New York native Nabil Ayers, knows, plays, and spreads good and up-and-coming music. A musician and drummer in his own right, Ayers runs album campaigns at 4AD for the likes of the National, Grimes, Future Islands, and tUnE-yArDs. On the side, Ayers created his own label, The Control Group, through which he’s unearthed beautiful gems like El Perro Del Mar, Cate Le Bon, and Alice Boman. Ayers seems to have an unlimited supply of musical tricks up his sleeve, so we look forward to hearing what he has in store for us next.
How did music come into your life? When did you know it would be your career? I started playing drums when I was two when my uncle bought me a beat up, orange and silver sparkle Ludwig drum set. It’s the earliest memory I have. I started buying records when I was five and always noticed that they had label logos on the back. I didn’t understand what that meant but I think I always realized that it took more than the music itself to get it to people. I don’t know if I ever realized music would be my career until I opened a record store (Sonic Boom Records in Seattle) with my business partner when we were both twenty-five.
You’re a musician too. Did you decide at one point that you would prefer to spread other people’s music, versus play your own? Or was the decision much more practical? It’s been a natural progression. I played music growing up but also always booked shows and made small runs of cassettes of my bands to sell at school. So there was always a mix of music and business. Opening a record store allowed me to keep doing both – playing music and releasing records.
When working with big bands like the National or Future Islands (i.e., bands most people know) I imagine that would give you a fair amount of creativity flexibility. Given that context, what do you hope to achieve with campaigns like these? What is the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is to make our artists happy. That usually means great press, radio, and marketing campaigns, strong & memorable videos, and an office full of people pushing an album. No matter how big or small an artist is, there’s always a new goal that feels within (or out of) reach. Smaller artists can take more time and energy, especially when it’s someone who tours a lot. But often times, the artist being out there and playing every night is what connects with people. Our job is to back that up.
What led you to start your own label, The Control Group? I was living in Seattle at the time and there were some great bands who didn’t have anyone to release their music, so I did. I think my first release was an electronic band called The Fitness, in 2003. The goal was to hopefully sell a few hundred copies of an album that I really liked.
How do you search for new bands? What sound do you look for and how do you know you’ve found it? Mine is more of a business role – running the US office. But generally it’s not about any certain sound or whether or not it will sell. It’s about one of us discovering an artist we love.
Why do you love your job? What’s in store for the future? I love the music and the artists that I work with, and the people in our New York and London offices; they are an amazing cast of characters who are passionate about music and helping to bring it to people. The future—there are some amazing new artists I’m excited about: D.D Dumbo, Søren Juul, Methyl Ethel and Pixx.