The past few years have been tough, no doubt about it.
From political turmoil to terrorism, the country's mood has taken a turn for the worse - but there's always music, and there's always the possibility of escape.
Many of us have probably dreamed of sailing away to some remote island, rejecting the daily routine in favour of something a little more independent.
Well, The Pictish Trail did just that. A long-time member of the Fence Collective, the Scottish songwriter removed himself to the Isle of Eigg some time back, and kicked off a new imprint.
Lost Map has become a hub for independence, a fulcrum for fresh ideas... and it's all run from a Hebridean caravan.
Clash caught up with The Pictish Trail backstage at Field Day...
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How is life on Eigg? Do these massive political events wash up onshore?
I think the political goings on over the last couple of years have been magnified, if anything, on Eigg. Eigg is a place that was owned by a laird before, and then 20 years ago it went under community ownership, so there was a real independence movement within the island itself. There’s an awareness of the strength that independence has brought.
How does that work on a day to day basis?
There’s monthly meetings with all the islanders, and then there’s board meetings every two months, three months. There’s six board members from the island, and you can only be on the board for four years and then someone else on the island has to take over.
Have you been a board member?
I haven’t, but my partner has been for the past four years. Her time is about to come up. I’m definitely up for doing it, but I think I’m going to wait until I’ve got more of a quiet time going. There’s a lot of touring, and I think there’s going to be a lot more touring to come.
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If you want to sell physical copies then you have to actually go out there and sell them.
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The weight placed on touring seems to be an ongoing trend within independent music.
I think so. There’s different ways of doing stuff. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rules any more. Some people are fine just releasing stuff and hardly ever touring and doing it that way. But it’s impossible to make a career out of that unless you’re Boards Of Canada or something like that. Basically, I would love to be Boards Of Canada.
But even in the Fence days I’ve always sold most copies of my record by playing live and selling it directly to an audience. And now, more than ever, it seems that shops aren’t selling the quantities that they used to be, people are streaming more and more. That’s how people consume music – it’s not good or bad. If you want to sell physical copies then you have to actually go out there and sell them.
Even through Webshop sales, people pre-order and there’s a golden period of two months around the record’s release where there’ll be a lot of activity, people buying physical copies online. But beyond that if you want to sell physical copies then you’ve got to go out and tour it. And I think if you want to try and let people know about your music – which I think most musicians so, you make music not just for yourself but to find an audience. You owe it to yourself and the stuff that you’ve created to actually go out there and reach an audience.
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How does your label work? Does it run through label services?
It’s quite complicated, and it’s gotten even more complicated recently. In a good way! We’d already started working as Lost Map with Caroline International, who are our distributor. They offer label services, and they did the Rozi Plain record. I’ve actually worked out a deal where I can release it myself, and have Caroline involved in getting it into bigger shops and on to streaming services with some kind of profile. And then still retain an independent identity. We still stock indie shops directly ourselves.
Do you do all this literally from a caravan, then?
Well, Kate – from Kid Canaveral – she runs Lost Map with me, and she’s got most of the stock at her place. She’s in Edinburgh. And there’s a flat in Edinburgh where we keep a lot of stuff. There’s a massive cupboard with lots and lots of Tuff Love and Kid Canaveral records! I think people’s attitudes towards buying stuff has changed as well. Now everything is ‘Limited Edition!’ but it’s limited edition because it has to be – no one makes big editions any more. Not on an indie label, anyway. And so I think it’s almost become the thing where if you make a physical item then it’s people donating their money because they want to feel part of the project, or they want to support it.
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It’s limited edition because it has to be – no one makes big editions any more. Not on an indie label, anyway.
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In many ways running a label from the Isle of Eigg has never been easier, but then equally never as difficult.
I think when Fence ended we knew that we had to change things a little bit so the focus for us – in terms of Lost Map’s running costs – has been putting on events where we know we can get an audience along, we can push our roster. And – without sounding crass – the records that we release don’t make us any money. They don’t lose us any money, but they’re kind of adverts for the events that we put on.
The cost of the physical product is staggering.
Oh it’s insane. And it also means that – with events – everyone gets paid for something. It means that the deals we have with artists is quite different to a lot of other labels – we do like a product split thing, where we have the bands invest in the manufacture of the record, and they get copies back at cost price. So the bands who are touring make the highest margin they can on selling their records live, because as an artist myself I know that’s where I make money.
I’ve got a five piece band, and being able to afford to take them on the road these days is really difficult because the live music market is so saturated, there’s so many bands out there, so many bands willing to play for free that often gig fees won’t cover the costs for all the players and their accommodation. So being able to make money off selling records when playing live is a huge part of how things work.
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Do you have a studio on Eigg?
Yeah. I have. All my early records were quite lo-fi, home recorded affairs, and I’ve released over the last few years that I know what my limitations are. So I use it more as a writing and demoing space. My world-view now is to basically demo as much stuff as I can for the next record, and record it with friends in the same way that I’ve done with the last record.
So Adem and Rob Jones, who recorded the last record with me, being able to work with them in their own studio and having an outside… someone produce me was like – oh shit, I don’t have to do everything myself! It was a bit of an eye-opener.
And you met Adem on the road, as well.
We did. We’re good pals – and he’s doing really well! He’s an amazing collaborator. I think that’s been his thing throughout his entire career – from Fridge with Four Tet and Sam, and then doing so much production work. He’s done tonnes of music for films. You know In The Loop? He did all the music for that. He’s someone who’s got so many really amazing ideas. He’s perfect to record albums with.
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I think collaboration and collectivism in music is a really strong thing.
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And that’s an important detail, too – being able to make money through music without necessarily releasing it.
Yeah. And collaboration now seems more… even at the other end of the scale with massive artists collaboration is everything. The charts are riddled with acts who have guest features.
Ed Sheeran is the perfect example of that.
Totally. And as much as that dilutes things it also strengthens things. I think collaboration and collectivism in music is a really strong thing. That’s something I’m looking to do more with at Lost Map – we’re about to start a residency programme on Eigg where we bring artists over and have them record for a week and then we release their music as part of a series. We’re going to do it anonymously, so no one knows who they are. The artists will be part of the residency, collaborating with other artists.
So is that where you see yourself over the next couple of years, in a mainly collaborative role?
I see Pictish Trail stuff as being quite separate from the work I do with Lost Map. It’s all part of the same thing, but I have to remind myself every so often… oh shit, I make music too! But no, I want to do much more collaborative stuff, definitely. I’d love to be releasing more stuff.
To finish, we're here at Field Day and you've run many an event in your time - what piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own festival?
Nothing is too small. A lot of festivals pop up, last for two years, and then go bankrupt. And I think, actually, if they’d just let it grow more slowly they would probably still be around. And I think it’s good to do things on a really small level.
The thing that we do on Eigg is absolutely tiny. It’s not even a festival. It’s like 350 people on an island. You should come, man, this year is fucking nuts. We’ve not announced the line up yet, but it’s going to be amazing. But that thing – even though it’s so small we play all the bands properly and we accommodate them and make sure everyone is happy. But that thing allows our label to exist.
If we didn’t have events like that we wouldn’t be able to afford to release records. And I pay people on the label. I’ve got a staff now, with people who rely on a monthly income. The festival exists in this small way, and it manages to create enough for us to be sustainable.
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I pay people on the label. I’ve got a staff now, with people who rely on a monthly income.
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I think if anyone is planning to do their own festival don’t be afraid to start small. Like, really small. The first ever Homegame we did in Fife was 120 people or something like that. It was one hall and a bar down the road. But for us, it let us know that there were people who wanted to come and see us. We thought that we existed in this bubble in Fife and then all of a sudden we put tickets on sale for this thing and there’s people coming from all over the UK who want to be at it.
Every subsequent one sold out within five minutes, and we made it a little bit bigger each time. But never too crazy big. In fact, when it got to the stage where it was too big we decided to do it over two consecutive weekends instead of doing one massive one. Never doing that again, that was fucking stressful. But I think just keeping something small isn’t a bad thing.
Everything has it’s own level.
Yeah. If you sell 500 records on vinyl at £20 – which can be done – you’ve got 20 grand, and that can allow you to tour, it can allow you to pay for some new equipment. This is what’s happened with me with the last record. It’s good to keep things contained and know your audience a little bit. It’s good to be ambitious, but I know as an audience member myself it’s nice to go and do something where you feel part of it, and where you feel like you’re involved, and you’re a part of that band’s success.
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Stay in touch with Lost Map Records HERE.
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz
For tickets to the latest shows by The Pictish Trail click HERE.