Having arrived back in the UK after a string of Stateside shows with Mamas Gun, Andy Platts is a little jetlagged as he turns his attention to the release of Ticket To Shangri-La – the fourth album from his other band Young Gun Silver Fox.
While Mamas Gun is Platts’ Brit-soul quintet, Young Gun Silver Fox is a decade-long collaboration between Platts and musician/producer Shawn Lee that has more or less single-handedly spearheaded a modern yacht rock renaissance.
“Sometimes I do just have to jump from one to the other, which is a challenge,” says Platts. “But, I’m sure a lot of people would love to be in one band that’s putting out records and touring the world, let alone two. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am.”
Fortune is only a fraction of the story though. Releasing both Mamas Gun and Young Gun Silver Fox records via independent label Candelion since 2009, Platts is well across the business side of both bands, and heavily involved in the creative side of any given album campaign.
Platts recognises that, for artists that want a certain level of control and independence, the days of focusing exclusively on the music are over. Still, in his case, a holistic approach and hard work have meant that both Young Gun Silver Fox and Mamas Gun command a monthly listenership of around 300,000 fans apiece.
With Absolute Label Services powering the release of Ticket To Shangri-La alongside Candelion, we sat down with Platts to talk about the new album and life as an independent.
This is the fourth album for Young Gun Silver Fox. How do you think you’ve evolved?
For some people, Young Gun Silver Fox might seem like an exercise in nostalgia – faithfully recreating a sound that nobody’s been back to in an authentic way. A lot of people attempt what we’re doing, but it’s the song that informs the record making process and how it’s going to sound.
We talked about a couple of things for this album: One was fewer horns. The last album, Canyons, was horn heavy. When you go really heavy with the horns on a record, people expect it live. You can go to town with horns during recording – you can put 15 horns on something and make it sound massive but, when you’ve only got three guys playing live, you’ve got to think about how that’s going to impact what you’re going to present.
We also added more of an acoustic guitar vibe, bringing that kind of breezy, Pacific Coast highway freshness that you associate with this kind of music.
It’s also a bit more of an up-tempo album with a bit more boogie, trying to combine genres in a way that hasn’t been done before in that broad yacht rock kind of vein.
"Once you’ve got a foothold and people know where you are, in many ways, it’s easier to grow your fanbase through that digital medium than the old, major label ‘one button to tell the whole world’."
The first Young Gun Silver Fox album was released in 2015. How do you think the industry landscape has changed since then and how have you adapted?
For a band like us, it’s been about identifying our fans and letting them know that this kind of music is alive and well. I don’t think it would be incorrect to say we spearheaded some kind of renaissance of this music. I can’t think of anyone doing it better than us at the moment. It’s as if we’ve continued where it left off in the early 80s. For us, it’s not a pastiche, it just comes from the song. If you drill into the songs, you’ll find a lot of stuff that’s relevant today.
With regards to streaming, it’s really helped us pick out where people are. The great thing about streaming is access, the enormity of the database and the ability to use it in a wider social media context to pinpoint your fanbase. You couple it with things like playlists and, off the back of that, identify where people are listening to you. It’s very convenient to be able to see how many streams were from a particular territory and get detailed feedback about that.
Are you quite involved in that side of it?
I’ve always kept myself on the creative side. I let other people do the data-mining and come up with strategy, and then I’ll create the visual and audio to do that.
Once you have got a foothold on that fanbase, it’s about creating your own cottage industry and scene around you. That concept is quite popular now – there doesn’t have to be a major label bottleneck to get your music out there. We’ve seen that with Mamas Gun and Silver Fox – once you’ve got a foothold and people know where you are, in many ways, it’s easier to grow your fanbase through that digital medium than the old, major label ‘one button to tell the whole world’. It takes more work, persistence, patience and nous to navigate, but I think you can definitely sustain some sort of career with it and perpetuate your live career while releasing records.
In the traditional label system, you would have a big team doing all that for you. Do you think artists that want to work on an independent level and keep control of their business have to be more than just a musician in the studio?
One hundred percent. And what it gives with one hand, it takes with the other. The nature of social media means its predisposed to click with certain personalities and individuals. Possibly younger individuals, or those who are willing to play the game or that have a natural aptitude to broadcasting themselves. Of course, you’ll hear older people like me saying, ‘I got into this to make music!’ I don’t think you can do that these days. You either get with it or get left behind. If you’ve got money, you can get people to do it for you but it won’t be as authentic. There are trade-offs. It is something you can learn and harness, even if you begrudge doing it. But it is set up to work with certain types of people better.
"I would love to be a Bandcamp only band where it’s very credible, loads of money goes to the artist and we shift loads of physical product. But you can’t live that way."
As you say, you’re working in a genre that is no longer mainstream, you’re not in that pop bracket or doing TikTok dances, but you look at the Young Gun Silver Fox Spotify following and you’ve got over 300,000 monthly listeners. It’s not the kind of audience you’d expect for what you’re doing…
I think they’re pretty good numbers for the independent thing we’re doing. It does underline how music oriented it is. The generation that clicks with us is between 40-60 years old – older people with disposable income that still buy physical. If they do use digital media, it’s stuff like Spotify rather than hunting us down on Instagram.
So, in that sense, for you, Spotify is a gateway to revenue elsewhere…
I think so, yeah. You have to be realistic that they work hand in hand. I would love to be a Bandcamp only band where it’s very credible, loads of money goes to the artist and we shift loads of physical product. But you can’t live that way – you can’t be a musician today without being diverse and versatile – you need to accept that’s the lay of the land now. If you’re smart about how you release digitally, it can really impact on radio campaigns and, subsequently, live shows and releases.
Our most successful territory is The Netherlands and we’ve seen that all work harmoniously. We’ve seen certain tracks enjoy very long playlisting times and, at the same time, enjoying lots of streams with tours selling out off the back of that. If you get it right, and you’re with people who know what they’re doing, it can work for you. It’s pointless to work against it.
Would I like to make more money from Spotify? Yes. I don’t know how realistic some kind of revenue reset is but you can only work with what it is at any given moment.
Tell us about your relationship with Candelion…
It all flows through Candelion and their trading partner Monty Music [for publishing]. That ensures that, on an admin level, everything is getting collected properly and appropriately for whatever we’re releasing. When you have a team that’s cracking the whip with the labels and the publishers around the world to make sure stuff is happening, and money is coming in, that alone is a very good reason to have this kind of setup. The other major reason is creative autonomy. We make the albums exactly how we want to make them in Mamas Gun and Young Gun Silver Fox. There’s minimal A&R and zero interference. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve done the major label thing, I’ve done the thing of being signed and then being axed, for whatever reason – because people move on in the company or just because that’s what they do: sign X amount every year, throw them against the wall and see what sticks. All of that is bypassed going through your own label. You can harness the digital world on your own terms and go peer to peer with it.
What does success look like for you from one album to the next?
Minimal criteria: That I’m able to support myself to a minimal level, that I’m able to keep making records, and that I get better at doing it. I’d probably be happy with just getting better. I’m not necessarily looking to leave a legacy behind; I literally just want to write a better song each time.