Sheila B.

Tell us about your background in music and how you got into compiling.

It began with my first fanzine, Plume, which I started at age 14 as a means to escape the boredom and frustration with school and suburbia. Writing was a way to express my love and affection for my favorite indie bands at the time—Slowdive, Bikini Kill, Throwing Muses, Saint Etienne—and to connect with others around the world who were similarly obsessed with music. But once indie music became super-commercialized, and Brit-pop replaced dream-pop, I decided to take a peek into the past—where I discovered the love of my life, 1960s girl-pop. Oddly enough it was three Ace Records affiliates who were instrumental in this discovery. Ace contributor + Saint Etienne member, Bob Stanley made me a mixtape of 60s British girl singers and Ace Records’ compilers Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart put together the fabulous Here Come the Girls compilations of 1960s Pye girls, all of which transformed me into a 60s girl-pop obsessive and one step beyond—a record collector!

As an enthusiast, when I get into something, I go ALL THE WAY, full speed ahead—collecting every 1960s girl-pop 45 I could get my hands on, spending my pre-internet days in the New York Public Library and the British Library flipping through back issues of Melody Maker and Cashbox, befriending girl group collectors worldwide. And so naturally I acquired quite a bit of knowledge in this area. I started a second fanzine called Cha Cha Charming, where I wrote at length on the girl-pop scene. Cha Cha Charming very fortunately put me on the map as an “expert” on girl-pop and so eventually I became a candidate for liner notes work. My first job came via yet another Ace Records affiliate—Sam Szczepanski, who hired me to write the liner notes for the greatest hits and last of the Here Come the Girls series—It’s So Fine: Pye Girls Are Go! on Sanctuary Records. Shortly after, Sheryl Farber at Rhino hired me to write the track-by-track liner notes for One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found (I got to pick a few tracks as well!). But my first official compiling job came a few years later with The Girls Are At It Again: UK Beat Girls 1964-1969, which I compiled with Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs for their record label Eclipse.

Which musical genres do you specialise in?

Female-fronted pop, soul, R&B, rock, garage, funk, surf, popcorn from yesterday and today, and from all over the globe.

Which compilers’/ labels’ work do you most admire?

The aforementioned girl-pop dream team—Bob Stanley at Croydon Municipal and Ace’s Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart. Also Ace’s Vicki Fox (her Feline Groovy compilation is one of my all-time favorites!), Andy Votel and Mahssa Taghinia at Finders Keepers/ B-Music, and Sheryl Farber and Steve Stanley at Now Sounds. 

Do you try to get artists involved in your projects?

BIG yes! I wish I had tried to contact some of the ladies of Nippon Girls, but at the time I didn’t even think it was a possibility. I was too knee-deep in tracking down licensees and researching in the Japanese language. But I always try to interview as many ladies as possible, which I did for The Girls Are At It Again, Lesley Gore’s Girl Talk re-release, and Love Hit Me! Decca Beat Girls. Interviewing the artists is a huge part of the joy of writing liner notes. 

How long does a typical project take to come to fruition?

I pitched my idea for Nippon Girls in 2005, and it didn’t come out until 2009. But that was largely due to all the complex licensing and my having an intense full-time job at the time. Normally compilations don’t take quite that long. Usually a year or two years.

How important is the artwork/ packaging of your releases?

Crucial. I am a real stickler for design. And can’t stress enough the value of a good-looking package. The music may be more important, but one’s first impression is based on how the package looks. We are attracted to what’s attractive, and beautiful design can drawn people to releases they may not have otherwise paid any mind to (and not-so-nice-looking design can do the opposite—repel!). I think of artists like Pizzicato Five and Saint Etienne, and labels like 4AD and Finders Keepers, whose releases always look dressed to kill! 

I knew for Nippon Girls that the sleeve design would be critical for its success, and so when Niall McCormack sent us the first mock-up of the cover, I was over the moon. He completely understood the look I had envisioned and he just nailed it! Perfectly! I have been so lucky to have Niall design all the projects I’ve worked on for Ace. And his latest design for Love Hit Me! Decca Beat Girls is exquisite! 

Which Ace releases are you most proud of working on?

Nippon Girls because it's my baby. I had moved to Tokyo at age 24 essentially to find the records that ended up being on Nippon Girls. Also, this was the first time any of these records had been released outside of Japan, so I felt a big responsibility in equipping myself with as much knowledge as possible so as to avoid the Western tendency to exoticize and stereotype. With Nippon Girls I wanted to illustrate just how creative and uplifting 60s Japanese girl-pop can be and judging by the great response, it worked!

Lesley Gore’s Girl Talk gave me the opportunity to meet and interview Lesley Gore, just over a year before she passed. I remember that I was having a really hard time personally during that project, but after meeting Lesley in person, I was determined to give that release everything I had, because I just couldn’t bear the thought of not representing her as the creative, intelligent, talented, fighting spirit that she was!

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the industry?

My enthusiasm for 60s girl-pop put me in touch with folks with similar passions, many of whom were already heavily involved in compiling and liner notes work. So I was very lucky to have those early connections. But with social media, it’s quite easy to connect with compilers, label heads, etc, so I’d suggest touching base with the folks working on projects you admire and staying on their radar. But let me tell you, I put in a good 8-10 years of obsessively collecting + writing about girl pop records before I was invited to write liner notes / produce compilations. Time, taste, enthusiasm, and perserverance usually does the trick!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a new pitch for Ace, and am completely and utterly devoted to my new radio show, Sophisticated Boom Boom on WFMU (https://wfmu.org/playlists/CF), where I get to curate 3 hours of music every single friggin’ week! I approach it with the same obsessiveness, enthusiasm, and care as my liner notes and compilation work, and it fulfills me to no end. 

What is your favourite album/ single of all time?

I’ve got a three-way tie going on for both single + album….sorry!

Single: The Ronettes “Be My Baby,” Fleetwood Mac “Sara,” Alan Parsons Project “Old & Wise."

Album: My Bloody Valentine Loveless, Megadeth Rust In Peace, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica.

© Ace records 2012-2016