Be With's reissue will feature original artwork from the 1979 release.Indeed, the roster on Nohelani not only runs as a list of who's who in Honolulu's music scene at the time, it shows a meeting of the minds; Hawaiian artists and modern musicians came together to bridge the gap: Peter Moon, Jerry Byrd, Kapono Beamer, Roscoe Wright,Kata Maduli, Henry Kapono, Bill Popaka, engineer Rick Smith, and the following Lemuria alum: Master Henry Gibson, John Rapoza, Azure McCall, Merri Lake, and Stacey Johnson. "Riding high on the crest of the global love for Hawaiian ‘Island Funk’," Rob continues, "Be With Records team up with Aloha Got Soul to present a timely vinyl reissue of Nohelani Cypriano’s Nohelani. Sure to be one of the year’s essential reissues, the album’s irresistible blend of tropical-tinted soul, funk and rare groove sounds every bit as fresh today as it would’ve in 1979." One hundred percent: yes. It still sounds fresh. And will forever remain an important landmark in the musical landscape of our islands. Thank you, Rob, for allowing me the opportunity to take part in this reissue project. Official release date is August 7, 2015. Pre-order your copy now at Be With Records. Honolulu: we're throwing a release party on Saturday, September 5th at Nextdoor Honolulu. Free entry. Rob's flying in from London (!) and Nohelani may be making an appearance. Don't miss out on this very special evening. A London release party is also in the works. I’d like to know more about you, Rob. What’s your background? How did you get involved in music? Are you a musician? And… how long have you known you wanted to start a record label? Hey Roger, no problem. Well, I’ve been a record lover and buyer for over twenty years so records are my biggest passion, without question. I was lucky to have two music-obsessive older brothers who were each around a decade older than me so from the age of about 4 or 5 I was being exposed to great music. I’m by no means a musician – I could never get with the guitar being left-handed and people trying to make me play right handed (lame, I know!) and I guess I never wanted it bad enough to really make it work for me. But the one thing that made sense to me was DJing. I’ve DJ'd since I was about 14 and worked in record shops from the age of 16. Upon moving to Manchester for my degree, I worked at the legendary Piccadilly Records for the best part of my 20s. So, I’m one of those boring vinyl geeks, I guess. In terms of wanting to start a label – that’s just one of those things that I’ve had in my head since the late 90s and being obsessed with the output of Stones Throw and Rawkus at the time. What was the initial inspiration behind launching the label? I started working in earnest on the ideas around a reissue label in the background of my day job around the middle of 2012. My job was in arts & culture marketing - the ‘marketing’ side of which I really didn’t like, the subject matter and long lunches I did like – and I’d been working there for a couple of years. However, I wasn’t happy and I knew I needed a career change. Yet, this time, I wanted to do something I was genuinely passionate about. So I suppose the label was borne out of twin frustrations; on a personal / work level but also the ongoing annoyance that my wantlist was so full of rare, prohibitively expensive records and my favourite reissue labels weren’t addressing this.
"The label was borne out of ... the ongoing annoyance that my wantlist was so full of rare, prohibitively expensive records and my favourite reissue labels weren’t addressing this."For a while it had been apparent to my friends and I that someone really should be doing more high quality reissues of in demand vinyl records. There were a lot of reissue labels that I and a lot of my friends always looked to for their new releases but they were still overlooking a lot. I thought, there’s room for another label to do all the records that I want to own. So it definitely started out as something deeply personal – I wanted these records so I thought ‘why don’t I research how to license records and see if I can put them out myself?’ I thought that, if I want them, chances are there’ll be another 500-1000 people around the world who’ll also want those records. I researched licensing repertoire to release and spoke to some contacts in the industry and everyone seemed to be cautiously optimistic. I thought that, seeing as my list of records I consider ripe for reissue stands at well over 1000, my chances of getting a few out were not that slim! (Side note. Rob, please reissue this gem on vinyl, ASAP.) Who's running the label? Be With's had a solid presence and several quality releases since its inception. I'd be surprised if it was just you behind it! It’s just me running the label! I guess the nice thing is that I have complete creative control - I’ll only ever release something that I’d want to own on vinyl myself. Having said that, I really want people to suggest records to reissue – and they do, it’s so nice. The huge Letta Mbulu record we’re putting out in June (which many are already claiming to be one of the reissues of the year) came about from a follower of the label – thanks Tom Williams - emailing his suggestions to the label. I’d not heard ‘Nomalizo’ since initially digging it on Sean P.’s well-loved Originals compilation on Claremont 56 back in 2009 and, admittedly, it wasn’t at the front of my mind until Tom helpfully nudged me on it. So being a friendly and approachable label (something I know certain reissue labels aren’t bothered about) is paramount to me as it’s just an extension of how I am in person. Regardless of it being a solo mission, it’s been amazing so far. I get to see the records I want on vinyl actually come out because of the hard work I put in. As you know yourself, it is a lot of graft with long, unsociable hours but I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve met some great people and continue to do so. It’s what I’m passionate about and what I’m knowledgeable about so I guess the old cliché applies here: yes, it’s been a real labour of love. It’s never going to make anyone a lot of money – but that’s not why I do it. It was a pipe dream three years ago – to run this label - but now I’m giving it a real go full time.
"It was a pipe dream three years ago – to run this label - but now I’m giving it a real go full time."As I’m sure you did, I spent about a hell of a long time researching every last little thing that I could possibly do in terms of starting a label, dealing with rights owners, running a small business etc. and did a lot of competitive analysis (boring, I know) as I had to be thorough. I truly believed I could make this happen despite a lot of doubters surrounding me. I finally released the first Be With record in May 2014 – a Leon Ware classic from 1982, the year I was born which was pretty cool – and it’s now sold out. A few more followed and then I got sign off on another dozen towards the end of 2014 and I thought – I need to go full time to do this justice and give myself a chance to do a dream job. So I quit my job and now I’m giving it a go.
Rob Butler with Ned Doheny and friends in Berlin during the Be With Ned tour.Be With has built a strong brand for itself. Yet at a glance its catalog seems so varied. Is the Be With MO simply “because you need it on vinyl” or is there more to it? That is definitely the ethos behind the label. It is all about helping those record lovers around the world - like us - can afford officially licensed high quality vinyl issues of their favourite records. Hence our slogan: 'because you need it on vinyl'. This was hit upon as it neatly encapsulated what we, as fans, always seem to say or think. It might be on cd, you can download it for free; but you need it on vinyl. Broadly speaking, there’s two types of record we could release. There’s the ones where we’re shining a light on something so obscure (outside of the inner circle of DJs and, ahem, ‘heads’) yet so good that it’s amazing how it could’ve been overlooked by everybody upon original release – such as our Nohelani Cypriano and Letta Mbulu releases – or those releases where we’re making an already acclaimed album available or accessible again. This is the case with our first-time vinyl release of Cassie’s classic debut LP or our reissue of The Streets, an album that everybody knows but still going for silly money before our reissue.
"Be With output consists instead of music I’ve connected with on a personal level."In terms of the ‘brand’ and the curious release selection, I suppose it goes back to your last question about one individual driving the label. Perhaps the discernible authorial voice behind the label’s presence and its activity to date resonates with others because it all emanates from one record lover’s deep personal passion for these artists and these records. It’s undiluted in that sense. I was determined to reflect my broad tastes as a DJ and record collector. Unlike most other vinyl-only record archivists, Be With doesn’t adhere to one single genre, as such, we are free of those often self-imposed shackles. Rather than honing in on certain aesthetics, territories or eras, Be With output consists instead of music I’ve connected with on a personal level, and I suppose can only be grouped by virtue of what I perceive to be its musical worth. Now, I would say this, yes, but I think every record we put out is exceptional. And that’s perhaps the only element that ever links one release to the next. Leon Ware, Ned Doheny, The Streets, Autumn Defense, Letta Mbulu, Cassie, Nohelani Cypriano, Hatchback, and many more on the way. How do you define good music? And why does good music deserve to be on vinyl? I suppose the scattershot mix of records I have wanted to release reflects my background. I have always been – if you like – an ‘anything goes’ DJ and Piccadilly Records is the very epitome of an all over the place approach to music love. The label’s output has and will continue to reflect what I am into and what I want to see out there on vinyl again. The only thing I would use as criteria is ‘do I like it?’ and is it ripe for a vinyl reissue? If I’m going to release something, it has to be on my personal wantlist. This is important - it has to be something that I want on vinyl myself or why else would I get excited about doing it at all? So, if there’s demand for the record – just look at the Nohelani Cypriano or Letta Mbulu – then it seems to make sense. But that’s the easy part, you could say. Identifying the records to try to license, that is. The hard part comes with everything after, in terms of seeking permission and working everything out – the audio and artwork issues are a never-ending process of negotiation and renegotiation – not for the faint-hearted! I’m not sure how I can define ‘good music’ in opposition to anything else; I guess it just has to move me either on some level. I have broad yet clearly defined tastes. I havedefinitely always gravitated towards music that has strong melodic or rhythmic qualities – and I’m happiest when those two impulses come together in the same record! I don’t like weird shit – I have very little time for deliberately obtuse or ‘difficult’ music – it just doesn’t move me. If it has soul and is doing something interesting then that’s a different matter. But wilfully awkward music - I just don’t have the time for it. I’d rather stick on a Teenage Fanclub or Tribe record.
"I’m not sure how I can define ‘good music’ in opposition to anything else; I guess it just has to move me either on some level."
"You have to be with a record and the soundsystem - you engage with it in a way that’s very inclusive while it’s on, you have to go up and flip it over."I’m not expert on the minutiae of sound technology but there’s an undoubted warmth and depth to the sonic quality of a record that is clearly missing in thin MP3s. If I hear someone playing digital files out in a club it often sounds like elevator music to me. The size of the 12” or 7”, giving room for artwork to breathe properly, is a lovely thing. It’s also a tangible 'made thing'. I think this is great and certainly stands in opposition to what I regard as a certain transience and emptiness to the digital consumption of music. There’s a collectors element to it all, no doubt. Ownership of your favourite records that you can display on your shelves at home – it may sound sad to many but that’s a nice thing. You can go up and touch it – so there's a tactile element to it all too. You don’t get that sense of ownership by admiring your digital playlists on your computer screen. I especially agree with the “transience” of digitally consumed music. I launched Aloha Got Soul as a blog first and foremost. I didn’t know if it’d become a label. I just wanted to document this largely undocumented era of music from Hawaii before it was lost to time. Aloha Got Soul becoming a record label was an extension of that desire—if it weren’t for vinyl, I wouldn’t have “discovered” this amazing music of Hawaii’s past, 35 years later. In another 40 years, who knows what’s going to happen with these releases? It’s a truly great thing you are doing. It reminds me of something Ned Doheny said when describing the work of Be With Records to Marcus from Too Slow To Disco in Berlin. He said we were ‘performing a public service’. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the label (and is especially meaningful coming from one of my absolute heroes) and it applies to Aloha Got Soul more than most, I feel. Let’s just hope the records don’t all get destroyed by the volatile Hawaiian climate over the next 40 years! Interviews with artists play an important role in documenting music, of course. I love the part of your interview with Ned Doheny where you’re talking about it taking such a long time for a “resurgence” to form, for Ned’s music to reconnect with a global audience. (“It’s a global thing,” you said to him). Why do you think now, this moment, is such a relevant time for Be With to be here? Well, the whole ‘vinyl resurgence’ thing is such a familiar narrative these days – and has been for the past half-decade – that the backlash on social media and below-the-line comment sections has been in full swing for almost as long! I suppose it’s a good time to be releasing records because more people are clearly buying it again and kids are discovering what a great format it is. However, the clogging up of pressing plants by majors attempting to ‘cash in’ is not so cool, especially when most of their output consists of records you can find the world over in the infamous pound boxes and dollar bins. Also, where once you could turn a record around in 5-6 weeks we’re now getting quoted 14 weeks. So it’s not all universally good news that everyone has picked up on the vinyl revival. I think vinyl is enjoying resurgence – or so we’re repeatedly told – because youngsters who only grew up with music on a computer screen are curious about it. Which is, of course, great. But it’s also a bit of a shame that being seen as a vinyl buyer - or ‘record digger’ - for some is simply a new kind of fashion statement, a badge of honour for tedious hipsters in our digital age. But needing to be seen as a ‘vinyl head’ is not at all relevant for all the vinyl lovers I know around the world, those who have never wavered in their passion for the format over the last 15-20 years when it really dipped in popularity before it’s recent rise again. For us, the resurgence can only be seen as a good thing. Putting aside the very obvious fact that I want people to buy more records to keep my head afloat, as a record fan first and foremost, the more people buying records simply means more and more labels – both major and indie – will give the quaint little format the time of day and release all of their output on it. Which can only be a good thing. Earlier you said "you have to be with a record,” that’s just the way it is with vinyl. I now fully understand the name of your label (took me a while!). But can you tell me more about the logo? Who designed it? And what is it meaning(s)? Haha! Yes, I say that deliberately to people when I’m describing vinyl to see if it clicks with them. Mischievous yes, but it does apply to the experience! The label is actually named after one of my favourite ever records – ‘Be With’ by Koushik. It came out on a 12” on Stones Throw in 2005. It’s special to me for a few reasons. It came out when I was living in California for a year and when I first met my now-wife Valentina. So it is inextricably linked to a seminal period for me. But I think whoever hears it, no mater where or when, they just gets transported to a halcyon time. It has that power. We both fell in love with the dreaminess of it – it’s got the kaleidoscopic elements of soft-psych yet it’s perfectly welded to a slightly imperfect out-of-time boom bap beat. It’s basically everything and anything I love about music rolled into 4 minutes of perfection. Oh, and Valentina walked down the aisle to it when we got married. So I wanted to call my label Be With as it means a lot to me. The hard part came in attempting to brief designers on how to visually articulate the words ‘Be With Records’. It’s not like LITA with the no-brainer visual of a light hanging down from an attic ceiling. So it was a bit of a challenge. I spoke to a half dozen designers before opting for Ben Marsh. I wanted firstly to reference a pair of arms/hands hugging a record – something that people often do unwittingly when holding a piece of wax. I think he nailed this in a semi-abstract fashion. Secondly I wanted it to be multi-coloured as a nod to the fact that Be With would be releasing music of many colours and varieties. Again, I think he got it really right. It took a few goes round and a lot of back and forth but, in the end, I think he created a really nice striking logo and many people ask us about it and have done since day one. It’s why we’ve finally made some t-shirts! I think it’s nearly as nice as the AGS logo – but not quite! Light In The Attic celebrated their 10th anniversary not too long ago. Where do you envision Be With is in 10 years? I’d like to think that Be With will be well established as one of the reissue labels that record lovers around the world frequently look to when seeking out their records. I guess awareness of the label is the hardest thing to achieve – especially when it’s a tiny operation like Be With - so if I could get the label a bit more exposure through continuing to put together special releases then that’d be great and much appreciated. I would hope that I have some day-to-day company in the shape of some colleagues. And an office to work out of would be cool as, currently, it’s a one-man-in-his-flat operation. I think it would be great to be at the stage where I can really eat into my list of things to reissue on vinyl – I’d love to be able to put out a few unique titles a month in the way LITA and the others do. I see no reason why that can’t be the case. I’d like to continue to work closely with all of the artists involved and, who knows, perhaps organise and manage more tours like the Be With Ned one we did. Working with other labels I respect and collaborating fully with the artist is a lot of fun so I’d like to do more of that. The Autumn Defense was very much a joint effort with the band from start to finish. It’s been great that I can work with like-minded souls such as Aloha Got Soul on the Nohelani release and also it was an honour that the Numero Group approached me and wanted to work together on and be a part of our Be With Ned tour. They had a lot of respect for what we achieved with that adventure! One of the things I wanted to do with Be With is have record lovers suggest albums or 12”s that they would like to see get reissued on vinyl. I would like this to be more established as something that record lovers around the world really get into. So hopefully in ten years it will be the first label that people approach to get these records made.
"Hopefully in ten years it will be the first label that people approach to get these records made."All the suggestions we've had so far have been brilliant. A guy from New York City wrote a list of 10 dream reissues on our Facebook wall recently. 3 of them I'd heard of and had on our list. The other 7 I had no idea about and looked them up. They all sounded amazing. Private Press funk/soul/disco that only true geeks knew about - which is so great for us because, whilst we think we know a fair bit, there's just so much out there that we don't know about and people are really enthusiastic about contributing ideas to me. And that’s the great thing about actively reaching out to music lovers globally - people suggest great records to me all the time that I was previously unaware of. Because of this openness and approachable spirit, there's already a nice community feel about what we are trying to do with Be With. I think it will continue too because nobody has heard every good record so this is a great way for me and everyone who wants to be involved to find out about great music. People around the world identify Hawaii with one thing: the aloha spirit. From the sound of it, you’ve already tapped into that spirit by allowing an “to openness and approachable spirit” to Be With Records allows everyone to be a part of its community. The spirit of sharing, listening, giving, and receiving — that’s aloha, Rob! Excellent! I think my in-laws have that spirit certainly – and over the last decade it’s definitely rubbed off on my outlook. London is a far cry from Honolulu. What attracted you to Nohelani's LP? Was there a specific realization that led to pursuing Nohelani Cypriano's LP as a Be With release? It was a combination of things to be honest. I first heard ‘Lihue’ at Piccadilly Records about 10 years ago on a compilation. I was in love with that sound immediately. Having been eager to hear more of Nohe, I discovered the other gems on the LP like ‘Island Boy’. Ever since then it’s been a record that has been high up on my wantlist. However, you can’t find a copy in great shape for less than £100. Hawaii is a place that is close to my family’s heart too, with my in-laws having spent a huge amount of time there over the past 30 years or so. They had a home there for a period of time too but I never got to visit before they moved on. It just felt right to approach Michael Cord and to try to get this classic LP out. I contacted him around fall of 2014 and we put the whole thing together very quickly. It was a breeze to be fair and it was a real shock when Michael passed this month, so suddenly. That was really sad. There has been a renewed interest in Nohe of late with the Athens of the North 7” release too so it feels like now is the right time for everyone to own this wonderful LP. It really is that good – it sounds like nothing else if you ask me. Please! Do describe the Lihue and the music on Nohe's album for our readers. I'm curious to hear what you say with your background at Piccadilly and being a self-proclaimed "anything goes" DJ. Haha! It’s tough man, it really is – I know all too well that I am given to ridiculous acts of verbosity when trying to describe music. I think music is best when it’s nigh on impossible to describe it. When music has you lost for words – that’s what I love. I think it’s best to just enjoy the feeling that great music gives you. It’s all too easy to attempt to work out what’s going on and why it’s making your head nod or your foot tap. Sometimes it’s just a feeling. But OK, that intro to "Lihue" – the happy/sad insistent melody of the keys set against the bird calls and the cymbal rolls – it’s just entrancing. It creates that feeling again. And you know something special is coming when the bass and drums come in. And then that velvety voice enters, wistfully singing about the past and great memories – it’s that nostalgic device employed cleverly to evoke halcyon times. It’s just such a great combination of music, lyrics and spirit. It has it all. And the rest of the LP follows suit. It has a uniform sound in the production and the playing which makes it so much more than just Lihue. It throws so much into the mix – big pop and soul covers carried off well. Then there’s two tracks which, for me, are better than "Lihue". Perhaps because they are far less obvious, I’m not sure. One is "Island Boy", with it’s great horns stabs and almost strutting pace. I was delighted to include it on our Be With mix for Oi Polloi after you kindly sent me an original copy. The other is "Mystery Blue" which I think I first heard on your very own youtube channel about 2-3 years ago. I was delighted to discover it’s on this LP too. It’s got that confident, jazz-funk groove to it and so many delightful musical flourishes bubbling under the beats and bass. Just great.
"There are two tracks which, for me, are better than Lihue."There’s pieces like the often overlooked love-song ‘Livin Without You’ which could be one of Minnie Riperton’s finest ballads, it’s got that feel to it. The deep warmth of the song stems from the country-rock slide guitars combined with Nohe’s soulful vocal and almost mournful piano. The rest of the record is a combination of sometimes nuts feel-good party music imbued with real soul, performed with one eye on the funk at all times and undoubtedly informed by disco. bewithrecords.com. Release parties will be held in London (August) and Honolulu (September).