# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - Interview with Vinita Joshi

  by Mark Rowland

published: 4 / 12 / 2010

Miscellaneous - Interview with Vinita Joshi


Label boss Vinita Joshi talks to Mark Rowland about her early musical influences and career and the impact they have had on her London-based label Rocket Girl, which she first formed in 1997

You don’t have to spend much time in her company to realize that Vinita Joshi really loves her work. It governs her schedule night and day, and her thoughts never stray far from it. It’s unsurprising really; running your own label is any music obsessive’s dream. We’re sitting at the back of a very crowded pub, filled with the after-work crowd, a short walk from Victoria station. Vinita talks about her label and the bands she likes with so much passion it is clear why her label, Rocket Girl, has survived for thirteen years when so many other small labels have died off in the past decade. “Everything is work, really; everything in the evening, everything in the daytime,” she says. “But I do work projects carefully, I think the reason I can work so well is that I plan my releases carefully, I don’t work several releases at a time. Other labels have to. They need the volume. They have a room full of staff that they can make the most of. With me, it’s just one person working on an album at a time, usually, or a project at a time, and alongside that doing the mail order, which is mostly old stuff that I’m trying to get rid of.” Vinita’s drink goes largely untouched for the best part of half an hour. So does the small bowl of peanuts sat in the middle of the table. As always, the music and the work comes first. “I thrive on being busy; the more I do, the more I thrive. I can’t sit still. My mind’s always going, so I have to keep busy. Otherwise I think too much about what I’m doing here and what’s the point of it all, so I need anything to distract me from that.” Music truly is Vinita’s life; she lives and breathes what she does, she says, and she literally spends days and nights working on her label. This wouldn’t be possible if she didn’t feel so passionate about the bands she represents. “You do get some bands that are really difficult to work with, and you do get very frustrated, but ultimately it’s the music. I want to get it out there; I want people to hear it.” Getting the desired number of listeners to a record can also be a source of frustration. Vinita aims high for all of her bands, and has a strong idea of where they deserve to be. There are several records that she still thinks about: why weren’t they massive hits? One of the bands that keep coming up are Mazarin, a psychedelic indie band from Philadelphia who put out three records, one of which came out on Rocket Girl in the UK, before calling it a day around 2006. Vinita believes that they were a pop band first and foremost, and had a lot of people to be a fairly successful band. Unfortunately, legal wrangles with another, lesser known, artist with the name Mazarin led to the band giving up the ghost. “I’ve been listening to the Mazes recently, they’re signed to Fat Cat, and one song, 'Cenotaph', sounds exactly like a Mazarin song,” says Vinita. “I think that Mazarin were catchier and poppier. It’s one example that I came across recently, I just think why weren’t they massive? They toured. They played. They were amazing live. I think a lot of it was timing. If they’d gone out on the road and supported someone, more people would’ve saw them and they would be massive. I think I feel that way about a lot of things I’ve put out.” Another band that Vinita believes strongly in is the Television Personalities – Rocket Girl has just put out their record ‘A Memory is Better Than Nothing’. Though Dan Treacy is not exactly an easy person to work with, and there were six months of delays before she was able to put out the record, Vinita’s belief in the band never faltered. “I did buy [Dan Treacy] a phone, but it got sold. Well, he said it got stolen, but without the SIM card in it, so it’s hard to believe. He is notoriously difficult, but he’s very, very talented.” Like all of Rocket Girl’s releases, the decision to release the TVP’s album was based on what Vinita really wanted to hear: “If I want something in my record collection and it’s not available, then I’ll release it, basically.” The label’s most recent release is the double-CD ‘3…2…1…A Rocket Girl Compilation’, featuring contributions from the label’s current roster of bands, including A Place to Bury Strangers, Robin Guthrie, the aforementioned Television Personalities and God iS an Astronaut. The compilation was developed partly as a musical calling card for the label – something that Vinita can use to sell the label to people. It has also been eight years since the previous Rocket Girl compilation, and the roster has changed so much since then that it was time to issue another label sampler. “It’s good to keep moving forwards, rather than…I mean it hasn’t been a conscious effort, say ‘I’ve worked with that band, done four albums, I’ve moved on.' It’s just that situations have changed, so it’s been a very natural, organic process, really, coming across people I want to work with.” Just as the roster has changed, so has the market. Having worked in the music industry for the best part of 20 years, Vinita has seen record buyers habits shift away from labels. Whereas in the past people would obsessively collect the entire output of an indie label, that doesn’t happen any more. Though people might trust the judgement of a particular label, they aren’t as inclined to spend money on all their releases. The number of labels in the market has also diminished. “When I started Rocket Girl, back in the early days, there were loads of labels like this – Earworm, Rapture, Wurlitzer Jukebox, a lot of those labels have changed a lot or don’t exist any more,” Vinita says. “There are so many labels that I used to buy records from that aren’t even there. Just to have lasted this long is something, but I think it’s really difficult for me to see, as you might see, where Rocket Girl sits." “I come across some people who say ‘Yeah, I love your label,’ and that could be in America, or literally the most absurd places, and then other times, I meet people who love music but haven’t heard of Rocket Girl – they might know some of the bands I work with, but not the label. I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t expect people to buy everything I put out. I like people to think that the aesthetic’s there and the passion’s there and the music’s good.” It is almost like Vinita was destined to run a label. Music took hold of her at a young age, when she bought a cheap old radio/cassette player from her hairdresser. “I used to listen to the radio in bed under the covers, I’ve never been a good sleeper. I discovered Radio Luxembourg and Caroline, and I remember that every time something good would come on I’d press record and tape it. The tape recorder was so old that every time I pressed record, I couldn’t hear what was recording; it went silent. I was so anxious to hear the song again, there was a little switch on the side and if you flicked it up you could hear the music, but really loud, because you couldn’t adjust the volume. I’d flick it up to hear if the song was still there and flipping it down again. I recorded loads of stuff, but I do remember recording ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.I couldn’t wait for the song to finish so I could rewind it and play it again.” Along with the Smiths, Vinita grew up with 80s pop bands like OMD, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode. At her school that was edgy: everyone else was listening to Duran Duran. Tears for Fears' first record, 'The Hurting', changed Vinita’s life. It was all to do with the record’s content; it drove her to read up about psychology, philosophy, and existentialism, and opened her eyes to a wider world. But it was C86 and the fanzine culture that built up around it that steered her towards her future career. “I bought every fanzine that was advertised, and I started writing really long letters to all the fanzine writers. I was absolutely obsessed with music, with no-one to talk to about it. I don’t know where the love came from. It was just stuff inside my head that I had to get out. I wrote 20-page A4 letters – I’d love to read what I wrote now – and I’d get a thank you in the front of the fanzine.” The C86 movement introduced her to a lot of bands, all of which were as accessible as the fainzines: “I bought demos from bands like the Telescopes and the Sea Urchins, and I told them, ‘If I had a label, I’d put your records out.’ I did that to the Pooh Sticks as well. I ended up working with all three of those bands.” Growing up in Rugby, the first gigs that Vinita went to tended to feature the Spacemen 3. Through them, she discovered bands such as Suicide and the Velvet Underground. “It’s so embarrassing, but I used to drive round Rugby with the window down blaring out ‘Frankie Teardrop’, thinking I was so cool.” Vinita was still a teenager, living at home with her parents. She often had to be quite cunning in order to get to live shows. Her parents weren’t keen on Vinita going to gigs, but half the time, they didn’t know she was going to shows anyway: “I would tell them I was studying at a friend’s house and then get on a train to Birmingham to stay with the Sea Urchins, or go and see live bands,” she says. “It was very difficult for me to get out to shows, because my parents were very protective, and I was young, it was a small town, and they didn’t know what was going on at these shows. I remember going to see Fields of the Nephilim, and coming out covered in flour, and my mum crying in the car outside.” Still young, in her late teens, Vinita started working at Cheree records with Nick Allport. Though they both loved the bands that they represented, working at Che wasn’t always a happy experience. “I do have an issue with sharing, delegating and putting my trust in people, which stems from when I was at Cheree Records,” says Vinita. “Me and Nick had a difficult time with our financial backers, and we felt a bit screwed over. They treated me like shit, calling on me to make the tea for them and stuff like that. I was only 18, I was painfully shy, and I was from a small town, and it took a lot of years for me to start believing in myself.” Che was co-founded by Vinita and Allport in 1990 as a way to get more control over the roster and the overall running of the label. An offshoot of Cheree Records, it put out records by bands such as Tindersticks, Fuxa and Backwater, and scored bona fide top 40 hits from Ursei Yatsura and Lilys. In 1997, Vinita branched out on her own with Rocket Girl, launching with a split seven inch from the legendary Silver Apples and Windy & Carl. The first album release was a Spacemen 3 tribute album, featuring the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Piano Magic and Low. The label went from strength to strength, building up an impressive roster and a good reputation. The label was even the subject of a BBC documentary in 2001. Things hit a low point in 2002, however, when Vinita’s work schedule got the better of her. “I kind of burnt out in 2002, when I had five bands touring at the same time. All these records were coming out at the same time, and we had a Rocket Girl Night at the ICA, on 02/02/02. By the summer, I was absolutely exhausted. I can’t really put into words what happened, but I went to the doctor’s and burst out crying. I think I was fluey or had a cough that wouldn’t go away or something, and the doctor said ‘How are you feeling generally?’ and I burst into tears.” It was at that point that Vinita realized that she needed to take a break once in a while, and to sleep every now and again. She spent a bit of time “being a couch potato” as prescribed by her doctor. Rocket Girl’s bands also started winding down for a bit of a break, and Vinita found herself working for Bella Union, while also continuing to run Rocket Girl. She worked with them for two and a half years. Since, then, Vinita has managed to get the work balance right and has managed to maintain her reputation for putting out good, interesting music. She now also does consultancy work for Fat Cat and One Little Indian Records. “Everything I’ve been through, with Cheree and Che Records has brought me to this point, even burning out,” she says. “There have been a lot of bad times as well as good times, but it’s all brought me to where I am now, so I can’t really knock it, because I think where I am now is such a healthy place.” Vinita loses herself in thought for a moment, mulling over her time in the music industry, how things have changed. She finally takes a peanut. “When I started Rocket Girl, I think I was driven by a lot of anger, and a need to prove people wrong. I think that’s why I burnt out. I’m not driven by anger any more. I’m driven by a love of music, and I’m doing everything for the right reasons.”

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Miscellaneous - Interview with Vinita Joshi

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