One of the UK’s leading funk and soul labels, Jalapeno Records, is to celebrate its 20th anniversary with the release of a compilation album, Two Decades of Funk Fire, celebrating highlights from the label’s illustrious 20 year history.

Jalapeno Records Interview

Hi Trevor, thanks for taking some time to talk to us today.

For those who might not be too familiar with Jalapeno Records, can you give us a little background info about the label and the people behind its inception?

Jalapeno Records is a label that has grown from being DJ / Producer led to having a formidable roster of artists and bands who are all making incredible music and playing it live.

The sound of the label covers soul, funk ,disco, house, hip hop and most points in between - all the good stuff you can dance to really.

The label was founded by Elliot and Alex from Skeewiff and later joined by myself. We had all been friends when we are Uni in Brighton during the halcyon days of 89 – 93 and we had started a different label during that period. We worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to become Ninja Tune and I went off to learn my trade properly at the majors while Elliot and Alex (who were much more musically talented than me) started working together as Skeewiff and IKON. After a period signed to Ministry of Sound / FSUK they started Jalapeno to release their own material and I came on board about a year into it to run the business side of things. We had a side label with Kid Crème, who was making some great house music, and quite early on Kraak & Smaak signed to the label too, so we had a great early catalogue of music from friends to build on.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, Trevor? Where do you hail from, what you were doing before Jalapeno and where your passion for music first started?

I hail from the mean streets of Wimbledon – solid gold suburbia. I have been passionate about music since about 13, though my taste in the early days was pretty dodgy. Hip Hop came along and saved me from that and there was a great rare groove scene in London where nobody at the clubs seemed to care if you were 16. I was 18 in 1988 so I lived and breathed the rave and UK club scene for many years (and still do from time to time). I studied in Brighton which was a glorious place to be (and my home now) and there was so much creativity going on. Labels like Skint and Tru Thoughts formed around that time and are still a backbone of the UK independent music scene. After living abroad for a while in France, Holland and Belgium I settled back in London and worked at Polydor, London Records, Jive and BMG over a period of about 8 years. During that time, I helped break acts like Groove Armada, Kosheen and Outkast as well as working lots of pop hits, so I felt in good shape to apply my knowledge to our own thing.

Where did the inspiration come from to start a funk soul and disco label? Did you have a particular goal or target in mind when you first started or were you just looking to release some great music.

In the beginning it was about the music that we and our friends were making – we didn’t have that firm a direction for the label but everything we liked had a seam of funk running through it - whether it was house, breaks, disco or funk and soul. In the beginning we and our friends were always sampling the greats, then as the label progressed we started working with people who could actually make incredible original music and we started to get an idea of Jalapeno Funk which was just a catch all for the different types of funky music we were into.

How does working for your own record label compare to working for music industry giants like BMG and Polydor?

I had some really great times when I was young and ended up working with my heroes but as I got older and more senior, I became pretty disillusioned with the majors.

The top 10% of artists do great and the rest catch a bullet out the back when their A&R man moves on to his next job.

Working in marketing I became very disillusioned as I was making relationships with some great acts and working on their development and put myself on the line for them and then because I knew them I’d be given the rifle by the top brass when it was time for the cull.

Major label deals are still absolutely shocking too. I really don’t understand any artist who agrees anything other than a 50/50 deal but if you agree an 80 / 20 deal in the labels favour then don’t blame streaming services when you can’t make a living…

So, to answer the question, running my own label is infinitely better than working for a major. My word is my bond and artists get what was agreed and that’s a good feeling and the reason why we have kept so many of our artists for large parts of their careers.

I know a lot of the music from Jalapeno has been used for adverts and TV, how did you go about securing these additional streams of revenue for your label?

Quite early on I realised that the music we had while being a little on the niche side in general terms, worked really well for film, TV and adverts and also that that was where some really big money was.

With the help of AIM and UKTI, I went out to LA and started hustling all the film and TV producers out there and the first trip showed me how fruitful that could be. Someone from Jalapeno has been out there at least once a year ever since keeping those personal relationships going.

What advice could you offer other labels hoping to get their music on adverts and TV?

If you have music that works for TV and film then get thee to LA.

So much content is being made there and it gets licensed for pretty big fees compared to the UK. AIM and BPI (the two main trade bodies for music) organise trips every year in conjunction with DTI (the government) with great introductions and events. First timers can often get a grant to go.

Can you tell us about the 20th anniversary compilation album?

Sure – it’s a celebration of some of our favourite tracks from the last 20 years. Honestly it could easily have been our 100 favourite tracks but it’s hard to fit that on a CD. Most of our album artists are represented on there. Some of the singles only artists had to get passed over but perhaps we can do a volume 2. It’s coming out as a 10 track 7” box set, a 20 track CD and a 20 track digital version.

I believe you have clocked up over 350 releases on the label so it can’t have been easy to select which tracks to use. How did you go about selecting the back cat tracks for the compilation? Are they the best sellers, featured on TV, most played or some other criteria?

We have bands who have clocked up 4, 5 and even 6 albums for the label so of course those acts are going to feature heavily but beyond that it was just a question of picking our personal favourites. Some of the tracks are our favourites because of what happened with them and the effect their release had on the label and some are there just because of how they make us feel. There was a lot of office debate before we finalised it.

What else do you have planned around the launch of the 20th anniversary compilation, Box sets, events, livestreams etc?

No events in 2020 – we’ve been promoting events for a few years under “The Jalapeno Bop” brand and we had a summer of festivals and clubs shows planned but like everyone else those plans were put on hold. Hopefully they will happen next year. Loads of our acts have been doing great livestream stuff but we are going to wait for the return of the full live experience for the label celebration.

Shouldn’t be long now as I’ve been working on a vaccine in my spare time… it’s kind of funky looking but I’m pretty sure it’s going to work.

I’m sure as a label owner you have never quite experienced a year like 2020m with clubs closing, people being confined to their homes and a general unrest around the globe. How have you navigated through problems that have arisen this year?

We decided early on to just keep going. We had a crazy busy release schedule in 2020 and we just didn’t want to let all the hard work the artists had put in to dissipate into nothing, so we kept going and kind of against the odds we’ve had a good year business wise. Physical sales especially vinyl have been great, and we’ve had a Number 1 album and loads of national radio exposure for our artists. The down-side has been seeing all our friends and artists whose income depends on the live business suffering and seeing how things have actually worsened rather than improved for black people and other discriminated against minorities. I think the world took a turn for the worse in 2016 when Trump got in and Brexit was chosen but people have been shouting louder and louder and are hopefully finally getting heard...

What else can we expect from Jalapeno in the short term and long term future of the label?

We are just going to keep on doing what we do. We have a great roster of current artists but there is always space for someone special to join. We have an incredible team of people working at the label who do such a pro job it allows us to compete with any label whatever size. We have three albums already lined up for 2021 from talented artists Gizelle Smith, The Allergies and Asta Hiroki and hopefully we can make a bigger deal out of our 21st birthday celebrations than we could our 20th with events in the UK and overseas. If you see us out there on the dancefloor come raise a glass...

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Smoove's 'Jalapeno Records: Two Decades of Funk Fire' DJ Mix View Tracklist

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