every band wants to be as big as Beyoncé with their own private jet
Artists want to create music and promote it to as many people as they can, but there is a financial element that has to be embraced. To an extent money gets in the way of what artists enjoy the most, making music. These interviews are aimed at understanding how different artists approach this challenge.
Police Dog Hogan are a high-energy and eclectic eight piece band formed in 2008 by James Studholme and Eddie Bishop, combining fiddle, banjo, mandolin, drums and guitars with knockout four-part harmonies in an exuberant fusing of country, pop, folk, and rocking urban bluegrass.
The Sunday Times has described them as “wonderful”; the Telegraph named them one of its ‘’favourite new bands”; Radio 2 called them “a band to watch” and veteran DJ Johnnie Walker praises their gigs as “just a really good, fun time”.
They have released three albums, the second of which was produced by Eliot James (Two Door Cinema Club, Kaiser Chiefs and Noah and the Whale). The latest album ‘Westward Ho!’ was issued through the Union Music Store label.
This year saw them perform at the Cornbury, Chagstock, Larmer Tree and Port Eliot Festivals as well as the Bristol Americana Weekend.
To purchase music: policedoghogan.com/store
Q: “I started the interview by asking James what the potted history of the band was.”
James started by saying it goes back to the eighties when he was in an Alt. Country Band (the term would now be Americana) called the Wright Brothers. He explained that they weren’t a particularly ‘wallet emptying proposition where record sales were concerned’ but they had moderate success releasing two albums, gaining radio play and sessions, playing gigs in London and being regulars on the festival circuit. However, with work, marriage and children his career in music came to be shelved.
His work life has been mainly in TV commercials but also Music Videos. In 2007 he came back to music with a friend Ben Parker and together they made a record ‘I’m Better Now Thank You.’ James has promised to send me a copy of the album which he describes as very different to Police Dog Hogan and his path towards the forming of the band.
Whilst doing that he linked up with Eddie Bishop (fiddle) and Tim Jepson (mandolin) and they started to play music together. Over time the number grew and they had an opportunity to record an album at Saw Mills near Fowey in Cornwall and out of that came their first album ‘Fidelis ad Mortem’ which James describes as ‘a fairly raw collection of songs that we couldn’t quite do justice to in the playing’.
The band progressed from West London audiences of family and friends to developing a fan base through playing further afield. The first two album were funded by the band but the latest album ‘Westward Ho!’ has been self-funding. They now have an agent who books all the gigs and have been regulars on the festival circuit this year.
James went on to say that the band know they are lucky to be doing what they are doing and they feel privileged that people pay money to see them and buy their records. They are very serious about what they do. James feels strongly that making records are their best chance of making a more definitive artistic statement than the shows and they want to create music that stands the test of time.
As he added there is no pretence of being cool, they just want people who come to see them to have an uplifting night and take them away from whatever stresses they may have.
Q: “For those reading the interview who have not heard Police Dog Hogan I asked James to describe their musical style, and which musicians influence them the most.”
Their main influence, starting out, was a band called Chatham County Line (bluegrass band) from North Carolina. James felt to describe their style is very difficult. They are a mix of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, accordion and trumpet but they have now broken every stylistic rule they set. The next album may, heaven forfend, include keyboards. The sound crosses many genres from folk to country to pop to Americana. If they sing about America they do so from an Englishman’s viewpoint.
Fundamentally James wants the band to transmit as much joy as possible in their live shows and doesn’t necessarily want to be labelled as one particular style.
Q: “With a background in music I asked James about his journey from leaving school to making commercial videos.”
He came to London and was part of the Wright Brothers Band but soon realised that he was never going to make money from music so he needed a ‘day job’. He wanted to be as close to music as possible and in 1981 he started as a runner at the Moving Picture Company. In the interview he mentioned that a week after starting there he received an offer from Island Records! Perhaps, as he said, if he had taken that job his path into music would have been different!
He founded Blink in London in 1985 with Bob Lawrie initially as an animation company. At the heart of the company has been music and the company now encompasses commercials, animation, art, music videos and fashion films. Over the last five years they have produced the John Lewis adverts (at the heart of which is music), and famously the Gorilla for Cadbury. As James mentioned, just doing music videos isn’t sustainable so the business has to be diverse but he can include music which is where his passion lies.
Q: “In this part of the interview I discussed with James how the band have funded the release of their albums and what they find are the best sources of revenue.”
James started by explaining that he had set up an agreement with a Music Services Company called Major Tom. They provided the initial outlay for the production of the first 2 albums with the aim that this will be repaid over time.
Early on when he set up the band he spoke to the Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker who advised that with seven in the band they were unlikely to make much money. But the motivation is less about making money and more about building an audience and enjoying the whole process of writing, recording and producing records. As James went onto explain they are better off financially than many bands because they have full time jobs but where they struggle is with time.
From a revenue viewpoint they knew that they wouldn’t get much money from the first album but that over time the value would build up through selling the back catalogue. With the most recent album they have just about broken even and with the next album they hope to fully fund from album sales and playing live. They can also start to pay back some of the funding from Major Tom.
In the immediate term what they earn goes back into the pot. Over time they might make money from this, (as James said every band wants to be as big as Beyoncé with their own private jet) but the reality is that they just want to be self-sustaining.
Q: “We turned next to a discussion on record labels and I asked James to explain the connection with Union Music and how that worked. I also asked how the band have been able to promote themselves to the likes of the Times, Telegraph and Radio 2.”
James explained that with the latest album they approached Jamie and Stevie Freeman who run Union Music to produce the album under their label. The partnership was to help with PR, distribution and album design. James feels it was a good thing to try and good things came from it but if anything it made them realise that they can do a lot of it themselves.
The band have gained good media exposure and I asked James how they had approached this. He explained that in part it had been through connections but he added people won’t promote you if you’re not good! He added that they didn’t get as much press with the last album but this was because they absolved much of the promotional responsibility to others and didn’t get as personally behind it as they had with the previous record which garnered more press. This is something they want to address with the next album.
Q: “With James’ experience of the music world over the last thirty years I wanted to know whether with social media, streaming and distribution outlets it is easier for bands to get noticed now and how important it is for them as a band.”
James started by explaining that when he started out with the Wright Brothers there weren’t as many visible bands and you could only get success if you put the work into it. They had a fair amount of success selling records and getting radio play but they didn’t play out enough and build on that.
Now there is immense competition and music is free. Also our relationship with music is different. In the eighties you invested £10 in a record and you would spend two weeks listening to it and making sure you got what you paid for. Now he sees it as much more promiscuous.
People just pick perhaps a handful of songs rather than buying a whole album. So bands have to go out and play more to get themselves heard and seen. James doesn’t feel that a band like Police Dog Hogan could have achieved what they have achieved without social media, streaming and distribution outlets.
Q: “I turned to the pressure of focusing on stand out tracks and asked James whether he felt it was hard to create a complete album.”
James explained that he is part of a generation where he still likes to buy an album (‘our music buying habits will die with us!’) He likes to listen to a whole album a number of times and yes there will be songs that he really likes and goes back to but it is the complete experience that he feels is important.
And this comes across in what they do as a band. They want to make that complete listening experience where you start at the beginning and have a cohesive feel throughout the album. Effectively the songs guide you through the album.
He feels perhaps this is an old fashioned attitude but they want to make the best 12 songs that flow together.
Q: “I asked whether when artists sign to record labels there is a danger that they are pressurised into compromising artistic talent (i.e. artists are sometimes placed into a position where they write for sales / popularity) or can they keep their artistic talent intact.”
‘Ever thus’ was how James started his response. The danger is that where people take too much ‘advice’ they can get lost, so there is a danger that they are compromised artistically.
As a band there is a certain amount of haggling but that is part of process to distil it down to the end ‘product’ (for them there is no need for a record label).
He feels that it is a terrible time for record labels but a golden age for music. So many people are making music but you can find an audience appropriate to you. Luck still plays a big part but if you want to play Andalucian Death Metal, broadcasting to the world from your bedroom to an audience of 150 people, then you can.
Q: “Police Dog Hogan have a growing (and loyal) fan base. I asked James how they had approached this. In particular I wanted to understand how important festivals were to that growth.”
James started by wondering whether there was a blackboard formula to growing a fan base and what it would look like. Perhaps include things like good looks, age, talent, funding, time, energy and luck and this would drive success. But he is not sure how you’d work it out.
For them it is about simple things: – collecting email addresses, getting followers on Facebook and twitter and getting out and playing. At the moment they can get audiences of between 150 to 350 across London, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Somerset, Dorset and Devon but they would like to get in front of audiences of 400 to 600 as it makes it more sustainable.
Turning to festivals James explained that they enjoy the experience but it is a bit like briefly dropping in to someone else’s party. A band is seldom at a festival for longer than a few hours. The experience can be mixed and depends on things like the onstage sound and how the audience responds to your particular sensibility of band. They did a number of festivals this year some of which cost them money to do. They would like to do some next year but they would be more targeted.
The targets would include Glastonbury, Latitude, Shrewsbury and Cambridge Folk Festivals.
Q: “I talked to James about how most of the band (if not all of them) have full time jobs (including his business, a QC and Guardian columnist). I asked whether they would consider working full time on the band and what would trigger that change. I also asked James where they would like to be in five years’ time.”
James explained there is always that fantasy element where a tiny gentleman with a great big cigar finds them and proclaims the band is what he has being looking for all his life. He takes the band on and they find fame and fortune and end up playing at Wembley.
In reality they could only consider it as a full time career if what they were producing generated enough income for them to do it. He seemed to think that Police Dog Hogan were ‘success proof’.
Turning to a five year goal there are many things they would like to achieve. They would like to have produced a couple more albums, grown their audiences (as James added ‘that way we can stay in Premier Inns rather than Travelodges’), play to a wider audience across the UK and perhaps return to Nashville.
Q: “Turning to the latest album where they worked with Platform 7 and musicians from the Music in Prisons Sounding Out Project, I asked James to explain a bit about how this came about.”
James explained that it was through Eddie Bishop (fiddle) who had friends who ran the project. Platform 7 supported them at one of their shows and they did two songs together. One of these is Home, a really special song to the band, which includes the words ‘Home, will always call you back again when it all goes wrong…’
He feels that music is really special and can help people. For the people involved it was an immensely positive experience and that has to be good.
Q: “In my last question I asked James to describe their favourite venues and where they would like to play in the future.”
They have enjoyed playing at St Georges’ in Bristol, Old Firestation in Oxford, Beehive in Honiton, The Con Club in Lewes, Ireby Folk Festival and Saltaire. Long term James would love to play at Shepherds Bush Empire and Hammersmith Odeon because he can walk to them from home.
I had to admit to James when I saw Police Dog Hogan I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy them as much as I did! However, their style of music is infectious and I was soon drawn in. As a live band I think anyone would find it hard not to come away and say they had had a good evening and I can imagine as a festival band they would be very well received.
The album ‘Westward Ho!’ is a really good album and does reflect many different styles. For me two songs stand out; ‘West Country Boy’ is a reminder of my childhood days in Bideford, Westwood Ho and Exmoor and ‘Home’ is an immensely powerful song mixing folk with rap.
There is something humble about James. Seeing them live and hearing the album makes you feel they should be bigger than they are. Perhaps one day the man with the cigar will appear, sign them up to fame and fortune allowing them to travel the world in their own private jet!