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HEAVY MEDICATION RECORDS - Derrick Ogrodny interview "I guess I had pretty good instinct"

We had discovered some of his productions (Jonesy, The Dogs and the Wild Zeros), and the HEAVY MEDICATION RECORDS label seemed to be an interesting one. 
One day, its owner, Derrick, contacted us, and here's the result of our discussions!

Can you introduce yourself? Tell us about your musical background.

My name is Derrick Ogrodny, and I’m originally from Chicago. I moved to Warsaw, Poland in 1996 and have been living here ever since. That’s also where Heavy Medication is currently based.

I suppose my interest in music began when my parents bought me a cheap, little record player when I was a kid. Even before I developed any taste in music, I just loved watching records spin around on the turntable and hearing sounds coming out of them. The Rolling Stones were the first band I fell in love with in grammar school. Not long after I discovered Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” album which I’d borrowed from my cousin (on an 8-track tape!) Then, around my first or second year of high school, I bought The Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia” and the Dead KennedysIn God We Trust, inc.” which changed everything for me. The music I like today still stems from those bands for the most part, though I also developed a love for country, blues, soul and roots rock which informed my tastes as well.

Where does the label's name come from, and tell us the story behind its logo?

I love coming up with fun, creative names for things, so even before I started the label, I began compiling a list of possible names for it. The very first name that popped into my mind was Heavy Medication, because I had been listening to a 7” by the Action Swingers with that title, and I liked how the name sounded. Over the next few months, I kept adding to that list of potential names (and there were some really great ones on there!), but I would keep going back to Heavy Medication. It resonated with me the most, because it was not only a cool name but also reflected my relationship with music which has always been like medicine for my soul – in good times and bad. So, that really cemented the name of the label once I decided to move forward with it.

When I launched Heavy Med, I really didn’t have that much I could promote it with on social media, other than announcing our first release, since I didn’t have any other releases in the pipeline yet. I have a promotions/marketing background, so I thought it would be smart to commission a logo design from an artist who was already sort of known within the indie rock & roll universe, as a way to signal the arrival of a new label on the garage punk scene. A friend suggested I check out the art of Darren Merinuk (he of Rockin’ Bones comics fame). While his name wasn’t familiar to me at first, as I looked through his portfolio, I realized that I owned a bunch of records he’d done the cover artwork for. I took that as a sign from the cosmos and reached out to Darren to design the logo. I knew I wanted to have some kind of mascot that would personify the spirit of the label and become synonymous with it, because I liked how the label Sympathy for the Record Industry had various cartoonish characters that would appear around their logo on their releases. I also didn’t want to go down any familiar rock & roll iconography paths with it (guitars, leather jackets, etc.), because I didn’t want something I’d get bored with quickly. Darren answered my brief with a killer hand-drawn logo that mixed monster movies with hot rod art, and thus, the Heavy Med beast was born! I’m still very happy with. It looks great on merch too! I’ve even had some bands tell me they were first attracted to the label because of the Merinuk association, so I guess I had pretty good instinct, haha.

Can you tell us about garage and punk rock in Poland?

I’m no expert on the topic, but Poland’s punk scene was much more influenced by British punk and post-punk bands than by US bands, because their records were more readily available here back then. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, people are exposed to a lot more music, and you can hear it in the newer bands.

Garage rock never had much of a history here, and while some Polish bands playing that style of music have appeared over the last 10 years, we still don’t have all that many of them. Moron’s Morons from Warsaw are probably the best known of them internationally, having recorded for labels like Slovenly, No Front Teeth, and now Sweet Time. The lack of garage bands never bothered me when I started the label though, as I wasn’t particularly interested in promoting Polish bands – just bands that I liked in general, regardless of where they’re from.

The label hasn't been around very long. Can you tell us a bit about its history?

Many indie labels are started, because 
(a) some musician can’t find a label to release their band’s music or 
(b) because someone wants to release their friends’ music. 

The latter was the case for me. I had two friends working on records at the time when I was thinking of starting a label (this was around late 2017/early 2018), and both were bands that stuck out for me on the Polish music scene. Their influences were not typical for Polish bands – for Poison Heart it was the high-energy rock & roll of the MC5, Hellacopters and Turbonegro; for Jack Saint, it was the bluesy, swampy sounds of Beasts of Bourbon, Gun Club and Birthday Party. And those became the first two records released by Heavy Med – Poison Heart’s “Heart of Black City” and Jack Saint’s self-titled debut. Then, some friends of Poison Heart reached out to me – Hell Nation Army from Berlin– and they had a killer e.p. they’d just recorded, so I put that out too.

At the record release party for Jack Saint, they had invited another great band from Berlin to open for them – Bella Wreck which are fronted by a crazy Aussie fella named Dave Thomas (NOT the guy from Bored!). Bella Wreck were terrific that night, and their debut album (which was already about 4 years old at that time), knocked me out with its energy, killer songwriting. Birdman guitar riffs, and great hooks. The album had only been released by another label on vinyl, so Heavy Med reissued it on CD with two bonus tracks, because I wanted more people to hear this terrific album. (Attention fans: They’re working on a follow up!)

Around that time, we released a 7” tribute to GG Allin with some bands form the ‘action rock’ universe (including Poison Heart and The Boatsmen), a compilation by French garage monsters Wild Zeros and the debut e.p. “Watch Out! Look Out!” by Stockholm’s excellent Doojiman & the Exploders (RIP Pata a.k.a. Doojiman).

Then in early 2020, not long before Doojiman & the Exploders were to embark on a small tour to promote “Watch Out! Look Out!” (early 2020), COVID messed up everybody’s plans. That would be the only record Heavy Med put out that year, as everything had ground to a halt, Stuck with no future releases to work on and not knowing how long the lockdown would last, I decided to start working on a project I’d planned to kickstart in 2021 – a tribute LP to New Bomb Turks. (Unbeknownst to me, there were two other NBT tributes in the works at the same time! Great minds think alike, I guess.) It would feature some bands already on the label (Poison Heart, Hell Nation Army, Jack Saint and Doojiman) as well as bands I really liked who were able and willing to contribute to the project. (Remember: not all bands could get into studios or even rehearsal spaces during lockdown, so some bands I’d wanted to feature weren’t able to participate). In total, the album featured 17 bands from 9 different countries (including 4 from Poland). It took a long time to get that one released, but when it finally came out in 2021, I was very happy with the results, especially as I had managed that project from start to finish, including overseeing the artwork.

During this weird post-lockdown time when we all tried to get back to normalcy, I released an album by a new Warsaw trio called Wij (pronounced ‘veey’). This was a stylistic departure for the label, as they played heavy, doomy protometal with fantastic female vocals, but I thought they had a unique sound (guitar, drums, and vox but no bass) and had a special chemistry onstage. It was also the first Polish-language release on the label. That one actually managed to get a bunch of radio play in Poland and tons of great reviews, so it sold very well over here.

Since this history is quite long, I’ll just mention one more very important benchmark for the label: the “You Might Be Through With the Past…” 7” by Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders. I’ve been a huge Lazy Cowgirls fan since the mid-80’s, and Pat’s one of my favorite songwriters ever, so it was a real honor to release a 7” of his (the first of 3 we’re released thus far). Working with Pat opened a new chapter in the evolution of Heavy Med, as it put me in touch with many great bands from Los Angeles whom I am working with at the moment. In fact, you could say L.A. is Heavy Med’s second home. We released a 12” by JJ & the Real Jerks, the great debut full-length by Neverland Ranch Davidians, reissued the legendary Dogs’ “Hypersensitive album on vinyl for the first time ever, and – coming later this year – a new 10” by Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs and an album by Tramp for the Lord which will be our first foray into dark country territory.

Let’s not forget that, in the meantime, we also put out records by non-L.A. bands like Montreal’s Jonesy, Glasgow’s Primevals and Portland’s Guerrilla Teens (split 7” with Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders). In the months ahead, we’ll see a best-of compilation of Adelaide’s Meatbeaters (think Cosmic Psychos crossed with Motörhead), the second Davidians album, a Guerrilla Teens 7” and more from Pat Todd.

Are the label's records made in your country?

All my CD’s have been pressed in Poland, but so far only two vinyl releases have been pressed in Poland: The Dogs’ “Hypersensitive” LP and, most recently, Jonesy’s “Doppelganger” 10” e.p. There will be more releases pressed in Poland, as I’ve been pretty happy with the quality that the local plants delivered. I also press a lot of vinyl in Spain but print artwork locally to have more control over the quality.

How do you get in touch with the bands on your label?

Bands come to me in various ways. Some have reached out to me (like Primevals, JJ & the Real Jerks, Hell Nation Army), others were referred to me by bands already on the label (Neverland Ranch Davidians, The Dogs); some blew me away at a live gig and I approached them (Wij, Bella Wreck), and then there are some which I’ve reached out to because I was already a fan of theirs (Adelaide’s Meatbeaters). The first two bands on the label (Poison Heart and Jack Saint) I was already friends with.

Will having a label in 2024 make money?

Not at the level I operate at – 300-400 copies per release in most cases. Some releases might break even or turn a small profit while others do not. Vinyl is expensive to produce, and it takes longer to recoup your investment. CD’s are much cheaper to produce and can be pressed in smaller quantities, so the return on investment is much quicker. You really don’t make much money off a 7”, even if you sell the whole run. 12”ers have a better chance of turning a profit which can be used to put out someone else’s record.

Lately, I’ve been trying to put more money into promoting my releases, because that’s the most difficult part of running a label. People have very short attention spans and are bombarded with music, so getting them to check out one of your bands and ultimately make a purchase is harder than Chinese algebra. Of course, you can hire a PR person to push a release but that cuts into your potential profits. On the other hand, promoting it yourself is a gargantuan task unless you’ve got it down to a semi-automated process and you have a good relationship with journalists, music bloggers and radio people. As with anything, there’s pros and cons to both approaches, so I’m trying to find the right balance.

Fortunately, I have a good day job and do freelance work as well, so I don’t have to worry if a record undersells. I never put more money into the label than I can afford to lose, and I do keep track of sales because it helps me see where I’m making mistakes or where I’m being smart. But there are some costs that are nearly impossible to quantify. For example, I don’t keep track of hours spent working on label matters or hawking my releases at record fairs, nor of the gas and time spent driving back and forth to the post office to send out packages twice a week, packing orders, etc. If I considered all those individual costs, I’d be heartbroken. But I love doing all those things, so that’s my personal investment, the ‘labor of love’ part. To supplement the label’s income, I also sell other indie labels’ records at record fairs and on Discogs.

I treat this as a hobby, and I don’t think I could ever make a living out of it. If I tried, I’d probably grow to hate it, because I’d have a lot more pressure to release records that will make a profit, even if they’d be ones I wasn’t particularly excited about. I’d rather have the freedom to put out records I feel passionate about, to turn people on to music I love. That’s really at the heart of what I do.

Do you also organize concerts for your label’s bands?

No. I’ve never organized a concert in my life, but I HAVE thought about it. The problem is, I have my fingers in a lot of different pies and also have my family whom I like to spend time with. Every day, I might have a 2-3 hour window of time to work on my projects, and I always have to decide where that time will be best invested. Running a label takes a lot of my free time; there’s always something that needs to be done. So, I just don’t have the capacity to take on another time-consuming occupation like booking shows. But that doesn’t mean I WON’T do it at some point if the occasion arises. I like trying different things.

What have been your best sales?

All of Pat Todd’s releases on our label have sold well, and I’m sure his work on other labels also sells well because he has a large, loyal fanbase that gets excited about every new thing he puts out. Our New Bomb Turks tribute “Defiled!” sold incredibly well and that was during COVID when there were no concerts to promote it. The GG Allin tribute 7” sold out even quicker – he has a ton of fans. Wij, as I mentioned earlier, got some radio play in Poland and tons of good reviews, so their record sold well, especially on CD. That one is definitely Heavy Med’s top seller to date.

Can you tell us about your fondest memories of the label?

No memory will top our first Heavy Medication Showcase in the US which took place at the Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas on August 6, 2022. My wife Vanessa and I got married earlier that day, and to take advantage of us being in Vegas, four of the L.A. bands on our roster — Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, The Dogs, Neverland Ranch Davidians, Tramp for the Lord — played a show for us which doubled as our wedding reception. As my bride and I took to the stage for the first time as a newly married couple to introduce one of the bands, she (a tiny little gal) took the microphone and commenced the evening with a hearty “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” That really set the tone for evening which, needless to say, was a night we’ll never forget.

One year later, we had a Heavy Medication Showcase in Los Angeles on August 16 at the Redwood, a great way to celebrate our first anniversary. It was two back-to-back nights of great rock & roll music with the same bands that’d played in Vegas, plus Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, Richard Duguay, the Guerrilla Teens and Tyler Keith. Lots of friends stopped by to see the show, many of them were people I’d only chatted with on social medi, and even an old friend from grammar school who’d moved to LA stopped by to enjoy the bands. It’s events like this that make the label come alive, to the point where it’s a surreal experience for me: from this little thing I started in Warsaw to two incredible nights of stellar rock & roll played by bands I love in the City of the Angels. It makes all the hard work put into Heavy Med worth the effort!

The Neverland Ranch Davidians debut album, a record and band I invested a lot of time and heart into, made it to #23 on Classic Rock’s Top Albums of 2023 reader poll. That ranking becomes all the more special when you see they were up against new records by the Stones, Metallica, Iggy Pop, Foo Fighters, Great Van Fleet and other huge bands.

Are there any funny anecdotes associated with the label?

One I remember fondly is the night Bella Wreck played the Jack Saint release party. The gig took place at a sort of upscale venue with expensive drinks and clientele that were more interested in looking fashionable than ‘rocking out’. When Dave (the crazy Aussie I mentioned earlier) got up onstage, the first words the shocked hipster crowd heard out of his mouth were “My throat’s drier than a nun’s cunt.” Did I mention Poland is an uber-Catholic country?

The other funny story is actually something my wife Vanessa witnessed. During the first night of our LA Showcase at the Redwood, she and Mary Kay of The Dogs were sitting together, manning (womanning?) the merch tables. Mary – who is in her 70’s and still a badass bassist – had just gotten off the stage after playing a ferocious set with The Dogs. Vanessa pointed out a transgender woman at the bar who had on a see-through blouse with duct tape covering her nipples. Mary replied, “Oh please, I wore that in 1977!” 😊

How can we get hold of your records?

You can get our releases via our Bandcamp

or website or our Discogs store

You can also find our stuff for sale at the webshops of Ghost Highway Recordings, Wanda Records, Sioux Records, Beluga Records, Bomp Mailorder, Head Perfume, and Black and Wyatt Records.

Stores can get our stuff wholesale directly from us, via our European distributors Sonic Rendezvous and Sounds of Subterrania, or through our US distributor Select-o-Hits.

How does a band manage to release a record for you?

Have good material, don’t sound like 1000 other bands, and catch me on the right day. There’s other factors involved too, but generally, I have to be really excited about your music, so much so that I want to devote a lot of my time and financial resources to bringing your music to a wider audience. Even if I like your band, just because I’d BUY your record doesn’t mean I want to RELEASE it.

I do listen to everything that gets sent to me, and I appreciate that anyone thinks of little ole Heavy Med when shopping for a label.

Which labels do you consider to be role models?

When I first got into punk rock, SST Records and Alternative Tentacles were my go-to labels. I noticed how many great records I’d bought that they’d released and thought to myself , “There’s someone there with impeccable taste who’s curating all this wonderful music and bringing it to me.” They planted the seed in my head to one day launch my own label, but it took several decades before it happened. Later on, I got into Crypt Records and Sympathy for the Record Industry for the garagier stuff, and Shimmy Disc and Ralph Records for the weirder, more avant-rock stuff. All of those labels had great vision and taste, and you could blind-buy one of their releases and there’d be a 95% chance it’d be terrific.

Which bands would you dream of releasing?

I’m actually currently in discussions with one of my wish-list bands which I can’t talk about now, but that cooperation will not only be another cool benchmark for the label but will also set a course for the type of stuff I’d like to be putting out in the future.

Thank you a lot Derrick