Papa Records boss Oli Lazarus reflects on life at the helm of one of London’s top labels.

Papa Records boss Oli Lazarus reflects on life at the helm of one of London's top labels.

We got the chance to catch up with Papa Records boss Oli Lazarus as they celebrate 15 years as a label, the imprint founded in early 2000’s has dropped music from Purple Disco Machine, Kerri Chandler, Dennis Ferrer and a ton of others.

Firstly congratulations on Papa Records 15th anniversary, that’s some achievement! For those not famiiar with the label, tell us a bit about how you started and your sound?

Thanks! I was toying with the idea of starting a label for a few months and finally launched Papa in early 2002. Prior to the label I had a great experience working at a London record store called Flying Records where I learnt a hell of a lot and got a real education. During that time I also had started messing around with production and was DJ’ing a lot.

I was always into soul music, growing up on artists from the 70’s like Stevie Wonder, Maze, Gil Scott Heron and Steely Dan. Papa’s sound is inspired by them and my take on soulful music.

So to celebrate you’re releasing a mega 15th Anniversary compilation, ‘Play It Like Papa’, on which DJ Spinna has delivered 3 special DJ mixes. How did you first hook up with Spinna and what are some of the highlight projects you’ve worked together on over the years for the label?

Back when I worked at Flying Records, I always used to sell vinyl with DJ Spinna remixes on and then I heard him DJ in London around 2000 and was blown away. If you have never heard Spinna play then you need to check him out as soon as you can! When I set up Papa he was one of the guys I definitely wanted involved and in 2002 I flew out to meet him in New York.

We hung out in his studio and in his record den and he also took me to some amazing NY parties at the time like Shelter and Body & Soul. We just always stayed in touch and continued to work together over the years. We released his artist album ‘Intergalactic Soul’ which was definitely a highlight.

There’s a CD and digital version with 120 tracks, what gems have you got lined up for us and how difficult was it to choose which tracks to include?

I really wanted to celebrate the anniversary and showcase some of the back catalogue to the new wave of music fans. I decided to break the release into 3 albums so that people get a real feel of the music we cover. Album 1 is soul, broken beat & nu jazz, Album 2 is soulful house and Album 3 is deep house & house. We have a triple CD release and also a triple album digital release. There is an exclusive track from Saison included plus a lot of the great remixes of the early Reel People tracks. All in all lots of hidden gems and some fan favourites from the likes of Osunlade, Atjazz, Bugz In The Attic, Dennis Ferrer, Tony Momrelle, Omar and lots more.

Your flagship label band Reel People released their hugely successful album ‘Second Guess’ along with a plethora of singles and top remixes, tell us about how you first got the band together and who has been involved along the way?

I started Reel People almost simultaneously to starting Papa. For me again it was an outlet to make feel good soulful music with great musicianship and vocals. I worked with some amazing people on the two albums, we made ‘Second Guess’ and ‘Seven Ways To Wonder’ on Papa. Mike Patto deserves a huge shout for all his skill and brilliance, Toni Economides and Tony Momrelle also been massive parts of the journey. The live shows are always fun and the band have a real cult following.

Any plans for another Reel People album in the future?

Yes been working on a new record for a few months and it will definitely be released in 2018. I have been listening to a lot of music of the last couple of years and got inspired by a new generation of acts taking soul music forward. Artists like The Internet, Anderson. Paak and Moonchild. It feels like a good time for some new Reel People music.

Having written and produced some stunning works with a lot of great artists, how has your approach to writing a recording evolved over the years?

It’s like any career really, the more you experience the more you can pull from and hopefully get better and make the journey as smooth as possible. I have been so lucky to work with a wide range of talented people and I always try and learn as I’m going.

On the touring front, Reel People came from humble London pub gigs to hitting the big festival stages and travelling all over with a full live band, what’s your favourite memory on the road and how important is it for a band to tour?

Any band will tell you the more you play the better the band and show becomes, so from that perspective touring is essential. Also its such an essential way to promote your music and what you’re about. For me personally I always love going to Japan so performing at the Blue Note clubs was very satisfying. Also in recent years South Africa has become like a second home.

You’ve had over 100 singles and 50 album releases on Papa to date, which are your personal favourites and why?

On a personal level, the two Reel People albums we released were a huge achievement for myself and the team involved. I think some of the stand out tracks are Simon Grey – The Galactica Suite (just an awesome track from top to bottom, jazz funk soul fusion meets dance), Oreja – Vazilando (a big record on the house scene, which we licensed all over the world, new mixes of this coming in 2018), Saison – The Dukes (just a great modern deep house cut). There quite a few more but they stick out a little for me.

Papa were very much part of a raw, organic and very buzzing soulful scene in London at the time where broken beat was coming through and jazz was very present in house music, it must have been a very creative time, who was involved back in the day and what were your highlights?

London at that time was a great place to be. The scene was exciting with lots of artists and producers doing their thing. Like you say the broken beat scene at the time was bubbling and we dabbled with the genre working with Seiji, Bugz In The Attic, Domu & 4hero etc. Reel People also had a broken influence to some degree.

You have some new talent recently signed to the label, Sebb Junior and Saison, tell us about their sound and what to expect from the Papa new breed?

Really love what Sebb does. He has an incredible ear and a real warmth to his production. I was so happy when he sent me his album that he had been working on for some time and it was a no brainer to release it. The Saison boys are good friends so again it was an easy decision to start working with them, plus I really loved what they were doing. I am always on the look out for new artists who can fit the Papa sound.

Being 15 years old, you survived the whole digital switch and many labels and record shops closed, that couldn’t have been an easy sea to navigate, how did you overcome such a big change in the industry?

Yeah it’s been a great journey with lots of ups and a few downs. The big shift in how music is consumed was really tough. Things changed so much and learning how to still operate as a business took some learning and mistakes were made. The great thing is we are still here today and continue to play our part.

How do you think soulful music has changed over the past 15 years, and what would you most like to see change about the scene moving forwards?

I think as a genre, soulful house seems to have a bit of a stigma to it, so other genres become more fashionable like deep house but there is still a lot of soulful influence in a lot of that genre. I think there is a lot of wonderful music out there right now and artists expressing themselves in a true and creative way. My personal taste is quite wide so I’m always discovering music and being a fan first and foremost.

Which projects are you working on personally at the moment?

Well I now run three labels, Papa, Reel People Music and also Foliage Records. We have a wide range of exciting projects planned for 2018 over the three outlets. Keep your eyes peeled.

Play It Like Papa (15 Years Of Papa Records) is out now.