Gaz Williamson

The Snuts on Escaping the Major Label System, Connecting With Fans and Staying True To Themselves

Last September, Scottish band The Snuts released sophomore album Burn the Empire. Last month, barely half a year since that record came out, they put out another – Millennials, their first release since leaving Parlophone and starting own label Happy Artist. Jack Parker caught up with bassist Callum Wilson as he wandered around a parking lot in Idaho during The Snuts’ ongoing US tour.

Hey Callum. How are you doing?
Yeah, really good man. We’re in America now, I’m standing in a parking lot in fucking Idaho. We just overcame a bad bout of tour illness, so we’re back to full strength and parked outside a Planet Fitness. 

You’re on your way to Seattle now, right?
Yeah, looking forward to it. We did some of the album there and in Portland, so it’s good to play the songs there too.

Millennials is your new album, and it’s out barely half a year after your previous record. What’s the reason behind this very quick turnaround time?
We just wanted to have some fun making music again, having spent such a long time trapped in the major label system. It almost felt sometimes like we had to ask permission to make music, so when we left we thought, “fuck it”, paid for everything ourselves and wrote new music. We took it to the label as opposed to the other way around, but they didn’t want it so we parted ways with them. Now we have much more control as we’ve started our own label – Happy Artist Records. Our old major label exec was a really nice guy, but he said that happy artists were his worst nightmare and that he preferred them to be sad. So we named it that as a sort of running joke, but then it slowly became a mantra.

It’s not an ideal system, the major label one.
I think it’s a very emotionally unforgivable place. Only if you have the ever changing metrics that they’re always looking at will you have it easy. No matter who you are, there will always be someone bigger or someone who you get compared to. Comparison takes the joy away from making music. Music is art, it’s not a competition. You’re releasing an emotion or feeling, and you want it to connect with others the way it connects with you. Our old major label commodified our music and wanted us to write music in a way which didn’t align with us.

Majors give so much, but take away much more.
Yeah. You really have to decide what your limit is when it comes to money and happiness. And if it doesn’t work, then that’s ok and you should walk away.

Just to touch back on the short time between your last two albums – would you say that Burn the Empire and Millennials could be seen as companion pieces to one another? 
I’d say that Burn the Empire was a social commentary, whereas Millennials is an emotional commentary. On our last album we looked outwards, we were angry at the world and at the politics in our country. Now we’re looking inwards at the emotions and feelings we maybe weren’t equipped to deal with at the time, and also looking at how life defining moments passed you by without realising. And then we packaged it as very bright, happy indie music.

The artwork is certainly very colourful.
We wanted the artwork to represent the chaos of the millennial era. We worked with a great creative group, but also with our own fan Discord community which has 4,000 members. We mobilised them, took it to them and asked what makes them feel nostalgic. We tried to make something which resonated with everyone. Our Discord channel is worldwide, there are different channels for different parts of the world, and yet it feels global.

Did you notice trends in responses from particular channels?
Branding in the US is so different, it’s very brash and in your face compared to Europe, but we noticed a nice balance and made sure it didn’t feel too UK, or too European, but more global.

The whole idea of this Discord channel is also great when it comes to connecting with fans in a time where your favourite artists are just one click away.
Definitely. We found towards the end of our time at Parlophone that we weren’t as in to social media as our label wanted us to be; we really didn’t resonate with TikTok. It was a bit like that Steve Buscemi meme – hey, fellow kids. Y’know? 

Haha, yeah. I’m 27 and I can’t relate to TikTok, my limit is Reels.
I’m 29, but even with Reels you find yourself mindlessly scrolling. We wanted to create an engaging platform where fans could also meet each other, and do things together. Or in the case of girls travelling alone, find people to travel with. Not just another way to mine for dopamine and likes. As a band we also dip in and out of the Discord, sometimes we’re gone for months at a time while the fans keep it going. We have Gary who does our socials, and he assembled a team of moderators. Doing it like this is so fulfilling. 

I imagine there are also benefits for fans who join the Discord?
We do lots of giveaways, and Discord members usually find out about stuff a few hours before everyone else. We also put on special fan events and stuff, for example we’ll put some money behind the bar before a gig and fans will come down before the show and drink together. I feel like Discord is a super useful tool for artists. Video game streaming and podcasting kind of inspired it, and I think a lot of drill artists also make use of Discord. Obviously it’s also very big in fandom circles, but in music it’s not being used as much as it could be.

So looking at all of this, how does it set you up for what comes next? Have you even had time to think about that yet?
In 2025 I hope we can get Happy Artist Records off the ground, whereas this year we’ll just keep refining the live show and take it around the world. 

You mention getting the label off the ground. Do you see yourselves ever signing other artists to your label?
It’s always been a goal to set something up that didn’t follow the copy paste structure of every other label out there. There are obviously good record labels too, but we wanted one which focuses more on the wellbeing of artists as opposed to pushing them as far as possible. There has to be a more emotionally fulfilling way of working with artists.

You’re in the US right now. Every country’s audiences differ, but what are the biggest challenges for a band like yourselves in winning over the US crowds?
In the UK there’s a big drinking culture, so our gigs are often big pissed up affairs. It’s very in your face, almost aggressive in a way, but that’s what we’re used to and what’s become our comfort blanket. We’re very lucky to go around the world and experience all these different crowds. In Australia they’re a lot like the UK, whereas in Japan they’re super respectful. Americans are kind of similar, they stand there and take it all in, digesting the music. It’s much less of a drinking affair. I’ve been to gigs back home which I thought were the best I’d ever seen, but afterwards I won’t remember a thing because I was off my fucking nut.

In 2019 you said “we want to be risky, we don’t want to fall into the trap of being an indie band with one hit”. Five years later, do you feel like you’ve stayed true to your word?
Yeah, certainly. We’ve always stayed true to being The Snuts, even if the sound has changed. We might not use the same guitar effects, but the core of what we are is still there. I feel like no matter what direction we move in, we always have our roots firmly planted without being afraid to branch out. Millennials is out now.