Thanks so much to Martin Sernestrand for the interview! 2014 marks 10 years since My Secret Garden Recordings started as a label in Goteborg, Sweden. For us nostalgic people seeing the new Facebook page that Martin put together has brought many smiles and memories. You should all make yourselves fans! The label was a true DIY project, small runs of 25 to 50 CD-Rs for every release. All done with passion. Among the releases we remember bands like Evergreen Days, Everyday Sensations, Penny Century or my favourites Fibi Frap. It didn’t live long, but the legacy, at least for me, is really rich. Time for you to discover (or rediscover) this great label from the last golden age of Swedish indiepop!
++ Hi Martin! How are you? First thing first. It’s been already 10 years since My Secret Garden Recordings started. Looking back in time, how do you feel your releases have aged?
Hi! I’m fine, just a little bit cold. But it is getting better day by day. Yes, it is unbelievable. 10 years! Time just seems to fly away. I was actually listening through all the releases the other day. Overall I think they still hold up to the same standard as before. In my opinion they have aged well and are still relevant.
++ Where did the name of My Secret Garden Recordings come from?
It is a Depeche mode song. Taken from the album “A Broken frame”.
++ Was this your first label project? What about music, do you play any instrument, have you been in bands?
Yes, it was my fist label. I had ideas of starting a label before but this was the first time a sat my plans in to reality. I myself don’t play any instrument. But I have been in some bands when I was young. I played bass in a band when I was around 14 years old but when they realized I couldn’t play they made me the singer. But I couldn’t sing either so I got the sack. Lol! Some years ago I did some unlistenable electronic music under the alias J.Fryer (ie John Fryer).
++ What pushed you to start the label? And did you ever consider it doing it with more people, or was it always a one-man project since the start?
It all started with my fanzine No Disco in the early 00’s. Through that I got a lot of contact with bands and one day the idea of starting a label and releasing the music I liked came to me. It’s sort of grew on me. I didn’t thought about it too much. It just came naturally. I have always been a loner so to speak. Not that I don’t have any friends but I like doing things alone and I’m more comfortable doing projects like this alone. Maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak. I don’t know.
++ Most (if not all?) your releases were releases on CDR. Why the format? Did you burn them yourself, one by one?
It’s a perfect format. It’s cheap, fast and you can do almost everything yourself. I did everything together with the artists/bands. Layout, track list and even song titles. It was very diy.
++ Do you remember the sort of “infrastructure” of the label? Was it all bedroom based?
I guess you can call it bedroom based yes. As I said before. I tried to do everything myself but with some help from the artists/bands. The goal was to keep it as cheap and simple as possible. But the end product still should be something that people wanted to have, pay for or steal from me.
++ And who took care of the artwork for the label?
I did almost all the artwork. Sometimes the artists/bands had an idea but it was always I who did (copy and paste) the final product.
++ Are there any labels that you’d say influenced you in starting your own or influenced you in how to shape it?
Yes, of course. There were (and still is) a lot of labels (and people) that I adored back then. None mentioned, none forgotten. The whole diy ethics was very important to me. I wanted to have a close contact with both the artists/bands and the ones who bought the records and listened to the music. A lot of people wrote me letters and e-mails and the whole diy community was very nice and friendly.
++ Where you always based in Gothenburg? I was curious if you ever attended the famous Starke Adolf club and if you could share experiences of those halcyon days?!
I was born in a small town just outside Gothenburg. When I was 12 years old me and my family moved to Borås (about 70 kilometers from Gothenburg). Then in 2003 I moved back to Gothenburg and I still live here now. Of course I attended Starke Adolf. Many times! It was a blast. I look back very nostalgic about those years now. All those people, labels, fanzines and bands. It was fantastic!
++ Have you ever thought about you or anyone else releasing any of the stuff from your catalog? How would you feel about that?
Not at the time. Back then I was very stubborn. A lot of people wanted me to re-release stuff that was sold out but I decided not to do that. For me it was very important. All the stuff was released in 25 or 50 copies. I wanted it to be something…I don’t know…but I wanted it to feel special to have one of those releases. To hold them in your hands. But I know a lot of people, beyond my control, uploaded songs and made it digitally available. Which I always thought was cool.
++ How much of an impact would you say My Secret Garden Recordings had in the Swedish scene? At that time there were many small labels, wondering if at all you feel part of a scene then?
I’m the wrong person to say so or even speak about my own label in that way. But yes, there were a lot of small independent labels in Sweden back then. And still are. It was not only Swedish people I had contact with. I spoked with people all around the world. The diy community was (and is) very big and because of the internet you can very easily stay in contact with people from all different countries.
++ Are you still in touch with the artists you released back in the day? What are they doing now?
I’m still in contact with some of them via Facebook and other social medias. But less and less over the years. Too bad.
++ There’s really not a full discography online for the label. Would you mind writing it down for me?
I have just posted it on the official My Secret Garden Recordings FB page (https://www.facebook.com/notes/my-secret-garden-recordings/discography/496466800464379?stream_ref=10). I can post here also if you want. Or?
++ Something about the label is how personal it was, there are these sort of pre-raphaelite and art nouveau influences in it. That’s something that caught my attention. How important and how planned was this aesthetic for your label?
Yes, you are very attentive. It was a style (and still are) that I liked a lot. And I think that a lot of the releases, especially the Evergreen days releases, was very well planned. I wanted the music and the lay out to go hand in hand so you can see and feel what it all was about. Me and Emelie Berg (ie Evergreen days) seemed to have the same thought about almost everything (regarding the artistic appearance) without actually talking too much about it.
++ And abroad, outside of Sweden, how was the support for My Secret Garden Recordings?
Really overwhelming actually. I got a lot of feedback and good response from all over the world. Good reviews and a lot of people writing about the label and the artists/bands. Especially in Asia, North America and some parts of South America.
++ How did it work for you to put out a release, from finding a band, releasing their records, organizing gigs, or promoting them? What was the best part of it all?
Most of the time I contacted an artist/band (sometimes the other way around) that I liked and asked if they wanted to release something on My Secret Garden Recordings. If they said yes they sent some songs to me. And then I decided what songs I wanted to release. Either they got an idea for the sleeve art or I made a proposal. After everything was done I pressed the actual release and sold it via my webpage. I never organized any gigs but I got some help promoting my releases via blogs and fanzines all over the world. Also sold some stuff via different online stores like Fraction discs (http://www.fractiondiscs.se) and so on.
++ I think the most regarded releases of yours are the ones by Evergreen Days. How beautiful are the songs. She was also your first release. How did Evergreen Days ended up in My Secret Garden Recordings?
I meet Emelie Berg (ie Evergreen days) through mutual friends and I had since before knew and listen to her other project called The Set Designers. After buying the seven inch single released with The Set Designers Emelie Berg sent me some new songs on cd-r. After hearing these songs I immediately asked if I could release these songs. And so My Secret Garden Recordings had started.
++ Is there any Swedish band right now that you feel would have fit perfectly in your label? And what about back in the day when you were running the label?
A lot. But if I should mention a few I would say Action Biker, Paddington Distortion Combo, Compute, The Honeydrips and Strawberry fair.
++ I remember you collaborated with some other people like Robots And Electronic Brains. How did these come up?
I can’t remember exactly but I think Jimmy at Robots And Electronic Brains contacted me after hearing about the label. He had reviewed some of the releases and even some issues of my fanzine No disco. He asked me if I wanted to be included on the compilation and I said yes.
++ You were supposed to release one final compilation album if my mind is not playing tricks on me. I think I have good memory. What happened to that compilation and where the songs to be included are still unreleased?
Yes, you are correct. Back in the days I was supposed to release one last compilation called “This Was My Secret Garden”. It was supposed to be released late 2005 or early 2006 I think. But I got tired and lost the motivation to release it so it was never actually released. There are still some unreleased songs yes.
++ When and why did you decide to call it a day? Do you miss running the label?
Late 2005 or early 2006 I think. As I said before I got tired and lost the motivation. Sometimes I miss running the label. Sometimes not. I actually thinking of releasing some stuff for the 10 year celebration later this year.
++ And these days to what do you dedicate your time? Any other hobbies?
I work as a teacher. It takes a lot of my time. I still listen to a lot of music and still buy a lot of records. One of my hobbies is to collect different stuff (Depeche mode records, retro video games, comic books and Star Wars action figures).
++ And do you still follow the indiepop scene these days?
Sorry but no, not that much. Not like 10 or 15 years ago.
++ Looking back in time, is there anything else you’d have liked to do with the label that you didn’t have the chance to? And what would you say was the proudest moment of the label?
I would have loved to have released more stuff. But at the same time I decided to quit because I got tired and lost the motivation so I guess I can’t blame myself too much. It wouldn’t have been right to release stuff I didn’t liked or wanted to release. The proudest moment of the label?! Hmm, holding the first releases in my hands, hearing the songs on the radio, reading about the artists/bands in a fanzine or on a blog, getting hand written letters from people all around the world and so on and so on…
++ As a music person, that was involved in many ways, I want to ask you what’s your take about music in this age? Do you think physical records can survive a little longer?
Oh, I don’t know. But I hope so. I love to buy and listen to music on physical records. Any format is great. I just heard a program (on the Swedish radio P2) about cassettes and that people is starting to buy and listening to music more and more on cassettes. So who knows? But at the same time free digital music maybe would end a lot of unnecessary consumption that in the end isn’t good for the planet.
++ And one last question, what do you think is the most rewarding part of running a label? And if you’d recommend anyone to do something like it?
In my mind it is time well spent. You should know that it takes a lot of time. But it is fun and rewarding. Be sure to release music that you love and don’t care about what other people think or say about it. Unless it is good words, words that will make you feel good!
Evergreen Days – Tonight