Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

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