Janglepophub were very honoured to interview Spanish label founder and musician Cris Romero Suarez as he talked about pompous band names, fetishistic vinyl lovers, forthcoming projects, the reasons why small labels are still important and his love of all things melancholy from the Sarah Records years.
Over to you Cris
For the benefit of the uninitiated Janglepophub readership explain your jangly indie connections please as a way of introduction
My name’s Cris, I’m from Seville (Spain) and I’ve been playing in several pop bands for all my life, including The Royal Landscaping Society (now), but also Sundae and Shizuka (Ed: an Elefant Records band, no less).
I also have been behind the Bubbletone Discos label for over ten years, first as a net label , then releasing 3” cds under the Little Treasure name. I also do audio work and regularly master (and sometimes mix) records for a lot of indiepop bands (and not so indiepop ones), both for digital and vinyl release… And I am generally everywhere because I’m constantly having silly new ideas!
It has been over three years since Bubbletone / Little Treasure released anything. Has the label ceased operating or are there plans for the future?
We kind of faded because life got in the way, and it’s been increasingly hard to find time to take care of the label.
When it got to a point that it was getting difficult to keep track of the orders, I just decided to slow down till I could manage to reserve some time for it. Also, some of the bands we contacted for future releases finally broke up before recording anything for us. Finally, I also wasn’t sure about the interest a format like 3” cd had.
We never ceased operations but we simply haven’t released anything in ages. I’m always planning to come back, and we have a few lined-up possible releases, so we will probably have a new release up at some point. There is one I’m very excited about that may happen this year (fingers crossed!).
You also played for the Royal Landscaping Society. One superb critically acclaimed EP, some demo’s/covers and…well, you tell me?
Again, life getting in the way meant we’ve been slow for our next release, including having to re-record some of it, but it’s finally happening this year, hopefully before the summer.
We have a three song 7” EP called Fractals on Matinée coming out, and some other stuff that should be released around the same time (though I’m not sure if I can tell yet!). Later, hopefully, an EP on Cloudberry and our second album (or first, depending on whether you consider our first one a very long EP or a very short album!?) also on Matinée.
We have also some gigs lined up for the year, some very exciting that we can’t tell yet! We’re basically playing as a two-piece right now, with me singing and playing guitar and keyboards, and David switching between bass, guitar and keyboards. We’re still debating whether to try and go back to the quartet format, because it’s so easy to travel to play when you’re just two!
How Did You arrive at the RLS band name?
I actually am not sure! I know I wanted something that was very pompous and very easy to google. It was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I must confess I love how it sounds, and it looks good on print too.
Unfortunately, there is now a landscaping company in the US called Royal Landscaping, so the easy googling part is not as effective these days!
I had difficulty describing The Royal Landscaping Society style of music to my musical mates when recommending it. How would you describe it?
We have a definition that’s stuck over time that came from my friend Marc Elston. The first time he heard us he said “Oh, shimmery romantic pop!”. I’d say it’s a mixture of jangly guitars playing clean arpeggios and synths and other electronic instruments, and I guess it has kind of a similar spirit to other indie-pop bands who also love New Order.
I really don’t think we’re that original, but it’s the result of everything we love and I guess we can be sort of recognizable.
However you describe the music, there are multiple layers to most of the RLS tracks. What was your recording process?
I often write at home while I record, like many other people who have small (or not so small now) studios at home.
However, that means I can be super picky with making all the layers work even before we’ve even tried to play them live, and that makes it all sound very coherent I think.
We found that usually the best way is trying to practice them and play them live before committing to a final recording because a lot of good ideas come later on when you know the song well enough so you don’t really need to think about it. But even that final recording is done at my studio, partly for convenience (thought yes, I’m a bit of a control freak I guess).
Who are/were the influences for RLS?
When we started, I was super sure that I wanted it to be very much in the vein of the more melancholic side of Sarah Records, such as Brighter or The Field Mice, continued in Harper Lee and Trembling Blue Stars and obviously that mix of guitars and electronics comes partly from New Order but it is also in these bands.
I guess there’s a huge The Cure sound too because I don’t think it’s physically possible for me to avoid that (and I wouldn’t want to).
Some other influences showed up almost unexpectedly, such as the JaMC, Adorable, Slowdive, St Etienne or the Pet Shop Boys. I often get surprised when listening to a song by any band I like and thinking “oh, so this is where I got the idea for this part”. I’m an unconscious thief, though I guess we’re defined by what we like.
What were the last three albums you purchased (downloads count)?
I actually bought very little music last year but this year I am slowly catching up! I’m not totally sure but it was either a big Discogs purchase that included stuff from Comet Gain to Karl Bartos, or an order to Kocliko with The Keep Left Signs, Verandan and Love Dance. I actually moved last year and I still need to take out most of the records from the boxes.
Bubbletone gave the world some wonderful releases under sub-label, Little Treasure. I know this is perhaps hard, like choosing your favourite child, but what are the releases (one from each label) that stand out for you as a label owner. This can be either in terms of quality or emotional attachment?
It is hard indeed! Bubbletone’s best release isn’t out yet because it’s still being completed (after 13 years already!), but from the older Club 7 digital releases I’d choose the Papel Pintado double single, which is a wonderfully sad and pretty series of songs from one of the best pop musicians I know, and one of my best friends too.
I still would love to have those songs released on a 10” at some point. From Little Treasure I’d probably choose Springtime!, because I have always loved themed compilations and I think we were lucky to gather a fine lineup of songs with a beautiful cover by Pinta Chan. There was a follow up to that planned (“Snow”) that never came out, but who knows…
What were the reasons for starting a sub-label?
It’s a funny story, because the main Bubbletone label has no releases yet. Bubbletone started with a very specific goal in mind: having a The Field Mice tribute compilation as our first release.
However, it was increasingly difficult to complete and see 13 years later, we’re still waiting to receive a few songs and we even don’t know what to do with another couple because the bands, tired of waiting, released the songs on their own. I even lost my original label mate Oscar, and that was eventually for the better because he went on to start the fantastic Discos de Kirlian label.
As I didn’t want to just stay waiting, but I wanted to put music out, I had the idea of starting the netlabel as a side project. I liked the idea of giving songs away for free every month (even if I’m not so sure it was a good idea now!) and treating it like a digital version of a 7” single. It basically went on for a while, and probably didn’t really go on because the schedule was proving hard to follow. But I think the seven singles are quite special.
Years move on, and I still want to do things but The Field Mice comp isn’t ready yet. I love what other labels are doing with the 3” cd format, which is affordable (I couldn’t and still can’t afford to press vinyl, but it was also important from an ethical/political point of view to keep prices low) and easy to DIY while making it possible to do very beautiful work on the design.
So that’s why Little Treasure started, and I even think Little Treasure is the main label now. So if things go as planned, probably Bubbletone will only have one proper release and I’ll just focus on.
Is the small label at all relevant in today’s musical landscape and if so why?
I think it is, and we’ve had a number of new labels releasing wonderful records in the last few years to prove it. A label doesn’t just find good bands to release records, it’s usually a very personal way to understand music and everything that surrounds it.
When we become fans of a label, we know we can buy whatever it releases without even listening because we trust their taste and we know it’s close to our own feelings. And we know we’re going to enjoy it all from the moment we look at the cover.
How would you describe the Bubbletone aesthetic?
From the beginning, both for Club 7 and Little Treasure, I had a very clear idea that every release had to be recogniZably ours and the best way to do this was to go for a “series” feel.
So the design aesthetic always follows a common template, and the pictures in the cover have a close feel that’s usually hazy, dreamy, melancholic. That could also be a good way to describe the sound of the label, though of course it’s not always like that.
It was also very important for me to get as close as I could to a 7” from a different format, starting with our “digital seven inch singles” on Club 7. That went much further with Little Treasure, when the idea was mimicking the sensations I had when I opened a single from some of my fave pop labels, with its plastic bag, folded paper cover instead of a cardboard sleeve, paper inner sleeve, insert (often with a special text that had a meaning of its own)… It’s funny because I’m anything but a vinyl extremist, but I just love singles so much.
What made you start a label in the first place? This blog has recently started one (Subjangle) why should we keep going? What was in it for you personally?
I’m not sure exactly why I started, but it’s always been important for me to help bands I loved to get more exposure (also, because of that, I’m constantly planning to go the opposite way you went and start a blog – but that’s just plans by now).
It probably also helped that I had friends who were starting their labels and I thought “I want to do that too!”, it just felt right. Also when each record is out, you just feel as if it’s also yours.
It’s lots of work but it’s totally worth it. It’s like helping the world to be a bit prettier. I also love how, as releases happen, the label starts to show a personality of its own. We **need** labels, and you starting one is the best news!! (Ed: Why thank you kind sir)
What Spanish indie-pop bands should we hear? Recommend us some jangly Spanish indie-pop that may have slipped under our jangle-radars?
Spain has a fantastic tradition of pop bands that’s alive and well, thank goodness!
There’s one particular band that should be a worldwide well-known indiepop classic by now but somehow still isn’t, and that’s Mirafiori. Even better if you pick up the demo/ep compilation that Annika released last year.
From the current, more recent new bands, I’m totally in love with Ofrenda Floral, even if it’s more on the electronic pop side! And you probably know When Nalda Became Punk, they’ve been super close to the label since the beginning and I can’t understand why they seem to be more popular abroad than in Spain.
Is there any need for physical format music these days? If so why?
I think we are all guilty sometimes of fetishizing some of the physical formats (particularly vinyl!) and forgetting that the most important thing is the music. I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing digital singles again and I probably will.
Of course, we all love the idea of having a beautiful record cover on our hands printed big (or a full booklet with pictures and lyrics when you’re a cd fan like I am too), but when exclusivity starts being more important than making it easier for everyone to listen to the music… that’s not good. It is totally contrary to the original spirit a lot of the labels we love had.
Bubbletone / Little Treasure are lent the famous Janglepophub time machine and can go back to any musical decade and be successful as a label? What decade would you go back to and what would you consider as success for a label in that particular decade?
Probably my fave time ever for music is the five years between 1987 and 1992. I always say that the 90s didn’t really start until 1992, and I’m not joking.
I don’t really know what success is, but I’d love to touch people so that 25 or 30 years later they were still remembering our records and getting a warm feeling every time they played them.
I’d love also love that new people would still find them as special as if they had been around when they were first released.
Bubbletone / Little Treasure never issued more than one release from each band. What was the idea behind that?
That was and idea stolen from Annika and later from Cloudberry, and then sort of adapted to my own ideas.
I love the fact that we don’t sign bands but cross their way at a special moment,and work together to capture that moment in a series of songs and an image that expresses it.
This doesn’t mean we can’t cross their ways again in the future, even if it’s being part of a compilation. I love working with bands who are signed to other labels, or are still not well known but might move on to be loved by a lot of fans.
As well as the Janglepophub time machine we are also going to give you the Janglepophub ‘3 bands wishes genie’. We have already rubbed the lamp for you…which three current bands would you love to sign right now !?
Gosh, that’s a difficult one. I would love to have Lightning in a Twilight Hour because Bobby Wratten must be one of the people in the world I admire the most. Newer bands I’ve loved and become totally obsessed with, I love Hatchie and Peaness.
Which 12 Bubbletone / Little Treasure tracks (no more than two from each band) would you include on your own personal playlist.
Again, very difficult question. In no particular order, and avoiding my own bands, I’d say
Tiny Fireflies – Change (2011)
The Arctic Flow – As Close to a Kiss as We Will Ever Be (2011)
Archaster – Dreamland (2012)
Fireflies – Searching for the Sunshine (2012)
Special People Club – How Long? (2012)
The Very Most – Changed Me (2012)
Pale Spectres – I Know We’re Special (2013)
Малыш Камю – В лето (2014)
Doggy – Les derniers des furets vivants (2014)
Franklin’s Kite – The Way You Danced With Me (2015)
When Nalda Became Punk – Before 5 (2010)
Papel Pintado – Silueta (2011)
Cannot locate – the only one I do not have !
Many thanks Cris for your superb insight into your label(s) and RLS. It has been a pleasure communicating with you.
The Royal Landscaping Society Links