Julia Wilson Discusses Melbourne Roots and Founding Record Label Rice Is Nice

Julia Wilson is a Melbourne success story in the music industry. From an early age, she was immersed in the scene, working in record stores as a teen and shooting for now defunct Melbourne street rag Inpress straight out of her photography studies – her first live shoot, as she recalls, was likely No Doubt. Working in street press often means long hours, demanding publicists and advertisers, and little, if any, pay; it’s something one does for the love of music and arts, and fortunately, Wilson has no shortage of that. She wanted to use her experience to champion artists who had something unique about them – the basis for longevity – rather than artists who were deemed popular by the mass market, so she founded record label Rice Is Nice in 2008. Now in its 12th year, the label is home to acts that represent rock, electronica, psychedelia, acoustic folk and garage punk, has succeeded in showcasing its artists at Melbourne Music Week, and gotten media coverage for artists who don’t easily fit into typical genres, all without compromising their integrity. Black Flag legend Henry Rollins even gave her record label a shout-out on his KCRW radio show. There’s no hard sell with Julia, just genuine passion – despite her busy schedule, she seemed to have nothing but time when it came to talking arts and music with Audiofemme.

Wilson was born and raised in Frankston, on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s a well renowned suburb to the south-east of Melbourne, commonly and sometimes derisively referred to as “Franga.” Working in little record store that mostly sold metal records, Wilson says, “It was a seminal time for me and I used my time there to discover all I could about that genre of music. The store was full of Burzum, NOFX, Cradle Of Filth and Kerrang Magazine. I’m not sure how I got outta there alive!”

As an events photographer, Wilson became intimately familiar with Melbourne’s best-known music venues and events: The Corner, Festival Hall (“Where I saw my first concert Faith No More”), The Tote, The Evelyn, The Prince Of Wales, Big Day Out and others. “I did not love some of the competitive asshole photographers in the pit,” Wilson admits. “I was lucky to meet a few legends though, who gave me film when I had forgotten mine.” As digital photography became more prevalent, Wilson took the opportunity to move in a new direction.

Her first stop was Greville Records, located in the inner-eastern Melbourne suburb of Prahran. “That place is my spiritual home. The people and records in there paved a strong path for me,” Wilson says, giving a special shout-out to owner Warwick Brown. “You Am I played a free gig in the car park, and there were loads of in-stores signings, launches and performances at the time. I used to go to local live venue, the Duke Of Windsor all the time. I remember watching Legends Of Motorsport (I loved that band), Ground Components and Rocket Science.”

Wilson moved from Melbourne to Sydney about eight years ago to take a role with Mushroom Records, but ended up quitting and joining Popfrenzy Records, founded by Chris Wu, as a label manager and publicist. “Working with Chris proved to me that one person could do huge things. Leaving Melbourne helped me establish something that was my own,” Wilson explains. “I was generally very intimidated by Australian bands. It was a very big, cool scene and it was very overwhelming for me… Moving to a city less obsessed with music than my home city of Melbourne gave me the confidence and space to start something new. I felt that I could make mistakes without as much judgement as I’d have received in Melbourne. I just had sheer support from artists and music lovers because the scene needed so much of it.”

Missing Melbourne, Wilson recently moved back to the city. “The volume of venues and support that Melbourne has for the arts is second to none,” she points out. “The city itself has supported me through grants, throwing parties for Melbourne Music week and also celebrating my label, Rice Is Nice’s 10th birthday at Melbourne Music Week’s HUB. The people who run these venues are champions. I mean, Rich from The Tote is a hero. He also runs Aarght Records (that represents Eddy Current Suppression Ring, NUN and many others). He’s a proactive, real deal music champion. They are rare to find, I guess.”

She continues, “I think my intimidation and fear of the ‘clique’ was just because I was a kid; you have to get your confidence somewhere. “I would reluctantly go to the Tote to see bands but it always made me feel like a loser. I mean, it still does! Someone gave me shit about wearing a ‘warm jacket at the Tote’ last time I went there. Like, fuckin’ hell mate, I just had a baby, fuck off.” Though she was once “shit-scared” of grunge band Batrider, two of its members – arty indie-rock singer-songwriter Sarah Mary Chadwick and Steph Crase (harmonic, grunge-style fuzzy guitars behind Summer Flake) – now release music via Rice Is Nice (Wilson also manages Chadwick). Check out some of the label’s music below.

SUMMER FLAKE

Stephanie Crase describes the music she makes under the moniker Summer Flake as “sun-drunk guitar pop.” She’s a hippie-hearted harmony addict influenced by the dreaminess of Sonic Youth and the surfer pop of Best Coast. She’s releases three albums – You Can Have It All (2013), Hello Friends (2016) and Seasons Change (2019) – as well as a handful of EPs that “consider ideas of self-identity, movement, and the indiscriminate yet deeply personal sense of yearning for growth.”

SPOD

With cheeky albums like Taste The Radness, SPOD has taken squelchy, Gary Numan-at-Bondi Beach vibes to craft deliciously riotous electro tunes that combine smart aleck lyrics with bouncy basslines. It’s essentially the one-man project of Brent Griffin, who’s been throwing party like-sets with confetti, streamers, glitter, backup dancers since 1995. Last year’s Adult Fantasy LP was released in conjunction with a live full-length performance, shot and edited direct to tape by SPOD and Alex Smith. The Adult Fantasy TV Special was made available on VHS, and ends with a 46-minute closing track, featuring solos from Rollins, Ariel Pink and Jason Lytle from Grandaddy, among some 35 others.

THE FROWNING CLOUDS

Five-piece Geelong band The Frowning Clouds combine ’60s psychedelia with fuzzy guitar pop, pummeling percussion, catchy melodies, and a healthy dose of punk rock attitude. “[Their] randomness extends beyond their raucous sounds to their bizarre stage costumes,” Wilson warns. Their 2014 LP Legalize Everything was their first for Rice Is Nice, and their 2013 debut Whereabouts, reissued earlier this year by Anti Fade, is available via Bandcamp.

DARTS

Wilson describes Darts as “indie rockers who have clearly been influenced by ’90s grunge-rock pioneers like Dinosaur Jr.” Having released a few singles via the label, They’ve been been playing in local clubs for over six years now and have released their debut Below Empty & Westward Bound via Rice is Nice in 2015.

LOWTIDE

The rhythmic, swirling guitars and spaciousness in the sounds of quartet Lowtide found full expression not only on 2018 sophomore effort Southern Mind, but also on a remixed version of the album released later that year, with Ulrich Schnauss, Vive La Void (Sanae Yamada/Moon Duo), Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation, Lost Horizons (Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins + Richie Thomas formerly of Jesus and Mary Chain) and Black Cab taking the controls.

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