Helping music acts make it big By The Time It Gets Dark
We find out why two Cambridge friends have stepped into a new world by launching a record label
James Parrish and Jay Taylor have a thriving music PR business – Prescription PR – which they have run from offices in Cambridge – and now also Manchester and London – since 2009.
Clearly enjoying what they do, enthusiastic and energetic about the roster of bands and artists that they have represented over the years, they seem to be in that fortunate place that many of us strive for and not all of us attain: fulfilled, successful, doing something they love and with a professional relationship underpinned by strong foundations of friendship.
So why, at a time when many people are talking of the decline of the traditional tenets of the music industry, have they now decided to add a much more precarious string to their bow, and launch a record label?
As with most things in the pair’s career to date, it seems that Jay and James are simply following their passions. I chat with them in their bijou-but-chic first floor office in Gwydir Street (all white walls, leather couches and pale strip-pine flooring; the walls adorned with band posters, blackboards listing their acts and album artwork), James in the office itself and Jay via Skype from his new base in Manchester (having relocated “to follow my other passion project, my wife,” he explains, sweetly).
Jay explains how it all started. On a PR-related trip to a conference/festival event in Trondheim, Norway, last year, they encountered a band – Spielbergs – that they both instantly fell for.
“The more and more that we heard and the more and more that we got obsessed with a couple of particular songs, the more we wanted to throw a bit more of ourselves into it.”
As James puts it: “Excitement of music is why we’ve been involved in it all along, and I just truly love this band.”
With a look of glee on both of their faces as they tell the story, that excitement and love is more than apparent. The next step, Jay says, was getting “a message from James – I think it was early one morning. ‘Mad idea – do you want to start a label and sign this band?’”
And so, with the answer very much, and very enthusiastically, in the affirmative, Cambridge’s newest record label – By The Time It Gets Dark – was born.
It’s named (of course) after a record that was very important to both James and Jay at a time in their lives when things were professionally a lot less established than they are now.
Says James: “We were both in our mid to late 20s, moving between jobs, not quite sure where our lives were going – a period of uncertainty where our friendship helped us get through. One of the songs we used to listen to a lot was By The Time It Gets Dark by Yo La Tengo,” (a cover of the original song by Sandy Denny).
Jay continues: “It’s about how by the time it gets dark, no matter what’s happened in the morning or throughout the day, it can be entirely positive by the end – a nice thing to hold in your mind when you’re a bit anxious or a bit stressed. It’s good to use that – to remember why you got into it all in the first place, because you love listening to new things and bringing it to people.
“We just have to figure out a way to print it onto tote bags now – it’s quite long!”
And what of the band that triggered the pair’s affections in such dramatic fashion? Working on the basis that, as James puts it, “if we can feel this excited about a band, hopefully other people are going to feel the same,” they describe Spielbergs’ sound as “fuzzy indie rock.”
Think Japandroids (former clients of Prescription PR), Cloud Nothings and older indie rock mainstays like Dinosaur Jr, (James: “big belting late 90s and early noughties songs that you can imagine on the radio”) and you’re part way there.
Having all played together in a number of different bands over in Norway, despite not having been together very long, they are already gaining recognition in their home country, having made the “top 50 songs of the year” list in Norway’s main newspaper, despite having only played a dozen or so gigs.
The plan is to initially release an EP to introduce people to their music, hopefully bring them on tour to the UK (“yes, we would bring them to Cambridge”) and then follow that up towards the end of the year with a full album.
Hinting, excitingly, about a couple of other bands that they have lined up (but are not yet ready to announce) for the label, I wonder what each of their dream signings might be, if they had a magic wand that could make any band they wanted come and work with them.
Ever the PR man, Jay uses the question as an opportunity to make a cheeky pitch: “I’m going to say Nada Surf, in the hope that Matthew [Caws, singer and guitarist] who now lives in Cambridge might read this in the publication...”
James chimes in: “We’ll also take a solo project, or if things are not quite right at his current label!”
They laugh, but the ambition and love of music underpinning this response are evident. Obviously completely relaxed in each other’s company, with a friendship so close and comfortable that they can complete each other’s sentences, and a shared sense of humour that makes chatting with them lots of fun on a cold and dank January Saturday morning, I wonder how they’ve been lucky enough to find what, for many of us, is the holy grail: a close working relationship based around a shared passion (the word “passion” comes up a lot when talking to these two).
Jay thinks that: “we kind of make each other better in lots of ways. That’s an extra cheesy thing to say, but we both bring different things to play as well. If we were both exactly the same personalities we’d have been quite a one-dimensional company, and there would have been a different kind of feeling in the office for everybody else.”
James agrees, and adds: “I think trust is also very important. We’ve always had 100 per cent trust; everything we’ve done, we’ve done it as a partnership and for the good of our company, and I think we had the same attitude to looking after other people. We just feel extremely lucky to work with music.”
So where would they like By The Time It Gets Dark to be in, say, five years’ time?
James would “love to still be putting out releases. We’d like to be able to get a reputation for helping artists to make their first step, helping them on to bigger things and [a clue here, perhaps, as to their next two potential releases?] releasing some records that were important to us and might be important to other people.”
Jay agrees, and adds: “I’d love to see the label be able to sustain itself, and for us to add more artists to the roster that we’re excited about.”
To that end, they are both anxious to emphasise, to any bands or musicians reading this, that they are very open to hearing from anyone who might be interested in working with them. As Jay puts it: “Send us your music! We have wide tastes!”
And from what they’ve achieved so far, and what they seem set to achieve for Spielbergs and the other acts lined up to work with them, it will be a fortunate band indeed that next sparks Jay and James’ enthusiasm.
Doing what you love, with your best mate, for the sheer passion of it, that’s got to be a satisfying way to look back on how you’ve spent your day... by the time it gets dark.
Contact James and Jay on firstname.lastname@example.org, follow them on Twitter at @BTTIGDrecords, or ‘like’ their Facebook page at facebook.com/bythetimeitgetsdark.