Published in The Music Network
Fifteen years is about the time it takes to complete school and earn a degree. Ivy League Records can boast being in business all that time, and it’s graduated with honours. Back in in the late 1990s, Andy Cassell, Andy Kelly and Pete Lusty started a label which now features the likes of Lanie Lane, Josh Pyke, The Rubens, Catcall, Alpine, Cloud Control, Youth Group and the Mess Hall. In 2003, Ivy League struck an arrangement with Michael Gudinski’s Liberation and it’s now one of Mushroom’s “favourite partnerships,” Gudinski says. “The most important thing is to have music people with good hearts,” adds the Mushroom Group chairman, noting the Ivy League trio tick both boxes. Cassell, Kelly and Lusty are also directors in the artist management company Winterman & Goldstein and the music publishing company, Ivy League Music. Many of the acts on the Ivy League label roster will play a December 12 Christmas party at its “spiritual home” the Annandale Hotel to celebrate the 15-year milestone.
Congratulations. Did you ever think you’d get to 15 years in this mad game?
Oh god, absolutely no way. When we started, we thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to have a little label and maybe a job that wasn’t part of the 9-to-5”. It was pretty tough times when we started out. Dance music was more popular, live music was tough and indie bands were finding it difficult to get major labels interested.
How do you three split the tasks?
We’re all directors, and we’re all A&R. Whoever has the most passion for the particular band then gets to A&R and run with the band for their career. The three of us have different personal skills, which lend ourselves to different strengths.
What was the turning point for Ivy League?
There were a few. Having success with the management label definitely allowed us to shape Ivy League in the way we wanted to. The success we’ve had managing the Vines, Jet and Empire of the Sun has always enabled us to make it a cohesive label. That was about 2003. That’s when we realised we were in for the long haul. Our second milestone was joining forces with Liberation and Michael Gudinski. It’s been an amazing partnership.
You’ve given your companies all-American names. Were you keen to crack the US or were you having a bit of a laugh?
It was far more of a joke. We never thought we’d get anywhere bigger than a suburb or two away. With Winterman & Goldstein, we were trying to come up with a name that sounded really important, New York and Jewish. Ivy League was an extension of that. We wanted to give the impression that we were a lot bigger than we were. Some people take that as for real, that we’re a massive label or corporate label with suits. It’s pretty funny.
What’s the secret behind your success?
It sounds totally cliché, but you just go with your gut. We’ve been simple in the way we run the business – we put out music that we like. If you try to shape something that you think is going to be big, the chances are it won’t be. Because you won’t have the passion behind it and the enthusiasm for it. Music is such a personal and emotional thing. It’s nice that we could choose the music we like and fortunately it’s rung through with a lot of other people. Working with (certain) people is just as important to us. I heard that Sub Pop has a “no jerk” policy. For an independent label, we can exercise that judgement on people and we don’t have to work with dickheads. We haven’t had to deal with many of those. We’ve made some wise choices.
What tips do you have for young label guys?
Just do it. Put one foot in front of the other. There’s no one particular skill that you need. Our major stumbling block was coming up with the money to press or record a band’s EP. These days you can do things for next to nothing. Bands can start off in their room for the price of a computer, some software and some instruments. My advice would be have a passion for music and just follow it.
What’s on the cards for next year?
“We’re looking for new bands, we’ve got space for new releases and new artists. Cloud Control should have a new album coming out which is exciting. And there’s the Josh Pyke record. Lanie Lane should also have a new album out. And we’ve a band called Sures, who we’re very excited about.