Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mark Lanegan - Dark Mark Does Christmas

at the end of 2012, Mark Lanegan released Dark Mark Does Christmas, a collection of Christmas carols available only on his European tour.  but in typical Lanegan fashion, these are not the modern carols that celebrate the materialism or cartoony aspects of the holiday season.  Most of these are powerful and poignant traditional Christian ballads, some of which are hundreds of years old.  the performances here are moody and stark, completely stripped of any ornamentation.

"Cherry Tree Carol" -  this humble ballad dates to the early 1400s and was performed at the Feast of Corpus Christi.  it tells the tale of Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary on their way to Bethlehem when they chance upon an orchard of cherry trees.  Joseph comes off as a spiteful ass who quickly realizes the error of his ways.

"Down in Yon Forest" - a British Christmas ballad from the 1500s.  the full, original version of this song weaves medieval British symbolism into the Christmas narrative.

"O Holy Night" -  one of the great Christmas songs, written by the Frenchman Adolphe Adam in 1847.  listen to Lanegan go for those high notes!

"We Three Kings" - another one of the all time great Christmas ballads.  this was written in 1857 by the Reverend John Henry Hopkins Jr.

"Coventry Carol" -  this song, dating to the mid 1500s, is traditionally sung a cappella.  it tells the Biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents, when King Herod, after being told by the Magi that the new King of the Jews was born and will rise to the throne,  ordered the death of every male under the age of two in Bethlehem.  the haunting lyrics are from the perspective of a mourning mother.  Merry Christmas!

"Burn the Flame" - the album wraps up with a cover of Roky Erickson's song from his 1977 album Don't Slander Me.  It's barely a Christmas tune.

Dark Mark Does Christmas was never formally released, so physical copies are rare.  but it is up in its entirety on Youtube.

 or you can download it HERE 

a Q & A with Rocket Recordings

Rocket Recordings is an independent record label from the UK, run by Chris Reeder and John O'Carroll,  that specializes in brain melting psychedelic music.  they have gained international attention recently after releasing "World Music," the debut album from the electrifying and mysterious Goat, to nearly unanimous critical acclaim.  (check out HEAD MEDICINE'S review of the album HERE) Rocket will be celebrating their 15th anniversary in 2013, and i wanted to find out more about them, their past, present and future, as well as how they managed to uncover one of the most exciting new bands in recent memory.

HEAD MEDICINE:  what would you say is Rocket Recordings mission statement, its  objective or underlying philosophy?

CHRIS REEDER:  Ha ha, we have never had a mission statement, an objective or underlying philosophy, we have basically been making things up on the spot for the past 15 years now.

The only thing i know is that we just want Rocket to put out damn fine records that sound and look great. And that is what we judge the success of a release on, how good it sounds and looks and not on sales.

HM:  when was the idea for Rocket originally conceived?  can you tell us a bit about your memories from the early days?  what were some of your early victories, and were there any harsh lessons learned?

CR:  Well Rocket was born at a Heads show at the Louisiana in Bristol in 1997. Myself and Simon Healey (who unfortunately left Rocket to start a family in 2008) were there and our close friend Gareth Turner (now in Big Naturals) was in a band called Lillydamwhite who were supporting. And after the 'Damwhites' scuzzy psychpunk set, myself and Simon drunkernly said to each other that we should set up a label and release a 7" by Lillydamwhite.

Then the next morning, once the nights excesses had faded, we chatted again and realized that it was a damn fine idea and we should set up a record label.  our first release 6 months later was a split 7" with The Heads and Lillydamwhite.

Then, soon after the first couple of releases were out there, John joined Rocket which was great as we all worked full time so we could spread the running of Rocket out between the three of us.

As for early successes....getting poster artist Frank Kozik to design our Rocket logo. Putting out the amazing Sawdust Caesars 7," a fuzz 'nugget' for future psych 7" collectors. Releasing the last ever record by Thee Hypnotics (now Jim Jones Revue), releasing great early records by Ufomammut and Oneida Creating some fantastic Heads vinyls like 'At Last' and 'Sessions 02'. Discovering the great San Francisco band called Mammatus who in my humble opinion should have been massive!!

HM:  how has Rocket Recordings grown over the last fifteen years, and where do you see Rocket  fifteen years from now?

CR:  We have grown A LOT!

When we started we were a 7" only label, trying to emulate the greats like Sympathy For the Record Industry, early SUB POP, Am RepIn the Red etc. We never made any money, barely breaking even to be honest, but we didn't really judge the success of a release by the amount we sold.  the most important thing for us was if John Peel would play it.

We continued releasing 7"s and then started releasing LPs by the likes of Suncoil Sect, Onieda and Plastic Crimewave Sound but unfortunately it wasnt long before we were totally skint!!

But the guys at newly formed Invada Records, Fat Paul and Geoff Barrow, loved and believed in what we did and offered us a great deal to help keep Rocket going which meant we could continue doing what we loved, but be  a bit more focused.

Being part of the Invada family was great and really sorted us out, we owe them a great deal for the support they gave us with the Mammatus, Ufomammut, Residual Echoes, Heads records etc that we put out during the five years we worked together.

But since leaving Invada, Rocket has really grown, mainly down to the great relationships we have formed with what we think are the best and most original psych bands out there at the moment in Teeth of the Sea and Gnod. We are so proud of the records we have put out with them and now with Goat, other Swedish band Hills and Anthroprophh, the solo project by The Heads guitarist Paul Allen, we have a great future ahead of us!!

As for where we will be in 15 years, who knows??? There is no way on earth we thought we would be still doing it now, but here we are!!

HM:  what is an independent record label's role in todays ever-changing music industry?  how is it different than when you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?  

CR:  Well the importance of the indie label seemed to die when John Peel died if honest, and it felt bloody empty for years, really empty, there was no one championing the true independent....however, i think over the last two years the spirit of independence has really come back and there are lots of great small to bedroom sized labels out there making a big noise and getting noticed which is great.

The bloggers have 'sort of' filled Peel's void, and champion the underground like he did. Which is great as most (not all) music press seem to be dictated by advertisers or PR plugger friends. it is hard for a small label to get a look in unless you pay for it!! We have been the victim of 'if you advertise in our mag you get a review, if you dont, you dont get a review'...many times!! So you have to ask yourself, how can you 'really' trust what a music magazine says or a band they champion.   some mags and press are still honest, but they are few and far between. At least bloggers talk their minds and are honest about their convictions, something that Peel was through and through!! Though it does take a thousand bloggers or so to equal one John Peel.... ha ha!!

As for the future, who knows...we try not to let changing trends influence what we do, we have never really been 'on trend' or tried to be...we never want to be, happy to just do things our way at our pace, not getting caught up in the music industry bullshit which again spoils the art in my opinion.   as Julian Cope says "kick ass, not kiss ass'!!

HM:  the music industry is in uncharted waters at the moment.  the music buying public prefers the immediacy and portability of digital downloads, but there is also a steady demand for physical artifacts like records, cds and even cassettes.  how has Rocket adjusted to this new climate and what do you feel are the pros and cons of these different formats as we move ahead?

CR:  A big question....they all have their own pros and cons, so best way to answer this is as a fan of music and not as a label.

As a record buying fan of music, i grew up on vinyl and have a strong relationship with vinyl, i like the ritual of playing vinyl, i love the sleeves of vinyl, i love shopping for vinyl, flipping through the racks of a record shop or on a merch table at a show.

For me, no 'other way' of interacting with music has ever come close. I have never liked CDs, from the artwork to the browsing through them in a shop, to the playing them, it has never felt like a pleasurable experience. I have always found CDs to be a disposable format like tapes are, but i have more love for tapes than i do CDs in all honesty. But from what we are finding at Rocket is that CDs still do sell, so obviously people still want them, so from time to time we will still release some of our albums on them.

As for MP3s, well their place in todays society is to make your music listening more convenient. I have an ipod, well i did, but it just broke losing over 100gb of great music. And yes, i am a bit gutted i have lost a lot mp3s of stupidly rare records i could never afford to pay for on vinyl. I accumulated them over several years, but to be honest i dont really value them, not like if i had all my vinyl stolen.

So because of this I have to ask myself if MP3s makes the music more throw away, less meaningful, less important? But, i can also ask myself does it REALLY matter what format it is, it is the music that is what is important, right?

But I suppose time will tell what further impact the digesting of music via MP3s will effect the world of music. For example, what will happen when the generation of people who grow up primarily with this form of listening to music, start to make music themselves. You never know, the change they consume may be helpful to the progress of music? Or the change of attitudes could also be the death of music, who knows?

HM:  how do you discover new bands and how do you know when what you are hearing is Rocket Recordings material?

CR:  We get sent a lot of albums from many bands and not just new bands but well established ones too. But unfortunately we have to turn most down. Not because of the quality of the music, but down to the time we physically have to actually put them out. Being a part time label, 3 to 5 releases a year is all we can realistically handle, well that is if we are to do them the justice they deserve. We would hate to not give a release 100% of our attention, its not fair to the artist, not fair to the person who parts with their cash for the record and totally not beneficial for us!! As said previously, we try and make every album sound and look as great as they can and we spend as much time as we physically can, with the limited budgets we have to market and advertise each launch.

And how do we tell if it would be a good record on Rocket...if it is something we would buy ourselves!

HM:  this past spring you released the first transmissions from Goat, a mysterious Swedish collective with supposed voodoo roots, on the impossible-to-find Goatman 7," and later their full length debut "World Music."   when did you first hear about there being an obscure ritualistic voodoo psych group hidden in deepest Sweden?  when did you first hear their music/see them perform live?   were there other labels competing to sign Goat as well?  i'm curious to hear about these early days of the bands discovery.

CR:  Well, i wish there was an amazing story of us traveling around Sweden and ending up in some remote village and by chance hearing the magic of Goat's music playing out of a moonlit forest...but i am afraid i cant, ha ha!

What actually happened was we received an email from friends of ours in the Swedish band Hills (we are releasing their third LP, first for Rocket in 2013) saying that we should check out this video by this band who are recording/jamming in their same practice space. That video was Goatman by Goat. Obviously it blew us totally away and we asked who, what, how etc and is there any more music? All we got was another video link sent to us and that was of The Sun The Moon. So we just said we would love to release both tracks as a 7" and the message got back to Goat and they said cool.

Then over the course of the next few months when we were putting the 7" together the band themselves started communicating with us. It didn't take too long for them to warm to us, once they 'got' what we were about. Then they started to tell us about their story, where they were from etc. The history and story about where they were from blew our minds. Then just before the 7" came out we were chatting about the possibilities of doing an album and they said sure and sent us two tracks they already had been working on and these were very early versions of 'Disco Fever' and 'Run to your mama'.

Then we didn't really hear anything else from them until about May that year, when out of the blue 'World Music', all finished and mastered landed in our inbox. John listened to it first and was very excited indeed by what he heard. I remember clearly how i felt when i first heard it, i was buzzing, excited, speechless, blown away and I couldn't stop playing it for the next month or so and it just got better and better with every listen. Then the fear sort of stepped in as we realised we had a 'massive' album on our hands and we had to do it the justice it deserved.

And the responce to the album from the outside world is what we thought it deserved, it is an amazing piece of work and we are so proud to be a part of it, we really are!

HM:  will Rocket be releasing any more Goat material?

CR:  Yes, i am sure there will be another album, and yes i do hope it will come out on Rocket (even though there are a lot of label vultures flying over them right now). But we  have confirmed a Goat Record Store Day limited 12" that is coming out in April, plus the band has recorded a new track for a vinyl-only compilation we are putting together for our 15th Anniversary. More details on these two launches can be found on our blog over the next couple of months.

HM:  what are the five most essential records that Rocket has released or will be releasing?  

CR:  That is tough, i am proud of more or less every release we have launched, but i suppose if i had to pick only 5 releases today, it would have to be:

Sawdust Caesars - You Pigs 7"

The Heads - Sessions 02 EP

Gnod / White Hills - Dropout LP

Teeth of the Sea - Your Mercury LP

Goat - World Music LP

HM:  what is Rocket Recordings dream release, from any band, alive or dead, real or with a fictitious fantasy line up?

CR:  Well there are the obvious ones like a long lost and unreleased album by any of the following; Can, Beatles, Miles Davis, Butthole Surfers, Lemmy era Hawkwind, Robert Wyatt's Soft Machine, Loop, This Heat, Cliff Burtons Metallica, Fela Kuti, 70's Eno etc etc ...and that are just a couple of the big names!!! There are so many fantastic bands past and present we would love to work with, the list is endless.

But having new records by, Anthroprophh, Gnod, Goat, Teeth of the Sea and Hills all coming out on Rocket this year, we really do feel we already have the dream roster!

and there you have it!  HEAD MEDICINE would like to say thanks to Chris Reeder,  John O'Carroll, and all at Rocket Recordings!  go to for more information

~interview by Kojak

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Soundgarden - King Animal: HEAD MEDICINE'S 2012 Comeback of the Year

when we last heard from Soundgarden, it was on 1996's "Down on the Upside," and the fading notes of the last track, the Floydian "Boot Camp," drifted off into the ether as cornell yearned, "there must be something else/there must be something good/far away/far away from here."  those lyrics would prove to be prophetic when, after a staggeringly fruitful 13 years together, Soundgarden fractured and its members left to find their own musical identities.   Cornell left to travel down a variety of well documented musical paths, and Matt Cameron kept busy as the drummer of Pearl Jam, while Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd seemed to walk off into the musical void, rarely to be heard from again.  There never seemed to be any animosity between the band members, but a reunion always seemed unlikely tho never completely out of the question.  the seeds for an official reunion were planted when Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd, on stage together for the first time in over a decade, performed "Hunted Down," "Nothing To Say," and "Spoonman" with  Tad Doyle at Tom Morello's  Justice Tour at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle in 2009.  Cornell, critically and commercially reeling from a disastrous collaboration with hip hop and r&b producer Timbaland, caught wind of the performance.  Soon, the planets aligned and the Soundgarden juggernaut was awakened from it's 14 year slumber, ready to reclaim it's throne.  A series of live shows cemented the relevancy of a Soundgarden reunion, and the anticipation was high for King Animal, an album of all new material.

i knew it was going to be a good album, i had no doubt about that.  but i wasn't expecting an album that would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the classic work in the band's catalog.  and i was ok with that. but it turned out that King Animal was a fucking fantastic album...  a throwback to all of those early-mid 90's rock masterpieces that were routinely being created--bold, cocky, ambitious, fearlessly creative and highly individualistic.  Soundgarden always had a singular, distinctive voice, never recycling cliches or painting themselves into a creative corner, it was the alchemy between the four members of Soundgarden that made Soundgarden sound like Soundgarden, and King Animal rose up and continued the tradition.   Amazingly, the band is still in top form: Cornell has somehow dodged Father Time, sounding better than at any point since  Soundgarden dissolved.  Cameron is still a drumming machine, well oiled from years of global Pearl Jam tours.  Thayil emerged from the shadows looking like Gandalf the Grey, still conjuring all of those odd riffs and harmonics.  And Ben Shepherd rolled in, looking like something the cat dragged in, yet ready to get down to business. 

and like all of the Soundgarden albums before it, King Animal is full of magical musical moments.. the absolutely no-fucking around, diamond-hard grooves of "Non-State Actor" and "By Crooked Steps"... the exotic Zeppelin-esque travelogue "A Thousand Days Before," with it's sitar intro, subtle horn arrangements, and Cameron's intricate, jazzy drumlines... The ominous clouds rolling in on "Blood on the Valley Floor" is prime Soundgarden and, as they have always done so well, for a brief moment the clouds open up and reveal a glimpse of a pure pop chorus before the gloomy tentacles wrap it up and drag it off never to be heard from again...  The dark beauty of "Bones of Birds" and "Taree"...  classic arena anthems "Black Saturday" and "Worse Dreams"... and "Eyelid Mouth" shows that the band is as beautifully weird as ever.

But the album's undeniably greatest moment is the closing track, "Rowing."  an odd bit of Shepherd's bass noodling sets the mood, while Cameron comes in with a "When the Levee Breaks" drum beat.  Cornell's unforgettable mantra, "Don't know where i'm going/i'll just keep on rowing/i just keep on pulling/gotta row," as the music swells like a swirling storm, just might be his finest lyrics and melody.  the song sticks on repeat in your head and it seems to sum up all that is great and perfect about this reunion... this isn't a nostalgic cash grab, this is four musical brothers picking up exactly where they left off and continuing that relentless creative drive that made their past work so enduring, to keep on moving forward at all times, never slowing down, never stopping, and never looking back.   something the band has always specialized in.  it's good to have em back.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Kojak, head pharmacist at HEAD MEDICINE, has finally assembled the best of the best of his illustration work over the years.  check it out  HERE at !

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Star Wars: the Clone Wars (2003-2005 microseries)

in 2003, Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky was given the task of creating all new Star Wars shorts that would run between shows on Cartoon Network, and then later a series of longer episodes for season 2.  it was fucking amazing.  it doesn't get much attention now, and some of that might be on purpose by Lucasfilm since the newer CGI show came out.  but when i was drawing The Clone Wars for Dark Horse Comics a few years back, these were the shows that inspired me (much to the fan's disappointment haha.  cartooniness is not exactly what SW fans are looking for). it's classic Star Wars that has the same spirit of the original films. enjoy.