Small Pond has become one of the most interesting concepts in Brighton of recent times. Coined in 2013 by a gang of friends who had an ambitious plan to not only put on their favourite live acts but release their records, book their tours and film their performances. Since then, their ambitious plans have lead for the development of quite the innovative, exciting company. They have now developed and built their own recording studio and rehearsal space (in an exceptionally DIY fashion I later found out) down on Castle Street – just off Western Road – with state of the art facilities, the finest equipment in the business and the special inclusion of the Neve console.
I caught up with Vlad for a beer and a chat about where Small Pond was, where it was going and how it got here in the first place. He outlined everything from the building of the UK’s most ambitious studio project to the very early days of Small Pond and the legacy of their Royal Mail van. It became clear that Small Pond really is a company with no limits now – their ambitious plans just seem to be growing and growing. So over a couple of beers, we had this chat:
So, who is behind Small Pond and what are your plans with it all right now?
There are six of us who are full time Small Ponders [laughter] and then there is one who is slowly becoming more and more involved. Sam Organ of Physics House Band is sort of, almost joining us full time. He has worked at Tru Thoughts for almost four years so has loads of experience in the digital domain so we are looking at a way we can work together. As a company, Small Pond is going well right now, we are going to have a relatively quiet summer as during the spring break we got to see just how much of our clientele were students and they make up quite a lot of it. However, in the down time we are putting on quite a lot of different events – we are going to have the Euros – where you can watch the Euros at Small Pond Studios with a beer in hand. We are going to do open mic nights too where we will record and film people – yeah, just loads of little ideas that we are going to materialise in the down time and have fun with. Then, when it comes back to September we can let the mayhem start again.
So how have you seen it develop since its opening in October time? Is there a lot of hardwork that goes on in the background?
We were sort of forced to open early because of the circumstances at the time. It had ended up costing more than we anticipated so we had to begin to generate some income quicker than anticipated. So, since then we have had to make a lot of adjustments in the rooms in terms of acoustics, we have also traded in more than 70% of our amplifiers, so we have upgraded – we have a great selection of bass amps and guitar amps now. These are all things that we couldn’t necessarily do from the start but now the place is becoming better and better and improving all the time, we have the resources to push it. Obviously, the studio is open now and it is sounding fantastic. It’s a natural progression for us, it is just very hard for people who are inpatient like myself – I just want it all to be there from the off but little by little, it is becoming what we dreamed of from the start.
Going way back to the start then, how did Small Pond become an idea between yourself, Dave and the rest of the team?
Well, it was an idea that I tried in a different country, it was something that didn’t really work out over there though in terms of financing and stuff. The concept of having a studio was very much a personal want and the rehearsal space was a thing that would finance the rest of operations. When we saw that BIMM was expanding in terms of its student population, it seemed to provide us with the perfect opportunity to build our space knowing that there would be an increased demand. In terms of the team of the guys, it’s accumulated over time, originally I was going to do this with one other person who is now no longer part of the team. In time though, five other people have joined and built around it to make it into a project that could work.
With the idea of Small Pond, has it always been to have a studio eventually or was the aim to start with events and then the label and then to progress from there?
Starting with the idea of having a successful promotions company, we had to associate ourselves with the successful live shows, so a) it came naturally for the company to realise that this was what we needed and b) we needed to keep growing and building by putting on live events frequently with quality content. With licensing records, it was firstly something that Dave Jackson (Delta Sleep) really wanted to do and in turn we all became passionate about because, as we were putting on these successful live acts, we really wanted to put out their records too. In terms of the studio, anybody who picks up a guitar as a teenager has a childhood dream that one day they will be able to sit there in front of a big desk and record things all day and not go to work – to make that work for us has been hard. Small Pond is very eclectic though and we still have difficulties communicating all the different things that we do across to people. We are struggling to find that all-encompassing umbrella that categorises everything we can offer so that is the challenge we face at the moment. We are still getting known across Brighton and people that know about fragments of what we do are then surprised that we offer this other aspect too. Our plan is to film a little documentary this summer that explains what we do, so people don’t just associate with us as a label, or see us just as a promoter or recording space and instead see us as a whole entity. It’s fairly ambitious to do everything we do but we are optimistic people and have faith this will all work out.
To clarify then, what is it that Small Pond provides?
We have six rehearsal spaces, we have a recording studio, we put on live events, we license records, after that we have started giving external PR to people, booking tours for artists and providing live videos of performances. So, there is really a variety of things that we are capable of doing.
In terms of your live videos with Small Pond Presents, how are they going nowadays?
Yes! So, our channel is almost at half a million views now so it is climbing little by little. It’s a lot of work but it’s coming on.
You guys seem to have been working hard ever since last summer when you were building the studio, how have you found it all?
Last summer was very intense, there really was no summer at all. It was six days a week for six months of intensive building with a lot of learning on the job as none of us really had any building experience.
How did you find that then – did you have a project leader as such?
When the idea was materialising, we emailed 14 different companies with our budget asking for guidance and with that, 12 of them laughed in our face saying that our budget was perhaps 1.2 million short, 1.4 million short. Finally, we got one guy who came forward whose company had recently broken down and he said he wouldn’t build it for us but instead teach us how to build it and give us guidance to go at the project within our ridiculous budget. He would drive down every week from Bradford and stay for three days. Whilst he was down, he would teach us how to use the tools, how to build; we had to build over the course of the next week and leave us a long to-do list. He would then come down the following week, tell us we had built it wrong, tell us we had to dismantle what we had done – how to take up the flooring or whatever and then we would start again. It was just that daunting process for months and months and it felt like we would never get there but we did in the end and it’s really something special. Something we are all so proud of. That person from Bradford has been building practice rooms and rehearsal spaces since 1993 and he said that this was the most ambitious project he had ever worked with and he later confessed that he genuinely did not think we would be able to finish it but he wanted to keep our spirits up at the time.
Wow! Do you still stay in touch with him?
Yeah, so we recently invited him down as it is a year now since we started building so we are trying to get him to come and have a celebration with us so that we can really thank him. There is nobody else in the country that had the faith in us that this could be accomplished on this budget. Really, without him, we would never have been able to do this.
That’s a great story though. I guess you have a lot to say about the DIY aesthetic behind Small Pond then?
I think there are a lot of people who say that they have started a business or built a business from the ground up but eventually they have really just surrendered their credit card to somebody else to come and do it for them. So, in that sense it’s certainly more gratifying knowing that we have done it ourselves. In a practical sense, if anything breaks within the studio, we know exactly what has broken and exactly how to fix it which makes things so much easier for ourselves and the client. Those are the positives. In the reality of things, it was just a really long project that was very ambitious.
There was quite a story with you guys getting hold of the Neve console for the studio right?
Yes, so we found it on the Internet in a second; website in Spain. We called up the guy and asked him to take it offline, we then bought a Royal Mail van, ripped out all the seats and drove down to Spain to go and pick it up.
Do you still use the Royal Mail van nowadays?
Yes, unfortunately, I hate that thing. Dave loves that thing though [laughter]! There is no first or second gear in it so as you start pulling onto motorways it rattles and stops anyone from sleeping. It’s broken down on a variety of cultural escapades though – one time we were driving through Italy on a Delta Sleep tour and they actually had to miss a show in Paris and one of the boys in Delta Sleep had to fly back to Italy to come and pick up the van at a later date. The thing is, you go up to an Italian mechanic and they have no idea as you approach them in this huge Royal Mail van! It’s given us that Neve desk and the ability to go on tours, it gets you there eventually – the back door has broken and it now rains inside the van. It’s got character but it’s the most unfortunate member of the Small Pond family. It works the hardest but it’s like the unwanted brother I suppose.
Do you miss the experience of building the studio looking back? At the time, I guess it was a lot of hard work but are there any fond memories you miss?
[Laughter] No, not really. Not yet. It hasn’t hit yet, I’m looking forward to that happening but not quite yet.
Back to how you found yourself in Brighton then, what drew you here?
I actually ended up here by accident. I was convinced by two friends to move here, one of which now lives in Australia and the other is Joe Gosney of Black Peaks. After I finished my master’s degree I came here and just got stuck here, five years later and I’m still here.
Did everyone involved with Small Pond study here then?
Erm, other than Dave Jackson, all of us did. Three of us went to BIMM and two of us went to Northbrook.
Right, so did a lot of you already have experience within the music industry before pursuing with Small Pond then?
Yes, we all did but at the lower levels. We had all put on gigs, Dave had licensed record releases in Leeds. We have done little things but this was all learn as you go I suppose.
As a promotions company, do you have a favourite gig you have put on?
I think our favourite show was the TTNG show which had over 300 people in there. We had three bands on, Delta Sleep, Tangled Hair and TTNG who are are probably the best in the country at what they do – that sort of mathy, tingly, emo-hangover sort of thing. To see people from all over England come to that line-up and then have TTNG come into the studio to shoot a session with us was great. This was in May I think so we are just finishing the session now and that is going to be part of their new album’s promo material. This is the great thing – it has gone from listening to that band maybe 10 years ago to now being able to mix their stuff – it’s hugely gratifying and a really beautiful thing for me personally.
That sounds great. So, what are the future plans for Small Pond then?
Right now, we are trying to financially stabilise Small Pond which we have done through a deal with BIMM where they are going to take three rooms on pretty much a permanent basis. Until maybe September time, we are keeping it relatively low key but when that is all sorted, we will start looking into future ventures. One of the things we want to do is get another property and open a second venue, something around the 300-400 capacity which is something we feel Brighton is really missing right now. The hardest thing is finding it in Brighton because it’s so small and dense but come next September/October, we can start looking. The idea is by day to have it as a record shop where we can have the records stands on wheels, then during the night, wheel them out and have it as a venue in the night. It’s very ambitious though so we need to make sure we are financially stable first. We’ll get there though!