by Dan Salter
Rocket Recordings celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year so we decided to get in touch with one of the founding fathers of the label, Chris Reeder, to find out how it all got started...
Well it started on a drunken night at The Louisiana in Bristol sometime in 1997. Myself and close friend Simon Healey were there to see another good friend of ours (Gareth Turner, now in Big Naturals) band called Lillydamwhite. They were supporting other friends of ours The Heads. After Lillydamwhite played a blistering set, Simon turned around to me and set we should put out a 7" by them and I thought, wow, what an idea! Then we both sort of forgot about that due to The Heads cacophony of psych noise that we were bombarded with. In the morning though, once the haze of the previous night’s excess's had cleared the idea of releasing a Lillydamwhite 7" popped back into our heads and we thought, actually that is a good idea. Why not? Let’s give it a crack! We were both huge fans of the US underground scene and wanted to emulate the golden years of Sub Pop, Amphetamine Reptile, Sympathy for the Record Industry etc. So at the beginning that is what we wanted try and do.
The first thing we had to do though was come up with the name...and that took a while! After a lot of stupid ideas I saw an illustration of this Flash Gordon type rocket that looked fantastic, so I showed it to Simon and said, "What do you think? Let’s call the label Rocket and use that style of image?" He agreed and we went for it. Then we contacted underground poster artist Frank Kozik to draw us a logo using the image I found as inspiration and the logo you see today is what he created!
Then the guys from The Heads said they would love to release a single on Rocket so we decided that our first release should be a Heads/Lillydamwhite split 7" and that came out in March 1998. In fact, it was very closely followed by a 7" from the mighty Sawdust Caesars and Thee Hypnotics. More importantly perhaps, John then joined myself and Simon. So for the first ten years there was three of us running Rocket. Unfortunately Simon decided to take a break just before our 10th Anniversary to concentrate on his then new family, but you never know, he may re-join us someday!
As an independent label, Chris and the rest at Rocket understand better than most the changes that have affected the music industry in the last few years. The internet has obviously had positive and negative implications for music fans and music producers over the intervening period between Rocket’s formation and it’s current existence, as Chris emphasises...
When we started the only thing that mattered was "Is John Peel gonna play it?" Then when Peel died everything seemed to change! That was a defining moment for underground music and in my view it has never been the same since, for many many reasons. The way people consume music is totally different now. Well it used to be called how people 'listen' to music but now it is something we consume. Music has become more throwaway to people in my opinion. I am not going to judge people on what their relationships is with music? Everyone’s is different and that is fine. Music just isn't as important to people like it used to be.
Maybe I am old and cynical but there also seems to be a lot more bullshit in the industry now than there was when we started. That could just be because we were naive then and have woken up to it now though I suppose! Starting a label now would require a different approach I think. Releasing an LP or CD or even cassette just isn’t the same as it was fifteen years ago! Do bands even need labels anymore? They can do it all themselves if they want to, via bandcamp and the like.
Things haven’t gone all that badly for Rocket, however. They have released many a treasured record during their time, and Chris’s positive attitude towards his time working at Rocket brings with it a sea of great memories...
Obviously a first highlight for me would be the day we released our first 7". Being in the studio with Thee Hypnotics recording their last ever record was great...and John Peel opening his show with our Sawdust Caesars 7". First hearing great demos, like the one that Jimmy from Teeth of the Sea gave to me at a Heads gig a few years back or the first Mammatus demo I heard. Our 10th Anniversary show was an amazing night with a mind frying Johnny O' light show. I’ve been lucky enough to see Gnod turn Supernormal Festival into a rave on several occasions. We’ve also had great success recently in the shape of records like ‘Your Mercury’ by Teeth of the Sea, and of course ‘World Music’ by Goat last year. The first time I heard that album it gave me goose bumps. Then six months later to see them drawing the biggest crowd of Supersonic Festival was a very humbling moment, even if the sound wasn’t great for them and it was only their third public show. It was a big moment for a part-time label like us. In fact, the fact that record did so well in end of year polls like those of Piccadilly and Norman Records. It was, again, very humbling.
To be completely honest, looking back I don’t even really regret not signing any bands even. We’ve put out amazing psych records by the likes of Oneida, Ufomammut and White Hills. Now we are so proud to be representing Teeth of the Sea, Gnod and Goat, who for us are the forebears in pushing the psych scene out of its well-trodden path into new areas. We couldn't be more content with what we have put out and our current roster.
Goat’s ‘World Music’ was one of the best received records of 2012 by a large amount of fans and critics, including us here at Echoes & Dust. Chris is obviously proud of the reception the record received, but also openly admits that the signing of the mysterious Swedish band was less out of the ordinary than one may think...
I really wish there was an amazing story of us traveling around Sweden and finding some remote village and by chance hearing the Goat's voodoo groove playing out of a snow filled forest clearing...but unfortunately i cant, it is a much more simpler story! We received an email from the Swedish band Hills who we are good friends with (and we are releasing their next proper studio album late 2013) saying that we should check out a home-made video by this out of town band who are jamming in the same practice space as them. That video was 'Goatman' by Goat. Obviously it blew us totally away and we asked who, what, how etc. Then the important question, “is there any more music where that came from?” Then out of the blue we got an email from some Swedish named person and all it was was another video link, and that was of ‘The Sun The Moon’.
So we immediately replied and said we would love to release both tracks as a 7" and the reply simply said, "Cool." Then over the course of the next few months when we were putting the 7" Goat started communicating with us more. 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, the folklore about where they were from etc which of course totally blew our minds; what a story! It really helped put into context where this music was coming from. Then just before the 7" came out we were chatting about the possibilities of them recording an album for us 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 from them for a while. We were beginning to think that maybe it wasn’t gonna happen. Maybe some other label had once again poached a band of ours. Then in about May, completely out of the blue 'World Music', all finished and mastered landed in our inbox. John got to listen to it first and was very excited indeed by what he heard. I then remember clearly how I felt when i first heard it. I was buzzing so much, every track made me more excited. I was speechless, blown away and I didn't stop playing it for the next month or so and it just got better and better with every listen. Then the inevitable 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. Hopefully I think we did, the response to the album was fantastic and rightly so, it is an amazing piece of work and we are so proud to be a part of it, we really are!
We knew it was a good album, so the critical acclaim is very justified in our view but the level of mainstream success has been a bit unexpected as bar our small, but hardcore, fanbase we are pretty much ignored by the industry. The Goat album is a very unique album and really has captured the imagination of music lovers. The album is fun too, and people maybe wanted a fun album, less of the rock postering or soulless art rock that tends to dominate the underground. What with psych and kraut being a bit of the 'in' thing at the moment, I suppose Goat's time is now!
Rocket crosses over with other strong independent labels like Riot Season, Invada and Cardinal Fuzz, both of which Chris describes as being “allies” who have been immensely helpful both in strengthening Rocket and providing a ton of great music. Chris is also keen to look to the future, and emphasises that he and John are always on the lookout for great new bands...
Bands approach us on the whole. We receive an offer a day I would say, but unfortunately as we are only a part time label we can't put everything out that we like unfortunately. We have had to turn down some amazing albums by great bands in the last six months. It’s a real shame but we can only take on what we physically have the time to work on. Bands with a DIY attitude to touring and releasing their own music on bandcamp or whatever now have the right idea. If you’re good the labels will come knocking.
2013 is looking like a big year too! We started with the Anthroprophh album which was Paul from The Heads debut solo project. That looked and sounded amazing, and it actually sold out in just a few weeks. We have some Goat remixes coming out on a 12” for Record Store Day, and they will also put some new tracks out as a stop-gap between albums later in the year. Teeth of the Sea's third album, 'Master' is coming out late summer which by all accounts is sounding massive. We are also doing an extremely limited first vinyl run of their debut album 'Orphaned by the Ocean’.
Looking later in the year we have a new Gnod album planned for the autumn and from the early discussions about the release, something very special is being planned. We are also doing a third press of Gnod’s dropout with White Hills with another change of packaging. The aforementioned Swedish band Hills are midway through recording their third album proper and their first for Rocket. We hope to see that out sometime this year, but that may end up as a 2014 release.
Aside from that, we have another ‘Collisions’ release in the pipeline, a split between East London’s Gum takes Tooth and Robedoor from Eagle Rock in LA. We are also very thrilled to be working with Shit & Shine on a new album after the last Collisions LP we released with them and Gnod. The Heads DVD box set may come out this year you never know, it just keeps growing and growing as more amazing footage appears and looks like it is going to be a nice little box set. Finally, we have a special release lined up to celebrate our fifteenth Anniversary. It’s too early to reveal anything yet, all we can say is that it is more about looking forward than looking back!