Oli Lazarus – London’s Papa Records celebrate 15 years of making soulful music!
Words by FAV
Hi Oli, a warm welcome back to DMCworld! Where are you in the world right now?
Hey, many thanks, I am currently in Bournemouth in the UK.
What’s the best new record you’ve heard this week?
Actually I just heard a really cool remix of one my favourite songs from my childhood – Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (Pomo Remix)…
This week sees you celebrating 15 glorious years of Papa Records with the release of your anniversary ‘Play It Like Papa’ compilation, what musical treats have you got in store for us?
Yeah its been really fun putting the album together and reminiscing over the last 15 years. With quite a big back catalogue I decided to break the release into 3 albums so we could really showcase what the label has been about. Album 1 is Soul, Broken Beat & Nu Jazz, Album 2 is Soulful House and Album 3 is Deep House & House. The digital release has 40 tracks in each album plus an exclusive mix of each album by my good pal DJ Spinna. We have a limited triple CD release. On the digital release there is an exclusive unreleased track by Saison called ‘How You Feel’ plus many highlights from the past 15 years including tracks from Reel People, Osunlade, Bugz In The Attic, Dennis Ferrer, Jon Cutler, Atjazz, Monique Bingham, Tony Momrelle and many more.
Let’s rewind back to the beginning… what was your first break into the music industry and what inspired you start a record label?
I was really fortunate when I was 17 to get a job at one of London coolest record shops in Soho, Flying Records. I was surrounded by great people such as Lofty and Dr. Bob Jones who also ran the Chillifunk label. I got to learn so much at the shop and made some amazing friends and contacts. It was there that I really started to develop my love for Soulful dance/house music.
When you used to work at London’s Flying Records shop back in the day, record stores were buzzing. You’ve almost come full circle having witnessed digital formats take over from vinyl, shops close and now a new resurgence in vinyl sales again… That couldn’t have been an easy ship to sail. What do you miss most about record store culture and will Papa be pressing vinyls again in the future?
I think anyone who came from that era misses it a lot. It was just so much more straight forward and personable. When I look back now it’s amazing to think of the units of 12’s we were shifting. I have seen the resurgence in vinyl but it still seems to be a tough one to call. We have been dabbling in pressing certain releases up but it’s still quite expensive to manufacture which always makes it a difficult business decision to make. Saying that I am hoping that it continues to go from strength to strength because its a lovely thing to have your favourite song or track on vinyl.
Which are are your own 3 favourite singles and 3 favourite albums you’ve released on the Papa label?
That’s very hard, but off the top of my head I would say:
Reel People – Second Guess
Blaze – The Instrumentals Project
Sebb Junior – Rewind
Reel People feat. Angela Johnson – Can’t Stop
Simon Grey – The Galactica Suite
Saison – The Dukes
You’ve had huge success over the years with your band Reel People with Mike Patto and Toni Economides. You’ve worked with some amazing soulful artists along the way such as Angela Johnson, Omar, Choklate, Terri Walker, Darien, Imaani, Vanessa Freeman, Tony Momrelle and so many more. What’s next in store for you guys and who are you currently working with?
I am currently working on a new Reel People album which I hope to release before summer 2018. Can’t really talk about who is involved but I have been feeling really inspired by a lot of music of the last couple of years from the likes of The Internet, Anderson Paak, Tom Misch, Moonchild etc. Feels like modern Soul music is in a good place and I am keen to add to the pot.
You’ve worked extensively with Soul singer / songwriter Tony Momrelle who has sung with the likes of Incognito and Sade, how did you guys first link up?
I was really good friends with Imaani who was in Incognito. I went to watch her in the band a couple of times and just feel in love with Tony’s voice. For me there is no one else like him in the UK. Imaani introduced us and the rest they say is history. We are also currently working on his 2nd solo album which is sounding amazing. Exciting times!
What’s been your biggest achievement with the label?
I think just to have worked with so many amazing artists and producers. I just wanna be involved in releasing great music so it’s a wonderful feeling when you approach someone you really dig and they agree to record for your label. A great buzz.
And your biggest learning curve… Did you ever have a moment when you felt like jacking it all in and what kept you going?
Been close to jacking it in a couple of times. It’s been great but definitely been hard also. Often we don’t have the resources to hire a big group of staff so it’s often me and another doing the majority of the work. Sometimes it can really get overwhelming but I love what I do so I count my lucky stars I’m not stuck in a career that makes me unhappy. The good out ways the bad in a big way!!
For anyone thinking of starting a record label, what’s your secret to success?
Be consistent, be true and don’t rush. In this era of music being in an out of people’s ears so quickly, I think it’s still key to push quality over quantity. You gotta live with this music for the rest of your life so be take your time and be proud of what you release.
So as a producer, a live performer, DJ and label boss, what’s your most favourite part of your job?
A&R and production are my favourite parts of what I do. A&R is something I was never taught but I feel I have really nurtured into over the years. I still love spending time in the studio and producing with my good friend Toni Economides. In recent times I have been working again with Mike Patto which is always amazing and working with Tony Momrelle is always Loud (lol) but a big joy!
We come to your house and raid your record collection, which embarrassing record do you need to chuck out the window as we arrive?
They have all been sold off lol…my collection these days is down to bare minimum classics!!
Which record makes you say “Damn, I wish I’d made that”?
From a house/soul perspective I still love Nuyourican Soul/George Benson – You Can Do It Baby. Such a dope piece of music!
You also run Reel People Music and also Foliage record labels, how are they going?
They are going well thanks. Foliage is just acquired this year and we are showing some love to the back catalogue plus also had a bunch of new releases from the likes of The Layabouts, Imaani, Pulse, Omar, Atjazz and Reel People. Reel People Music is more of an artist based label with Tony Momrelle, Portia Monique etc. We just released a great compilation with The Foreign Exchange called Hide&Seek.
And finally, what’s next for Papa Records, tell us about the new breed and who we should be on the look out for in 2018?
More from some of the artists we have been working with in recent times such as Saison and Sebb Junior plus some other different artists. Hopefully keeping up the quality and soulful vibes!!
‘Play It Like Papa (15 Years Of Papa Records)’ compilation is out now