Syd Arthur

Canterbury rockers Syd Arthur let us in on the secrets of their success and how to get noticed at SXSW...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 11 Apr 2014
  • min read
‘For years we did everything ourselves out of necessity. We decided that we wanted to make music our lives and had to do it…’

The story of guitar band Syd Arthur is a familiar one. Liam Magill (guitar, vocals), Raven Bush (violin), Fred Rother (drums), Joel Magill (bass) all met at school and bonded over the stoner rock of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age before deciding to form their outfit.

After finding their musical feet, the group decided to tout their songs to various labels, management agencies and agents but had little success. Instead of taking it as defeat, they decided to go it alone.

Following eight years of soaking up everything they could about making music and the music business, the band scored PRS for Music Foundation funding via the organisation’s British Music Abroad scheme. They used the money to visit SXSW in 2013 with the trip leading them to a US deal and making important contacts in the international music market.

Here Raven from the band gives us his top tips on how the band succeeded at SXSW and how doing everything yourself out of necessity stands you in good stead for the future…

Being totally DIY takes time - but means you learn everything

At the beginning it was exciting to have complete creative control. It can be very intense but you learn how to do everything. Why do you learn so much? It’s because you make all the decisions and all the mistakes, then have to re-do them!

For example with our first album On an On we almost made that record twice. There’s an EP called Moving World we released around the same time. The songs on there were originally meant to be On an On but a producer we played it to convinced us we could do better.

This led us to re-arrange and re-record our songs - the comments basically shone a mirror at us. It’s an example of how doing it yourself can take longer but before that we were very much a live band. We wrestled out a sound we were never happy with. That experience of making a record, putting it out yourself, mixing it, producing it - it was invaluable.

Funding can help get your music reach to places you only dreamed of

PRS for Music Foundation’s funding was vital in getting us to SXSW. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise so it was pivotal in us getting signed. Up until then, America wasn’t even on our radar.

Making good contacts at SXSW is key

Some friends of ours suggested we go to SXSW. We were blown away that we got the funding. It was at a gig out there that an A&R guy from Harvest Records saw us. Since then we met some important people who have helped us essentially build a team around us.

We went to SXSW last year as a band who does everything themselves. Now we’ve got a whole team - management, booking agent, label - it’s totally crazy.

Timing helps you make an impact

We were fortunate. We’re doing something a little bit different to the majority of acts out there. The people who are into the kind of music we make will probably already know about us and be at the shows. So doing your own thing is important. Making music which follows your own beat is key. That’s one thing which helps you stand out.

Having luck on your side also helps

Apart from that, it’s luck of the draw. SXSW is a crazy festival. There’s so much going on. Every single place is buzzing. There’s music happening everywhere. It was a really successful story for us. But if we’d gone the year before the timing would have been different and it may not have happened the way things did.

Returning to SXSW helps cement the previous year’s work

It was a fantastic time to go again because the festival was an anniversary event. It’s been a year since we were here and so much stuff has happened. The festival date feels like a real landmark.

That was one thing which was really nice. We had more and better shows this year. Last year we played to ten people. It just so happens that some of those ten people became very close friends and helped introduce us to different, important people in the US industry. This year was more about having different press at the shows, doing filming for US TV. There were more gigs and less time to socialise. It felt like a step up.

Keep the momentum going

The relationships we formed led us to New York and LA and people flying over from America to meet with us. After SXSW last year we did a showcase gig at the Mercury Lounge in June. Between March and June the pace just picked. We were getting interest from industry legends who we couldn’t believe we were talking to. For us being a band doing everything off our own backs and playing SXSW to getting all this interest and being wined and dined. It was really amazing.

Always work with people you get along with

We’d been such a tight unit for so many years so we were cautious about letting people into our team. The main thing is choosing people who you think are great and you get along with and have a shared vision and aesthetic. That was the main thing. We met many fantastic people but how we decided who we worked with was based on how they were as people. You want people who can help you and share the same vision. It’s better to go with an underdog who understands you rather than some big shot who doesn’t have time to put the hours in.

Commit 100%

Being a musician is something you need to commit wholeheartedly too. You love it but it’s also your job. Combining them can be extremely rewarding. At the same time, you need to do your own thing and do it the best you can. That’s the crucial thing.

Syd Arthur’s second album Sound Mirror is due out in May in the US and June in the UK.

Visit their website to find out further details on the band.