Interview: Dave Cambridge

But I think there is an even bigger peril that comes with running your own label and that is your mental health. No matter how great it is to be involved with artist you love and in helping them getting their music out to people - The stress of having all your finances tied up in a record that might be too eclectic/out there

As any self-respecting psych fan will tell you, it is often not just about the music but also about the record labels themselves and you wont go too far into the world of psych before encountering Cardinal Fuzz.

Known as The Cardinal, Dave Cambridge has been busy tripping out psych heads minds for years now with a catalogue of releases which simply defy any categorisation other than they are guaranteed to blow you mind. From rampant Stooge influenced rock through to acid folk, the roll call of bands are a who’s who of contemporary psych. Delving deep into countries such as Canada and Australia, as well as on these very shores, you will find bands such as The Left Outsides, Shooting Guns, Firefriend, Black Bombaim, Moths and Locusts, Mt Mountain, The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol, and Dead Sea Apes, among many others. All bands who sound nothing alike yet share one thing in common, an appreciation of music in all its forms, and for poking at the outer regions of psychedelia. Oh yeah, one last thing in appreciation of the man they know as The Cardinal, Dave Cambridge…

(((o))): Tell me a bit about the history of the label? How did you get started etc?

Its all wrapped up in lots of things and the order has got a little forgotten. One thing for sure is I have always been into Music (as most kids were back in my day) but I always wanted to look further and find out more. At some point after taking the route of Bunnyman/Mary Chain (86?)  I switched from Smash Hits to the NME/Melody Maker and Sounds and became an indie kid. At some point in ‘88 Spacemen 3 became big news in all them weeklies and they were the band for me – a portal was opened to sounds that took me places Id never known at the point in my young life.

Pete Kember was always so good in pointing you in the right direction with regards to music (not just the Velvets/Stooges/Elevators but also doo-wop/Dub/Electronic Pioneers/Bo Diddley) Pete always had the best taste in music and I’ve been an acolyte ever since. Embedded in been an Indie Kids was fanzine culture (music and football) and I used to gobble them up in Red Rhino Records in York. Fast forward a long way and at some point as my two kids were approaching 4/5 years old and it felt like the music press (print) was either disappearing or of no relevance to what I was wanting to read about. Much of what was left just to me seemed to be more about promoting bands that had big advertisements paid for (and I know that is and will always be the way of the world)  But it just felt to me they had lost track in reporting music that made your hair stand on end and give you goose bumps – they seemed more content with promoting the same old same old beige (again I know that is what sells though).

So Optical Sounds started in the spring of 2010 with the aim of pretty much writing about The Heads as they are my other obsession in life (outside of Family) and by 2010 part of my reason for giving up with the press was seeing time after time next to nothing getting written on The Heads. But in them early issues I was interviewing a few bands (Dead Sea Apes, The Cosmic Dead, The Janitors, Demons, Cult Of Dom Keller) who at the time had no vinyl releases out – I just could not understand why and presumed there must be labels asking them – turns out nobody was. So it just seemed obvious to me to do it myself (I think Brett Savage and Ian Fraser both prompted me as well) Faye (my long suffering wife) thought it was all a mid-life crises and would just go away. Chris and Johnny (Rocket) Dom Martin (Great Pop Supplement/Earworm/DD) and Keith (Fruit der Mer) all calmed my nerves though and were a great help. At this point The Heads were pretty much inactive (with both Kandodo and Anthroprophh taking over at that point) so I asked if I could release some recordings I had that were total brain frazzle wipe outs – the fools said yes (thanks guys – still owe you) and then Forte Distribution came on board too – everything feel into place maybe a little too easy. Since then though there have been plenty of ups and downs – many friends made and some friends lost too.

(((o))): Who were the bands (or other for that matter) who inspired you to start a label?

My original idea for the label was actually a CDr thing. Id been so lucky to sit in on a few Heads rehearsals at various points and they just blew my fucking head off – man holy crap – Still stands as the best musical experience of my life sitting in that rehearsal room having my tiny mind just cut into a million tiny pieces as The Heads blazed in that tiny room. I thought it was obvious – THIS is where the best music gets made by bands – in the rehearsal rooms. In a rehearsal room band member are all in their sweet spots, maybe they have had a little bit of liquid lubricant and a smoke – no pressures of all the crap that comes with a live show, no time limits, no idiot sound men… – wig out as long as you want man. So I wanted bands to try and record themselves “Louie Louie” style – just close mic a few things and then dangle a Mic from the centre of the room with the aim of capturing bands in full flight and heading off on one from the convenes of their rehearsal room. Then get the recordings made up in snazzy vinyl replica sleeves via the talented Sam Giles with the thought this could be tour merch for bands. I know that if I had just seen a band live and they had seared my head off or put me in a trance– then a live recording of them doing the same and more in a rehearsal room would be an instant buy.  It helps that I am a huge love of lo fi live recordings and the vibe that lo fidelity brings to a recording. You know when people moan that bands are too self-indulgent – well I think the opposite -I love it when bands become self-indulgent. Having just wrote that – I need to try doing that again with bands.

(((o))): When did you know that this could be a viable thing? Rocket had their Heads moment, then later Goat. Who was it for you?

I still don’t know if it is viable. It does seem that less and less of the big industry Indie labels can take the chances needed on artist. Not their fault – just feels the way the whole music industry is going (look at the turmoil of HMV – no matter what people may feel about HMV -they are a life line for a lot of labels and distributors). My kids are now 13 and 15 and they love music but have no interest in buying it. Its all Spotify and streaming. I always thought it was an innate thing where if you love something you want to own it, but seems I was wrong and we are a dying breed. I think my first 3 releases were – The Heads, The Cosmic Dead and The Dead Sea Apes.

(((o))): How does the chemistry work between you and Brett? Are you very much a team in deciding who to release on the label?

Brett has been a huge help along with Chris Hardman – I count them as friends and feel very lucky to do so. Cardinal Fuzz is just me though – I do everything from asking artist to release records, to running the mail order side of things (and the mail order side of things takes as much time as the label side of things). Brett helps on the art side of things (if bands need help that is -Brett has a fantastic eye and it is has been a great pleasure to see him grow his poster designs into something where it feels so many posters I see are Brett work). Chris Hardman is the mastering guru – anything I need help with and Chris will help me as best as he can. His mastering hits the sweet spot with me everytime. Without either of them I reckon I would have given up long ago. Basically, its all their fault.

(((o))): And for that matter, where do you discover all these artists who appear on CF?

Always had my ear to the ground with regards to music – that is what feeds into Optical Sounds and wanting to be among the first to raft on about a bands be that The Heads, Dead Sea Apes, Kikagaku Moyo, Minami Deutsch or recent discoveries like the Velvet Elevator, The Jim Mitchells and coming soon – Infinity Forms of Yellow Remember and Snakes Don’t Belong in Alaska. That is what the buzz is for any label  – finding something no-one has yet heard and just losing your collective shit over it.

(((o))): A lot of recent stuff has been reissued albums from as far-flung as Australia. How do you strike a balance between new and old releases?

For the most part any old releases are usually releases that are just not available here (here been Europe) The cost of postage has dramatically gone up over the last 10 years and so a release in Australia will be unaffordable to yer average yokel like myself here in Europe. But doing a re-release – they are hard sells for sure – so you must be 100% committed to doing that. It also builds the bonds with bands so that on their next release we can then work with them and get it out everywhere at the same time – that always works best. The Velvet Elevator was a good one to use as an example – there was no way I could afford to add another pressing to the list of releases last year but on hearing their LP – I caved in after 4 days – no way did I not want to be involved. People loved it though and so all was good.

(((o))): What is your favourite release on CF?

Same answer any label gives – whatever you are currently working on will be dominating your life 24/7. So this morning the final mixes arrived for Hawkeyes…I’m just gonna put a smile there. All week I have been prepping a stupid run of 4 releases in May, that is Dreamtime, Dead Sea Apes(2xLP), The Myrrors and Birth. That’s all I am listening too (well also the mixes for White Manna and Plastic Crimewave new ones too). A live Comets on Fire set too and some Six Organs Of Admittance,Magic Lantern and Parson Sounds (c’mon Subliminal a volume 2 please) as I have some ideas on some music I want to release late this year. Prana Crafter are perfect for long walks in the woods and the same goes for The Left Outsides (special mention to Alison Cotton as well who has been so helpful – I feel Alison is incredible gifted)

But rather than favourite LP – I need to give mention to John Westhaver (The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol / Birdman Sounds / Friday Morning Cartunes / the font of all knowledge). Through the label I have become lifelong friends with John. Stayed over with him twice and just had the most incredible time over in Ottawa. Dave,Bill,Nat and Scott all from the band need special mentions – That feeds into Chris Laramee (Wasted Cathedral) and all the Shooting Guns dudes – which feeds directly to The Switching Yard & The Radiation Flowers – then over to Vancouver for Moths and Locusts and Dave Read. And coming full circle Hawkeyes as mentioned at the start of this rambling answer. So anyways I’d urge people of an open mind to go listen to Pathfinder by The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol – somewhere between Acid Mothers Temple, the first High Tide LP with lashings of psych/prog/kraut meltdowns.

(((o))): You also run a fanzine on top of the label. Tell me more about that?

Fanzine culture was just such a big part of my youth (were talking 87/88/89). Be it music or football I loved getting fanzines. Still finding it hard to forgive my Dad who one day took them all to the tip (along with all them NMEs/Sounds and Melody Makers) when I left home back in 96 (I said I’d be back for them!) . Terrascope became the go to in the nineties when it came to discovering a whole load of weird and wonderful music – Through them I discovered The Misunderstood and White Heaven and then later Comets On Fire as well as devouring all Kranky/Tower Recordings/3 Lobed reviews. It was through Terrascope I read about The Sand Pebbles (and then years later relased a Sand Pebbles LP) – It all comes full circle and I am so looking forward to the Woolf II festival in June.

(((o))): What are some of the perils of running a label, from unsold stock to countless boxes at your house?

All mentioned their are big perils (unless you are ultra-creative and can turn them boxes into conceptual art) – But I think there is an even bigger peril that comes with running your own label  and that is your mental health. No matter how great it is to be involved with artist you love and in helping them getting their music out to people – The stress of having all your finances tied up in a record that might be too eclectic/out there (or not eclectic or out there enough!). Its bloody scary paying out all that money on double LPs of which you have no idea if you will ever recoup – never mind make enough so that you have a wage. That brings incredible anxiety and is something especially over the last 12 months that I have personally struggled with. I’ve been very lucky so far on the unsold stock front – there is one set of releases that accounts for 80% of my unsold stock – otherwise I have less than 60 units from over 100 releases in the house here. Boxes – we had over 7000 records piled up in the house last November (about 180 boxes!) – And that really did bring on a bit of a breakdown in myself as I pushed myself into way too many late, late nights of working for weeks on end. I did promise myself I would never do that again…but everything sold and in the aftermath later you forget…and I might drop dead tomorrow – so no way am I stopping just yet. Anyways I’ve seen what’s coming in 2019 and when I think about it I grin…its gonna be good.

(((o))): What would you like to see for CF in the future?

My eye is always on the bands at the bottom of the pile. I’m a reverse snob in that I think anything cool loses flavour and interest very quickly– it’s the stuff that’s not cool – that’s where you want to look. Ambitions – just to release one more record…

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