I had the pleasure of speaking with the excellent Fifteen Questions about music and process. Read the original here.
Name: Richard Knox
Occupation: Musician, Artist, Label owner
Current Release: Ceremony in the Stillness on Gizeh
Musical Recommendations: On constant rotation for me right now is Kathryn Joseph's new record on Rock Action called 'From When I Wake the Want Is'. Another recent discovery is Slow Mass and their album from last year called 'On Watch'.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was in my late-teens when I really fell properly in love with music. In school I had grown interested in music, at that time Brit-Pop was exploding and some school friends were getting into that which I naturally followed. I started to get into playing bass around that time. In those days I was reading NME and they had an issue with Godspeed You Black Emperor on the cover and (not sure if it was the same issue) did a cover CD with the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Royal Trux and a bunch of other bands. I remember listening to that CD and going HOLY FUCK! - everything fell into place and made sense. I instantly fell in love with those bands and went off to find more. That definitely started the journey and was the turning point I can pinpoint most.
Off the back of that the ATP festival was just launching and I went to the first Mogwai edition ... seeing record stalls there and starting to look further than the bands launched my interest in labels and that side of things. I was slowly piecing the puzzle together. Working at HMV really helped a lot as I could just listen to everything or order copies into the shop, read liner notes, talk to suppliers and distributors on the phone or the reps that used to come in.
During this time I was starting to get the itch to make some music and formed Glissando as an outlet for that. Music had taken over my life at this point so it felt like a very natural thing to pursue. Still doing it 20 years later, so that's not too bad!
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I'm self-taught in every single thing I do. My approach has always been if I want to do something or learn something I'll just go and do it and figure it out for myself, in my own way and my own time. As a consequence I approach everything in quite an experimental way, trial and error for the most part. If I hear something that I find interesting and don't understand I'll immerse myself in that thing for a while and try to figure it out. How is that sound made? How does that piece of music move? – it's not a matter of copying anything but storing up knowledge somewhere in the brain which finds its way out somewhere down the line when you need it. I definitely suffer sometimes for a lack of traditional music theory though, especially when it comes to problem solving when you are trying to write a song.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Self-sufficiency is a massive part of what I do and I figured out pretty early on that having your own place to record and save on studio costs was important. So I've just spent the years slowly building up gear and recording everything myself in my home studio. I wouldn't say too much has changed other than you slowly improve in all aspects of writing and recording and that remains the goal – to make the next album better than the previous one.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I started out with a 4 track in my living room and just collected gear as I've gone along. I've never had much money so as a consequence you have to make do a lot of the time and get creative with the tools you have. As I've moved around over the years I've always tried to find enough space to have at least a very small set up and keep making music. We moved out of Manchester a few years ago to the edge of the countryside to be able to afford to buy a house and do all the work from there so I'm fortunate enough to have a studio, label office and printing room all in the same place. Financially it's the only way to survive as I don't have any overheads. In terms of the studio I have now – it's still pretty basic. I use logic for recording with very little outboard, a ton of guitar pedals, some synths, a few guitars, microphones and amps. Really nothing special at all but it totally works as I know the gear well and I really don't need anything too fancy to make the music I want to make. If I had a ton of money I have a list of things I'd love to get though!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
It's important to find the balance that works for you. The world we live in now means you have a million options on the table for one thing at any one time and it can get bewildering. For me it's about doing justice to the idea and using whatever means possible to realise it. It's better to have some parameters and limitations to work within and try and get the best out of the ideas and the gear and the budget you have. I think all of those things are intrinsically linked together and they are difficult to separate. It also depends what constitutes technology – a microphone, a guitar pedal? I'm not sure you can pull it all apart so easily.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The guitar is always the main tool and the starting point. I've had the same main guitar for 10 years now and the ideas start there using different tunings and different pedals to start coaxing the initial fragments out. For a new record I'll spend 3 or 4 months just playing and recording what comes out – kind of like a note book, just throwing all the ideas into a session in logic without thinking to much about it. If I feel like there are some good threads in there I'll take them into a new session and start arranging pieces together and adding in midi drums, strings etc to see where the thing wants to go. It's nice to test out all these ideas in demo form to see if they work without wasting anyone else's time. I can build a really good structure of what the piece will be and then decide on bringing other musicians in.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
As far as A-Sun Amissa goes, collaboration has been a crucial part of the project over the years. The process varies a little. Sometimes it's a case of writing a part myself and getting someone else to play it better, sometimes I have a very rough idea of what needs to happen and someone comes to mind who could enhance the idea and occasionally I'll just ask people to do whatever they like based on the fact that I trust them or feel like their style or vibe will more than likely fit.
I meet people all the time on tour or at shows who I would like to work with and a lot of the time just bank the idea for later down the line without even discussing it with them. At one point a little spark will go off and then I can pursue it from there. File sharing has changed things quite dramatically of course and it never ceases to please me that I can work with people over the world at the click of a few buttons. This project isn't really a band as such so there is very little jamming to be had and songs don't get 'road tested' before they are recorded. I finish the record first and then work out how on earth we are supposed to play it live – getting 75 individual stems of music down to something that two or three of us can play is quite the challenge.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Because I do so many different things I have to run a pretty tight ship and so my diary and routine is really important. I also work from home all day (almost) every day so there are certain problems that come along with that. I get up between 6:30 and 7 and make coffee – nothing at all happens until this is done! I'll usually spend half an hour reading the news or reading articles/interviews I've bookmarked. Then I'll tackle emails until 9am. 9-10am is an hour I put aside for exercise and it's something I've forced myself to develop to counteract the working from home. The mental demons need constantly keeping at bay and exercise is really important for me to stay in a healthy state of mind. So I'll either cycle or walk for an hour – we live in a beautiful place right on the edge of the hills so it's easy to go and find some fresh air and scenery.
This routine is the same every morning before I get into the rest of the day. My week is divided up into different jobs on different days, so Monday is a label day where I try to cram everything Gizeh-related into one day. I'll already have a list of things I need to get done on that day so it's a matter of working through that. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are days I work on A-Sun Amissa stuff, that can be writing, recording, mixing, tour booking, admin, artwork, interviews... whatever. And Friday I use as a printing day, so any screen-printing jobs I need to get done or doing my own artwork, printing t-shirts for tour. This method works well for me, everything gets too chaotic otherwise and feels like there's just too much to get done. I'll normally work a 12hour day and then weekends are band rehearsals, finishing bits of stuff I didn't get done in the week, watching some football and trying to find a bit of time out.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The latest A-Sun Amissa album was an interesting journey as the initial ideas for some of the songs were going to be a completely different record and we ended up going off down a different path. The previous record 'The Gatherer' was quite experimental and drone-based and I had decided to make a more direct and structured album that we could play live with more purpose. There was also a desire to make a heavier record so the challenge was to find the right palette of sounds to use to make the songs come together in a coherent way and also in a way we could interpret in a live environment. I also introduced live drums for the first time which was a new obstacle but with the help of my friends in Hundred Year Old Man we found a good solution in their practice space.
I invited Jo Quail, Christine Ott and David McLean to be involved and was really pleased with their contributions. I'd met Jo once before at an Amenra show and while we were recording in Leeds she had a free afternoon before heading back to London so we just tracked a load of stuff over a few hours, literally just throwing down as many ideas as we could muster, and because she's such a good player most of what we recorded worked really well and ended up on the record. Mixing the album was quite difficult, trying to find this larger, more aggressive sound and mixing drums for the first time. But I'm very pleased with how it turned out in the end and I think it's raised the bar significantly for the next record.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I'm very much of the opinion of just doing the work and not waiting for it to come to you. Make time for the thing you want to do and just work at it. I don't believe for a second that there's an ideal state of mind, that's just an excuse to not work in my opinion. There are certainly distractions and blockages to being able to create though and that's where it's important to have the routine and try and be strict with your time, it's precious at the end of the day. Exercise helps. Also giving yourself some boundaries helps and not putting pressure on yourself. There's no point saying to yourself - “I'm going to write a song today” because the chances are you won't and then you'll feel shitty and it'll put you off doing that again. It's a constant psychological battle, there's no doubt, but it's better to narrow your angles and start building with small blocks.
For instance – on the days I'm writing new music I'll usually know what that work might involve, so if it's starting from scratch then I know to just leave myself open for simply playing and it doesn't have to be anything, just sit and play and if chimes with you then do a quick recording and make a couple of notes before you forget it. No pressure, no end result in mind. If all you come up with is a heap of shit then you try again the next day. It doesn't matter, there are always days like that, but there are also days where you'll strike gold. After a while these small steps will start to form a bigger picture and you'll have the beginnings or a foundation of something. You can apply this to music, art or writing, I think they are all the same in that regard.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
They are heavily linked but certainly each come with their own different rewards. Writing has all these infinite outcomes that you slowly whittle down into something solid and meaningful, trying to find the discipline to sculpt these ideas together into a coherent whole. Once the record is done and mastered – imagine all of the things that it could have been, literally anything at all, but it's ended up as this thing. Think about all of the millions of tiny decisions you've made throughout the process. I always find that part a bit surreal. Playing live is reinterpreting that process in some ways but it's a more cathartic experience, a more immediate sense of achievement (or disappointment if it's a shitty show). It's more fun these days because of the volume we're playing at and the show is more dynamic and difficult to play than before. It's rare that all band members have a good show at the same time but when that happens it's quite magical, both on stage during the show, afterwards while we share a beer or in the van dissecting it all the next day.
Up until Ceremony in the Stillness the live shows have always been a mix of structure and improvisation and I found it quite difficult to get into the groove of playing a set thing every night but after the last tour I'm feeling much better about that and I quite enjoy it these days.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I'm not thinking about this too much, certainly not in an analytical way. I know what I can achieve with the gear I have for the most part and I'll work with what's in front of me. I try to keep a lid on finding the perfect sound because more often than not it's gonna cost you a heap of money you don't have. It's important to experiment because you learn so much that way and that sound you can suddenly hear and want to find you know you can get near it by placing these pedals in a certain order or playing your guitar with an ebow or something. Certainly a particular tone or timbre can spark an idea though and it's also a skill to allow the music to have space and breathe and allow those sounds to resonate.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Going to see Sunn O))) live for the first time in 2003 was probably my first experience of music being this intense physical force. Your ears are being assaulted and your whole body is shaking and the combination is making you wonder if you are going to die or be sick or pass out or go deaf or shit yourself or all of those things at the same time. I have to say I don't really have anything too insightful to offer on this, I'm not sure I could put into words the complex feelings of these things colliding.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It's the only thing that's ever felt right to pursue longterm. It's not an easy path to choose but I suppose that's part of the challenge. My approach is having an idea, developing it and acting on it to see it through to the best realisation I can manage, that's basically it. I'm absolutely not doing this for anyone else but I do feel like what I'm doing has some kind of worth to others and is hopefully inspiring in some way. There's nothing else I would rather do with my time and it gives me a purpose and a reason to get up every day. For now it's sustainable and I have to keep working at that to make sure it stays that way.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
That just proves how important it is to people and how it can transcend time and the ages, it really is quite amazing. That's why we need to defend the arts and culture as much as we can, it's so important in balancing the world. I think that the digital age has devalued music somewhat and it will be interesting going forward to see what the longterm impacts of that could be and more generally the attention spans of people being shorter and where that leads. It's hard to say what anything will look like in the future these days as everything moves so damn fast. There has always been great music and terrible music though and I suspect that trend will carry on for a good while yet.
Gizehfest Manchester is creeping closer.
March 9th - Soup Kitchen.
Recently had the pleasure of speaking with Freq Magazine - you can find the original here.
Richard Knox established Gizeh Records in Leeds at the dawn of the new century, and the label has grown organically from strength to strength since then, building a reputation for bringing adventurously expansive music to the world. Mr Olivetti spoke to him about the origins of the label, the art of collaboration, and how he keeps Gizeh and his musical project A-Sun Amissa going in uncertain times.
What came first, your musical outlets or Gizeh?
Music came first, although not by long. My first project, Glissando, was born in 2000 and the first Gizeh release was 2001- – that was the début Glissando CD. I never had any intention of running a record label in the beginning, it was more a case of, “oh we have some songs that we quite like, what are our options?” We wanted to do a release of some kind and play a bunch of shows, and putting a label name on the CD was simply a way of making it look way more professional than it actually was.
I didn’t realise it back then, but that was also when the DIY ethics took root. It was just a matter of trying to make something happen. So we recorded these songs to four-track cassette in my bedroom, made these CDs, did the artwork and started to figure out how to put on shows. I had no connections with anyone back then, no one to learn from or ask advice, so it was just a try and fail situation all the time… learn a bit, do it again.
Around that time I met a few other people in Leeds who were in a similar boat and into similar music, and thought it would be cool to put this pretend label name on some more music — then, of course, it wasn’t pretend anymore. I started to realise that there was so much good music around that didn’t have a home or a platform or anyone helping out, so Gizeh basically grew from there, about as organically as you can get I suppose. Small step after small step, meeting people, playing shows, working out in which direction the next small step should be.
Year on year it just got that little bit more serious; I started to put in more time and I got distribution, worked out how to get reviews on so on. All these years later and it still exists, which is pretty cool and certainly not something I ever thought would happen. I’m never looking too far ahead and I don’t take this for granted for one minute. I basically know the plan for the next year, and beyond that there isn’t a long-term plan or anything. This business is on a knife-edge all the time and you are constantly re-evaluating everything as the models for putting out a record shift around. It’s part of the fun in many ways and it’s forever a challenge. As of the end of 2018 we’re up to GZH86, so that’s pretty good going.
The recent releases that I have enjoyed have a very cinematic feel. Is there a particular musical aesthetic to which Gizeh is drawn?
Not really. The scope of releases is pretty wide and is simply a reflection of my own musical tastes. That being said, I’m generally drawn towards the darker side of things. That could be music, art or writing.
One of my main fears with the label has always been getting pigeon-holed into some awful genre or scene. I have absolutely zero interest in that. It comes at a cost and I’m fully aware of that. It forces people to get out of their comfort zone and do some work, because they are never sure if they are going to enjoy the next release. That means we sell less stuff, because a lot of people are really lazy. On the other hand, I feel like it’s very rewarding for people who do take a real interest, because it’s a matter of trust and trusting in my taste in music. People who are into the label obviously don’t like every single release, but in this landscape we’re now in of artists being able to do so much themselves and there being so much music out there, I feel like the curation part of the label job is very important.
A lot of people feel like there is no place for labels these days, but I still see them as being a shit-filter and a way of bypassing a lot of the noise. There’s so much terrible music around, everywhere you look, but if say Constellation or Thrill Jockey are telling me they are putting out a new record, then I’ll damn well take a listen.
Why the name Gizeh?
It’s connected to the pyramids in Egypt and I always liked the way it looked, and that fact it’s an odd word that people don’t know how to pronounce. That’s probably not done me any favours over the years though! There’s no great mystery about it — we needed a label name all those years ago and this one stuck.
Having started in Leeds and now being based in Manchester, do you feel that working out of a cool, provincial town, well out of the clutches of the south-east of England, gives you and by extension the label more freedom?
I have no idea to be honest. I think wherever you live, if you are trying to do something creative, it presents its own unique challenges. Both Leeds and Manchester are big enough cities to be able to put on shows and get people interested, but there’s still an enormous amount of other stuff happening and it can be hard.
One benefit of the bigger cities is the fact that you can meet other people who are doing interesting stuff reasonably easily, which obviously opens up options for collaboration and friendships. However, as far as the label and making music are concerned, I’ve purposefully built those things in a way where I can do them anywhere, which is great. The freedom that brings is quite liberating and self sufficiency is extremely important to me.
The artists on the label seem to come from all corners of the world. How do your paths cross?
Generally in a pretty natural way — either already established friendships or friends of friends. I’ve been touring for about thirteen years now, so you inevitably meet people on the road, playing on the same festival or bill or whatever. I can probably count on one hand the amount of records I’ve released from demos I’ve been sent. That’s not to say I haven’t been sent a lot of good stuff over the years, it’s just that the personal connection outweighs that every time. I’m also not releasing tons of records, so there isn’t a lot of room for taking risks on people you don’t know personally.
The collaboration aspect is important, and I’ve always said that the people involved in the music are as important as the music itself. Life’s too short to be dealing with assholes on a daily basis, especially assholes with big egos.
I noticed that some of the releases are in collaboration with other labels like Consouling Sounds. Do these labels share your vision and how does it work practically?
It’s the same process as working with an artist, to be honest. You have to be sure you are on the same page and use your intuition as much as possible. Consouling Sounds for instance — Colin from Amenra hooked me up with those guys and we hit it off immediately. They were super-friendly and respectful from day one and from that we have grown a really close friendship. I completely trust those guys and they are a pleasure to work with. We share a very similar vision, work ethic and artistic standard and it feels like we’re on this journey together in many ways.
As for the practicalities of a release, it really depends, there are a lot of ways to go about it. I’ve worked with Consouling on the past two A-Sun Amissa records: on The Gatherer they took care of everything and on Ceremony in the Stillness, I took on the workload and paid for the whole thing as they had quite a busy schedule around that time. Financially it can work in many ways, but in that instance they just buy copies from me when they need them; it keeps the mutually beneficial relationship going and we’re both flexible and smart enough to go about it all in a sensible manner that keep everyone happy.
How did the collaboration with Aidan Baker come about and do you have any more plans to work with him?
A-Sun Amissa played a show with Aidan many years ago, and we got on really well and kept in touch. The relationship just grew from there and it’s always a pleasure to work with him. He’s very prolific, easy to work with and generally up for doing things, so it’s quite easy to find projects to work on together. We always have some kind of plan brewing somewhere, so I think we’ll be working together plenty more in the future.
The artwork for the releases is clearly an important element. Do you collaborate with the artists on the sleeves?
The artwork is very important and the process varies. It’s one of the hardest aspects for me, because I want the artist to realise their vision for the project in its fullest form; but on the other hand, there’s a certain level of quality to be maintained — both musically and in the artwork. I basically get involved when I feel I can offer something to the process, maybe in tiny tweaks to the layout here and there, or sometimes it’s more serious and I’m never, ever comfortable with that. It’s very difficult to tell the artist that it’s gonna need some work. However, if the Gizeh name is going on the sleeve then I feel like I need to be honest, and if there is an issue we always resolve it somehow.
I’ve worked in some shape or form on most of the releases, either doing the whole artwork or just putting things together. There’s a release we’re about to announce for April and the artwork came fully formed in its entirety, layout and everything… that’s always a nice feeling!
Are there any particular elements of the artwork, for example the typography, that you particularly enjoy and do these extend to outside of the label?
Outside of the label I’m constantly working on artwork of various kinds: relief printing, screen-printing or digital work, so I’m switched onto it most of the time. My eye is drawn to particular things, but it’s quite difficult to pin that down. It’s the same with any art form — sometimes it just hits the spot and it’s difficult to explain why. Again, it’s usually the darker side of art that grabs my attention most often.
Has concentrating on the label and A-Sun Amissa put your other musical projects in the shade, or do you still find time for Glissando and the like?
I’m certainly trying to channel my energies into less musical projects and concentrate on A-Sun Amissa these days. The palette for that project is broad enough to allow me to write structured pieces and be experimental, so I’m not short of ideas and inspiration. It’s also built in a way that is flexible for touring and so on. I can play solo or put a band together for the road, depending on the conditions. Again, it feeds into the sustainable idea and it’s flexible, so under almost any circumstance things can happen and I can keep things moving without relying on anyone in particular.
There are obvious downsides to doing everything yourself, but the biggest upside is that if something needs to happen you can make it happen, and on your own terms. With the label, A-Sun Amissa and the art / printing work I do there is always enough to keep me really busy all the time, and I feel like that’s more than enough for the time being. However, I recently started a new project called The Eternal Return Arkestra — it’s really in its infancy and I’m slowly finding my feet with how to move it forward. The idea is to build up a catalogue of ever-evolving songs that people collaborate on and keep adding new parts to.
It’s digitally based and meant to be outside all the constraints of labels, touring, press etc — it exists in its own little world. Basically, I invite artists to submit a very basic piece of music that isn’t too finished or consisting of too many elements, an embryo of sorts. That gets uploaded to the website and then other artists are free to add their ideas on top of that piece. Once the new version comes back, the old one is taken down and replaced, and these songs can develop and grow very organically with no time constraints. It will be interesting to see how it grows. It’s purposefully designed to not be too time-consuming, but an interesting project that people can keep coming back to.
How do the songs come to fruition? Is the group a democracy or do the songs evolve from one person’s vision?
These days A-Sun Amissa is just my project, so there’s no democracy involved at all. I’ll generally spend a few months working on ideas and demos without too much of a final goal in mind, just sit in the studio with all the gear and make music — see if there’s anything in there and see what comes out. After a while, I usually start to get a feeling of certain ideas working together or a particular atmosphere to the pieces, and then it starts to form into something more concrete. At that point I’ll start to look at who else I want to get involved and who I feel could enhance the songs. I usually give people a deadline, as I’ll already have a timeframe for recording and mixing at that point, then it’s a matter of just doing the work for a couple of months to get it all wrapped up.
There is a wealth of smaller labels out there now, many releasing very interesting things. Do you feel part of any sort of community and if so, with whom do you feel the most solidarity?
That’s an interesting question because, as I said earlier, I don’t feel like Gizeh is part of any genre or scene; but at the same time there is certainly a collection of small labels ploughing a similar path, and most of us are in contact with each other or at the very least respectful from a distance. I don’t feel any sense of competition, which is a nice thing. Most of these labels are putting out excellent music and just trying to survive selling a couple of hundred copies, so there’s definitely solidarity in encouraging each other to keep going. I already mentioned three in Consouling Sounds, Constellation and Thrill Jockey but to add a few more: Sige, Wolves and Vibrancy, Miasmah, Robotic Empire, Profound Lore and Frederic D. Oberland’s new label Nahal has kicked off with some really nice releases as well.
Vinyl seems to be making a comeback, but very few of your releases are on that format. Is this a matter of choice of practicality? Will you be embracing the return of cassettes?
Fourteen of our last twenty releases have had a vinyl edition, which is pretty good going, I’d say. It’s no longer making a comeback, in my opinion, as it’s hit the ceiling. Vinyl growth has slowed right down, and I predict it will now just plateau along. There was certainly an upturn in interest though, which has been nice, but it’s no saviour. Whenever people mention that “vinyl sales have exploded”, I always remember a quote from a record store owner who said, “well sure, they have doubled, I used to sell one copy of this album per year.. and now I sell two!” The starting point was so low to begin with, you know.
Each release we do is considered carefully in terms of format and how many copies we press, and there are a lot of factors at play, from financial to touring and everything in between. The main concern is how do we realise the artistic vision while ensuring we don’t go bankrupt. Every release is like that. We introduced the Dark Peak Series to be able to release small editions on CD in handmade packaging. This keeps the cost down for releases we know won’t sell a lot, allows us to support the artist, is reasonably risk-free and keeps the quality high. I screen-print by hand every sleeve and glue and package them up; it’s pretty labour intensive, but totally worth it.
We don’t have a lot of money in the label bank account, but what we do have is a serious work ethic and that gets us through most things. Vinyl can be a risk, because the unit price is so high, so you have to be careful in the amount of copies you press. We have worldwide distribution, so there needs to be enough to go around — but if many of those get returned, then we have a problem. That’s why we encourage artists to tour as much as they can, it makes a big difference. As for cassettes… in a word, no.
Do you work the label’s activities around the band or vice versa?
Everything is intertwined pretty deeply. I try and plan things in a way to make sure everything is moving along at the same time, which isn’t so easy sometimes. Generally my week consists of Monday being a label day, Tuesday-Thursday working on A-Sun Amissa and Friday is a printing day. Weekends are usually cramming in things I haven’t finished during the week, band rehearsals, watching football and trying to find a little bit of time out. I’m usually working twelve hour days — it’s the only way to get things done; but I like it that way, I’m not one for being still.
Are there any artists out there who are lighting your fire that we should know about and is there anybody left who you would like to see on the label.
There are always artists I hear and think I’d love to work with them, but the reality is we are a small label and there are a million small labels around. It’s always a right place at the right time situation. At the end of the day, it’s got to benefit the artist and be the right step for them on the path they want to take. At the moment, I’m lucky enough to have no shortage of great music that people are sending to me, so we’re well set for 2019. As for fire lighting… a couple of recent discoveries for me have been Senyawa and Kathryn Joseph. Both highly recommended.
In all seriousness, in the current climate, is it possible to stay afloat financially with the label and touring the group?
It is, but barely. You have to be very smart and be willing to work really hard for not much money. I mean, no-one really has to do this — it’s a choice, but the rewards are usually worth it. I’m happy spending my days doing this stuff. It’s certainly getting harder though, and one thing is for sure: if Brexit goes as badly as it looks like going, then that will definitely finish off a lot of small bands and labels.
From our side, 50% of our customers are in Europe, we press our vinyl in the Czech Republic and CDs in Poland, and we tour Europe twice a year. If there is any increase in price in any of these areas we are in big trouble as the margins we operate on are so fine. If we need work permits to travel, paying tax on merch, having paperwork for every single bit of gear you carry in the van, import tax, postage cost rises… etc etc. It’s a total nightmare, I can tell you. We could probably do a whole interview just based on that!
What does the future hold for Gizeh?
2019 is pretty much mapped out now. I’ve been developing a personal schedule/system/structure over the past year that I’m now trying to implement on a yearly basis. Because I work on so many projects — music, artwork, running the label and other things — I need my house fully in order, so I’ve been trying to divide up the year into segments and give each thing its time and place. This also factors in financial needs and helps make the whole self-employed thing a little more stable.
So, like February and October are marked off for A-Sun Amissa touring, the other guys in the band then know to mark that in the diary and can organise around it. I’m in a flow now where I want to release one A-Sun Amissa album per year — so I have a production schedule which gives me a writing and recording deadline, and that’s the record I’m working on right now. That allows me to plan releases for Gizeh in the months I’m not on tour, and I’ll plug into the other gaps time to work on art, tour booking, a holiday, etc. At the end of the day, people are entrusting me with their art and I need to make sure that art gets the attention it deserves, alongside fulfilling my own work. It’s working pretty good so far.
We’re yet to announce any releases for 2019, but the first three are in the can for March, April and May. After that, I just have to see what lands when from the stuff I’ve been promised — but all being well, we should have eight releases this year. We have two editions of Gizehfest; one in Eeklo, Belgium on 6 February and one in Manchester on 9 March 2019, so those should be fun. I’ll just continue to take it one year at a time, do the work that’s in front of me and try and keep the whole thing moving forward as best I can.
SLOWSECRET is a resource and archival site dedicated to the work of Richard Knox & associated projects.
Richard Knox (b. 1980) is a musician and artist living and working in Glossop, situated in the Dark Peak district in the North-West of the UK. Currently writing and touring as A-Sun Amissa, he is also a founding member of The Eternal Return Arkestra, The Rustle of the Stars and Glissando and a member of Shield Patterns.
He formed and is still currently running the independent record label Gizeh Records and alongside his design work and mixed media art projects he co-founded the screen-printing studio Death Rattle Press.
THANKS FOR VISITING. RK.
LAST UPDATE 16th MARCH 2020
22.04.20 - MANCHESTER (UK) - SOUP KITCHEN w/ Anna Von Hausswolff's BADA (CANCELLED)