Billed as a “radical feminist label” and embracing the DIY aesthetics of punk, you expect to find M’lady’s Records HQ crouched low in some dark and seedy corner of Portland. So it was with some surprise that I found myself in leafy, green suburbia, knocking on the door of a 1950s-style townhouse.
Label co-owner and expat Kiwi Fiona Campbell ushers me inside, laughing when I awkwardly admit to expecting something “more … punk?”.
“Aesthetics of punk and living punk are two very different things. When you’re younger you force the aesthetics because you think it gives you that authenticity … We like our townhouse with wood panelling and original fixtures,” she says.
As well as label co-owner, Campbell is a musician, drumming for a handful of touring bands as well as performing as part of her own melodic duo Coasting. She first moved to the United States in 2005 after her then-band The Coolies played CMJ in New York.
“I fell in love with the city. In New Zealand … especially if you’re playing in an all-female band, you have so much attention and criticism immediately, and it’s hard to just try stuff out. Brooklyn was … the complete opposite of Auckland at the time. I was completely anonymous, and that’s an awesome thing,” she says.
It was after moving to the US that Campbell met Brett Lyman, founder of M’lady’s Records as it was in 2007 – a radical feminist label run by just one man.
“[Brett is] very influenced by the Riot Grrrl scene, they’re like his older sisters and have been really influential in his life,” says Campbell, who would go on to become Lymans’ partner in life and business, joining the label in 2010. “[Radical feminism] by no means determines the genre or type of people that we work with… to us it just means you’re against the social and economic oppression of females.”
Lyman has referred to M’lady’s as a “community resource”. The label retains no rights over artists’ work, there are no contracts and when artists are signed it’s about the music and not the potential for commercial success, or as Campbell puts it: “‘I love this so much, I really want everyone to hear it, what can we do to help make that happen?’”
It’s not a recipe for grand financial gains or even happiness necessarily, but Campbell is acting on a compulsion that belies reason.
“Often it is stressful, miserable, thankless, and taxing financially and emotionally. But … I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m learning all the time, and that’s worth more than happiness to me. Happiness is overrated.”
LISTEN to the story on M‘lady’s Records that Melody Thomas recorded for Music 101:
LISTEN to more from Radio New Zealand's Music team on the Music 101 Pocket Edition. In this episode: Shapeshifter and The Upbeats, Sola Rosa, Will Wood, Into Orbit and new songs from Prince and Thom Yorke.