Interview / Miles Copeland / Wonderfulsound

Miles Copeland is the founder / owner of London-based record label, Wonderfulsound. An imprint started in 2003 initially as an outlet for The Superimposers – the musical partnership of Miles and Dan Warden. Since 2010, though, the label has opened its doors to a fairly extensive roster of artists. All sharing a passion for the classic songwriting of the 1960s and 70s. Visitors to Ban Ban Ton Ton should recognize names like Colorama, Nev Cottee, Dr. Robert, J-Walk, Monks Road Social and John Stammers. You may also own a copy of Miles` recordings of Zadar`s Sea Organ. 

New albums by RW Hedges (The Hills Are Old Songs) and J-Walk (Mediterranean Winds) have just landed in shops, and fresh long-players from Angelina (Last Cigarette) and Samantha Whates (Waiting Rooms) are due in the next month or so.

Where are you from?

I have absolutely no idea… I was Born in Eton, raised in Bournemouth, live in London.  

Where are you based? 

Wonderfulsound has always been set around the Clerkenwell / Bloomsbury / Holborn area.  It’s the only place I’ve wanted to call home.  The current HQ is Lambs Conduit St. 

What first got you interested in music?  

My Mum listeng to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillilngness, First Finalè.  Seeing as I was born in 1972 and they came out in 72, 73 74. I think these influenced me heavily before any consciousness was there. When I started listening to these records in my conscious musical mind years later the melodies and production were so familiar it was spooky!  Luckily my mum has good taste. Plus my Dad naming me after Miles Davis seemed to have a subconscious effect. The Copeland household was a musical one..

When did you first start collecting records?  

My Mum and Dad had records and my sister was part of the 80s club culture scene – that 80s 50s revival thing – so she knew a lot about records and the DJs playing them. This had a huge effect on me so I naturally started buying them too.  

The first record I got obsessed with was Quantum Jumps Lone Ranger ..  I must have been about 7. I just checked it out again …what a brilliant infectious hilarious song!  I still love it!

Records I love them and the instruments that play them.. My preference is a Lenco L70  via Denon 103 through a pair of Rogers L149 Speakers.  

When did you first start playing a musical instrument?  

Recording equipment is my natural instrument. I used to muck about with my mum and dad’s record collection – looping bits of songs on to tape.  Repeating bits.. I was 8 or 9.. I had that ridiculous Vertical Amstrad record player.. As I’ve become more knowledgable about such things… What lunatic thought that was a good idea… as soon as I started listening to Hip Hop it just used to jump. It couldn’t handle it. My analogue headaches began at a young age!  

Amstrad Vertical turntable

In the late 80s I discovered Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and all those soulful electronic records that started coming out..Carl Craig at that point was the one. All those records he was releasing on Planet E..  They were the holy grail. Anyhow.. I had a Juno 6 synth and a Roland 606 drum machine..   A friend helped me sync them up and I was obsessed with trying to create a piece of music with just those two objects. Tape to Tape C90 styles. I don’t know whether I really succeeded but around the early 90s I met Dan Warden and got him to start playing over the top of these synthy drum machine things with his guitar.

Can you tell me more about The Superimposers?

I was playing a tape of these electronic recordings in Atlas Records (dearly departed soho store) to my mate Pete (Herbert) and someone from One Little Indian was in there. This guy took my number and said he’d stick me in the studio to get it finished. I called up Dan and our professional career began. Originally we were called Copeland / Warden, then Ensemble…  There were a few projects and different people all writing stuff together.

How would you describe your sound?  

The Superimposers?  Er ..  I’m never too sure what we sounded like..  We ended up being songwriters.., but we started of sampling three secs of really rubbish records and tried to make really good records.  I wanted it to sound like Nilsson, Brian Wilson, Macca, Sun Ra, Charles Stepney and  A Tribe Called Quest. Dan was heavily into The Who, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks.. so he opened up another window into a genre that I wasn’t, until then, surrounded by. We really struggled with not sampling things. We tried to record songs from scratch but it wasn’t until we added the sample that the things use to come alive. 

Were you in bands before The Superimposers? 

Not really bands. There were studio projects with Simon (Lee – Faze Action)  and Andy (Williams – Yam Who!). We met while at University in Bournemouth and tried to form a studio band. There’s a tape somewhere..  Tony Justice from the drum n bass scene is a really old friend of mine and we were constantly writing stuff and we nearly had a deal once. But I had this issue with finishing stuff. I’d never release a piece of music. I was always driving everyone mad, adding stuff, putting extra bits to things. All these ideas and things were collated onto a CD entitled The Wonderfulsound Libriaries Vol 1 – Something for Both Ears. I handed the CD around to various people I knew and Diesel got back to me, and picked two tracks.  Both were what turned out to be The Superimposers.  So it’s all his fault.. 

How / when did you meet Dan, and Shawn Lee?

Dan and I avoided each other in Bournemouth until a mutual friend forced us to have a chat. We had a one thing in common, the love of music.  We were coming from a totally different place from each other.. The Superimposers was the end result!  

Shawn Lee I knew from running Afro Art.  We`d formed a relationship as he`d just moved to the UK and Ashley Beedle was going to put out his E.P . After that happened we kept in touch. A few years later I got a text from Shawn out of the blue, saying that he loved the Superimposers. He eventually came in, produced the third LP and joined the band. Having Shawn in the band was fantastic. He is 100% professional but he got the vibe.  Dan and I always use to make him do Wichita Lineman in the middle of the set. He does a perfect version of that song. 

Did you / do you play live? If so have there been any particularly memorable gigs, or ones you are proud of? 

The Three Kings in Clerkenwell – RIP- We used to play there once a month..  One time Moonboots came as he was a fan – well he really liked Seeing Is Believing, and bought some mates from Manchester. By the end of the night People were dancing on tables. A lot of friendships were formed that night and I felt very humbled to have been apart of it.  It was a thing, a happening and weirdly enough created by the Manchester connection.  Thanks Deke!

What made you start Wonderfulsound? Were you involved in the music industry before starting the label? You seem to be well connected to a kind of Heavenly Records “orbit”. 

You’re drawn towards people with the similar interests right?  Music, style and culture .. that’s my passion. I’m 100% genuine about the music but I can`t tell you what shop would definitely stock a WS release. Sometimes Sounds Of The Universe will go mad about something then Rough Trade will pick up on something. There’s no genre.. So maybe Wonderfulsound is the genre. Does that make sense?  

I see the label as a kinda conduit .. getting music to the right places, playing it at the right time. I love the music I release and I love dealing with all the talented musicians. I’m constantly sitting in a room with someone playing a Tim Harding song on a guitar or reciting obscure songs from another era. That’s what I get a kick out of and it’s introduced me to people and places and good times.

Can you tell me about the Ashley Beedle connection?  

He`s a very dear friend.  Ashley Beedle offered me a job at his label Afro Art in ’95 so I started running his label and hanging around the studio when The Ballistic Brothers were recording their LPs. Ashley, Dave Hill, Rocky & Diesel. All an absolute gold mind of information regarding music, culture and style. There was / is no better company to keep. They were very influential times! Coming initially from a DJ world I new about all the dance music scene and I always loved what Ashley did. He was channelling the Mizzell Brothers and Charles Stepney, and John Coltrane.. but he was into indie and rock too… 

Can you tell me more about the “Sun Ra” influence?

I love Sun-Ra. The colourful, abstract attitude, it really appealed to me. It was more the modal beautiful things he did that I loved. The first time I heard Sleeping Beauty or Love In Outer Space, I was hooked. It’s like the first time you hear River Man by Nick Drake. I had to listen to it over and over again..   Rocket Number 9 and I Wait For You ..  I heard the pop sensibility in those tracks.. so we tried a version. 

Did you go to Gilles` Talkin Loud sessions at Dingwalls? I ask because Wonderfulsound seems informed by that Jazzy eclecticism.    

I used to go to Dingwalls. What I loved about those sessions was the Jazz Dance session at the beginning .. the dancers..It was church for me. I used to get there at the beginning. All those records were a learning curve for me… Fusion stuff, Afro cuban records, people dancing to modal jazz!! I liked that Talking Loud scene, and The Fez too.. I later became good mates with Marco Nelson (of The Young Disciples) and he played bass on a couple of Superimposers tracks. He was always pointing out music to me. I think he first told me about Moondog many years before anyone else had mentioned him. I loved the fact that Marco called Magical World by The Rotary Connection “the ultimate Mod Song”. He even had it on his answer machine! That’s a real Mod!

Were you a Mod or Scooter Boy?  

I always thought I was a Modernist – as my dad is – but to be honest as I get older I reckon I’m actually a Teddyboy.  

The label seemed to be focused on your own records for the first decade, then in 2010 other artists joined the roster. What brought about this change? 

I managed to secure a distribution deal with The Superimposers but It became apparent very quickly that distributors like quantity – and the next Superimposers LP was going to be two years away. So I was meeting people like John Stammers and Pierre Duplan (from Kramford Look) and The Monks Kitchen who all had brilliant albums with no real connections to getting them released. I had a record label so I thought “Why not?” 

How do you find the artists?  

It grows naturally. Some people contact me. Some artists point out people they know. RW Hedges for example – along side Luca Nieri he writes songs kinda like early Badly Drawn Boy stuff.. but he’s obsessed with Rodgers & Hammerstein. Nobody is referencing old Hollywood. I love that!

Would it be fair to say that the label pays homage to classic musicianship and songwriting of the 60s and 70s? Tapping into easy-listening / library music, folk, Mod-soul & jazz?  

That’s exactly what it is!  Well put I must remember that. The reissue market in the music industry deals in all these genres and has exploded the better labels like Trunk, Numero, Light In The Attic, Jazzman. They`re all amazing. But the difference with Wonderfulsound is that it’s all new music. So I see the people buying into those “retro” scenes are also my audience. All those styles you mention they influence me and all the artists, who then produce their 21st century take on it.  Every release I put out is an artifact, a snapshot of now. That’s what I love.  Nev Cottee for instance. His albums are classics!  Broken flowers was a cinematic work of art and deserved all the attention it got. His current one River’s Edge has some classic songwriting on it. It’s a perfect record. All killer no filler! 

How / when did you meet Nev?  

One day I received a letter from Nev. It was before I met him. He sent a copy of his LP Stations to the studio – God knows how he found the address – and put a note in there saying he loved the label and would really love to put his next one on Wonderfulsound. From there a truly great friendship has grown.  I love Nev. He gets things done and he’s a great friend to have. When I’m working on a Nev Cottee record it’s like having a new member of staff dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s but then as a performer he’s a star!  Full of confidence..  mesmerising!

How / when did you meet Carwyn Ellis?

Through the label and the Superimposers. We were always playing on the same bill. Carwyn’s great to talk to about music. We’re completely on the same page.  I don’t meet many people I can have those conversations with.

How / when did you meet Dr Robert?  

The Superimposers supported the Blow Monkeys once and we met Robert there. We kinda knew some of the same crowd. I loosely kept in touch and then by complete co-incidence Richard Clarke from Monks Road Social got in touch and wanted me to get involved with their debut LP which Robert was producing. The collaborative aspect of that project is what it’s all about. Robert is a super clued-up chap, brilliant musician and top draw performer.  I feel totally humbled to be around all these kinda characters that my musical journey introduces me to.

What is your involvement with Monks Road Social?  

I’m the omnichord player. That’s my involvement in MRS and like everyone else, a collaborator. There was talk that I was Excecutive Producer. But everyone is an equal in that gang. I wrote Golden Day with Angelina, and it’s got Matt Deighton and Mick Talbot and Dr Robert and Crispin Glover on it.. What a line up!!!  Plus I managed to creep the Omnichord in there. I’m the omnichord player! I’ve also just started to co-run their own imprint, Monks Road Records.

Do you have any regular DJ residencies? 

I played in Soho the other night after Rob Da Bank and it was a Yoga dancefloor or something. I could play anything I wanted. I feel comfortable with that kind of audience..

Thanks to Soho Radio I’ve had the opportunity to become a radio DJ and it`​s my perfect gig. I can play whatever the hell I want without worrying if it`s going well with someone’s cocktail or if they wanna dance or if they think their Spotify playlist is probably a better option. I still cant believe people do that!

We’re actually just about to start a  Wonderfulsound Libraries residency at the Southbank Spiritland, Sunday afternoons 1 to 6PM. First one is 8th September.  Myself, Ceri Preston and a guest..It`s  an opportunity to play very quiet mellow records loud, and a reflection of the soho show.

How long have you been doing the Wonderfulsound Libraries radio show? The shows are always a brilliantly eclectic mix of timeless music. What kind of guests have you had?

That’s a great compliment and exactly what it is supposed to be. The Wonderfulsound Libraries started after the first Superimposers CD came out – so 2005 / 2006? Initially I just used to upload a mixed MP3 to wonderfulsound.com and share that. It grew from there. My DJ instincts wanted to throw together all this new music that I was discovering, then along came Soho Radio. My daughter used to go to school in Soho and on the school noticeboard there was a little advert “Would you like to be involved in a local Soho radio station? Contact Adrian.”  I gave them a shout and it turned out to be Soho Radio. What I try and do with the show is exactly what you say – a mix of timeless musics cross-pollinated across genres. I get excited by hearing the unexpected. Ceri Preston is now a contributor. He makes my life so much easier as out of anyone I have ever worked with he really really understands the Wonderfulsound libraries brief.  He knows it. 

I don’t really have guests anymore because my show is at 9AM on a Monday morning. When my show was in the afternoon I interviewed a lot of Wonderfulsound artists. Nev Cottee is always a laugh because he used to have a show and he knows radio. Interviewing Dr Robert was great because he’s a professional and he likes the spontaneity of a situation. Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers sat in on my show once. I’d never met him before and I had only just started doing Soho Radio. So that was slightly surreal as I was a massive, and I mean massive, Jungle Brothers fan as a youngster. It might have well have been George Harrison sitting there.

I know you also do sound curation for events, and brands. Could give me some examples of folks / companies you’ve worked with? To me this sounds like a dream job, how did you get into it?  

Through friends and contacts I have in the fashion world, who know I have a knowledge of music and a crazy collection of records. Fashion shows for example, some jobs take 4 to 5 weeks preparation, meetings with the designer, trying to figure out what best reflects that collection`s vibe. It’s really hard.  I had a brief once where the designer and I decided at the end of the meeting that we were looking for genre-less music! I did it though! And it was a really great show. Oliver Spencer became an associate because he opened a shop up on the street I live on.. I also compose music for brands.. royalty free soundalike stuff. Basically if it requires sound I can turn my ear to it! People recommend you. Word of mouth. It’s hard work to get but it’s great when you get it! Jasper Conran, Oliver Spencer, Agnes B, Ports1961, Margaret Howell, obscure brands from Japan….   

Have you done any soundtrack work?  

There were a couple of things that didn’t come off due to the films falling through. But I’m always trying to get those gigs. The label roster could provide untold Wes Anderson soundtracks. I’m always working this angle !!

Can you tell me more about Wonderfulsevens? What’s the idea behind it? Are the 45s exclusive to subscribers? How many releases have you had to date? Will there be any surprises?  

Wonderfulsevens is a quick and hassle free way to get a glimpse of the music that gets released on Wonderfulsound – or it’s for the superfan – or it’s an uber cool members club – or it’s a brilliant scheme to try and earn the artists, and of course me, some money out of this current tough physical music climate –  test the waters with some vinyl product from a new artist before diving into a full LP. 

There have been six releases, plus one exclusive bonus, to date. This month Pierre Duplan (The Kramford Look) has a new project with his new partner Lee Skelly (plays with 77/78 among others) called Discodor.  That’s going to be four-track 7” , and it is brilliant! In September there’ll be another bonus one with the first release from an artist that’s not on Wonderfulsound but has always been circling my world and is one of the most underrated talented bands I know.  

What Wonderfulsound releases do you have on the imminent horzion?

New LPs from Angelina, J-Walk, RW Hedges, The Hi-Fires, and Samantha Whates. Me and Matt Deighton doing Brian Wilson’s Til I Die. Then there’ll be The Wonderfulsound Revue – working title – A collaborative project similar to Monks Road Social but it’s gonna have that Superimposers vibe going on with it – but for the next decade. All the bells and whistles that I always wanted to do with The Superimposers but either didn’t have the knowledge or budget to do. I’ve scheduled myself a January release date so fingers crossed. 

You can view Wonderfulsound`s extensive catalogue here and sign up for Wonderfulsevens here. 

Below is a personal selection from the label – one hour of Wonderfulsound – featuring Dr Robert, Zooey, Kramford Look, J-Walk, Monks Road Social, The Superimposers, John Stammers, Colorama, Luca Nieri and Nev Cottee.

Track-list

Dr Robert – Each & Everyone

Zooey – Joya

The Kramford Look – Soft Ocean

Luca Nieri – End Song

John Stammers – Idle I (Colored In)

Monks Road Social – Lost In Rasa

Colorama – Long Haired Doney

Superimposers – Would It Be Impossible

Luca Nieri – Milk And Honey

Monks Road Social – Fern Of Dean

John Stammers – Waiting Around

Nev Cottee – If I Could Tell You

The Kramford Look – Enrico Exotic

J Walk – Tokyo Twilight

Monks Road Social – Adi Shakti

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