This week I have conducted an interview with Ville Leppanen co-founder of The Animal Farm, which he runs alongside his brother Mat. The Animal Farm is a very interesting project as they are not just a label. They produce the records, manage the artists and run the label, as well as acting as a bookings agency and publishing company. I was interested to find out more about this company, its history and its future plans.
Ville and Mat hail from Finland and were in the punk band Snowdogs. During their career in Snowdogs they were signed to Victory Records US and toured with Blink 182, Alkaline Trio, At The Drive-in, The Ataris and Less Than Jake amongst others.
After 20 years as musicians they began to tire of touring and the studio they had invested in was attracting interest from other musicians. The Leppanen brothers were also getting requests to produce and write music so they saw this as a natural starting point.
“This was around 2004-2005 when iTunes kicked off, broadband penetration happened, MySpace got popular. All of a sudden the way in which artists were discovered and developed changed,” Ville explains.
“No longer did labels have to sign a band, make a record and market it to find out if anyone liked it. They could just watch what was happening online. Neither were artists in a position where either they got a deal or they were fucked. It changed a lot of the dynamics that we’d grown up with as musicians.”
They decided that if they were going to get involved with unknown bands they needed to be able to provide the whole range of services the band would need to get their career going. During their time in Snowdogs the brothers noticed that the relationship between the artists and the label needed to be more of a partnership rather than labels owning and exploiting the talent. They wanted to create parity and equality so that both sides were taking the risks and when it came good the profits were shared fairly.
As their business grew they were able to offer more and more to the artists. The philosophy The Animal Farm adopts is simple but effective” if you work hard, work smart, write a great song and make a great record you will succeed just don’t ever give up.“
The name The Animal Farm came from the title of a Snowdogs album, inspired by Ville reading George Orwell’s book of the same name as a child. In the book the animals have chants about four legs being better than two. As the animal revolution changed so did the chants to fit the political angle the rulers were taking. This struck a chord with Ville and his views on the music industry.
“The music business is a lot like it in that people like to convince themselves about the merit of whatever they’re doing. Study the debates on giving away free music or not giving it away, how great Spotify is or how shit it is, and so on – all depending on who’s talking. I find it funny. The only thing worth thinking about is this: the music business is based on songs and records. If you have a great song and a great record you can enter the ring and be a contender. If you don’t, no matter what chant you bleat, you won’t get a career.”
In the very beginning the company was run by Ville and Mat who did everything between themselves, but now the company has grown they have a team behind them as well as international partners.
All the artists on their roster have approached The Animal Farm wanting to work with them, they do not use scouts. When they receive a demo they look for four main attributes in prospective artists- the ability to write good songs, the ability to perform them, commitment and a long-term attitude to their career and enthusiasm and drive.
In recent years the company/label has had a hand in the careers of acts such as Esteban, Everything Everything and The Dum Dums. Their current roster includes iremembertapes, The Manic Shine, Violet Bones, Athletes In Paris, Rocketeer, Your New Antique and Dead Social Club.
This label strikes me as being very artist friendly and not purely profit driven. I asked Ville if this was a fair assumption. “We’re very friendly guys and I think that comes across in what we do. Making money wasn’t high on the agenda in our childhood home. We were taught that there are more important things in life than chasing the dollar.”
“When you run a business you have to make money. Artists sometimes think the music business operates as a charity designed to give them the opportunity to drink beer while people with connections make stuff happen. Or they think that it’s all evil and horrible and out to get them. The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle.”
I consider The Animal Farm to be, in some ways, a modern day version of Factory Records (but with more business sense). There are definitely similarities in their attitude towards treatment of the artists and how it should be a partnership between both parties. When I asked Ville if they considered themselves to be similar to Factory Records he was incredibly humble, saying: “I’m chuffed that you should mention us in the same sentence as them. Honestly.”
During April iremembertapes will be touring and The Manic Shine and Violet Bones will be gigging in May and June. Your New Antique have an album launch on the 31st of March at the Parish in Huddersfield and the entire roster have albums and singles due out over the course of the year.
So what plans do The Animal Farm have for the rest of 2012 and in the future?
“We’re expanding our publishing/sync side. Our booking agency has started doing well. We want to break a band nationally and take them to international markets. Here’s a goal: that when next we get mentioned in the same sentence with Factory, I won’t go red in the face.”