Meet: We chat to John Russell from Brisbane’s glorious 4000 Records label on music, passion, mixtapes and the 4000 Records Birthday Party.


4000 Records in Brisbane is celebrating its second birthday today – an innovative boutique agency that has on its roster some of the most exciting and diverse talent in Brisbane. And that is quite a feat considering Brisbane is an absolute hotbed of artistic talent at the moment. Backseat Mafia has enthusiastically reviewed output from most of the label’s roster including The Double Happiness, Coalfalls, Cloud Tangle, Local Authority, Fingerless, Johnny Cyrus and His Band of Ghosts and syrup go on. What we haven’t reviewed, we just haven’t heard. Indie, dream pop, shoegaze, instrumental, ambient and experimental: 4000 Records has it all covered.

At the very heart of 4000 Records is John Russell: a tireless advocate for fresh and innovative independent music in South East Queensland as well as being an absolute pleasure to engage with. His enthusiasm for music is infectious and his passion evident. As part of an occasional series on the essential talent behind the musicians – the labels and promoters – we are delighted to be able to fire a few questions to John and get to hear an exclusive reveal about the headliner for the upcoming birthday celebrations of the label.

Happy second birthday John. We’ve all heard about the terrible twos – how is this year shaping up? Any tantrums?

Thank you! This year – and last year of course – has been a bit weird to say the least. The way that we, musicians, everyone in the industry have had to approach things has dramatically shifted from those carefree pre-COVID days. I’m very fortunate to have the label as a passion project, with my main source of financial sustenance coming from elsewhere. Plus having all the artists on the roster in a similar boat does take much of the pressure off that is otherwise felt heavily by those who rely on the entertainment industry as a means of survival.

Tantrums? Yep, there’s been many a “FFS” exclaimed with restrictions forcing show cancellations and postponements. It’s made planning these things super difficult and tenuous but if nothing else, all of this has shown us how resilient and adaptable we creative folks can be.

We’ve also released some wonderful music this year from Requin, Edgar Hurley, Coalfalls, Greshka, Shugorei, Local Authority, Cloud Tangle, The Holy Rollercoasters, Edith Thomas Furey, Fingerless and syrup, go on and we have heaps more in the works for the rest of the year!

A big chunk of my focus for the last few months though has been getting things ready for our 2nd birthday show, which is a pretty big undertaking with 14 acts including a secret band, an art show and a pop-up record stall!

All good things.
All good fun.

How you will celebrate your second birthday?

Funnily enough, today is technically the label’s birthday, going by the date we officially launched the socials etc. And well, I’m plodding away in my home office, working my day job and enjoying the shrill shrieks of my 4yo as she tries to put fairy wings on our ever-patient Labrador.

I will most definitely be enjoying a nice whiskey this evening in honour of the occasion though!

Other than that, I’m manically planning logistics for the show on September 26th and very excitedly announcing that Asha Jefferies is our secret performer, who we’ve had to keep very tight-lipped about for the last several weeks!

Thanks for the scoop!

So how did you get into the music business?

I’ve always been passionate about music. I was the annoying kid in school who would make mixtapes (and then mix CDs) and just give them to anyone who would take one, in an effort to turn people on to new sounds. I was also the turd at parties who would complain about the “teenybopper” songs and try and sneak in some Cannibal Corpse or Aphex Twin.

That was all pre-internet and aside from being a part of a bunch of street teams, I didn’t really know how to break into the “industry”, so I just fell into other jobs (truck driver, removalist, admin, IT). But when I turned 30 I thought to myself how disappointed I would be if I didn’t at least try to do something with my passion – I could play rudimentary guitar and piano and recorded some demos but there was no real talent to speak of – so I reached out to the guys who booked the old Motor Room in West End and just asked if I could help. That was Kel Timmons and Paul Watson (bless ‘em) who were both very kind with their time and advice and let me book some of my own nights and the venue and that’s how I started out.

That grew into booking more shows by myself, a couple of tours, then managing a few bands. It was the process of shopping one of those bands’ albums around to labels and being totally ghosted or outright rejected that lead to the decision, along with one of the band members, to start our own label to release their music under. It became very clear to me very quickly that I had found where I wanted to put my energy. I just fell in love with (almost) every aspect of running the label. That was Valley Heat Records, which finished up in 2019 and flowed into me starting up 4000 Records on my own in that same year.

Now here we are!

You started 4000 Records in September 2019 – about six months before COVID started kicking off in Australia. Bad timing? How have you survived over the last 18 months?

Ahh, to have those glorious first 6 months of freedom again! I’m very lucky in that I have a boring day job that pays the bills and affords me the luxury of being able to dabble in my creative pursuits without the pressure of relying on them for survival.

In that way it’s been good as I haven’t had to put any pressure on any of the bands to release music to keep the wheels churning. I’m just here, ready for when the artists have finished a creation and then I do my best to champion it.

I’d love for there to be more opportunities for shows and touring but hopefully that will return soon. At the moment we’re just making the best of a shit situation.

Is there a 4000 Records sound – how much is it influenced by your own personal tastes and what do you look for in a band?

I don’t think so, no. The roster is entirely made up of acts who I love, so it is completely influenced by my own tastes and not much else really. With the limited time that I have available for running the label, I really have to be motivated to open my laptop and plug away at the end of the day instead of just watching TV haha!

I don’t have a quota or any set parameters for who I work with, it’s simply a matter of getting out to see a band play and falling in love. I think that almost every act on the roster has come to be there from me seeing them perform and having a chat after the show.

How do you balance commercial interests with your own tastes?

Oh Arun, commercial interests?! You do make me laugh – if I were at all interested in making money I would’ve headed for the hills long ago!

What are your ambitions for the label and your bands? Will you expand representation outside Brisbane/Queensland to Australia/the world?

I can’t see myself venturing outside of the South-East unless my situation changes. I very much enjoy getting out to shows and supporting local artists and don’t feel as though I can really connect with an artist in the way that I want to if they’re interstate or overseas. A lot of what the label is about revolves around community, so I’m very happy having the scope of the label quite small. Plus, it’s not like I’m struggling to find amazing acts in my own backyard!

Regarding ambitions, for the bands, I can think of no greater accomplishment than if I were able to bullhorn an artist loud enough for a larger label or agency to pay attention and pick them up for bigger and better things.

For the label, I’m just grateful to have an outlet for my passion and to be able to help some of the bands who I love. It would be very lovely to be able to do something in the realm of music as my bread and butter, but I also worry that having the label as a legitimate business would mar the joy of simply being along for the creative ride versus the need to apply pressure on artists to create and sell so that deadlines can be met and bills paid.

I am extremely happy just going with the flow and seeing where this crazy horse takes me.

If you could emulate any record label in the world, which one would it be?

I got some really good, simple advice when I first started doing label stuff which was along the lines of “Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just do what feels right and the rest will fall in place”.

I’m prone to comparing myself to others and still find myself looking at other labels and thinking, “Oh man, they’ve released two singles this month and I’ve only released one” and getting bogged down in stuff like that. So bringing myself back to why I started out in the first place is really helpful.

That being said, I have a lot of respect for and love the approach and ethos of labels like Asian Man, OOF, Milk!, Oh Boy, Lauretta, False Peak and so many more!

Do you think that musical talent exists uniformly around the world and just needs luck, circumstance and the right label and promoter to draw it out, or are there genuinely geographical hotbeds where artists seem to flourish?

A bit of both really. There are definitely places around the world with large scenes and a population with circumstances that allow for folks with time on their hands to experiment with music.

But there’s probably also the most mind-bending psych-jazz-djent band playing in a basement somewhere in Ankara who would be huge if they were based in London and on Sub Pop!

And so much of it is timing and luck, yeah. Especially in pop music, with everyone’s minuscule attentions spans, you hear so many “right place, right time” stories that it’s just gotta be a factor. If you look at the amount of insanely talented artists in Brisbane alone, so many of those guys have the potential to be household names. So yep, luck is definitely a huge part of “breaking through” I reckon.

But who knows!?
Art is crazy!

Is there a Brisbane sound?

Hmm. I’m not sure. If you played me 10 songs I’d never heard before I think I’d struggle to tell you absolutely if any were by a Brisbane band.

I’m also nowhere near as connected to all the pockets of scenes around the place as I used to be. I’m sure if you asked a producer or rapper, you’d get a vastly different answer than if you asked a garage rock band!

Actually, running the posterity project Brisbane Music Graveyard has exposed me to a lot of music from the city’s past and there was a recurring blend of jangly post-punk that might’ve had a particular element that was distinctly a Brisbane sound but I’m no expert there either I’m afraid.

(Note: the Brisbane Music Graveyard is an extraordinary passionate posterity project established by John aiming to share some of the great music that has been created in Brisbane by underground or nascent bands from the past that might otherwise be lost to boxes in attics and under beds. All monies go to 4ZZZ.)

In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently over your career?

Nothing major, no. All the things I’ve done over the years have in one way or another shaped where I am today, and I quite like where I am so yeah, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Actually, there’s one or two runs of merch that I’d probably rethink if given the chance haha!

Do you have a favourite signing over the years?

Oh I couldn’t possibly say, haha!

The Dollar Bill Murrays stand out as they were the first band that officially reached out to us with interest in coming on board. We set up a proper meeting and everything, so it was a bit of a thrill to feel like a real label when we were first starting out.

But really, everyone on the roster brings something so different and unique that honestly, I’m incredibly honoured that they entrust me to handle their craft.

Oh, one other standout is Requin for their posthumous ‘Shark’ album as I pestered the band for over a year to put it out and I’m fairly sure that without that constant annoyance, it may very well still be sitting on a hard drive, unheard, which I just couldn’t bear.

Is there a band that you wished you had signed or would like to sign now?

I’m in love with Guppy.

What’s next?

The next big thing is the 2nd birthday show (September 26th at The Brightside) which will hopefully be able to go ahead lest the plague rears its ugly head again.

In the near future we’ve got the debut offerings from our latest signing Aren’t, which is Fionn from Requin’s solo project, plus new music from Edgar Hurley, Endless Valley, Fingerless, Cloud Tangle and Lite Fails.

We’ve also just yesterday released a label sampler which features a track from each release over the past 2 years and will hopefully serve as an entry point for folks to get a sonic guide to what the label is about (order here).

Beyond that, who knows?! We’re always open to collaborating with other local creatives so anything’s possible. Plus I can only imagine what crazy goodness will come out of our small city in the coming years, but if I can be along for the ride in any way, shape or form then I feel extremely humbled and privileged.

4000 Records will be celebrating its second anniversary on 26 September 2021 in Brisbane with a full day of music from bands on its roster (most of whom have been reviewed and highly lauded by Backseat Mafia), as well as an exhibition of art from local artists and a record stall. Details below and tickets available here. What an extraordinary line up.

You can listen to the full 4000 Records roster (past and present) here and get the essential sampler below:

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