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Hubro: Making Room for Marginalized Music

Hubro: Making Room for Marginalized Music
Jakob Baekgaard By

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I like to find rooms that sound good for some kinds of music at least and it doesn’t have to be a studio. I think it is often quite uninspiring for a musician to be inside the dry acoustic of a studio. —Andreas Meland
There are times when a record label becomes more than just a label. It becomes an embodiment of a certain period in time. In Norway, think of the German label ECM with the emergence of the so-called Nordic sound propelled by Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and drummer Jon Christensen. Later, Rune Grammofon summed up a more electronic and experimental direction in Norwegian music with acts like Supersilent, Jono El Grande and Alog.

Right now, a new sound seems to be emerging in Norwegian jazz, combining elements of lyrical folk music and experimental jazz. The home of this sound is the label Hubro Music run by Andreas Risanger Meland. Meland is a true musical adventurer and the label reflects his eclectic taste in music, but there is also a signature somewhere that is hard to explain. The point is that Meland is less interested in putting his own stamp on the music than he is in making room for the musicians. It is the musical process that interests him and the relationship with the artists.

All About Jazz: First of all, I would like to know about your way into music and how you got involved with the music business?

Andreas Meland: Where to start? Music has been important to me all my life of course, but when I was teenager I got really hooked. That was in the times when LPs were just thrown away and sold for a penny. So, the money I had, I could spend, and I got loads of music. I was so eager to listen to all kinds of stuff.

Then it started, and I was playing myself, playing guitar and piano. One thing took another, and I got into electronic music, making electronic music and improvised music and then the idea of starting a label surfaced. I had a bedroom label when I was 17-18 years old, for some years. I also started organizing concerts and festivals in my hometown. So maybe that was the beginning in a way. Because when I moved to Oslo (the capital of Norway) to study I kept on playing concerts and releasing limited edition LPs on my bedroom label.

AAJ: And that was your own music or other people's music at that time?

AM: It was both. It was not many releases, but like five-six releases maybe. In a way it was a coincidence that I ended up in a record company because I had been participating on a compilation on Norwegian label Rune Grammofon with a band I played in.

When I was student I also had a job at a grocery store and coincidentally that was the same grocery store where Rune of Rune Grammofon went every day to buy his lunch. He knew me, and he knew about the bedroom label, about the bands I was involved in and the festivals I had been organizing, so one day he just asked me if I could drop by the office to have a chat. I did, and I was offered the job assisting him. I did that for a year and at that point he was also the label manager for ECM in Norway and also running his own label. After a year he stopped being the ECM label manager to focus on his own label and I got his old position as ECM label manager in Norway. I was doing that, I think, from 2003 until maybe five years ago (2013).

AAJ: Just to get all the facts straight. What was the name of your bedroom label?

AM: There were actually two. The first one was Safe as Milk

AAJ: A Captain Beefheart reference?

AM: Yeah, that was also the name of the festival in my hometown, which we had for ten years. And then there was a more electronic label called Melektronikk. I don't think many of the releases are available now. It was like a school for me. I lost a lot of money, of course. That's a lesson too. Getting used to losing money.

AAJ: It's interesting to hear about your journey with Rune Grammofon and ECM because those labels are really cornerstones in Norwegian jazz. How did you think about your own relation to those labels when you started out Hubro and were trying to carve a separate identity for your label?

AM: I think I have to admit that in the start when I started Hubro it was maybe to feed my ego in a way, that's putting myself down, but at that time I had been doing ECM and working as a label manager for quite a few years and since I had a background doing my own label, I was starting to miss that a lot, to be able to interact with the artists and participate in the process. Taking care of things from the start, not only receiving the finished CD to promote and market it.

Of course, I had a lot of direct contact with the artists when I was working with ECM too, I really appreciated that, but I guess it was feeling more like I was delivering a service in a way. I really like to take part in the process from A to Z. I don't need to control it, for me the artist is the boss, but it is more gratifying to be closer to the process. I was feeling an urge to do that, that's the reason I started the label.

I asked my boss if I could start a jazz label because we had been releasing some jazz releases on the Grappa label, but to me it seemed like they just disappeared into a black void because Grappa as a label does not have a distinct profile—it is also releasing a lot of other music and mainly by Norwegian artists with Norwegian lyrics, so I thought we needed a label for jazz releases. He said yes immediately and now I see that maybe it is not a jazz label -so maybe I fooled him. But he gave me carte blanche and he has never interfered in anything. Basically, Hubro is a sublabel of Grappa, so Grappa pays all the bills. It has been a big privilege to start a label not being too concerned about costs and about losing money.

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