Rocket Recordings | website | facebook | bandcamp |
By: Martyn Coppack
And so we come to part 3 of our Liverpool Psych Fest preview and where do we head next? Well, one label at the forefront of the psych movement happen to have a showcase at the festival. It’s a label of legend in psych circles and the bands on their roster form an integral part of your experience at this years event.
Let’s meet up with Chris and John from Rocket Recordings and see what they have to say for themselves…
(((o))): Firstly, give me a little history about the label, how you met, got started, what were the early days like?
CHRIS: Well Rocket was born at a show at the Louisiana in Bristol in 1997. Myself and a close friend Simon Healey were there and our close friend Gareth Turner (now in Anthroprophh / Big Naturals) was in a band called Lillydamwhite who were supporting our other friends band The Heads. And after Lillydamwhite’s scuzzy psychpunk set, myself and Simon drunkenly 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 realised that it was a damn fine idea and we should set up a record label. Apt then that our first release 6 to 8 months later was a split 7″ with The Heads and Lillydamwhite.
Then soon after the first couple of releases were out there John (who I met at school) 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.
I met John in third year art class, he was into hip-hop and I was into thrash and we both got into each others musics and that cross pollination of sounds has been prevalent all our lives.
Simon left Rocket in 2007 leaving the running of the label to just John and myself.
As for how were the early days, well they were exciting as they are now, but for obvious different reasons. Then we knew even less what we were doing. We just did what seemed right (still do)! For us, success was getting a release played by John Peel!! That is all we cared about. Not really the most successful way to run a label and we soon realised that, as after a few years when we ran out of money ha ha!!!
JOHN: I joined a few releases after Simon & Chris started the label, I was studying away so wasn’t party to the inception, but I was soon invited into the fold. I’d been in secondary school with Chris, Simon was the school friend of my older brother and for that reason he had 4 years on both Chris & me which meant that he played a huge role in the introduction of some of Rocket defining music.
Simon had a good record collection and was an avid early sub pop collector, we we’re totally sold on their ethos & design, the American underground seemed to be really speaking to us all, part punk, part psych, part garage, part noise and we loved the early singles club married with the Charles Peterson photos. Sub Pop did a great job of selling the energy of it all, just look at Mudhoney’s ‘Superfuzz Big Muff’ artwork, that sleeve alone, the energy of a scene in one photo!!!!!
Musically it was a revelation, on first hearing Fuzz guitars through Mudhoney, the sound of electricity buzzing through amps, it was alive and at its essence we’ve never looked back. With distorted guitars, propulsive rhythms and weird electronics….this music practically wrote our manifesto.
Sleeve Artwork also played a large role, often I’d be spellbound by the artwork before I’d even heard the record, when bands & labels got it right, the marriage of artwork & music was like magic signposts to a different world and so I I knew I had to be in with that involved.
The early days consisted of many hours packing records, all very DIY, just like we were documenting what was happening around us at the time, whether anyone was actually paying attention, it sort of didn’t matter, it had to be done, nowadays we hope someone is listening…ha
(((o))): Rocket Recordings has been going a while now and built a hell of a roster. How do you find these bands and does it get easier as you get more and more signed?
CHRIS: We do get sent lots and lots if music all the time. We try to listen to all of it and some things we get are amazing but we just don’t have the capacity to take it on which is a shame! We have had to turn down so many great albums you wouldn’t believe! That is the reason why our 15th Anniversary comp became a celebration of new bands like Lay Llamas and Blood Sport as much as the bands on the roster. Both those bands sent us their music and we loved it but didn’t have the capacity to do albums at the time! Obviously since then the Lay Llamas album came out!
But, we discover bands in many different ways. For example, I was Djing at a Heads show in London and this guy came up gave me a cd and walked away. I added it to the pile of things to listen to and forgot about it. Then a few weeks later I got around to listening to it and found it really interesting, I didn’t know what it was, how it was made, it sounded alien and that excited me!! Anyway, myself and John would make each other regular cd mixes of things we had been listening to (as John lived in Bristol and I moved up to London) and I put a track off the CD on this comp. A week later John emails me and says, ‘I love that Jaws track, what is it, tell me more?’ And that is when I realised I wasn’t wrong, this is good!! So I contacted ‘Jaws’ via the email address on the back of the CDR sleeve and arranged to meet them, and that was when I found out they had changed their name to ‘Teeth of the Sea’ and the rest is history!!!
JOHN: We happily put out records by acts from Sweden, Italy, USA, Peru, and UK and I think that years back all that would have be a struggle, so the internet has been a positive tool for that.
Its all been a pretty natural process, it somehow just seems to just happen, we have let a few things pass which we’ve sort of regretted slightly, but honestly if there is some creative process that both band & us as a label can bring we are very happy.
As for signing more, we’d love to but its often just down to time and we try to listen to everything we get sent but its just becoming harder. Especially as we are a hands-on label; we the makes videos, create lighting & visuals for shows, design our own sleeves, DJ, as well as all the really boring accounts and admin stuff. And that is in and amongst our other day job work, its not always easy.
People always ask us ‘how did we find Goat’ and basically it just landed on our plate.
CHRIS: We had been chatting to Swedish band Hills about putting an album out (which is finally coming out in 2015) and Kalle from the band had become good friends over email. Anyway during one chat he started telling me about this band who has just started using their practice space and sent me the video to Goatman. Anyway, both John and I loved it, and asked Hills to ask them if they would be up for us releasing it as a 7″ and they said yes.
Then a month or two later we started to chatting to Goat ourselves over email and we really got on so we asked them if they would be up for doing an album for us, and as casually as you like they said yes to that too. We then didn’t really hear anything for 6 months or so until the finished, mastered album of ‘World Music’ just appeared in our drop box!!
JOHN: Yes, I knew straight away when I heard ‘Goatman’, everyone should love a heavy Sabbath groove, always felt heavy music needed the groove back in, I probably think Bill Ward & Geezer Butler in my mind more than I should. Its psychedelic drinking music, I think Rocket love that idea. When the album was delivered it was ‘Goatman’ expanded and did not disappoint, but they had added this new level, tapping into the Swedish folk thing which was also exciting.
(((o))): You are around at a rather fortuitous time with psych at the forefront of music. Do you feel you have been partly responsible for this, or is it just plain luck?
CHRIS: We have more or less always done what we have done so no, I don’t see us as part of any psych revival as we don’t really operate within it. But yes, the recent interest in the genre has made us more known and obviously the success of Goat is responsible for that. But within the last few tears Gnod and Teeth of the Sea have been growing in popularity too but their take on psych is very different to the main clutch of so called ‘psych’ bands out there, hence why we only see ourselves as being on the fringes of this so called scene.
JOHN: Im just not sure Psych is the forefront of music, maybe its a little in vogue, I don’t think we’ve navigated anyone’s tastes, we’ve just done what felt right to us, in a few years it will be something else, I rarely hear the ‘Neu’ beat now, year or so back everyone was doing it, doesn’t mean its bad, its just everyone has picked up the synths, that will change, that’s why we like the bands we work with, we often have no idea where they will go next.
(((o))): What does psych mean to you?
CHRIS: It always changes…today, it means “An altered state.”
JOHN: Expansions in all directions, spirals, spokes, honeycombs and cobwebs.
(((o))): There seems to be a community built around the psych movement, do you agree with this?
CHRIS: Yes and no. For me the community isn’t solely a psych scene it is a just a real strong UK underground scene that has been around for a good few years now. And the proof are the line-up’s at the five Supernormal festivals that have happened or the shows that Baba Yaga Hut put on in London. That is the scene we are in I would say more than any actual ‘psych’ scene.
JOHN: I agree with Chris, I think a lot of bands are coming from a different angles musically but could be perceived as being under a similar mindset and maybe this gives a sense of community. Supernormal is a very good example of that, which is why its such a great name, it could be coming from a noise origin, dance origin, but its has an element of searching about it & we like that.
(((o))): You have a showcase at Liverpool Psych Fest this year. Can you let us know what we may expect from this? Is this a sort of culmination of all the hard work you have done?
CHRIS: We are really honoured to be asked to be involved in this years Psych Fest. We were quite surprised that they did ask though to be honest as not all our bands are traditional psych, most take it to the far reaches of that genre and but we are really excited to be apart of it!
And what to expect, well it is fairly simple, we have all 6 of our roster bands playing, so Lay Llamas, Anthroprophh, Hills, Teeth of the Sea, Gnod and Goat are all playing live. Johnny O is doing his lightshow and I am DJing as part of the Nothing is… collective. Also, myself and John are having a live Q/A on the Saturday apparently, though I can imagine we will be seriously hungover after Fridays fun so don’t expect anything coherent!!
JOHN: In conversation with those organising it I feel very happy to be there doing something. Along with the Eindhoven Psych Lab the sister festival, we like their approach, sort of has a great contemporary vibe which isn’t scared of the future but doesn’t feel they need to nest in the past. Also to collaborate with some other talented visual artists is a bonus.
(((o))): Where do you go after Goat? It’s more than likely the new album will be a smash hit, how do you follow up on this success and does it affect you as a label?
CHRIS: Ha ha, well we will keep doing what we have always done and release records that we believe in!! We already have 3 stunning release lined up for early 2015 that we are really excited about. But you have to remember we are only a part time label, so we can never take on too much. There are lots of indie labels out there (not mentioning any names) that run as a business so they have to throw a lot of shit at the wall with the hope that some will stick. But we don’t have that philosophy, we only release a handful of records a year so we make sure each one of them is special.
(((o))): In an ideal world which artists would you like to work with (alive or dead)?
CHRIS: Well to be honest I think at this moment in time we have the best roster of bands around, so we are extremely proud by what we have so there is no ‘wish list’!! 😉
But to play the game of which bands from the past we would love to have released records by (all very predictable): Can, Funkadelic, Hawkwind, Soft Machine, Butthole Surfers, Slayer, Neu, Black Sabbath, Byrds, This Heat, Faust, Donna Summer, Pharoh Saunders, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Mudhoney, James Brown, Nick Drake, Loop, Public Enemy, Alice Coltrane, Augustus Pablo, Spacemen 3, Stereolab, Beatles, Stones, etc etc
JOHN: Ditto again ;)….we like repetition.