Johann Ponniah is the hair and mind behind one of Australia’s most successful indie music labels, I OH YOU.
Boasting an incredible host of local artists, their roster includes Violent Soho, DMA’s, Green Buzzard, City Calm Down and DZ Deathrays.
We spoke to the Johann about how the label began, the importance of internships, and what it’s like accepting someone else’s award at the ARIAS.
I OH YOU is killing it right now. How did it all begin?
Well, I moved to Melbourne straight after high school, and started working some music industry jobs, just trying to get a foot in as an intern. I ended up interning for a music management company and that was my first step into music.
At the same time, I was living in a share house and we were getting overdue gas and electricity bills. So we decided to start throwing house parties and having bands play, and we called them the “IOU” parties because we owed all these bills.
The parties developed a bit of notoriety so we started throwing them in warehouses, and by then bands like Foals, Yeasayer, and Odd Future were coming through and Djing them.
We started putting out EPs of the bands playing, because the parties were really popular by then. Eventually Mushroom hit us up and asked if we wanted to work with them in partnership, which is what we’ve been doing for 3 or 4 years and it’s working really well.
For young people looking to get into the music industry, would you say interning is the best move?
Definitely. If you want to meet the right people and figure out what part of the industry you actually like, you need to intern.
Did you figure out which parts of the industry you didn’t like when you were interning?
Yes! Very quickly. Interning at that management company I mentioned, I learnt that, for the most part, management isn’t a very creative role. It’s a lot of logistics and finances. That’s stuff I’m not very good at. Hence pushing over into a more of an events/label type role, which is a lot more creative.
How creative is your current role as the director of the label?
We basically work with artists on everything. On the actual music side, depending on how much input they want on it, we help with producer ideas, studio ideas, and mixing engineer ideas. Then there’s also the aesthetic side: press shots, artwork, stage design, video clips, and marketing ideas, which is incredibly important and something people tend to overlook.
Obviously the music comes first, but the aesthetic of a band—letting people know who you are and your vision as an artist—is incredibly important, and getting that brand right from the very beginning is something we’re constantly thinking about. I’m very lucky to be in the position that I’m in creatively. Nothing ever feels mundane.
Especially when you get to go and accept Violent Soho’s ARIA award on national TV!
I would rather not have to do stuff like that! But in a weird way it kind of worked out really well, they got a lot of press out of that.
So it wasn’t a PR stunt?
Definitely not—I wish I could claim that we were that forward thinking, though! We had an inkling that they might have won an award because they were asked to play at the ARIAS, so when they won the Rock award earlier that night we thought that was it. So they just thought ‘let’s just stay downstairs and drink’, and I got left in the shit!
What’s coming up this year for I OH YOU?
We have a few debut records this year—we’ve just signed a new artist from Newcastle, we’re working on the debut Jack River album, we’re launching a management company pretty soon (ignore what I said about being bad at management earlier, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are good at the parts I’m not, I swear!)
We also have a new DZ Deathrays album and probably a new City Calm Down record. There’s heaps going on this year.