Interview: 7A Records Glenn Gretlund and Iain Lee Talk About Working With Micky Dolenz On The MGM Singles Collection, New Music and More!
By M.A. Cassata
7A Records, based in the U.K. (Glenn Gretlund and Iain Lee, from the BBC) have certainly made an impact since their formation. Last year’s vinyl edition of Micky Dolenz’s MGM Singles Collection was an instant hit; and, this year’s re-release on CD (with a bunch of new nuggets) was a hit also. With credible music-industry background, the two have formed one of the brightest new companies of the year. We conducted an exclusive interview with them for Monkees.net.
Here we go!
Iain, Glenn, give us a bit of both your backgrounds?
Glenn: I’m originally from Denmark. I always wanted to work for a record company, so I moved to London when I was 19 to pursue the dream. After some unsuccessful attempts, I was finally lucky to get a job as Product and A&R manager at a reissue label called Prism Leisure (Platinum Music). We must have reissued around 1,000 albums over a period of 10 years, before I moved on and became a director at my other music company, Not Now Music.
Iain: I’m British and as far as I can remember, the Monkees have been a part of my life. My dad gave me an old Dansette record player in about 1976 when I was 3 and the first records I got were my mum’s old copies of the first Monkees album and the “I’m A Believer” single. Also, The Monkees were a staple of school summer holidays. Every summer and Easter holiday, they would be shown. I was hooked from the start.
How did you both meet and conjure up 7A; and, not that our readers don’t know, but where did 7A come from?
Glenn: I knew Iain Lee via his radio and television work in the UK. I happened to come across a post on Facebook asking for help in getting the Micky Dolenz MGM Singles project off the ground. I thought ‘this is right up my street’. So we got in touch and 7A was born.
Iain: Glenn and I had mutual friends from the mists of the past. We both knew a guy called Kirk White who was hugely important to UK Monkees fans, because he ran the best UK fan club, Band 6. Glenn reached out to me when he saw I’d made some progress sourcing who owned the original Dolenz tracks, but I didn’t know how to proceed. I like to joke that he’s the brains of the organisation and I’m the looks, but, he’s probably both. And the name 7a comes from the wonderful intro to the song “Daydream Believer”…’What number is this Chip?’
The vinyl edition of Micky’s MGM tracks came out last year; what was the reaction?
Glenn: Being our first ever release, and it being Micky’s first ever-solo vinyl album, we really didn’t know what to expect. We were just overwhelmed by the positive reactions we received. It was a limited edition and sold out quickly.
Iain: Ah man, we were blown away. We had no idea how it would sell. We just wanted to make it a physical reality. We pressed 400 and they sold out in a week. So we pressed another 400. Again, they went in a week. We are so proud of that record, it really caught the wind at the time. It was featured in news items around the world and I was even asked to go on to the BBC’s arts show Front Row! Incredible. We’ve had such good feedback from fans as far afield as Japan and Australia thanking us for the record. The vinyl really is a thing of beauty.
So, the CD release this year, with some added goodies, was a foregone conclusion, right?
Glenn: Kind of, but it wasn’t straight-forward. It took a while for Universal to agree to give us CD rights. Also, the bonus tracks are all from different licensors and they were both costly and time consuming to clear. In some cases, such as with “To Be Or Not To Be” and “Beverly Hills”, we only received the master tapes a few days before our production deadline. But it was worth it all.
How did Micky react when you proposed this all to him? You’d done previous projects with him, right?
Glenn: Iain has interviewed Micky a few times over the years for his radio shows, but the MGM singles was the first time we were actually working with him. He was very positive and supportive. He kindly agreed to give us an exclusive interview for the booklet, and we also licensed some of the bonus tracks from him.
Iain: I interviewed Micky when he was in the UK performing in Hairspray. It was the first time I’d ever met him and I was as nervous as hell. He came into the radio studio I was in and started singing along to “Goin’ Down,” the song I was playing at the time. I was getting my own private Dolenz concert! In terms of the actual record, which came about a few years after that meeting, Glenn and I held off getting his permission until the last possible moment. We wanted everything in place so we could present the entire package to him. Technically, he couldn’t have stopped us doing it, but it was very important to me and Glenn that he gave us his blessing. If he hadn’t wanted us to release it, we wouldn’t. No one wants to upset their heroes. Luckily, Micky has been incredibly supportive of us. I still can’t believe I have Micky’s telephone number!
The bonus tracks on the CD edition; how’d you arrive at that?
Glenn: What we really wanted to do was to release all of Micky’s solo singles on one compilation. We managed to get almost everything. We are only missing “Huff Puff” and “Don’t Do It”, which are owned by Warner Brothers and already available on other CD compilations. The ownership of “Tomorrow” from Bugsy Malone is currently unclear, so that had to be left off too. But we got everything else and rammed the CD full of music. I believe the total running time is 78 minutes, which is about as much as is technically possible.
What other 7A projects are in the works?
Glenn: We can’t reveal everything, as some deals still need to be signed off, but we can honestly say that 2017 will be very, very busy and Monkees fans have a lot to look forward to. All we can say is that the entire, remastered Micky Dolenz Live In Japan concert will be available as a Limited Edition 12” Coloured Vinyl Gatefold set, with a special surprise bonus item. On top of that, keep your eyes open for Record Store Day 2017…you just never know.
Might there be some future releases from Michael Nesmith or Peter Tork?
Glenn: Yes, we have something very exciting up our sleeves
Iain: It’s so frustrating. We know we have several amazing things coming, they’re all signed and the packaging is being designed as we speak. They will totally blow the minds of Monkees fans. We haven’t even come close to delivering our best work yet. And I think it’s important to stress, Glenn and I only release records that we as fans would buy. Everything has to pass that important test. If one of us wouldn’t dip into our own pockets to purchase it, then that project doesn’t happen. Also, we try and throw everything we can at the records and CD’s. Photos (usually courtesy of the legendary Henry Diltz), sleeve notes, embossed packaging, gatefold sleeves, coloured vinyl, these all cost money. If we just did a straightforward CD with very little else, we would make a lot more money, but why do ‘good’ when you can do ‘excellent’? It means we are probably terrible business men, but for us, this is about the fans and the art, not the bank balance.
Micky’s last two solo albums, King For A Day and Remember … might they get the 7A treatment?
Glenn: This is very unlikely. They are both recent releases and Micky and the respective record labels did a fine job in putting them together.
What would your dream project be?
Glenn: Getting Micky in the studio to record new material would be fantastic. We have a long list of album suggestions that we think would suit him very well.
Iain: The thing I’m most keen on is to get hold of some of the Davy Jones multi tracks and strip of the instruments and re-record the backing tracks with a more acoustic feel – guitars and pianos. I’m a huge fan of Davy, and I LOVE his solo stuff as well, he recorded so much stuff. But I do wonder what some of those songs might sound like with an almost Unplugged vibe…
How did you find the master tapes?
Glenn: Despite first denying they had them, the Universal masters were all stored at their secure library. Some of the masters for the bonus tracks came from the original producers, such as BA Robertson and Tom Deluca.
Iain: The masters for the vinyl release came about by luck really. One of the things that 7a is proud of, is that people on our Facebook page are constantly offering us help and suggestions. We take everything on board and consider everything put to us. A week before we were about to finalise the MGM tracks, I got an email from a guy called Robert Cristarella who intrigued me by saying ‘I may know where the masters are’. At this point, we were going to be pressing the record using very good needle drops, but needle drops none the less (that means the tracks were recordings taken off of the actual records). We were really on a tight deadline and I wasn’t sure how to take this guy. But, fair play, he came back a few days later telling us EXACTLY where the masters were and who we needed to contact to get them. It put the project back by a month or two but was totally worth it. Those songs have never sounded so good!
What was it like working with record companies long since closed on archival material?
Glenn: It can make things tricky. We sometimes have to track down producers or past owners of recordings that were made 40 years ago. There is a lot of detective work, but it is all part of the fun though.
Iain: Oh it’s like a treasure hunt, or a Puzzle Trail (there’s an obscure reference for all you Davy fans). There’s something quite enjoyable about tracking stuff down on the Internet and then emailing dozens of people until finally someone says “oh, yes, we have that!’ Ultimately, with the MGM stuff, we knew Universal owned all of the tracks as all the small labels Dolenz had recorded on in the 70’s had been absorbed by Universal. I played email tennis with around 20 people, but we got there in the end.
What about Peter’s contributions?
Glenn: We would be very interested in working with Peter. We have even made a concrete offer to reissue one of his albums, but sadly we have not heard back from either him or his management. We will keep pursuing though – and you never know…
Iain: Peter Tork is an absolute legend. In my mind, he is one of the most underrated talents in music. The man can turn his hand to anything. I’m such a huge fan. It would be a real thrill to release something of his. Peter, if you’re reading this, WE LOVE YOU!
What have been the biggest surprises running a physical record company in the digital age?
Glenn: Mainly how reliant you are on e-retailers and wholesalers helping you on the distribution side. Companies such as Amazon can be frustrating, as there is no real human contact if anything goes wrong. Funnily enough, I read the other day that vinyl album sales had overtaken download sales for the first time. So although we are in the digital age and many people now stream music, there are thankfully still many people out there that prefer to own a physical product – or like myself – do both.