Jonathan Lees is the owner of micro-independent, Yorkshire-based label Hibernate and its sister label Rural Colours. Since starting in 2009, Hibernate has put out a wide range of ambient and electroacoustic releases from artists such as Clem Leek, Northerner and Relmic Statute.
I travelled over to meet Jonathan in Mytholmroyd, a small town in West Yorkshire near to where Jonathan lives. There is a procession walking through the town on the day we meet, which contains bagpipes, leather-clad motorcyclists, medieval costumes, and some confused dogs on a boat.
Amidst the strangeness, we manage to find a place to sit down in a noisy café where Jonathan kindly gives me a number of handmade releases, including a CD with a woollen cover that his wife has knitted, and we have a chat about Hibernate.
How did the decision to set up the label come about?
I have two stepsons that had their own band and they signed up with a label that made them pay a lot of money to have the album recorded and put out. But the label did shit. They did nothing for them at all and I figured I could do a better job myself. So I started to promote the album and give it away for free, which upset the label even though they didn’t want to do anything with it. I just wanted to get people to hear it. I originally planned to start a label to promote them and perhaps some other local bands but they broke up. I just figured, with the amount of effort and research I had already put in, I might as well just do my own thing and release the music I like.
Is there a driving ethos or motivation behind Hibernate?
Not sure really, perhaps photography is one as on some of the releases I get to feature my own or a friend’s photography. Musically, it’s a mixture of electronic and organic, there has to be some real instrumentation like guitar or piano, so it’s not just synth or computer-based music. I think it’s really just down to my taste and passion for the music more than anything.
What is the significance of the label’s setting?
I took inspiration both from the music I was listening to at the time, sleepy ambient drone, but also from the local landscape. If you go up on the Moors around here it can be very solitary and quiet and the weather can be very unpredictable, sunny one minute and wild the next, which kind of inspires the Hibernate releases. We might have a reputation for ambient drone but occasionally we’ll throw a spanner in the works.
A sense of melancholy seems consistent with Hibernate releases. What has influenced this?
Just my taste in music really. For years I liked a lot of slowcore and post-rock bands like Bedhead and Low. Before that, I was heavily into stuff on Warp, Rephlex, etc. I guess on Hibernate it’s a mixture of the two.
Are there any other artists you would like to work with?
I’d love to release something for Labradford, Windy & Carl or Stars of the Lid but I know that’s not going to happen. Early on, I used to accept a lot of demos for the label but now I prefer to work with people I know in person, it’s a lot more rewarding releasing something for a friend.
Talk us through a step-by-step process of how something would be released on Hibernate.
Normally the artist will send me an almost bare demo and once it’s finished, we’ll get it mastered and produce the artwork. As soon as both the artist and I are happy, I’ll send it off for manufacturing. With vinyl, there’s just the additional step of getting some test copies made so you can check the sound before manufacture. Recently Hibernate has grown into a small team, a good friend Ian Hazeldine does most of the design work and another friend Harry Towell writes the press releases. I do pretty much all the promotion, sales, and deal with the website and the label’s internet presence.
Can you describe the relationship between Hibernate and its sister label Rural Colours?
Rural Colours is primarily made up of handmade artifacts, we usually release 3″ CD-Rs and the music is released as a free download via Creative Commons but that’s all going to change soon. It’s also about giving a platform for upcoming artists to release their works. Hibernate releases are not a free download, well not supposed to be, and although it is pretty much a not-for-profit business, we do try to at least break-even and make some funds for each artist.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own label?
Work hard. Prepare. It is hard work and you need to be organised. You’ve really got to be into it and have a passion about what you do. My only advice is to try and get as good distribution as possible. You can make five CDs and sell them to your friends, but to make 150 CDs and sell them is a lot harder.
Lastly, what upcoming releases can we expect from Hibernate?
We have Against a Simple Wooden Cross from Caught in the Wake Forever out soon, from which 100% of the money goes to Crisis Counselling, a charity that helps people with various difficulties. It’s very different to our previous stuff as it is the first Hibernate release with vocals and goes in a direction that I’d like to follow in the future. After that, we have an album out from Sheffield-based Autistici. We will also soon be reissuing our very first release, which was from Ian Hawgood. It’s been remastered by James Plotkin and features remixes from bvdub, Hakobune, Ryonkt, Dag Rosenqvist and Pillowdiver.