got a lot of legs on it yet but it does kind of make sense to fly the nest at some point and go and do something on your own.” Marshall adds: “[Fence Records is] run in a very specific way, so the way that Kenny runs it could never possibly grow.
“The influence motivates me more than money,” Marshall continues. “It’s an ego thing… I’m not ashamed to admit that I need an ego boost,” he laughs. “The motivation of putting things out there so that [people] know you did that. I specifically set out in my last whisky job to create five new brands; it was a legacy project, I wanted my gran to know that I had made these whiskies. My gran is on the cover of Jo Foster’s single for that reason. If you can do any kind of little bit of inspiring someone to do something, then that’s a really nice feeling. If us doing a small shitty label means that somebody else does another small shitty label and gets some records out then it’s a good thing.”
There’s a lot lined up for the label already, with such a strong and growing roster and an impressive list of past and forthcoming releases. The Sexual Objects are poised to put out their new album, followed by a specially remixed EP. But once Campbell’s home studio is fully wired up, it’s the forthcoming debut LP from Jo Foster that the pair are most enthused about.
“She’s got an amazing album in her, we just know she has,” Campbell asserts. “We’ve been putting her on quite a lot at our own nights and every time she plays she just seems to get more confident. She’s working with this multi-instrumentalist… and I just think she’s got a killer album sitting insider her that needs to come out. She’s never actually sat down and focused and done an album. Even the single, when I handed it to her she was almost in tears because she’d never had her music on vinyl before, so it was a really big moment for her.”
“I’ve collected all of Jo Foster’s little EPs – she’s done like 20 copies of CDRs – and there’s enough music on that to put an album out let alone the supposed 100 songs that she’s written that are meant to be amazing,” says Marshall. “I heard a couple of demos as well, we’re just really excited about it. Hopefully we’ve got a few other people lined up to record at Ziggy’s as well.”
“Eventually we’ll lose money,” confesses Campbell. “All it would take would be for us to do one record that didn’t sell a single thing. You can’t always predict it, but I think that would probably wipe us out.” But so far they seem to be getting things right. Screamers… sold 500 copies in 10 days, Withered Hand’s recent single sold out and Black River Promise did well considering the lack of push it received.
“That’s something to aim towards, to try and do cool things and really good projects that we’re excited about. It’s kind of a hobby thing isn’t it; it’s not paying the bills, it’s just fun to do and it’s always really rewarding,” says Campbell. “We still don’t have a track record, you need to build these things up. When I look at folk like Song, by Toad and Chemikal and Fence, they’ve been around for a long time… so I guess it just takes time to get in to the swing of it, I think it will get easier. I felt like I’d fallen out of the music scene a little bit so it’s quite nice to get back in there and be back on the radar a little. For now it’s just working with people that we like; it’s not worth the hassle of working with knobs.”
Triassic Tusk’s releases so far…
Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths – compiled from Marshall’s vast, eclectic personal collection to promote the Moon Hop club nights, the label’s first effort sold-out and was repressed multiple times. They’re currently working on Volumes II and III and hope to have them out in the autumn.
Black River Promise by Lomond Campbell – Ziggy Campbell’s latest solo offering combines beautiful songwriting and intricate string compositions in an album that crept through largely unnoticed at the end of 2016. Expect news of a rerelease on a well-known label soon.
Tiny Vinyls – a series of 7”s with Triassic Tusk artists covering each others’ songs; series II is planned for a future release.
1) Withered Hand – Plenty Courage. Triassic Tusk’s first single. Stay Golden is a strong track from Dan Wilson, and the b-side is his 70s glam version of an unreleased Jo Foster tune.
2) Jo Foster – I’ll Be Thinking of You All the Time. A brilliant original track from the label’s next big thing, complete with a King Creosote cover on the other side.
3) King Creosote – The Lengths. KC covers LC, with a KC oldie on the flip-side.
4) Lomond Campbell covers Withered Hand.
Marshmallow by The Sexual Objects – Enigmatic album from the fourth band of ex-The Fire Engines Davy Henderson, which was originally sold in its entirety via a private auction for £4,213. Expect some exciting news soon on an upcoming remix EP.
Jo Foster – The much-tipped singer is expected to record and release her debut album before the end of the year.
Lomond Campbell plays Black River Promise in full with The Pumpkinseeds as part of Sounding, with Modern Studies, Stockbridge Church, Edinburgh, 20, 21 & 22 Aug http://triassictusk.com/