It's very common nowadays that bands release their own music on their own record labels. Perhaps it's not the easiest way of putting out their music but it gives them complete control. If you consider as well the large number of bands that are around nowadays compared to the relatively small-in-comparision number of record labels the chances of getting signed or taken on have become increasingly rare

What sometimes happens next, like in the case of the band Breathless who set up their own record label Tenor Vossa, is that the band sees their label as a chance to give voice to other bands and start releasing those as well.

Breathless was formed by Ari, Dominic and Gary in the early 90's. Inspired by Mogwai and Sonic Youth the trio started playing together and eventually recorded their first demo. Unfortunately the record labels they sent it to ignored the strong potential of the band and so Breathless decided to set up their own record label and put out on it their debut album, 'Waterland/Second Heaven'. Very early on Tenor Vossa showed an interest in releasing other bands as well and have since added to their roster, two other groups, Scenic and Moly

While Moly are a relatively new band they have already earned respect in US playing the South By South West Festival (SXSW) in 2003 and recording some sessions for the BBC. Breathless have played many gigs in the US taking part in the New York CMJ Festival , SXSW and they have also toured in Europe.

To get more details about Tenor Vossa and Breathless, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Ari and Dominic about the label's history, but also their future plans for it.

PB: Could you tell me more about how Tenor Vossa started? How did you first set up the label?

Ari: We, that is to say Dominic Gary and I, decided to set up the label pretty soon after we formed Breathless. We took our demo round a bunch of record labels who said "I can't hear a hit single" and we were trying to explain to them that we weren't trying to make hit singles. but were more of an albums band. Dominic and I also worked in a record shop at the time. We played the demo in the shop quite a few times and always got people coming up and asking what it was and where they could buy it, which made us realise that there was actually a market for what we were doing, so we decided to set up our own label and bring it out ourselves.

PB: Why did you decide to call the label Tenor Vossa ?

Ari: Tenor Vossa was the name of a band that Dominic and Gary had formed, or at least were talking about forming before Breathless.

PB: Is Tenor Vossa run by just the three of you or are there other people involved? If so could you tell me more about them and how does it work?

Ari: The decisions about who to sign to the label are made by all three of us, which is probably why it took us so long to sign other bands because the three of us could never agree on who to sign. But the day to day running of the label is done by me, as the others have full time jobs though they always help out when I'm away or if there is a sudden rush of work that needs to be done quickly.

PB: You have also release records by Moly and Scenic as well as Breathless. Scenic are American. How did you get in touch with them ?

Ari: We've been in touch with Scenic on and off, as we were great fans of Bruce's previous band Savage Republic and released a Breathless album, 'Chasing Promises' by them through an off shoot label of theirs in the States. We originally approached Scenic about licensing an album a couple of years back and eventually ended up licensing their record 'The Acid Gospel Experience' last year. Breathless also did a short West Coast tour with them last October.

PB: Out of your 3 bands I've only seen Moly live and was blown away by their live appearance. What attracted you to them and what was it about their music that made you decide to put them out and support them?

Ari: It's true what you say about Moly being so good live, but the incredible thing is that we actually signed them without having seen them live, because we were really impressed by their demo. So you can imagine our pleasant surprise when we saw them live for the first time after we'd signed them! I kind of knew from the artwork that the music was going to be good. We'd put an advert in the 'NME' asking for Lo Fi Space Rock bands or something like that and after having listened to about 60 Cds you begin to get an idea what the music is going to be like from the packaging. I guess what I liked about their music is it reminded me a bit of our own music and  I could also hear the influences of other bands I like myself like Mogwai and Sonic Youth, but there was also something else something uniquely Moly .... basically I played the CD and it sent shivers up my spine and I knew we had to sign them.

PB: Equally, what inspires you about Scenic so much that you are putting their music out?

Ari: Again similar reasons to those that inspire us to release records by Moly, that we enjoy their music and believe that there are enough like minded people out there that want to listen to it too. Also I really love the artwork and packaging of all their records.

Dominic: Like Moly we signed Scenic without ever having seen them live. I was astonished at how incredibly good they are too. Some songs were much better than their recorded material, so powerful for music that is so subtle and textured on record

PB: How did Breathles form and how did you all meet?

Ari:  We formed in 80's after I met Dominic at Virgin records where we both worked. We were briefly in a band with a friend of mine from school, Dominic at this point only played keyboards, but  we decided to form our own band after the musical direction took a turn for the  worse. Dominic and I started work on a couple of songs together and then Dominic asked Gary to join us at rehearsal after playing me a tape of their previous band  A Cruel Memory, which I loved. The rehearsal went really well and we later recruited a friend of a friend ,Tris as our drummer, who was later replaced by Martyn Watts our present drummer  (formerly with Danielle Dax).

PB: You must have played a lot of gigs since you formed. Whereabouts have you played and which gigs did you enjoy the most and why?

Ari: We have played a lot of shows in Italy, just about everywhere from right up in the North to the South of Sicily. My personal favourite was our first show in Rome. The crowd were great and I was really overwhelmed by the beauty of Rome and in particular by one of it's inhabitants! - who I carried on seeing for quite some time afterwards. Poland was also pretty memorable as we played in a sports stadium and were greeted  as we stepped onstage by a barrage of fireworks and couldn't work out if it was a sign of appreciation or malice.  I also really enjoyed a lot of our American shows as the Americans are very outgoing and appreciative, I particularly enjoyed New York, San Francisco and LA. Though I have to say that perversely even though I was absolutely petrified throughout, that I probably enjoyed our first ever London show, because it was the first time I'd ever played live and it was such a thrill for me.

PB: Your latest album is called ‘Behind The Light’. From listening to the album I get feeling it has one strong theme to it.Is that right and when were those songs written?

Ari: If there is one particular theme, it is not one that I am consciously aware of other than maybe  a mood that was in the air at the time. As with most of our albums it did take a while to write - we started writing as soon as 'Blue Moon', our previous album, was released and had to work and rework the title song over and over until we were happy with it as we could tell it had real potential but for ages it just wasn't fulfilling it. 'Behind The Light 'or at least the germ of the song and 'Nobody Knows' are the oldest songs on the album, though 'Nobody Knows' used to be a lot faster with either a different or no vocal, I can't remember which as it was so long ago, whilst 'After All These Years and  Rising' are the newest .

PB: The 6th track of the album called ‘Behind The Light’ is split into 4 parts – I. Closer, II. You Never Left me, III. Closer Still, IV. Always With You.  Why did you split the song into 4 parts and what is the theme behind it?

Dominic: As Ari said earlier, this track took a long time to come to fruition yet it always had four parts. Looking back it's hardly surprising it took so long - it was like trying to write four songs at once. The four parts grew out of one another, starting with Gary's guitar on 'Closer".  The lyrics were written to the music and are about the death of my parents. I don't believe in an afterlife - you live and then die and that's that. When they died I felt haunted by them, not unpleasantly, but it went against my beliefs. I try to explain it to myself in terms of not wanting to let go and a kind of echo of their lives that takes a while to fade away.

PB: I noticed all your artworks have the same sort of theme. They all seem very abstract but at the same time very expressive. Why did you decided on those kind of artworks and, if I can ask, how do you make them?

Ari: I've always felt that the design of the cover is as important as the music inside, which is why we take such care with our sleeves. In general we've either found images that we've liked and manipulated them in some way to create the mood we are looking for, or have asked people whose work we admire like Kevin Westenberg to take photos for us on a particular theme or I have taken the photos myself. We also use a film when we play, which I made using lots of bright abstract images, so it's almost like our own light show and which is kind of an extension of the photos on our sleeves.

PB: What were those gigs in the US with Scenic like, and would you go back ?

Ari: It was great because not only was it great to play to such appreciative audiences but also because Scenic are such nice people and it was a real joy to work with them. We'd definitely like to go back and do some more shows,. We've done shows on the East Coast before, including CMJ in New York a couple of years back, but this was the first time we'd played the West Coast and it was fantastic. It was also great from a tourist point of view seeing all those different places, I'd been to LA before, but had never been to the desert (we played in Phoenix, Arizona) nor ever been to San Francisco before, which I'd always wanted to visit.  We played  an incredible venue there that was covered in red velvet from floor to ceiling and used to be  a Speakeasy during prohibition.

PB: What are your plans for Breathless for the near future? Will you be doing more gigs and releases?

Ari: We're not  planning on doing any live shows for a while, but are working on new material at the moment,. We're really interested in doing soundtrack music and are working on a number of instrumental pieces.

PB: What are your future plans as regards the label? Have you got any more releases coming up? Would you consider taking on another band? If not what are the main reasons for that?

Ari: We're going to be releasing Moly's second album in the Spring as well as some new material from Scenic, but are always on the lookout for new bands and want to sign another two this year, which is one the reasons I am going to be going to South By SouthWest in March.

PB: What is your personal biggest success or what are you the most proud of as regards Tenor Vossa and Breathless?

Ari: Although there are individual shows that we've played and individual songs that we've written that I'm really proud of, I guess the thing I'm most proud is being able to look back at our releases as a whole and think yes there are things that I might have played differently, but in general as a body of work I'm proud of having created that.

Dominic: I agree with Ari. I'm really proud of the body of work we've produced but I can't help having favourites. I guess 'Goodnight' and 'Behind the Light' are the songs I'm most proud of. I'm also really pleased that running a label we can put music out by bands like Moly and Scenic that may have not seen the light of day otherwise. Oh yes, I know that Scenic have their own label in the US  but we're helping to spread the music in Europe.

PB: Thank you.

Moly will play the 4th Penny Black Music Night along with Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, Venus Ray, Sunshine Valley Dance Band and Saint Joan all at the Spitz on the 7th February.

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