No Attitude Just Music, 2000
UK based Sugarglider caught our attention over a year ago. Since then, this Euro dance pop trio has earned the distinction of becoming NAJM’s debut release on our newly formed NAJM Records label! Hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in dance music, Sugarglider has attracted some of the best remixers to retool their songs. In addition, Sugarglider runs their own label, ADSR Records!
Phil Wyard: I knew Steve Mortimer’s brother Simon, who was a drummer in a band. Steve had been DJ’ing, and he wanted to get together with some other musicians to do a dance thing. We got together and knocked some tunes about, and then asked Barbie if she wanted to come in on vocals.
Originally, we wanted to be called Angelfish, but then we found out that Shirley Manson was in a band called Angelfish before she was in Garbage. One night we were watching TV, and there was a nature show on about sugargliders. We thought that would be a cool name. No weird connotations, you have to be careful with names these days!
DOING THINGS YOURSELF
When the three of us first started doing songs together, we sent them off to a few record labels and generated some interest. We had demoed for a couple of pretty big labels, but they wanted us to be something else. We’d give them something, and the label would say “We’d like you sound a bit more like so and so.” We didn’t like that. We had a lot of interest from major labels, but they had different plans. We decided to do it ourselves.
Yes, they were like, “We’l sign you for 9 or 10 years” or a bunch of albums, “but you will sound like Celine Dion with a dance-backing track.” We simply weren’t willing to compromise. So we did it ourselves.
The music almost has to come secondary to the label. Trying to be artistic, run the label – as a label, you’re trying to sell the band. People will call you up and say that they like it or thought it was shit. We have to put our label hat on and say okay, even though you want to kill them. Everything has to be in separate boxes. One day you’re the label, the next you’re the artist.
COMING TO AMERICA
We read about the NAJM website and I contacted Mark Hagan with an email asking if he was interested. We sent over the 12-inch and Mark emailed me back and said he loved it and wanted to use it on a NAJM compilation album. It then turned into a full-fledged debut release for NAJM. We sort of went from there.
Mark, in particular is very enthusiastic. When you meet people, even over the phone, you get a feeling. He had so much belief in Bee Sting Smile and this was someone who I had never met face to face. You have to be very careful because you get people who say they are interested and will lead you up the golden path. Mark and I were talking nearly every day about working together. That sort of commitment and belief – I think it’s good. It’s nice that someone comes in from the outside and likes the record, or the band that much. We felt we should go with it.
Well, I hope we knock Mariah Carey off of #1 in the first week. <Laughs>
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
We want the single to lay the foundation for people to know more about us, both the single and NAJM. It will be a base for us. Bee Sting Smile is there for everyone to get their names around. North America is such a massive country and you have to win each city or state, one by one. It can take a long time to break a record. The expectation is to get grounded in the market, so when the second one comes out everything will hopefully be in place. We want to get good press, and good contacts so that the expectation will be there for the second single, and people will know Sugarglider and NAJM.
Yeah. People will ask, “Did you make any money?” You don’t. If you’re not willing to commit yourself and put your work out there, you won’t make money. We did a 500 initial run and it sold out. That was all the mattered. We got great press and radio airplay. We had a list of what we wanted to do, and we hit all those. We didn’t try to take on anything massive, but we accomplished what we wanted to do.
DRIP HONEY ON MY TONGUE
Barbie Thomas: The inspiration behind writing it was basically a book that I had been reading at the time. A British sci-fi writer called Jeff Noon, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him?
The book is called Pollen. He’s kind of a cult writer for the British book scene and he gets into music and other things. He’s a pretty cool guy who used to be a DJ. The book is based in Manchester and is kind of way out. It’s a futurist book about a weird cloud of pollen descending on Manchester and killing the people. A team get together to try and figure out the cause. It’s just a cool book and brings all sorts of images to mind.
I’d finished reading the book and we were getting this track together. Phil comes up with the basic stuff on the acoustic guitar and then I start warbling over the top. The lyrics to Bee Sting Smile just kind of came to me one rainy Saturday.
Barbie Thomas: It is an uplifting song. A lot of my previous songs tended to be dark and a bit of gloomy. I guess I’d been listening to too much Nick Cave, and Phil would be like, “Can’t you write something more uplifting?” What do you think of when you hear Bee Sting Smile?
Glad that you like it.
We’re very pleased. Sunscreem and D-Bop really liked it and agreed to do the remixes. When you start getting positive feedback, you think, “We were on the right track, people do get what we’re trying to do.”
THE SUNSCREEM CONNECTION
Yes. We always do that.
Steve Mortimer used to work in a record store in Chelmsford. There was a track Steve had done that we hadn’t really done anything with. Lucia from Sunscreem had come into the record shop looking for Love U More on Japanese import, and Steve would always deal with her. He passed the track he had done on to her and then Paul and Lucia (collectively Sunscreem) contacted us. They came into the store and told Steve, “We love this track, we want to do it.” They ended up releasing it as the single, Catch. In return, they invited us into their studio up the road, and we’ve since become good friends.
They engineered Bee Sting Smile. They have a nice studio. We go there to master. They have loads and loads of gear. They also have a ton of experience. They engineered and offered their thoughts and ideas. It was great to team up with them because they are very positive about stuff.
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
Yes, I think so. The English hold dance in high regard, and North America is just so big. A lot of people felt like the UK didn’t matter anymore – because things are starting to blow up in the States, with Digweed, Sasha, etc. It’s going from underground to breaking.
North America is such a big country. You have cities that endorse dance culture, but you have a lot of other cities that don’t. Britain is very small. There are two or three clubs in every town. The majority of people do go clubbing. Kids don’t buy guitars anymore, they want to buy a pair of decks, and they are in every record shop all the time. In North America there are many more things to do. America is lagging to the UK right now, but there is some really good stuff coming out and they are catching up really fast.
THE NEXT SINGLE
After doing our 500 run of Bee Sting Smile we got a lot of response and a few people came forward and said they’d like to remix our next release. Cass & Slide who at the time had two releases out – we caught them on the upside to do a remix. We also had Black Dog do a remix who haven’t done anything for ages. We’ve had a couple of others done as well. It just shows you the power of what you can do.
We released it in the UK in October. It’s had great reviews in every magazine (5 out of 5). It’s doing extremely well. We’ve already shipped over 3,500 units, a big jump from 500!
The DJ’s are helping to drive the numbers up. The single has the Cass & Slide version, Black Dog, and our version. It’s really good.
We’re just finishing our next single called Slow Motion. We’re working with Paul and Lu (Sunscreem) again to pull it together. We also have a remix by Van Bellen. We’d like to work with Tricky, Massive Attack, and Hybrid.
THE FUTURE OF SUGARGLIDER
We started out as being a live band. We did some live gigs, but we haven’t played live for a long time.
We’re actually trying to sign some stuff to the label. I don’t want the label to just be Sugarglider stuff. We were in America a few weeks ago and we were given some tracks. I’m in the stages of licensing their tracks for release over here.
I’d like to do at least two singles by other artists before the next Sugarglider record. Just build a label. We need to work on that and sign some good tracks. The rest will come naturally. If you establish a good label, people will buy anything on the label, simply because they know it’s good music.
© 2000 NAJM
The events described in The Sunscreem Connection section of the interview are more or less accurate. However, it was Lucia’s Dad who would stop by Steve Mortimer’s record shop in Chelmsford to buy Sunscreem singles on release day in all formats. At some point, Steve gave him a tape with an instrumental track to relay to Lucia. Later, Lucia called saying Sunscreem wanted to do this track. The rest of the facts in this section are correct.