A hundred releases and seventeen years after she first founded Rocket Girl records, Vinita Joshi believes she is still learning lessons about the best way to run her label. In the past five years, she has developed a slightly harder stance when it comes to the bands on her label, but this is, in part, due to necessity. Rocket Girl has had more than one ‘difficult’ act on its roster over the years.

“I’ve been a bit of a push over in the past, I think,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot in the past five years, particularly working with difficult artists. The first thing is, you have to have everything in writing. After that, it doesn’t matter how much you do for them or don’t do for them. It’s not a nice situation to be in if you don’t have paperwork.”

Our teas arrive. We are sitting in the back of a slightly pretentious café in Kentish Town, chosen for its relative quiet, which is soon to be broken by an office party being hosted at the front of the café.

Joshi explains that the biggest lesson about the record business that she learned very early on, through an independent learning course, was ‘always have a contract’. That was 23 years ago, but Joshi has never quite felt comfortable with the idea of contracts: “I’m still making the same mistakes.”

The fact is, she explains, she cannot let go of the honourable notion of an old-fahioned handshake agreement.

“If two people don’t get along, there’s no point trying to work with each other, so what’s the point of having a piece of paper? It’s not like this is major and I have someone else to label manage it. It has to come through me.”

Joshi is not the sort of person that thrives on conflict. In the past, she says, that would mean she would back down too quickly, but has become more comfortable speaking her mind as the years have gone on.

“I probably did let bands get away with murder back when I was at Che or Cheree. I was a very, very different person, and there was a different kind of support network there.”

Despite her discomfort when it comes to situations fraught with conflict, Joshi has never shied away from working with artists that are notoriously volatile. Some have a reputation for unpredictability and self-sabotage that spans back decades, such as Dan Treacy from Television Personalities.

Fearghal McKee, the frontman of the band Whipping Boy, is another. Having started their musical career in the early 90’s, the band released three albums between 1992 and 2000, but suddenly disappeared. Joshi had put out a couple of 12” singles when the band first started through Cheree Records, and when McKee reappeared 2011, he and Joshi rekindled their working relationship. The label put a single out in 2012, but Joshi is now worried that she may not hear from him again.

“I haven’t heard from in a long time,” she says. “I did that digital single with him last year, he said he was working on an album and no one has heard from him since then. He’s an amazing guy and he’s never been off with me or anything,. He’s just off on his own little planet really.”

She recalls an incident at a Whipping Boy show in London where McKee tore his clothes off at the end of the set. When she turned to her friend to speak about it, her friend was completely oblivious – she’d been staring at the floor the entire time: “She missed the whole thing. I’ll never forget that.”

So when you have a difficult band, how do you make sure you have a functioning working relationship?

“You have to be very patient and you have to be careful what you say. Otherwise, you can get into horrible, antagonistic situations, and there’s no point winding each other up. I had an email correspondence with someone from one of my bands earlier today. He was being a little bit difficult about merch and money and stuff, and there’s no point just going back and forth. It’s just silly. It gets petty after a while.”

Some bands think you owe them a living, she says; they expect the label to subsidise their artist’s lifestyle. Of course, it doesn’t work like that – you only make as much as you’re able to sell, and in order to do that, bands have to put the work in.

“Randall (Nieman) from Fuxa’s got the right idea. He’s been making music for 25 years, and he has a normal job…He has accepted that it’s kind of a hobby, though hobby is not really the right word as it’s taken seriously. But it isn’t his only income.”

“It’s not a case that you sign to a label and it just happens for you; you’ve got to meet half way. I think a lot of bands aren’t prepared to put the work in. That said, a lot of my bands do put a lot of work in.”

Joshi cites God is an Astronaut as a prime example. The band tours a lot, they work really hard to support their releases. Although they don’t really get the coverage through the mainstream press, they have built a sizeable audience across Europe through a combination of word of mouth and internet coverage. This wouldn’t have been possible if they didn’t work as hard as they do, says Joshi.

“So there are bands that work hard and that are lovely to work with, but when you get those difficult, egotistical bands, you just need to take a step back and take a deep breath and get on with it.”

Dan Treacy has been one of the most difficult artists on the label, partly because Joshi considers him a friend as well as part of her roster. Treacy’s list of issues is long, and the situation is complicated. He has had persistent mental health and substance dependency issues, and his health is failing him. Joshi has never fallen out with him, but there have been upsetting incidents.

“I was in tears once, when he wouldn’t leave my flat, and I was going to see Arlo Guthrie at the 100 Club, I’ve loved his music since I was little, and my flatmate was coming home and I’d promised her he wouldn’t be there. He came with me on the bus. He sat opposite me. He wouldn’t sit next to me.”

“It’s just a silly situation. He has his little tantrums, but he’s very talented, and we haven’t ever got to a point where we hate each other. I’ve had difficult times with him where he’s banging on my door every day asking for money, asking for somewhere to sleep, asking for food, and as a human being, not as his record label, but as his friend, you want to help people in that situation.”

Television Personalities had developed a reputation for shows that were memorable for all the wrong reasons, with Treacy often succumbing to his demons on stage, either getting aggressive with his band or his audience or simply losing his momentum and fading in front of an audience willing him to get over what was troubling him. When he was on form, however, Joshi says that they could have achieved anything

“I saw them play some really amazing shows, well rehearsed. When they played in Barcelona and Madrid, he was spot on. I said to Dan, ‘If you can do that in London, you will appeal to so many more people’, and he had so many opportunities supporting MGMT.”

The day that he was supposed to play with MGMT at Heaven, a huge opportunity for the band, Treacy fell over badly and ended up in hospital. Nobody could contact him, so the rest of the band did the show without him. Joshi didn’t stay to see the show: “I went to see another band that I was working with at the time.
“I have a problem in that I empathise too much with people. If a friend is really sad, I get really sad; I’m unable to put a wall up. Which probably isn’t the best way to be, within the music industry. I always think of what they said about Nick Drake, that he had one skin too few. I feel like that sometimes.”

“In 2002, I burned out just from having bands constantly staying over, five bands touring, five records out at the same time, and it got too much for me. Now I can recognise the signs of that, but I think it’s just not being strong enough.”

Joshi is perhaps being unfair on herself. The mere fact that the label is still going strong is testament to Joshi’s resilience – the label was even founded in response to the way she was treated at her previous label, Che, which was founded by Joshi and Nick Allport.

“When I started Rocket Girl, I was driven by a need to prove myself. Obviously it was also the music and running the label, but having been through two previous labels with partners, I was very driven to succeed on my own. There was a lot of,” she hesitates. “There was a big condescending attitude towards me from the backers when I was at Cheree Records, because I was a girl. We’d go to a meeting with a band and they would tell me to go and make the tea, because I was the only girl at the meeting. I was 18, 19, maybe, painfully shy, just moved from Rugby to London, had been brought up to respect my elders, didn’t really speak my mind and I often wished I had done. So at the beginning I was driven, not necessarily by anger, but definitely by a need to prove myself.”

As an Indian girl in a predominantly white male environment, Joshi had to fight hard to achieve what she has achieved. What she chose as a career went against expectations, both within the industry and from her family.

Joshi no longer feels the need to prove herself; now she just enjoys the work. It’s been a real challenge, but it has become easier as time has gone on.

“Now I think my parents are used to it. I’m not sure they quite know exactly what I do still. They think that I manage bands, which I do sometimes, but also there’s the label, and I think they’ll never really grasp what I do.”

“My dad asked me what I was going to do with all the records in the garage, but we sold a load of old Poohsticks records when they played at Indietracks. We made about £85 and they’d only been in there for 20 years! I am a bit of a hoarder, so the excess stock goes into the garage, and when they see all that stock in there, they probably wonder how I’m making any money. But the truth is, once you’ve broken even, everything afterwards is profit. So having a growing back catalogue means that the long tail sales, both digital and physical, keep growing as well.”









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