Geoff Travis & Jeannette Lee: 'We run on passion; we don't really try to make money'

The duo met at a friend's birthday party in 1987 where Travis offered Lee a job at his Rough Trade record shop in west London

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Geoff Travis, 63

Travis opened the Rough Trade record shop in Ladbroke Grove, west London, in 1976 and established the independent label of the same name three years later. The label's distribution arm went bankrupt in 1991 and the label folded, only to be relaunched in 1999. Its acts have included the Smiths, the Fall, the Strokes and Arcade Fire. Travis lives in Ladbroke Grove

I remember very vividly seeing Jeannette at a Sex Pistols concert – I saw her walk across the floor and thought, "That's a very interesting-looking person, I wonder who she is?"

I never went to Acme Attractions, the [King's Road punk clothing] shop that she and Don Letts ran, because I was probably too suburban and uncool. But we met at my good friend [the journalist and musician] Vivien Goldman's birthday party in 1987. Jeannette came and said hello to me because – I'd forgotten this – I'd offered her a job, which she had turned down, through a mutual friend a couple of years earlier.

She sat down and we talked for a couple of hours and really hit it off. I was attracted to her stylishness and her knowledge and enthusiasm for music. It's rare to find someone who has similar tastes to you; it's very difficult to discuss music and be talking the same language. But there was a bit of electricity between us that said we understood each other.

Rough Trade was never meant to be something I was doing on my own… so I offered her another job. It wasn't, "Come and work for me," it was, "Let's do it together." The thing about Jeannette is that from day one, you realise how formidable she is. I wouldn't have dared offer her anything less! And I've always thought that it's a lot more fun to work with someone. Being the boss is a mug's game. You see other people who are running record companies on their own and it must be so difficult; everybody needs a bullshit detector around them.

It's so difficult to define our musical taste, but we like soul, in any form – whether it's someone throwing a stone against a window or someone singing a lament.

We run on passion; we don't really try to make money. It's a very teenage, romantic view of life, but that's what gets us excited.

We don't do anything that we don't agree on completely when it comes to music, so some acts that have gone on to be hugely successful slip away from us. In a way we're foolish: we pass up opportunities to make money, but it's just a kind of creed we have.

We see each other a ridiculous amount. Last night we were out seeing a band, and that, to us, is excitement. It's terrible, isn't it, arrested development! But the excitement is real; if it wasn't, we'd stop doing it. We enjoy each other's company, even after all this time, which is not bad going. There's no one else I'd rather go to a concert with.

We've had lots of ups and downs [as a label], but Jeannette's been amazing. She's a very positive person. Some people are scared of her; I don't know why – she's got the most wonderful smile.

Jeannette Lee, 55

Lee worked in the punk boutique Acme Attractions in the 1970s. She was a member and manager of punk band Public Image Ltd before joining Rough Trade, and has managed artists including Jarvis Cocker. She lives in west London

We used to see each other around in punk days – he had the Rough Trade shop – so we knew of each other. Then one day in 1985, I had a phone call from a mutual friend who asked completely out of the blue if I would be interested in working with Geoff. I'd just come back from living in New York with Public Image, and I was having my first child… I was completely bewildered that he would ask me to work for him when I hadn't even met him! So, very flattered, but I declined.

Then about two years later, Vivien Goldman was having a birthday dinner, and Geoff was at the table. I said thank you for offering me a job, hope you didn't think I was rude for declining. And we got talking, and realised we had a lot in common.

By the end of that meal he asked me to go and work for him again! We'd got on so well I thought it was rude not to try. But I really thought I'd do it for just a few weeks – that was about 28 years ago…

You talk to people all the time about music; very occasionally you meet somebody you are on the same wavelength as, but Geoff and I definitely come at things from the same angle.

We go on a "two heads are better than one" philosophy. Our offices are next to each other; I run into his and say, "Have you heard this?" or he runs into mine and says, "What do you think of this?" And when we're both excited at the same time, then we're on to something.

We've spent 25 years going out most nights of the week. In the early days we used to work all day then drive to a gig in Manchester, then drive back to London and do it all again the next day. We don't do that so much any more, but if we were to spend any more time together we would be like a married couple.

He's very open – that's one of the things about Geoff that's really charming. He doesn't worry too much about what people expect. He's got a real sense of adventure, which appeals to me. And he's got a slight disregard for authority, which I quite like as well!

Geoff doesn't really have an off button – he just keeps going. So it takes a lot of energy to keep up. But we've worked together for such a long time, we've got a certain pace: everything is fast. God knows how it will end; one of us will probably drop. I can't really imagine having a conversation with Geoff when we say to each other, "Shall we slow down now?"

Rough Trade's compilation album 'Recorded at the Automat: the Best of Rough Trade Records' is released tomorrow. For more: roughtraderecords.com

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