Xtra Mile Recordings year end review:
Well, that was a year.
2014 could rightly be summed up for Xtra Mile Recordings as exhausting yet exhilarating. Exhilsting? Maybe.
It marked the tenth year of our operation and we celebrated by delving into our past and hailing the future. To make it easy for all you Buzzfeed vampires out there - feeding upon lists like they're the only sustenance you get - we'll put them into a scrolling GIF fest your eyes will just love you for (well, actually no GIFs, but words and pictures, yes). Read on to see what we did for you and what you did for us. It's a fantastic t we've got going on.
#1 Back to the future
For a lot of our fans, there is maybe one band that defined the early days of the label.Yes, more even than that beardy guy you all know.
Our first release was Reuben's debut album Racecar is Racecar Backwards, a frag grenade of barbed words and vicious truth that levelled the lay of the land and essentially gripped everyone who heard it. A fervor over a debut album of its sort might've seemed unlikely once upon a time, but this was when the young British outcasts and music zealots had a hunger for the heavier side of things. Having already helped Integrity Records release the defining A Song To Ruin by some band called Million Dead, this was the record that helped coagulate our tastes, our neuroses, our dreams and loves. It sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But it's not.
And of course it made sense to re-release this highly-favoured record from a much-missed band. It had been 10 years. It was our first release. It's a cult record that remains important to a whole heap of people. And fan demand for a vinyl reissue made it make sense. Of course, Jamie Lenman & co being good people, didn't want to just re-release the thing. They compiled a whole heap of live and radio takes, rarities and never before heard versions of songs for long-term fans to hug and love, plus brand new artwork by Jamie. And yes, we did white vinyl too.
Read about the history of the album on the XMR HUB here.
#2 The rise and rise of an icon
It was Laura Jane Grace's year, everyone else just lived in it.
We released the astonishing new album by Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, back in January. It was our first release of the year and has been the most critically acclaimed and fan-loved record of the year, perhaps of our entire decade of existence.
It's an incredible record, one that has captured the attention, imagination and love of people from all walks of life. Gender dysphoria is still a taboo subject in mainstream society, but one that Laura has helped open up throughout the year. The record kicked things off, and she was then given the opportunity to tell her own story alongside others who've had similar experiences in the AOL Originals series True Trans with Laura Jane Grace. An essential, open and sometimes heart-breaking look at a host of journeys for those who have or are going through dysphoria, it can only have helped bring the issue to light for a lot of people, as well as aiding those who are struggling with it.
Against Me! have also toured relentlessly this year, with two huge European tours and long US tours, playing to thrilled and active audiences who have now embraced the music - or have been long-term fans - thanks to Laura's strident songwriting, passion and energy. It's truly been a triumphant year on a professional and personal level for Laura, and a huge step up for Against Me!.
#3 Breaking the compilation mould (and filling your hard drive)
We're not entirely sure how we did this.
Somehow we managed to compile a 42 track compilation of almost our entire roster and a corresponding list of unsigned artists' tracks. Essentially, each Xtra Miler was asked to give us a song from their favourite unsigned discovery for the compilation. That's it. We then got a heap of brand new music to listen to, as well as a healthy, happy selection from our own stable. And we did it all for you.
Yep. The fifth volume in the popular Xtra Mile High Club series really took us to the limit of our playlist making abilities, and conquers any other album in terms of quality-to-pounds-spent ratio. At least, we think so. And a bunch of you probably did too.
If you have no idea what we're talking about, perhaps have a listen here. You won't regret it.
#4 Prize of a lifetime
We're basically too good for you. But then perhaps you're too good for us.
Either way, we've met in the middle and we just had to offer someone a ridiculous prize. In May, we gave people the chance to win two tickets to every single Xtra Mile-headlined gig in the world....for a year. If we had bands playing anywhere for the whole 365 days June 2014-June2015, you could attend them all for free. All it required was proof of purchasing our 10 year Xtra Mile Single Sessions vinyl box set, and some fun pictures and some words to show and tell us why you deserve the prize.
The clear winner was Melanie Meixner, from Germany. Since then, she has carried her hitchhiker "Next Gig" Xtra Mile Recordings sign across the continent to see as many of our acts as possible, even stopping to pose for a few pictures with our artists, which was nice of her. She still has five months of adventures left to go, and we'll have a written account of the best year of her life some time soon on the HUB.
She's our kind of fan.
#5 Our very own outlaw breaks all the rules
Billy the Kid seems capable of supporting herself through sheer will alone forever.
Her recent past has included selling her own incredible paintings to pay for a European tour with Chuck Ragan and fellow Canadians Northcote, paying for a flight from London after getting stranded there without money by launching a crowdfunding campaign for a children's book, and delivering awesome records to fans who've trusted and paid her to make something special.
This is roundabout where Xtra Mile stepped in. After a chance meeting with Frank Turner, wheels turned, plots were hatched and Frank ended up producing her fourth album Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, adding his vocals and musicianship where needed, and even drafting in his very own Sleeping Soul Nigel Powell to do drums. Xtra Mile signed Billy and she hasn't looked back since. She's toured extensively, including with labelmates Against Me! and Northcote (twice), and even a short stint in the US with Billy Bragg.
We don't know how she does it, but we love that she does.
#6 A signing spree
We've basically signed all your new (and one old) favourite people.
Billy, who we mention up above so you know about her. Rob Lynch gave us his excellent debut album All These Nights In Bars Will Somehow Save My Soul with the frankly ridiculously catchy singles 'My Friends And I', 'Whiskey' and 'Stamford'. He's lined up a tour with Front Porch Step next year, so you'll hear even more from him soon.
Esmé Patterson is set to release her album Woman To Woman next year, but she's already made an impact with the startling idea behind it - all the songs are told by prominent female characters in famous songs. You'll hear from Billie Jean (yes, the one who wasn't Jacko's lover), Caroline from that Beach Boys song, and Jolene from...well Jolene. She's also spent some time performing with Shakey Graves, including on Conan O'Brien's show in the US, so she's already making waves.
Skinny Lister have been gathering speed and momentum for a while, and we're pleased to be able to release their next record Down On Deptford Broadway. This is definitely an Xtra Mile band - touring in a narrow boat and gigging in Land Rovers, dancing and singing wherever possible, most likely while drunk. You are going to have heaps of fun with these lot next year.
Mineral may be old, but they'll be new to most of you. Having reformed 17 years after their split (and they were only three or four years old as a band then), the band have taken on a relentless touring schedule - starting in New York, which long-time fan Frank Turner attended - as well as re-releasing their only two albums on CD and vinyl. They finally hit the UK and Europe next year, as well as Japan and Australia. Get ready to do some serious crying.
#7 Surprise ambush
We all knew it was coming, just not when.
We gave you a week's notice, and you all screamed with delight when you realised the storm was upon us. Möngöl Hörde finally released their long-awaited album, and they did it through Xtra Mile.
Frank Turner, Ben Dawson and Matt Nasir took us all on a ferocious journey with their Hörde, songs plunging straight into topics like weekend hardmen, dejected murderous unicorns, revolutions against famous actors by their own tapeworms, and The Beatles' time-travelling master plan to steal all the world's best songs.
A world apart from Frank and Matt's dayjobs - though having a little more in common with Ben's post-Million Dead outfits - the short tour they did in support of the album was Frank's only holiday this year, and he spent it throwing himself into crowds of you lot while massacring his own larynx. Fun times.
#8 XMR in your house
These next two almost all come courtesy of of a true visionary, organiser, artist, and social media hero - Valerie Gritsch.
The idea of shoving a carefully selected artist or two into the living rooms of our fans to do some gigs had been around for a while. Once we realised that the term 'skiffle' was suspected to have arisen from the habit of putting on gigs in apartments to help pay rent, we had a name and were almost ready to go. Val did almost everything else.
Oxygen Thief (Barry Dolan, to his wife) willingly spent a couple of weeks on the road on the US east coast in August/September, going to willing people's flats to hang out, drink beer, and play some songs with them and their friends. The Skiffle crew drove everywhere, met wonderful people, captured hearts and minds and souls. The experiment was so successful (and massively fun) that it was repeated with To Kill A King in London, this past November.
Keep an eye out, an open house and a stocked fridge for more musical fun.
#9 You're ours now
The #XMRMY have been spreading the word since mid-2014, growing in numbers and helping us reach more of you so we can give you what's good.
Taking on the familiar idea of band's fan-driven street teams, and applying it to an entire label and roster, these passionate, excited people are united in helping us talk about our favourite music. There's a street team tumblr with tonnes of Xtra Mile social media activity, news, and - most importantly - how to sign up.
The street team has been invaluable to helping us reach more of you and introduce you to some of your most adored new songs. Which is basically why we're here after all. If this is all a machine, they're the friendly, happy, caring minions that do the marketing. There are no cogs here - everything is a living, breathing, creative part.
Xtra Milers who join our Street Team get rewards for helping us, as well as our respect. You can decide which of those you'd rather have. And join us.
#10 Bigger than ever
It's very hard to wrap up a year without talking about Frank Turner.
He's been with us since the beginning - as vocalist and songwriter for Million Dead - and we've been there every step of the way of his solo career, releasing his first ever official physical release: a version of 'The Real Damage' on the Xtra Mile Single Sessions split vinyl 7" with Reuben. Five albums, several EPs and plenty of assorted other releases later, and he's still here taking on the world.
Earlier in the year he embarked on his first ever headline UK arena tour, culminating in playing front of 10,000 people at the O2. It was a sight to behold. And a bunch of you just needed to show and tell us about your FT arena tour experiences. He also tackled one of his largest European tours to date, and some of you wanted to talk about that too.
Frank had a tough year overall, dotted with his usual success - including that Möngöl Hörde album and tour you all embraced and loved - but there was no doubt the year ended on a high. XFM's annual Winter Wonderland saw Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls storm a headline set for 5000 people at Brixton Academy. They were joined by fellow Xtra Mile heroes Billy the Kid and To Kill A King. Celebrations to mark the end of the tenth year of Xtra Mile Recordings were well under way before To Kill A King's short set, and escalated as the night went on.
Ben Morse, our faithful friend and amazing photographer and director, documented the evening for us, capturing some of us in all our glory, and some of us without any glory at all. It doesn't matter. Look anyway.
So, how was your Xtra Mile 2014? What did we do that you particularly loved? If you're new, how did you find out about us? What happened to you at Xtra Mile events? Meet some new friends? Lovers even? Did you meet any of US (we're sorry, and we promise we'll be more coherent and sober next time)(maybe)? We always want to know what you have to say. Don't be shy. Get at us on Facebook, Twitter on @Xtra_Mile, and email at contributions [at] xtramilerecordings [dot] com.
Happy new year everyone, and see you in 2015 for more of this sort of thing. Enjoy the year, be responsible (for everything you do), and most of all enjoy every second of it. You need even more stories to tell.