“Folk is a community not a genre,” maintains Finn McLennan-Elliott. And he wants to foster a similar collaborative spirit on Second Hand Records, the label he launched earlier this month with the release of the Portraits EP by Fables.
McLennan-Elliott is already well-entrenched in the folk world: as well as being the artistic director of the Auckland Folk Festival, he also runs the online magazine Second Hand News and books gigs through Second Hand Touring.
So a label was a logical next step. “The label has been born out of many discussions with friends over the last couple of years,” he says. “I see the label as a collective, a roster of musicians that I also work with for touring and publicity. It’s definitely going to be a collaborative process.”
In one sense, the timing for the launch of a dedicated NZ folk label couldn’t be better, with singer-songwriter acts such as Nadia Reid, Marlon Williams, Tiny Ruins and Aldous Harding now firmly established on both the NZ and international stages. On the other hand, some in the folk community have very strong views on what actually constitutes ‘folk’ music and McLennan-Elliott acknowledges that there is still a divide between purist fans and those drawn to the newer wave of artists.
“When I came into the folk world I realised that there were two different groups of folk musicians and bands,” he says. “There were a big core group of people who went to the likes of The Bunker and the Auckland Folk Festival, then there were the new contemporary musicians who were playing at venues like the Wine Cellar and the Whammy.
“But in my opinion, the music is all rooted in the same thing and I think there is a room to merge those two worlds. When people discover the other world, they pretty much unanimously enjoy it. I don’t know anyone who has been to the Bunker who haven’t been blown away by the artists and its amazing environment.”
The first release from Second Hand Records is Portraits by Fables, aka Jess Bailey, who is also his partner. He says she sees it very much as an “experimental” project because the songs and recordings span a number of different time periods, so her next record is likely to be very different.
McLennan-Elliott adds that he has a number of other signings in the pipeline and by the Summer he expects to have three or four acts on the label.
As far as deals are concerned, Second Hand Records aims to be flexible as possible and will reflect the needs of each artist. McLennan-Elliott reasons a new act who has never released a record before and have only done a little bit of touring will need a lot more help than artist who may already on to their second or third release.
At this stage, the label is focusing on CD and digital, and is looking after its own distribution, although he is not ruling out the possibility of partnering with a third party distributor in the future.
“I would like to work towards establishing some partnerships but at this stage it’s all about the artists and what each of them would like to do.”
And while the focus is initially on the local market, McLennan-Elliott is keen to give his acts some international exposure.
“The global market for folk music is huge in terms of the festival and club circuits,” he says. “So owning the fact that you are a folk musician and play in the Americana-eque world is a good thing in terms of global reach. It would be good to get our artists on the festival circuits overseas, and start being able to send a whole new group of musicians out to those new markets.”