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Lee Brackstone Launches White Rabbit Imprint
John Doran , September 23rd, 2019 13:18

After a cosmic 23 years at Faber & Faber, the publisher of quality music writing starts afresh at Orion

Andrew Weatherall, Irmin Schmidt and Lee Brackstone

Lee Brackstone, formerly of Faber Social, is launching a new imprint for music books called White Rabbit over at Orion.

Starting up fully in April 2020, White Rabbit already has 12 titles lined up for its first year, including newly commissioned work by Carl Cox, Richard Russell, Annie Nightingale, Chris Frantz, Lenny Kaye, Casey Rae and Jehnny Beth of Savages.

The first book to be published by the new imprint is the autobiography Sing Backwards And Weep by Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age. He said: "I am excited, honoured, and quite humbled that Lee has chosen my story to be the first White Rabbit release."

We spoke to Brackstone about the ambitions he holds for his new publishing venture.

Why have you set up your own publishing label?

Lee Brackstone: I worked at Faber for 23 years, which I started to realise was just over half my life. I was also very aware (after my work with The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu) that 23 is the Cosmic Trigger. I had the most brilliant time building a list of exceptional music books at Faber but I thought, I’m 45, this is my chance to go again [and] build a new list from scratch. To have a company show that much faith in you – to give you a blank canvas – is incredibly liberating.

What are you aiming to achieve, what's the White Rabbit philosophy?

LB: White Rabbit is going to publish books exclusively related to and emerging from the music world: memoir, history, contemporary polemics, illustrated books, essays, and beautifully produced limited editions. I want to create a list that feels like a trusted record label in its integrity and vision. The acquisition philosophy will be driven by taste not commercial imperatives. I want to make a list that will respect the intelligence of readers and deliver the most exciting and vital voices and stories to serious music fans who enjoy good literature.

What is the significance of the Jefferson Airplane song to the endeavour?

LB: My biggest fear was not being able to come up with a convincing imprint name. I mean, imagine if the name was shit. Where do you go from there? And there are so many bad options. Especially when you are looking for something that represents a certain aesthetic where music and literature collide. So many of the good names are taken. I was surprised White Rabbit wasn’t. It popped into my head (as a white rabbit should) when I was eating a Chinese takeaway with my girls. I didn’t sit there and agonise over it. I just went with it. I have loved psychedelic culture and [those] ways of looking at the world since I was a teenager and Grace Slick is a righteous force in the late 60s narrative which still reverberates today. The song itself is about following the true path and trusting your imagination. At the beginning of a venture like this it felt like the right kind of magical thinking to invest in the symbol of the white rabbit. Also, I didn’t really like reading books as a kid and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland changed that for me when I was about ten. It was the first book I loved. I think, because I couldn’t really get my head around it. And it was the first time my latent psychedelic vibes were kindled. Feed your head!

What can you tell me about Mark Lanegan's Sing Backwards And Weep?

LB: Continuing the theme of magical thinking, I had wanted Lanegan to write a memoir for about ten years so I could publish it. Two days before I started the new imprint, his manuscript arrived, and I acquired it a few days later. It is a monumental book. I can’t compare it to any other memoir that has emerged from the music world. It’s a story of trauma, suffering, dysfunction, survival – and making great art out of all of that. It is staggeringly brave, honest and terrifying. I’ve no doubt it will become the classic account of the Seattle scene and its aftershocks into the 90s. It’s an heroic act to have committed these stories to the page and it shows Lanegan’s great courage and integrity that he has gone back and revisited these experiences. It’s a book full of horror and degradation, the pain of addiction and the depravity it encourages. I think it will be a helpful book for many people because it shows an artist laid bare, all the vulnerabilities and failings. It makes 90% of other music memoirs look like fakes and I learned from publishing Viv Albertine, that readers respond to the bare truth more than anything else.

What are your main aspirations for the next two years?

LB: I want to publish a book a month by artists and writers who feel integral to the broad church vision of a music imprint that wants to innovate and evangelise about great writing and great music. I want to publish a couple of bestsellers and I want to create an environment where music writing can experiment and take on literary value. I would like to achieve a sense that White Rabbit is publishing music books in a daring and intelligent way, taking risks and spotting the opportunities other publishers may not see. I want White Rabbit to be the first place an artist or a music writer thinks of when they consider writing a book. And I want to deliver an experience for our writers and readers that feels exceptional in every way.

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