Saturday, June 2, 2018

Folks Behind The Music: Geoff Leppard Of Atom Heart Mutha



Let's start with your name and your site. Let's have it. 

Ok, well I’m John, aka Geoff Leppard or Atom Heart Mutha.

Start at the beginning; how did you get started with this crazy idea of spreading the music?

Atom Heart Mutha started out about 4 years back as BigJaf.net.  I really tried over the years to play instruments and it just didn’t take, and then there’s life and family and work and all that stuff that takes over most of the time.  I’d been messing about with a DJ app and managed to record an hour long mix of tracks I like, of no specific genre; coincidentally at that time I’d been listening to DJ sets on Mixlr and it allowed you to broadcast for free, for an hour and so I did.  30 people listened in to that one Sunday afternoon and a couple of people asked for another date, so I did and that got listeners too and it really caught me. I did a rock Show for the 3rd one and that got 80 sets of ears and I found I was really enjoying the whole thing.  I set up Mixlr for a 3hr show monthly and a couple of friends wanted in too and for a good 18 months BigJaf.net did a 3 hr show with 1hr sets from me as Atom Heart Mutha, Dylan The Wolf and Zachsta.  I’d also do a split show from time to time with Thee Psychedelicatessen, ‘Transmissions From The Psychedelic Basement’ and those were really good fun to do.

The shows were all different in content and people seemed to like them. Then as the months went by, I’d get bands asking us to play music and a couple of labels reached out too and I realised that I could play all sorts of music that lots of people I knew weren’t listening to and that actually folks were liking what we do.  In the background of all that going on, I’d spoken with Vania at Grip Of Delusion Radio and she was kind enough to broadcast my monthly mix every Sunday on the station.  At that point it made sense to open a blog and house some of the broadcasts, whilst reviewing some newer music, which in turn drew attention to what I was doing.  At that point, all sorts of cool labels were helping out, Tonzonen Records, Sulatron Records, Fuzz Club, El Paraiso, Space Rock Productions and Ripple too were there, in the early stages,  allowing me review Zed and Devil To Pay.  It was at this was  point where I had to figure out where to move on and I can only really credit Magnus from Into The Void for being really cool at the time and helping me branch out by offering advice on using PR and other ways to source new music. Steve from ‘The Shrieks From Below’ and Andy at ‘Dayz Of Purple And Orange’ have been a massive source of support and influence too, these guys weren’t precious about sharing or talking about what works.  A lot of all of this comes from that sense of community and support and I’m grateful that guys like that are around.

BigJaf still exists but has slowed down a little of late; we still get submissions, in December last year Alan Forbes did a mix for us, fckin Alan Forbes!!!! and we got a great mix from the guys at Psychic Lemon, a hard working band from Cambridge that really deserve to be heard widely.

The big hit came in February  2017 when TBFM Radio took a big leap and joined the guys that run the festival Hard Rock Hell to start Hard Rock Hell Radio.  I wanted to see if Atom Heart Mutha could grow so I spoke with Station Manager Jay McGuire at length on the phone and he was really interested in what the monthly mixes were; I guess there was a gap between what the brilliant Barry Mart was/is doing on ‘Earth Calling’ and Mark Roberts ‘Doom Vs Stoner’ Show.  Atom Heart Mutha got itself a regular 2hr weekly show, live on Hard Rock Hell Radio; they're a brilliant team to work with, really supportive of me and the show.  The opportunities and experiences that I’ve had since are insane! 
 
I want to mention Viva El Swain too.  When the blog was really gaining momentum, David got involved with review writing and he’s done some mixes for BigJaf.net too.  It’s brilliant when you discover there are people out there that like what you do, and given his knowledge, it made perfect sense to ask him to get involved.  He’s an important part of Atom Heart Mutha and a good guy too, we talk often about releases and he’ll recommend stuff I wouldn’t always think of.

We're all the product of our musical past. What's your musical history? First album you ever bought? First musical epiphany moment? First album that terrified the hell out of you?

The answer is pretty much all my life all that ever really interested me has been hearing music, seeing bands and sharing the experience with friends.  My earliest memory is holding the 7 inch of Killer Queen when I was 2 years old, in a market in Birmingham after my dad bought it!  As early as I can remember, music was always there.  The radio was always on and dad loved his vinyl and Pink Floyd and I grew up loving anything on the mainstream radio in late 70s until the mid eighties, balanced out by anything my dad played; he loved AC/DC, Zeppelin, Taste and all that stuff seeped in at the same time.  In fact, he was in the audience when Pink Floyd recorded ‘Ummagumma’ at Mothers in Birmingham back in 1969.
 
The first single I ever bought was Baggy Trousers by Madness, and the first album I ever owned was Absolutely by Madness on cassette.  I guess it makes sense looking back now, making mixtapes mostly for me at first, and later on for friends, that I’d find a way of getting music out to a bigger audience in the future.

When I was 10, my friend at school Brett had the War of the Worlds vinyl narrated by Richard Burton and that alien sound “Oooolaarrrr” scared the shit out of me!  Even then I was lending, borrowing and sharing music with friends, in fact Brett still hasn’t given me back my 7inch of Deadringer for Love by Meatloaf after 36 years!

I’m blessed to still be friends with guys I knew when we moved house back in 1986 to a new area, in particular,  Andy and Matt.  These are the guys I still go record shopping with, go to gigs with and get the piss taken out of me for liking music about warlocks and weed (their words) with crushing riffs! These guys have always been major influences on me, even when they get it wrong (which they will tell you they never do).

I can’t thank them enough for introducing me to so much great music over the years and actually it’s with them that the epiphany moments happen, first time I heard Zappa, Grateful Dead, The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow was with one or both of them and our wider circle of friends and it’s a massive list that could take up pages of your blog.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

There’s plenty of examples over the years.  I knew the singles from Number of the Beast but the first time I heard that in its entirety was just incredible!  I saw Metallica in 87’ at Donnington Monsters of Rock and knew a couple of tracks; then I heard Ride The Lightning and it was insane, intense and heavy as fuck, I loved it, it totally drew me in!
But the best answer has to be Ritual De Lo Habitual by Janes Addiction, I played that thing 5 times a day for months after the first listen; it was heavy and weird and psychedelic and funky and just perfect in every way!  Side B was like being stoned (er, so I am told ) without taking a single hit!  To this day, I still think it’s a perfect record; beautiful and warm, honest and dirty and just fucking out of this world!

What do you see happening in the music scene today; good and bad?

I’m in a good position right now.  I work at as many Hard Rock Hell festivals as possible and HRH are brilliant at giving big opportunities to up and coming bands.  Watching new bands grow creatively, and then commercially is a fantastic thing.  Hanging around rock royalty like Lita Ford and Geoff Tate is a big kick too; talking to people whose music has soundtracked your life for decades is unbelievable sometimes.  I love it and as I said, I’ll forever be grateful to Jay at Radio HRH for trusting me to be able to do these things; Broadcast; Interview and work behind the scenes, as well DJ to crowds of 2-300 people; it’s a real buzz and an absolute honour.

I try to pay attention to what other people are talking about on some of the forums on facebook that share some of the same interests as Atom Heart Mutha.  What’s good is that I’m seeing new talent being encouraged and nurtured, and that forward thinking labels like Ripple, DHU Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Heavy Psych Sounds, Riding Easy and Cursed Tongue Records are engaging on social media with fans, and bands and making that community spirit; that feeling that you all belong to the same gang feels real.  Some of the podcasters and DJs that do similar shows are very present too; it’s a good time right now to be involved in a scene like this. 

In terms of what’s bad, I guess it’s an eye opener when you realise that bands that deserve better investment to develop.  Bands often just about cover the cost of petrol to play a show and rely on merch sales.   Everybody says they have to pay their dues, but it’s a shitty thing to watch, especially when you can tell that with a little more of a budget they could move things on forward a get a wider audience that they absolutely deserve.

What's been your all time greatest "Find"? That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

Well, I can’t really claim to be the guy that discovered Ecstatic Vision, but I heard them very early on and told anyone with a passing interest to listen how brilliant they are; they’re a band that will never just be one thing musically, they’ll just keep on evolving.   Ecstatic Vision hit the UK this year.  If I cant book ‘em, I’ll certainly be travelling to catch a live show.  I will continue to spread word about that band like a virus!

I was pretty knocked out when I heard The Judge and Slow Season too, but it turned out plenty of people already knew them and I was kinda late to the party! Keep asking this question to future subjects, I bet you no one can answer it like Bucky Brown!

What's the hardest thing you encounter in spreading the music? 

I do ok on social media, but I think it can be frustratingly slow to gain an audience that’s going to spread the word; that’s not to say I don’t have one, I absolutely do! but sometimes it feels like saturation or that putting yourself out there too much will be detrimental and when you’re not the only person doing what I do, everyone has choice.  Then the irony is that choice is a great thing!  People have plenty to select from now with social media; once upon a time you got your fix through a few magazines and niche radio shows on the BBC;  it’d just be cooler if more people shared out and invited more people that might like the show.  It’ll be so much easier to help push bands and spread the word with a bigger following.  Ultimately, that’s what I want, especially with those that trust in me, to put their music out there.

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why? What makes that song so important?

I can’t say for sure, there are so many songs of importance to me with very different meanings.  I think, if I was pressed to answer, it would be The Weight by The Band.  The version from the movie, The Last Waltz, with The Staples Singers, is an example of a song that’s near perfect, that achieves the impossible of being even made better by introducing someone else to share it.  I really struggle with questions like this, the worst ones are “name your Top 10…”!  If you’re lucky, I can normally narrow something down to a top 250!

Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

3 UK based bands, for sure.  Flex Bison from Birmingham showcase very heavy, dirty, intoxicating riffs and are an absolutely solid, powerful live force too.  They’re about to release an EP or mini album soon, and there’s dates to come before they work on recording a full LP.  The Red Widows from London are brilliant!  I’m really looking forward to hearing what they do next, and there’s a band from Bradford called Psychlona; they pretty much came out of nowhere for me, and I was hooked on the first listen. They are something special and I cant wait to see them live.

Tell us about your personal music collection. Vinyl? CD? What's your prized possession?

I don’t keep CDs anymore, unless they’re promos that bands were kind enough to send me.  I still have my first issue ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ by Spiritualized that came in a card medication box; the CD is printed to look like a pill/tablet and the insert is a medical direction information sheet with how to take the music, like its on prescription! (Which it should be because it’s an outstanding album!)

On Vinyl, I have some early pressings by Pink Floyd (Animals and Meddle); an Electric Ladyland by Hendrix, with the naked ladies on the cover; an early original mix of Hot Rats by Zappa (before he arsed about with it and reissued it on CD!).  More recently (two years ago apparently, now I think about it) I scored a first/early pressing of Randy California’s ‘Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds’ and on the same day a first pressing of ‘Lifeforms’ by Future Sound Of London.  I have the 4 vinyl version half Speed Masters release of The Orb ‘Adventures in the Ultraworld’ which is really special to me.  I try really hard these days to buy records I’ll get plenty of play out of.  They’re not cheap, especially trying to import them from outside of the UK.

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

The fact that its fun and unpredictable; that I started a hobby I love that kept on growing and expanding.  I love that people seem to like what I do; that people engage with me positively, and it’s a real thrill when you read someone saying good things about the show, or recommending me to people.  I can’t believe sometimes that bands feel that they can approach me because they like what I do, and they want they music to be heard on my show.
I really love doing this, otherwise what’s the point?

How would your life be different if you weren't spreading the word about music?

I can’t answer that other than say I guess I’d find meaning in something else, just not sports though, I’m with Sepultura on that one, Sports Bloody Sports!

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

No, I met someone in a band I really respected last year and it was a negative experience.  I thought the guy was a complete dick and was unnecessarily rude.  Looking back, I think he was trying to intimidate me for reasons i never understood, but it influenced how I felt about him and I guess, his band.  Maybe this is a strong reaction or over reaction, who knows? but these are the things that stay with you sometimes.  I’m told that some other folks have had similar experiences with him and others not, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter but it really did disappoint me.

No need to publicly name and shame though is there? these things happen, and I have far more interactions and experiences where people were incredible, humble, funny and positive.

In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

If someone can tell me they discovered music they fell in love with because I played it or recommended it then I’ve done my job, pretty high praise I think. I like that Lester Bangs quote “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool”. I won’t debate what’s cool and what’s not, that’s subjective.  I like the idea of being part of a strangers memory, based on a song or an album he or she heard through you though.

Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay. Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

Yeah, I have a day job and I keep that separate from everything I do under the name Atom Heart Mutha.  I always find time, hopefully not the detriment of those close to me, but I have found something I love doing and they get that and support me, especially my better half, Katie; someone else with a great taste in music that never stopped buying music, going to gigs and supporting the bands she loves.

Pay?? Haha, if someone wants to subsidise me for the amount of music I buy on Bandcamp, please let me know!!

What's next? Any new projects? 

Yes, I’m in the early stages of managing a band and there’s loads of opportunities to promote live nights with a really great guy called Toby Winch, a DJ that I met through Hard Rock Hell Radio, we’ve already put on Space Witch, Red Spektor, Flex Bison, 1968 and Cower, Hounds! together and there’s a few more announcements to come soon.  There are some other things going on too but it’s too early to mention them yet.  All I can say it that the futures looking great, thats for sure.

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

Well, it’s definitely not sports..!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...