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News November 12, 2018

Rice Is Nice Owner Julia Wilson talks 10 years in business: ‘We can just do whatever we want’

Senior Journalist, B2B
Rice Is Nice Owner Julia Wilson talks 10 years in business: ‘We can just do whatever we want’

Spotify isn’t the only company in music celebrating its 10th anniversary. Sure, with its multi-billion-dollar IPO, its fluctuating shareprice and forays into controversy, Spotify does a handy job at hogging the headlines. Rice Is Nice is also 10 years young, but it was never about grandstanding. The boutique music label is the brainchild of Julia Wilson, who a decade ago waved off the defeatists, went with her gut and built a hub for eclectic, (mostly) homegrown acts.

With experience in media (she worked as a photographer), label-land and retail, Wilson set about starting a venture with a mission to find and sign unique acts. Her friends thought she was nuts. The landscape of the record business in 2008 looked like a battle scene from The Walking Dead. Today, Rice Is Nice is alive and thriving and her company has arms across the world through distribution via Inertia Music in Australian and New Zealand and by Revolver in North America and Europe.

TIO caught up with Wilson as Rice Is Nice prepares to celebrate its milestone, with a party Nov. 22 at ACMI during Melbourne Music Week. Wilson is excited, and a little nervous. “I hate putting on shows it brings me such terror,” she admits. She needn’t be. A long lineup of Rice Is Nice artists will be in the house, from Straight Arrows to Richard In Your Mind, Rebel Yell, Sarah Mary Chadwick, Spod, Summer Flake and guest DJs Lowtide, You Beauty and Doug Wallen.

Yours isn’t the only company celebrating 10 years in business. Rice Is Nice launched in the same year as Spotify. You’re in good company.

That’s crazy. I remember being in London about eight or nine years ago and my friend saying there’s this new thing called Spotify. I figured I’d put Seekae, one of my bands, into it and see if it pops up. And it did. I was like, what’s this crazy thing that knows my Australian artists? As soon as I started a label, that’s when they fucked us over with royalties.

The industry was still living off an old difference model back then.

Totally, it was about selling CDs and there was iTunes. It feels like everybody is still trying to work out what this new model is. It’s quite baffling. With Rice Is Nice and indie and boutique labels we create content for people who have a record collection, who want some artwork or vinyl. That’s why great record stores still exist and seem to be flourishing. That’s where we exist.

What’s the secret to your longevity?

When I started I had a lot of people tell me not to do it. And almost aggressively so. I completely ignored them and continued on my merry way. The reasons why I do it is because there are a lot of incredible artists who exist in Australia and who demand more attention. That’s the secret, that’s the key, having great artists that appeal to people. It’s not something that I’m particularly doing, apart from doing my best to promote them and put them in front of the right audiences or industry people or media outlets. It’s them, the artists that I sign, that I get to work with. That’s why I started. I was so impressed with Australian bands and wondered why they weren’t getting as much attention as the internationals. It really frustrated me, I could see a lot of bands getting some pretty poor deals, and and some pretty confusing and not very transparent situations. I just thought there’s room for something new and different. DIY. There’s no real strategy, just being really passionate and confident and proud and supportive of what we’re doing with Australian artists and what they’re producing. Of course, no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all smart capable people. If you’ve got a mission or a plan or a goal, it’s totally achievable. That’s what I’ve gotten out of it.

Your taste in music surely has something to do with it. We could all go out and sign some awful bands and no one would have anything to show for it?

That’s true. I’ve always had a really broad taste. Rice is Nice isn’t a genre specific label. It’s just stuff I like, that seems to have translated. I was always quite immersed in music. I wanted to be a music photographer. Inpress magazine got me to do their music photography. I used to work in a little metal store in Frankston. I was really into music, always reading about it and looking behind the music as well. I was always fascinated in record labels and the people behind them. I lived above Greville Records in Melbourne and really feel like Warwick Brown at Greville gave me such a music education. Maybe that’s why I have such a broad taste.

Do you remember your first release?

I met Owen (Penglis) from Straight Arrows and Brent (Griffin) from Spod at the same time, pretty much. Owen and I started a label called Juvenile Records and we put out Straight Arrows 7”s, Black Lips 7”s, King Khan, we were going to do a Jay Reatard, but we didn’t which is annoying (the American artist died in 2010). Owen showed me how to manufacture vinyl and release stuff to shops. I had the knowledge of promotion and label management from working at record companies. I just merged that together. Those two guys just said, “I’ve got music, you want to put it out?” It was like the stars aligning in that sense with those two people in my life. They’re still such a big part of Rice Is Nice.

Have you taken the opportunity to look back at the big moments?

I haven’t had too much time to reflect but I am a pretty sentimental person so I do constantly think about things that have happened along the way. It’s a slow burn, lots of (moments). I’ve always wanted to release lots of records by the same artist if they want to stay on the label and be in a place that will nurture artists, rather than a lot of record labels that put out a record and the pressure is on for No. 2 and if that didn’t work, see you later. You deliver your records and we’ll put them out. We can just do whatever we want. That’s been the MO. If we want to release something on Christmas Day, we can do it. There are so many bands out there creating stuff that just needs the confidence or help to release it. If you want to release some body of work that’s super weird, let’s do it. It’s going to be awesome because it’s coming from them. But we’re not going to release a record of farts or anything like that.

It’s probably been done. There are albums of silence out there.

I could totally go for something like that if it’s interesting.

Finally, what will next 10 years of Rice Is Nice look like.

Lots of records from hopefully our existing roster, hopefully they’ll continue to fight the good fight. And hopefully many more Australian and New Zealand artists coming to the fold. We’ll still be going.

Click here for more details on the Rice Is Nice birthday party.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.


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