Banner Year: Richard Russell, co-founder and CEO of XL Recordings (Photo: Courtesy XL)
All said, 2011 has been a phenomenal year for Richard Russell and XL Recordings, the London-based independent that he co-founded in 1989 and now runs. Since its release in January, Adele's "21" has sold 4.67 million units in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan and received 6 Grammy nominations, including album of the year, best pop vocal album and record of the year for "Rolling in the Deep." In the United Kingdom, "21" has become the biggest-selling album of the 21st century, moving 3.4 million units in its first 10 months, according to the Official Charts Company. Other notable XL Recordings released in 2011 have, meanwhile, included Radiohead's "The King of Limbs," "Goblin" by Tyler, The Creator, "Skying" by The Horrors and "Pala" by U.K. indie act Friendly Fires.
Taking time out from the studio, where he is co-producing Bobby Womack's comeback album alongside Damon Albarn, Billboard.biz caught up Russell to talk about Adele, the XL ethos and the label's plans for the future.
Billboard.Biz What was your initial reaction following Adele's 6 Grammy nominations for "21"?
Richard Russell: I'm really pleased for her. It's been the latest in a long line of slightly unreal events in connection to this record. The whole thing has been, I suppose, un-orchestrated is the best way of putting it. I think the record is very instinctive and that's why people like it as much as they do. There hasn't been anything very complicated about how it is presented to people. It's just been a question of people hearing the music... And it's great that people have responded to it the way that they have. All the different things that have happened and the way that people have appreciated it and the different accolades that it has got, everyone involved really appreciates it.
What impact do you think this will have on "21"'s sales? How much longer do you think the album campaign can continue?
People are just excited about it and into [Adele] and into the music. This sort of combination: the fact that people really like the songs and the singles that they hear on the radio and love. But also people relate to her as much as they do and want to hear the album. I think that sort of combination of factors means that it has its own life. I think it naturally decides. This record has got its own rules that apply to it and those rules are getting made up as it goes along, so I guess we'll make a few more.
Has any thought has gone into a follow-up record yet?
We're still in the middle of this and "21" has obviously got its own rules so we're just letting it unfold, really. One moment at a time.
Will the global success of "21" have an impact on how XL Recordings is run in the future?
No. In terms of the label, XL is very focused on just trying to put out good records. Again, it's pretty simple and basic: just trying to work with the best artists we can and put out the best records we can and not really putting out many. We've only put out 6 albums this year and we've got about the same amount planned for next year. We've got no desire to be a lot bigger. The amount of staff works really well. The amount of albums and artists that we work with works really well. It works at the size it's at and I think if it was a lot bigger, I don't think it would.
Can you talk about your production work on Bobby Womack's new studio set, which you are co-producing with Blur's Damon Albarn?
"It's going to be out on XL next year. Because Bobby guested on the Gorillaz record [2010's "Plastic Beach"] and him and Damon toured a lot together they had the idea of doing something new. Me and Damon worked together on the DRC Music Project album ["Kinshasa One Two" (Warp)], so it kind of naturally came together to do something with Bobby. We're just getting in finished actually. We should hopefully get it finished in the next couple of weeks. It's been wonderful. We've got 15 or 16 brand new songs made [with an] amazing quality of writing and really interesting production. He's an incredible voice, so I'm really looking forward to creating a platform for people to hear him. As a co-production thing with me and Damon it's been great and it's been an amazing experience. Hopefully people will dig the music.
How does the record compare with Womack's solo material and his more recent work with Gorillaz?
I think it sounds like a very modern soul record, really. His voice is amazing and I think if people have been listening to things like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd [then they'll like it]. I think those artists are very influenced by Bobby and you can join a lot of the dots. There's a lot of very interesting things [on the record] but there's also him performing acoustically on there. But there's stuff with him singing and some very modern stuff and he's just been very, very open to all of it. I think the quality of the song writing - because he's co-written with Damon a lot of it and Damon is such an amazing writer - the quality of it really feels sky high. I think for a record that someone is making later on in their career people should be in for a really nice surprise when they hear it.