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Vinita Joshi - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 24 / 4 / 2019

Vinita Joshi - Interview


Vinita Joshi, the owner of indie label Rocket Girl, talks about the 20th anniversary of its first release, and a new commemorative book, CD, seven inch and flexi disc which are all being released to celebrate this anniversary.

Rocket Girl has outlived many other indie labels in its twenty years. Still run from a home office in north London, it has a truly diverse and global roster of artists, and its own dedicated fans. Vinita Joshi, who basically is Rocket Girl, cares very deeply about the acts that she represents. A lifelong music fan, she fell into the music industry through her sheer enthusiasm for it, co-founding Cheree Records when she was just eighteen. She moved onto Ché Trading, before branching out with Rocket Girl in 1997. Rocket Girl’s first release was a split single by Silver Apples and Windy & Carl. To mark the 20th anniversary of that release, Rocket Girl has released a stunning commemorative book, CD, seven inch and flexi disc set, featuring unreleased songs from bands throughout Vinita’s career in the music industry, including Mogwai, Azusa Plane, Television Personalities, White Ring and Andrew Weatherall. “When I look back to doing the Spacemen 3 tribute, which was the first proper album, it does not seem like such a long time ago,” Vinita says. “It took a year to get all of the bands together for that. It sometimes can seem a really, really long time ago, but I can close my eyes and be right back in that moment. I was so proud of that release, because it had the black box with the silver embossed logo for the CD, and the vinyl was clear with silver glitter – a double vinyl. The sleeve had the silver on it as well. I was just so happy with all of it. It was just such a brilliant start.” The music industry has changed a lot since Rocket Girl was founded. When it started, the music weeklies and a John Peel play was the best way to get your release noticed. Both of those have been gone for many years. Vinita misses those days, partly because of the simplicity of it. “Now it’s just so diverse – you need to be on all the blogs, you need to be on the printed press, you need to be on more than one radio show. There’s no John Peel anymore – that’s a huge hole in everyone’s life, I think. He would take the risk with ‘Peel Sessions’. He was one in a million, really. I can’t think of another industry that’s changed as much.” She also misses the DIY, fanzine ethic of the indie music scene, and the sense of risk involved in buying a random single or album. She wanted to recapture an element of that with the Rocket Girl 20 set. She employed novelist Richard Millward and designer Xiaofei Zhang to give the book a colourful, fanzine-like feel. Millward, a longtime Rocket Girl fan, used to write to Vinita when he was fifteen. “I think he saw the first ad I did when I started Rocket Girl, and I think he ordered a Mogwai single off me or something. He sent me a little poem and I printed it in the Rocket Girl newsletter. He kept writing to me. He’s got a deal with Faber now and is working on a new novel, but he knows the music inside out. He did the Azusa Plane sleeve notes for the Rocket Girl 83 box that I did for Jason (DiEmilio, AKA Azusa Plane), and he’s been buying all the releases off me forever. I didn’t realise he was so young when he was first writing to me. I went to his wedding party recently, and when I met his mum she went; ‘Rocket Girl!’ Obviously she was writing the cheques back in the day. “There really was no one else I could think of to write the story, and he’s done it so well. He’s such a good writer.” Zhang has done a lot of artwork for Rocket Girl over the years, so had a strong idea of what would fit with the label’s aesthetic. He’s created a design that brings to mind both 60’s psychedelia and 80’s fanzines, but with the sophistication of a coffee table book. “He’s very good,” says Vinita. “He works for Damien Hirst. He’s got a real eye for detail and that was the idea, to have a coffee table-style book, but more fun and in keeping with the history of the label. It’s kind of a bit of a throwback to the beginning of me in the music industry really, with Cheree and Che.” The idea for the book itself came about while Vinita was doing consultancy work at One Little Indian. She met with a representative from a manufacturing company who showed her a seven inch book, which could hold seven seven inch records. “I knew it wasn’t something that would suit anything for One Little Indian, but I thought ‘I’m going to do something with this seven inch idea’.” Vinita looked into it further, and while the cost of putting seven vinyl singles in a book proved prohibitive, she was able to do something more unique, with a CD, seven inch and flexi disc. Having kept in touch with a lot of bands throughout her career, Vinita was able to call in a lot of tracks from the bands she wanted to include. Then she split them between the CD, seven inch and flexi disc. “I emailed Stuart (Braithwaite from Mogwai) and said I’m thinking about doing a seven inch and a flexi, and he was like ‘Yeah ,cool’ and I said. ‘Which one would you like to be on?’ and he said, ‘Whatever you’re happy with,’ so that gave me a lot of freedom. “Bardo Pond’s tracks are usually really long, and this is two minutes long, which for Bardo Pond is really short. So I put them on the seven inch, and Azusa Plane are also from Philadelphia and they knew each other, so I thought it would be nice to have a little Philly thing going on. That made up 20 tracks, and Jason’s not around anymore, and I really wanted Azusa Plane to be on there.” Vinita had never worked with Andrew Weatherall before. He had offered to remix tracks from artists Vinita had worked with in the past, but it hadn’t worked out. When Vinita approached him to do a remix now, he offered one of his own tracks instead. A Place to Bury Strangers offered a choice of three tracks. Pieter Nooten changed his mind about several tracks before eventually settling on one. Transient Waves, one of Vinita’s bands when she worked at Ché, offered an unreleased track. There were a couple of artists that she asked that didn’t get onto the finished product; Piano Magic had a Cure cover which they were going to provide, but they weren’t happy with it, and the band was already no more. “Low said yes straight away when I asked them. I see them play all the time, and they used to crash at my flat. They’re lovely, lovely people. Alan (Sparhawk) messaged back and said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be recording in a few months,’ and I wasn’t in a rush. But then they had their album last year, and probably didn’t have a spare track. I saw them play and didn’t get a chance to say hello, so that didn’t happen. Because at some point, you’ve got to say enough’s enough, and I didn’t want to hound them.” Despite those few missed tracks, Vinita pulled together twenty fantastic tracks that span her entire career. Despite her natural cautiousness and prudency (which has helped her keep the label going), Vinita spared no expense when it came to creating the set. “This book is the most luxurious thing I’ve done in quite a long time. You have to make a statement. It’s been nice hearing from the bands about how pleased they are with it, because I didn’t really tell them what I was doing.” Looking ahead to the next twenty years, Vinita is less positive. The complexities of the modern music industry will make it more difficult for smaller labels to survive, she says. In particular thanks to distribution, where giants such as Amazon are dominating and squeezing margins. “I considered not working with Amazon, but it’s a big platform. Though I don’t actually know how much they tend to sell. You’d think there’d be data on that.” Despite this, Vinita will keep going with Rocket Girl. She’s very protective of all of her bands and does a lot for them. She’s currently booking a European tour for Rocket Girl band White Ring. It’s one of the things that makes the label stand out – that and the sheer diversity of its acts, though they somehow blend quite well on the ‘Rocket Girl 20’ compilation. “If you had a venn diagram of all my acts, there would be a tiny bit in the middle that they have in common,” says Vinita. “It could be shoegaze, it could be singer/songwriter, it could be instrumental or post-rock, but there’s a little bit of ‘Vinitaness’ running through them. “ “I feel like I haven’t really changed from being eighteen, living in Rugby, swapping cassettes with people and writing letters. It’s kind of the same thing, but on a bigger scale. I haven’t got an ego, I just love music and want to share it with people. It really helped me as a child. I don’t know what I’d have done without it. I used to sit in my room, listen to music and write letters to bands and fanzines and have that relationship with people to keep my mind,really.” She shares one final story about how the new Rocket Girl compilation has put her back in touch with old friends. A slightly cheesy story in ‘The Rugby Advertiser’ encouraged friends to seek her out on Facebook. One in particular was Vinita’s best friend in middle school, and they’ve rekindled their friendship. “She remembered that I loved two things when I was at school: music and cheese and onion crisps! And I thought god, I haven’t changed! Still eating Walkers Cheese and Onion, and still in love with music.”

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Vinita Joshi - Interview

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