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Alan Heaton speaks for Burning Sky Records & Roxy Music

Alan Heaton, founder of US Independent record label "Burning Sky Records" speaked with Dimitris Antonopoulos about the label and Roxy Music!
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Alan Heaton, founder of US Independent record label "Burning Sky Records" speaked with Dimitris Antonopoulos about the label and Roxy Music!

DA: I am here with Alan Heaton, founder Burning Sky Records.  Burning Sky Records recently released a tribute to Roxy Music that I think is one of the best tribute albums I have ever heard.  Welcome, Alan!

AH: Thank you, Dimitris.  It is a pleasure to speak with you.

DA: Tell me about the history of Burning Sky Records so far.

AH: As recently as Summer 2006, I had no involvement with the music industry whatsoever.  I am a Ph.D. social psychologist by training, and I have a full-time day job doing market research for pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.

However, I have always been a big music fan, and I have always loved great covers of great songs.  To make a long story short, a friend of mine was working on a tribute album for an obscure 1990’s pop/punk band from Chicago called Triple Fast Action, and being a huge Triple Fast Action fan, myself, I offered to help him.  (They’re actually a band worth checking out if you’re not aware of them).  Recruiting bands to participate in the Triple Fast Action tribute turned out to be way more fun than I thought it was going to be, so it got me thinking about other possible tribute albums that I would like to do.

Sensory Lullabies: The Ultimate Tribute to Jellyfish

When I first decided to try to pull an album together myself, one band immediately jumped out at me as being particularly worthy of a tribute album – the 1990s San Francisco-based band Jellyfish.  I am a really serious Jellyfish fan, yet I couldn’t help but notice that as great as they were, nobody ever seemed to do Jellyfish covers.  I actually thought that Jellyfish was “too difficult” to cover, and almost gave up on the idea.

Then I discovered YouTube.  A little digging revealed that there were bands out there doing Jellyfish covers – and good ones.  Two artists in particular were Mike Elgert and Nigel Frayling-Kelly, each of whom ended up contributing tracks to the Jellyfish Tribute Album.  Anyway, I sent out some feelers over MySpace to gauge people’s interest in participating in a Jellyfish Tribute.  Within a matter of weeks, so many people had asked to participate that it was simply impossible to include everyone.

As many of you know, Jellyfish only released two proper studio albums (Bellybutton and Spilt Milk).  They were also celebrated by Not Lame Records in a classic 4-disc Box Set, which contained a ton of unreleased tracks.  Well, interest was so strong and the level of talent was so high that we were able to record covers of every released song from Bellybutton and Spilt Milk, as well as all of the unreleased tracks.  We were also able to attract bands from the US, UK, Spain, Australia, and Japan.  The end result was the 35-track, 2-CD release Sensory Lullabies: The Ultimate Tribute to Jellyfish, which was released in September 2007 on Burning Sky Records.  I will always be very proud of this excellent record.  (You can read more about it at www.burningskyrecords.com and MySpace).

Burning Sky Records

Burning Sky RecordsI didn’t set out initially with the goal of running my own record label.  However, when it came close to the time to start manufacturing Sensory Lullabies, the advice I got from everybody (including Jellyfish’s own Andy Sturmer) was that the best way to release the record would be to form my own label and do it that way.  The name “Burning Sky Records” comes from the great song by The Jam called “Burning Sky.”  

I should also mention that I met my label partner – Seattle-based mastering engineer Steve Turnidge – during the making of Sensory Lullabies.  One day out of the blue he contacted me saying that he loved Jellyfish, and that he wanted to volunteer to master the album – essentially for free!  Much to my good fortune, Steve turned out to be an incredible mastering engineer and an invaluable partner, as well as a good friend.  There would be no Burning Sky Records without Steve.

Beautiful Escape: The Songs of The Posies Revisited

It didn’t take long to find that I was hooked on making these tribute albums.  They are a lot of work, but they are also a great deal of fun and very rewarding to make.  As the launch of Sensory Lullabies approached, I started looking around for the next project to work on, and quickly settled on The Posies as another band who was sorely in need of a “tribute album.” We were fortunate enough to be able to get FOUR present and former Posies members to each contribute a track to the album, as well as megaproducing legend Don Fleming – that helped us to move from “tribute album” status to “The Songs of The Posies Revisited” status.  The end result of this effort was our 46-track, 3-CD release called Beautiful Escape: The Songs of The Posies Revisited that was released in May 2008.   This is a great record, and it was named Top Tribute Album of 2008 by International Pop Overthrow.  (You can read more about it at www.burningskyrecords.com and MySpace).

Take Refuge In Pleasure: The Songs of Roxy Music Revisited

Burning Sky RecordsRoxy Music has always been a huge favorite of mine, so it was with great enthusiasm that we decided to create what we hoped would be the best Roxy Music tribute ever.  Also, we wanted to celebrate not only the songs of Roxy Music, but also the solo works of Roxy Music founding members Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, and Phil Manzanera.  The end result was the 42-track, 3-CD release Take Refuge In Pleasure: The Songs of Roxy Music Revisited, which was released in September 2009.  This record has been getting great reviews from hard core Roxy Music fans – it sounds great, and thanks to some wonderful Cover Models from Australia, Ireland, and Slovakia, and the help of graphic design whiz and Lostdog in Loveland singer Robert Mag, it even looks like a Roxy Music album.  I am 100% confident when I say that it really is the best Roxy Music tribute album ever made.  (You can read more about it at www.burningskyrecords.com and MySpace).

DA: Speaking of the Roxy Music tribute, I hear that you got a package from Bryan Ferry.  Tell me about it.

AH: I did!  It was a great surprise.   I had sent Bryan Ferry a copy of Take Refuge In Pleasure: The Songs of Roxy Music Revisited through a friend some time ago, and after not having heard anything about it, thought that was more or less the end of the story.  One day recently I had to sign for a foreign parcel, and when I opened it, I quickly realized that it was a package from Bryan Ferry's personal assistant Lauren.  She sent a nice handwritten note saying "Many thanks for the beautiful Roxy Music albums.  Mr. Ferry would like you to have these items and wishes you the very best."

The items were:

-His new "Best Of" CD/DVD

-Two signed photos

-A signed (and clearly used) Hohner harmonica in its blue plastic case

How cool is that?!?!? Needless to say, I was very pleased and touched by the gesture.  (The signed harmonica was an especially cool thing!)  It's wonderful to know that Bryan Ferry himself liked Take Refuge In Pleasure - it makes the whole experience even more rewarding.  I also got some very nice e-mails from Roxy Music sax/oboe player Andy Mackay – another huge hero of mine – saying how much he liked the album.  It’s amazing to think that we were able to make a record good enough to impress the Roxy Music members – I will always be very proud of that.

DA: What is your favorite Roxy Music album?

AH: That is a tough one.  The 1972 debut album Roxy Music was astonishing – it was so far ahead of its time and yet such a wonderful mixture of past, present, and future – that was an exceptional record.  However, my favorite Roxy Music of all might be the 1974 album Country Life.  There are so many great songs on there – “Out Of The Blue,” “The Thrill Of It All,” “All I Want Is You,” “Casanova,” “A Really Good Time,” “Prairie Rose” – it’s just brilliant!  

DA: I understand you made some of the Roxy Music tribute while on a business trip to Athens – tell me about that.

AH: That is true!  I was in Athens on business during the time when a number of the Take Refuge In Pleasure artists were sending me rough versions of their tracks.  The one that particularly stands out was the cover of what was perhaps Roxy Music’s strangest song – “The Bogus Man” from the 1973 For Your Pleasure album.  An American artist named Tracy Chappell (who goes by the name of thunderjack) was brave enough to take on the track, which I was excited about, because I didn’t think that anyone would have the guts to even try to cover “The Bogus Man.”

So, there I was, sitting in my room in the Intercontinental Hotel eating room service moussaka  and listening to an incredibly strange cover of an incredibly strange track.  Tracy had thrown everything in there except the kitchen sink, as they say – the weird instruments included a Balinese jambe drum, a gong, a duck call, and strangest yet – a wounded rabbit call!  I almost choked on my moussaka the first time I heard it.

But you know what?  After listening to Tracy’s cover of “The Bogus Man” a few times, I ended up asking Tracy to make it even darker and stranger than it was!  If Tracy was going to cover the track, there was no reason for him to hold anything back.  I think the end result is great – it really captures the spirit of the original while also completely reinventing the track.  If people would like to check it out, I have posted it on our MySpace page.

DA: What is your opinion of Greece?

AH: I loved Greece!  First of all, actually seeing the Acropolis and the Parthenon in person was simply incredible.  I remember drawing pictures of them with crayons as a young child, and there they were right before my eyes!  It was magical!

Second, I thought Athens was really cool.  I walked around the city a great deal, and it seemed that every car that drove by was playing good rock music – I wonder if they were listening to your program?  :)  

And the food…man!  I could eat Greek food every single day.  I can’t wait to come back!

DA: What future projects is Burning Sky Records working on?  

AH: We are currently working on our most ambitious project yet – a 4-CD tribute to Squeeze!  We are planning on covering UK Squeeze, Cool For Cats, Argybargy, and East Side Story in the entirety and in their original track sequence.  We are making great progress on this record, and hope to release it later this year.  (You can read more about it at MySpace).

We are also just starting to pull together artists for a tribute to New Zealand punk/New Wave pioneers Toy Love.  This is going to be a true labor of love for me.  I have been fascinated by Toy Love for almost 30 years, and I can’t wait to have a go at their songs!  This is so new, we don’t even have a MySpace page for it, but we should soon.  I’d also like to release that record sometime this year.

DA: Thank you very much.

AH: Thank you, Dimitris!  It is a pleasure to speak with you.  Thank you very much for your support of Burning Sky Records!
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