Current vogue aside, it has been tempting to think that sites like Terrascope have, over the years, ploughed a pretty lone furrow in championing Psychedelic music, fed of course by some top class releases courtesy of small and, one imagines, perfectly formed record labels. These are invariably independent in hue and something of a labour of love for the people concerned, none more so than Yorkshire based Cardinal Fuzz.
Formed as recently as 2012 (hard to believe, we know) and named after a track by Bristolian uber-slackers The Heads, Cardinal Fuzz is the lovechild (good 60s word) of Dave Cambridge whose name may be familiar to Terrascope readers through his Optical Sounds fanzine, a rare and warmly welcome inky in the age of the cyber space. Recently Dave graciously agreed to indulge Terrascope’s Ian Fraser in some Q and A activity
I begin by asking Dave about the choice of name.
“The Heads are a band I’ve been way too obsessed about for a very long time. When it came to thinking of a name, the title of their track “Cardinal Fuzz” seemed to sum it up nicely. Apologies to The Heads, of course, and I hope I’ve not dragged them down by association”.
The label is basically Dave who acts is all manner of capacity from CEO to tea boy but who is also quick to acknowledge the input of others. “Brett Savage helps out with the newsletters and artwork and listens patiently to my inane witterings. It’s been huge having Brett to just listen sometimes. Then I have Chris Hardman (like Brett a member of the wonderful Dead Sea Apes) who has mastered pretty much every Cardinal Fuzz vinyl release and is a huge reason for why them vinyl records sound as good as they do and Sam Giles who hand-makes all the CD vinyl replica sleeves that do look pretty great. So while I’d like to take all the praise for myself I’d be the first to admit it would be a hell of a struggle without their help and input.
This is Dave Cambridge’s show though. He co-ordinates everything, takes the financial and reputational risk and packs every record individually (over 2,000 direct sales last year).His musical influences are the product of a 1980s upbringing and one band in particular.
“Spacemen 3 was the band that opened up a whole slew of great bands to me. Pete Kember was always great at name dropping bands be it Suicide or the 13th Floor Elevators or Neu or the Red Krayola - if these were an influence on Spacemen 3 then these were bands I needed to hear. But ive always lived eaten and breathed Spacemen 3 (and Spectrum and Spiritualized..well Spiritualized upto 97!) The pulse that emanates from Spacemen 3 is hardwired into me. I may not have been lucky enough to catch them live but I have seen The Heads many times and for me most of my favourite musical experiences are drawn from listening or watching The Heads. Seeing them play live in their rehearsal room is an experience I don’t think will ever be matched – Christ what an apocalyptic noise they created, it was joyous to be sat there letting it seep through me. Apart from that, all the usual touchstones like Bo Diddley – Pretty Things – Velvets – Elevators – Stooges/MC5 – Ladbroke Grove – Saints/Radio Birdman and a hundred other great bands.
Prior to Cardinal Fuzz Dave ran Optical Sounds which much like the current vinyl revival seemed to buck the trend given that it was an increasingly rare breed of independent, printed (as opposed to online) fanzine.
“Optical Sounds started over my complete despair at the lack of coverage records I was getting off on were getting in the press and online. I knew there were people out there wanting to know more and I just thought why not do something about it. I’d grown up as a C-86 kid and through the local Indie Record Shop (Red Rhino in York) picked up fanzines and loved them. In fact I still remind my Dad about throwing all of them away when I moved out! As much as I love the internet for finding out and listening to music nothing beats sitting down and relaxing with some printed paper to read. I especially loved the earlier issues of Freakbeat magazine although they did hurt the eyes a little and of course I had ever issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope. I would read and absorb every review.
So I bought a colour printer thinking I could just do it myself with a lot of help from friend – Mark Lascelles in particular in them early issues. I soon learned that the 7000 pages the ink cartridge claimed to print A4 was based on 5% coverage (how the fuck can they get away with that – that’s the size of a postage stamp) So the ink ran out after 60 issues and it cost a fortune to buy more…so much so that I only just broke even selling 250 of them. On issue 2 I had to get rid of the colour printer and buy a monochrome one. I hit 350 sales for the next 2 issues and broke even on the costs of the printers!
Part of the problem was that the magazines were entirely financed out of Dave’s pocket. The other was the logistics of trying to edit and publish Optical Sounds whilst setting up the label and working nights at a local supermarket to help support his young family.
“People said I should have charged for advertising but the way I saw it was that I wanted to promote the labels/bands etc. I loved so adverts were always free. This also meant we were not under obligation to provide any positive reviews or be held to ransom by advertisers, something which seems way too rife nowadays. As the label started and what with my job and family commitments, time started to get way too stretched and the end date for issue 5 was missed by a country mile. It became apparent that I couldn’t do both. I’d spent so much time on Optical Sounds, though, that I couldn’t bear for it to just disappear. Luckily Brett, who I’d become really good friends with, asked if he could give it a go. Well, yes, he had loads of great ideas and I didn’t want it to finish so it was a perfect solution. I’m still heavily involved but Brett is steering that ship. Trouble is although I want Dead Sea Apes on the cover and he refuses to push his own band – way infuriating! But Optical Sounds is the fanzine of Cardinal Fuzz”.
Let’s go back a stage or two and find out what prompted Dave to start a label and especially during what our Chinese friends might call “interesting times”.
“It’s all started to get a little muddled in my head now. I do remember you mentioning to me that quite a few record labels had started after people had done their own fanzine. To me it seemed so untouchable that to be honest at that point the thought had never crossed my mind before then. But then when interviewing a few bands (Dead Sea Apes, Janitors, Cosmic Dead) I’d ask when the vinyl records would be coming out I was pretty shocked to hear they were not! A few bands starting mentioning that if I was to do a label they would love to release a record on it which was a huge leap of faith from them and a bit of an ego buzz for me! A vinyl label, though, still seemed unaffordable so my initial idea was to do CDs of bands playing/jamming live in their rehearsal rooms without the pressure or constraints of a live setting and would hopefully capture them raw and bone shaking – something I’d always got off on a whole lot from The Heads own Rooster ltd CDs they did. I thought if bands were touring and they had a few of these it would help them with some extra funding and give fans something they would really like. But first I needed money, so some records were sold and enough money was raised for the first CD and then I made contact with Sam Giles whose vinyl replica artwork on The Heads CDs I loved”.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was The Heads who provided Dave with his first release, namely the “Inner Space Broadcasts Vol 1”
“The original idea was a CD of course but as I listened to the tracks I just thought they were so right for listening to on vinyl. I nervously shared the idea with Simon Price (The Heads’ singer/guitarist) and to my eternal gratitude he said yeah it was a great idea. I was so fucking pleased I cannot tell you how big the smile on my face was. We used an image from The Heads demo tape of “Jane Fonda” (I think) for the cover, which I thought looked pretty cool. I’d raised money through Optical Sounds and sold a few more records (again) making just had enough money to do the print run and get half the sleeves UV printed. At this point Simon Keeler from Forte came forward and offered to pay for the pressing and get all the sleeves UV printed in exchange for distribution of the record. That took a whole heap of pressure off me I have to say.
I remember coming home from the night shift at ASDA and putting the record up for sale at 8am and then waking up at 2.30pm to find that all the records I had for direct sales (about 115) had sold out. I went a bit bonkers hand stamping 500 info inserts, which is good fun for about the first 200! And Sam Giles did a really cool looking 2 sided band insert. Yep, I had a whole lot of fun. In retrospect wish I’d done the sleeve in a metallic gold but you only have so much money!”
The label specialises in vinyl releases and has since its inception been in the vanguard of a small but mounting counter-revolution, namely the return of the 12” album, thought to be on the verge of extinction a few year back but now their numbers are firmly on the increase due to devotees like Dave and a staunchly vinyl-centric section of the music buying public. Dave takes up the story as to how this came about.
“Well although Cardinal Fuzz started off as handmade vinyl replica CDs as the money came in from The Heads pre-orders I had enough to do another vinyl pressing (The Cosmic Dead’s glorious S/T double LP). I do like the handmade CDs but it does not compare to doing a vinyl. The day a vinyl release lands on your doorstep and you get to play it is unbeatable. Yep vinyl can sometimes crackle but Christ I love it. The feel of the sleeves and just holding them – it really feels like you have made some sort of statement and that’s something you just do not get with a CD (or digital) Don’t get me wrong, I love digital for when I’m doing my runs or just out and about. But for true absorption nothing comes close to sitting back and listening to vinyl”.
Cardinal Fuzz features releases by prominent acts such as, Anthroprophh, Lumerians, Oscillations etc who release most of their output on other labels. How does Dave manage the release of their material without coming into conflict with their other contractual obligations?
“I check with all the bands I work with that are on other labels that all is OK with the labels they are on. Hopefully if everything is done right I am actually helping in promoting their artists and maybe helping to tap them into a different audience than they might have had before”.
Dave’s alsounearthed a few rather more obscure and emerging gems such as Kikagaku Moyo and I wondered how they managed to fall into his lap?
“Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips/Moon Duo) had sent Kikagaku Moyo my way with their first EP but stupidly I didn’t take it up(totally lack of funds at the time). Christ that first release is AMAZING and I am dumbfounded as to why I didn’t get back in touch with them to at least tell them how great it was. But they were on my radar and when news came out that they were releasing a tape on Sky Lantern I remember listening to it and then straight away I had to listen to it again. Then I was on the phone to Brett raving about it (it being “Mammatus Clouds”) and made the trip over to his house to play it to him. His advice was “You have to release this!”. Within a few days it had all been sorted. I was actually only going to do it as a 350 release because no matter how much I loved it I had no idea what the market was for 30 min sitar meltdowns but not long after they played Austin Psych Fest and people were going crazy about them. News of an album on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond also meant they were becoming hot property and soon the release was a joint release with Captcha doing a very swish stateside release (both Captcha and BBisB are very cool people to work with as well). As soon as I mentioned that I was doing a vinyl issue I got inundated to a degree I’d not had before with people desperate to know when it was going on sale! They are going to be something special for a long, long time to come – a fact borne out by a couple of amazing live UK gigs I saw a few months ago”.
We’ve mentioned the fact that Cardinal Fuzz is something of a cottage industry operating in uncertain market conditions. What did Dave see as the major challenges of running a small independent label these days?
“For me it’s getting any mainstream press for the bands on the label. Not been able to afford PR or advertising means it’s impossible to get anything in the printed media, who seem to me to have their content dictated by advertising. I pride myself that even on small 500 vinyl runs I give a huge amount of the pressing back to the bands. Some would say I’m shooting myself in the foot as it means I have less vinyl to sell to not only recoup costs bit maybe I could then pay for press agents etc. Myself, I’d rather see the bands right and hope that eventually the press will see the light. After all it only took them 13 years to notice Rocket Recordings…
Cardinal Fuzz is riding the crest of a mini psychedelic revival at the moment which must suit Dave down to the ground.
“Going back to what I was saying earlier, since Cardinal Fuzz doesn’t get any coverage in the main “inkies” whatever is the latest trend for them is going to make no difference to me at all. I do get a little aggrieved that when they do mention the psych scene it’s all Temples Tame Impala and Toy – good bands but they have press agents behind them. Couldn’t the press actually scratch a little underneath the surface to find bands themselves? I’m sure that’s what they used to do when I was young. But going back to Psych music it’s such an easy genre to knock and it’s something the press have never really got on with in recent years (a major reason for Optical Sounds starting. In fact I go a bit the other way and want to shout PSYCH at the top of my voice because people don’t want it mentioned anymore and I like been an underdog”.
Dave strikes you as being someone always in search of the next sonic “Holy Grail”. Was there anyone he was desperately chasing and would like to see on the CF imprint?
Well yes, I’m desperately trying to track down members of White Heaven. Of course I’d love to do something with Pete Kember but then I place him on such a high pedestal that I’m scared if I worked with him and I did something wrong I’d really piss him off and that would kill me.
To wrap things up, there is a game I play on long and solitary journeys. It goes a bit like this. If he were to stage his own event or were given the opportunity to curate a day’s music at a festival, such as ATP or Rocket at Psych Fest back in September, which half a dozen or so acts would Dave pick and why (they would have to be currently active or at least there should be a possibility of reforming/coming out of retirement, so no Hendrix backing Jim Morrison please)
“Every time I get asked to do something I email Kandodo (Heads splinter group) in the very, very vain hope of getting them to play live. They were so good at ATP in 2013 but I’ve had no luck yet! But if someone was to offer me a stage (no budget) for 2015 it would read something like:
The Heads, Comets On Fire, White Manna Mugstar, Dead Sea Apes, The Oscillation, Lumerians, The Cult Of Dom Keller, Hookworms, Hills, The Icarus Line, Demons, Kikagaku Moyo, Dead Meadow, Carlton Melton, The Myrrors, Dahga Bloom, Nope and The Gris Gris…that’s way more than half a dozen, sorry!”
Maybe, but with a virtual cast list of this calibre who are we to quibble!?
Follow Cardinal Fuzz activities here: