Interview with Lord Vic
Interview conducted by Cluedo
Date online: September 17, 2007
He is a man whose involvement in the metal community seems to know no bounds. You have undoubtedly come across one of his many names and many roles - musician, composer, producer, label owner, proprietor, connoisseur and commentator. You may have banged your head as per the request of the Doomsayer or been eviscerated by the Blood of Dionysus. Perhaps those VROLOK CDs you picked up probably came from his online store. You almost certainly have rubbed virtual shoulders with him, making note of his stirring and frequently agitating commentary on metal and its many components. It is with that eloquent candour that the man you may know as Mark Vignati, or the Evicerator of Idiotic Losers, or simply Lord Vic, approaches the following interview.
Hello Vic, hope this finds you well. Thanks for the interview. First up, I have a bit of a personal question. How did growing up in Georgia and going to a private Catholic school as a kid have a bearing on your formation as a metalhead, in both musical and "ideological" (for want of a better word) terms?
Oh, so you want to start with an EASY one! Hahaha. Well, seriously, it's hard to say. My initial temptation is to say 'not so much', which seems odd. I was only nine when I first heard Black Sabbath, by way of Ozzy's live album in 1982. The heavy guitar riffs and wild solos were what drew me to it first - and you know, when you're a kid, you don't think about ideology. I doubt if you even know what it is then. And, at only nine or ten years old, church and catholic school were just the way things were - and you don't really take it seriously either. You know, during the 'holy days', the school would take an hour out to walk down the street to the church to go to mass, then an hour later we're all out on the playground again, throwing rocks at each other, making fun of girls... you know, the same kind of realization that Anton LaVey had with his whole Saturday carousers/Sunday churchgoers.
Still, I knew there was something to this music, since all I ever heard from my classmates was how 'evil' it was and how Ozzy worshipped the devil and if you listen to the music you'd go to hell and all this kind of bullshit. So, I'd listen to it, and when demons never came to get me I realized that people are just full of shit and scared of what they don't understand, and I also came to realize that there was SOMETHING about this music that scared people.
Then, by the time I got to high school, I was well into the underground stuff, aware of bands who really took to the satanic thing like Venom, and then you had bands like Metallica making inroads to popularity with the song "One", but you still had these same kids, now high school age and theoretically able to know better, STILL saying the music was 'evil'. Now, maybe I could buy that for Venom, but "One", evil? That's when I finally determined that most people are just plain fucking stupid about this kind of music, and I figured that guys like Venom are deliberately playing to their fears, just to mock them.
I'm not sure if that's more a Georgia thing or a catholic thing, though. I imagine there might have been a few more metalheads in public schools, but then probably more idiots as well. It really wasn't until college when I shed theism, studied some philosophy, and then realized how stupid, rabidly anti-intellectual, and pious the bulk of the state really is.
In what ways is the growth of the metal scene in the southern states (and particularly your own home state) stunted by Christianity's presence? How great has the effort by Georgian metalheads to break free from this stranglehold?.
Seeing as how metal is generally reactionary, I think the overall piety actually makes the metal bands, the real ones anyway, much more rabid and vocal. In general the 'scene' here is shit because there's so few bands, so far spread out, and basically no places to play - but the bands that DO exist are totally over the top - bands like Legions of Astaroth, Hills of Sefiroth, Hellgoat, Demoncy, Tenebrous. Eyes of Ligeia, too, but in a different way. I guess there was lots more mainstream-type stuff in the early 90s, but when the bottom fell out of the mainstream metal market the bands either broke up or turned to mallcore, grunge, or whatever. But even back then, the good bands were really intense about things.
You have outspoken views on the compatibility of religion and metal. Could you please give an outline of your argument?
Basically, metal can't be Christian. It's as oxymoronic, and just plain moronic, as square circles and married bachelors. Looking at the start, through all the major developments of metal, it has always been about the individual, the power of the self, or horror in the world - both the horrors of actual danger in the world, like war, nuclear annihilation, and pollution or killing ourselves that way, to just dying inside, getting lost in the ratrace, getting controlled by others. It's always about freedom, breaking away, making your OWN way of things and not letting others command you. Making your own values, not having them forced on you from external sources. Hopefully that's enough to make the rest of the answer obvious. I keep a blog where I talk about musical thoughts and ideas and I have several essays up there about this basic incompatibility.
What are your thoughts on the recent trend towards collectivism within metal, as mostly overtly represented by proponents of the so called "NSBM" movement?
I think it's bullshit. It makes me think of the line from the Who song, Won't Get Fooled Again - "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."
From the beginning, the individual was the primary concern of metal. Look at all of Sabbath's early work - a complete rejection of every normative, conformist construct of society, and a desire to just be left alone to determine one's own fate, life, and values. Priest did the same thing, though more through allegory than polemics. It may be a bit hard to see the line connecting, say, "Sinner" and "Breakin' the Law" at first, but ultimately both are about strong individuals, even if so in different ways. Then, of course, came Venom and the satanic ideals of do what thou wilt, raging, blasphemy, and so on. I guess it's fashionable to sneer at LaVey nowadays, but let's face it - Satanism as he crystallized it, and thus the way most bands grasp the satanic imagery for use in metal, is from the hyper-individualism he discusses and advocates. God is the conformist, the society's architect, the herd-manager who likes weak and compliant people. Satan is for the individuals, those who seek not to follow, but not necessarily to lead - only to lead themselves, forge their own path, make their own meaning and values.
Now, on to the part that will piss a lot of people off - to the degree that NSBM advocates a normative, monolithic 'culture', it's just as fucked as Christian 'metal'. I guess some people are just collectivists, and can't conceive of an individual identity. Everyone must be a 'something' - a 'black', a 'jew', an 'aryan', a whatever, as if those things are reified and exist outside of the realm of general description. Think about it - "Forests" don't exist. A 'forest' is simply a conceptual construct, a shorthand way of referring to an area where a lot of trees, other symbiotic plants, and animals who favor that kind of environment live together. Trees die, plants move in, animals evolve - the 'forest' changes. But it's not THE FOREST that changes - it's everything that's in it. "Culture" is the same kind of collective idea. What IS 'culture'? It's not genetic, as even the most ardent racist will say about 'smart blacks', 'decent jews', or 'racetraitors and whiggers'. They complain more about what they see as commonly held attitudes and ideas, without realizing that only PEOPLE hold attitudes and ideas. "Cultural values" are a myth. PEOPLE hold values. Many people with similar environments may have similar values and ideas, and referring to a general localized tendency as a 'culture' is a convenient linguistic shorthand - but a culture has no real existence beyond that. Thus, since 'culture' is nothing but an aggregate of people's values and ideas, and since people's values and ideas constantly change, because the environment (both literal and metaphorical) is always changing, the general trend, the 'culture', is always changing - yet it's these culture warriors who insist on cultural PRESERVATION - that these ideas are important, because they exist on their own, and should be adhered to - and those who don't are either traitors to the cause, if they were once part of 'the culture', or are enemies because they're of a different culture, or at least not the same culture, but share the same living space. The parallels to religious thought are obvious, I think. Even more so when you see the same ham-handed diatribes against those of the wrong race being lifted almost verbatim from pulpits thirty, forty, fifty years ago. Plus all of the other things that NSBM-types call 'degenerate' - strangely, the same kinds of things that religious people still rail about in secular society.
I suppose that starts to beg the next question - "If you think christian themes can't be brought out in metal, and you link NS themes to religious ones, does that mean you think NSBM can't be metal?" Rather than make a long answer to this question even longer, I'll turn a phrase I paraphrase from Roger Ebert and leave the answer as an exercise from the reader. Ebert said it about movies, but I say it about music, and in fact I think it applies to poetry, books, and really any type of creative expression - "A song is not about WHAT it is about as much as it is HOW it is about it."
It seems that RAMPAGE draws upon influences from across the metal spectrum as is evident in your extensive discography. What are the underlying elements of these various, seemingly disparate genres to which you are drawn to?
What underlies all the different kinds of metal Rampage does is me. Back in the day, I noticed how bands could get away with wildly different styles from album to album, or even on the same album. I always liked that, where a whole album didn't just sound the same. And I love all kinds of music, and my first band Early Warning did lots of different kinds of things. That influenced me when I started writing on my own, and then carried over when I finally did break out on my own. All those different things are the things I love about metal and music in general, and so since I always strive to make my music reflect my thoughts and feelings, hopefully that comes out.
Also, as I sort of alluded to earlier, those themes that underlie metal underlie ALL metal. It may be hard to see, but there IS a connection between, say, Black Sabbath and Possessed, which isn't the same as the connection between, say, Judas Priest and Vlad Tepes. Maybe it's not always musical, and maybe it's not always reacting to the same things about what is wrong with the world or society, but there's something there that makes it all metal, and that attitude or vibe is in ALL metal, and it's what makes metal METAL and not just hard rock.
Could you please share with us how you went about recording RAMPAGE's Cummin' Atcha Live?
That one was right after I finished "This End Up" and the "Doom Metal" single. I was about to start working on "Bellum Infinitum", but the guys in Gortician had managed to get a 'live' gig on KCUF Internet radio, where they basically just recorded a rehearsal, gave it to Goat, and let him broadcast it. At the time I was still trying to establish that Rampage wasn't just me, but was a real, full band, so I thought I could fake a live album, get Goat to play it on KCUF, and people would think we were real too. That is, if I REALLY made it sound live. So, I scripted what I would do if it were really a live show - the 'stage' banter, knowing it would be a radio thing and not a live-in-front-of-a-crowd show, the changes I'd make to songs if I were to play them live, the fuck-around bits like cover songs and medleys and crap like that. I got all the drums programmed, experimented a bit on how to make it sound 'live' by micing the guitars instead of running them direct, the right amount of room reverb, all that kind of stuff. Then I just went for it - and for each instrument, I just did ONE take on everything, straight through, with no cuts, splices, or overdubs, and every mistake would stay in. And there are a few, if you really listen. Especially on Wanderlust. Boy did that one suck.
What was the reason behind the choosing of the title Misogyny, Thy Name is Woman and the upcoming RAMPAGE release Misogyny II: Every Woman is a Whore? What can we expect from this new release and the Fucked Raw rehearsals?
The first title came from looking at the songs for the release itself. Remember, for those two years between when I quit Skiptoe and when I started recording Rampage on my own I was scratching out tracks with Paul. We wrote and recorded pretty much all of what would be Misogyny and Bellum and about half each of what would be Monolith and This End Up. So, before I even started recording, I had about 20 or so songs that I could split into a few convenient groups. Bellum, of course, was its own beast. I had some satanic death/thrash stuff, and some doomy/epic material, and those conveniently fit into the 'satanic death metal' album, This End Up, and the 'doom metal' album - which, as you know, would have been called "Doom Metal" if I'd stuck to my original plan.
Then, of course, I had these five songs left over - Kill Ya Tonite, DeadRot, The Wigglesnake Blues, Cocksucker, and Round Mound of Rebound. They don't necessarily fit with each other stylistically, but the common theme was that they were all about bitches who fucked me over, so of course they would have to go together, and it would be probably the most 'grab-bag' thing I've done. And, given that it was all about bitches, I thought of a suitable title by going back to the Shakespeare line - "Frailty, thy name is woman!" Of course, I'm not really a misogynist, but to the degree that I hated these bitches, it was THEIR fault, since it was always them fucking me over, not the other way around. Thus, the title was born.
Misogyny II was Aerik's idea. We've sort of made a cottage industry out of mining the Rampage back catalog for songs that he can re-do - they're quick to get done, usually, and allow Aerik the opportunity to put his spin on songs that he liked so much. Plus it gets my atrocious vocals off the songs, heheheh. Anyway, Aerik has a good head for titles as well, and he liked the idea of playing off of that old Misogyny title for a new title, since he had a handful of songs that he wrote about women who fucked him over. It's going to be more focused, but still pretty different from anything Rampage has done so far. It's fast death metal, basically, but more thrashy than brutal, and still different from the kinds of things I was doing on This End Up.
As for "Fucked Raw", that's just an idea that's now kinda dead. Early in 2006, when we recorded these tracks, we were trying to finally find a real, permanent bassist for Death Beast. Part of our tryouts was targeted to trying to fuck them up, and see how they handle it - you know, giving them a CD with just guitar and drums and say, "write your own shit and have bass lines for these songs ready by tomorrow." And, to fuck with them even more, and make sure they were MY kind of bass player, I'd also lob a lot of Rampage tracks at them - to see not only if they could play thrash bass without being rootnote wonders, but if they could also handle other kinds of metal bass playing. Well, the guy we got was pretty damn good, sadly, and so during 'tryouts' we also rehearsed some Rampage stuff, and recorded it quick and dirty. That's what the base tracks of 'Fucked Raw' are - and then we figured that they sound so good, why not let Aerik just give them a quick once-over vocally and release that. A good way to mine the back catalog and knock out a couple of covers at the same time. It's two parts - the 'fast thrash' part where we do three of the This End Up songs and a 'cover' of Here Comes the War, and then the 'doom' part where we do Displeasures, Wanderlust, Doom Metal, and a Sabbath song. It's fitting, I guess, that the bass player situation is also fucked, since the kid we got ended up quitting, or getting 'forced' to quit, just a few months later. Such is my luck, and why I fucking hate 'live show' pressure.
Recalling the time when you were the sole driving force behind RAMPAGE, what sort of difference is there between working on your own and now with other people in DEATH BEAST and new RAMPAGE? Do you have a preference for working one way or the other?
I'm not sure I was ever the sole driving force behind Rampage. Even when it was just me doing all the recording and singing. See, Rampage started back in 1989 just as a one-afternoon joke that didn't even get called 'Rampage' until later - I'm sure by now you've heard the story before, about how me and my friends Ben and Paul just got together one day, turned on the tape recorder, and jammed stuff out. Well, Paul and I stayed in touch over the years. Sure, I wrote a few songs while I was in those other bands from 1991 through 1996, but at the time I didn't think about it much - it was just me trying to write stuff for the bands I was in. But when I quit the last band in '96, Paul and I started working together, again, by accident, just making up new stuff as we went along. From 1996 through 1998 was when the bulk of stuff on the first four Rampage releases was written, and that was both me and Paul. He had things he liked to do rhythmically, and ideas for how to change-up arrangements to make them more interesting, so those ideas were in some of those songs. And other songs I wrote I wrote with the idea of Paul and I recording them, so that mentality was always behind it. And that carried over even into when I was writing other songs to fill out the "This End Up" and "Monolith" albums. I suppose I was a primary musical director, since I wrote all the riffs and the lyrics, but the song ideas and arrangement stuff was either between both me and Paul or me writing with his ideas in mind.
Now, even though we exchange emails and phone calls every now and then, I haven't talked to Paul in ages, and I've done so much work on my own that that's kinda diminished, but I think that was how I finally totally found my own voice, just at the time I met Aerik and then, separately, when I formed Death Beast. Someone else writes the lyrics for me now, which is good since I don't think I'm all that exceptional as a lyricist, and it's turned around the normal way I write. I used to think of an idea for a song, or a title, and then work out the music largely before I wrote a single lyric, and then wrote the lyrics later. Now, I generally have lyrics first and then have to work FROM those to create a song that sounds and feels like those lyrics read. It's a bit harder and slower work, but I think it's more rewarding, and you can judge the results for yourself.
RAMPAGE appears to be an extremely personal project. Did your time in EARLY WARNING and SKIPTOE have any part to play in the decision to go solo? What were your reasons for deciding to allow others like Dante and Aerik to have a part in the band? What is the songwriting process like, given the geographical distance between you and Aerik?
When I first joined Early Warning, it was my first real band. I was just happy to be IN a band that had real songs, played real shows, all that kind of thing. But quickly I saw that Chris wrote the bulk of the songs, and Frank wrote the rest, and I realized I wanted to do that too - not just play something, but SAY something. And I tried - but, try as I might, they never really got into my ideas. In four years of being in Early Warning, they used exactly ONE of my songs, and only after extensively rewriting it. Just before I quit Chris and I were working on another one, and again Chris took it and just went off into left field with it. It was amazing to see some of the weird ideas he would have, but it just got too far from what I wanted it to be. So, there was some frustration there. The reasons I quit didn't have anything to do with them not using my songs, really, more interpersonal differences, but I confess that one of the silver linings that got me through quitting was the idea that, someday, I'd be able to finally get MY songs out there.
Skiptoe was different. They were already well-established, had a big following, and their own defined style. There wasn't much room to do anything else there, and that was fine with me. I was still learning to play when I was in Early Warning, and all the other guys were much more proficient on their instruments than I was on mine - it was a lot of hard work to keep up with them. But it did me good, I think, because by the time I got to Skiptoe I was very proficient bass-wise, and had more of an idea how to write 'different' bass lines - that is, REAL bass lines, not just guitar shadows. And that was good with them, because all they had up to that point was root-note wonders, so they were happy to have a REAL bassist. So, I was much more appreciated, and they started giving me more free rein and even writing stuff with me in mind. I did try to bring a few ideas to the band for songs, but they didn't really fit. It didn't bother me so much then, though, because I already had much more input musically speaking, and I knew it wasn't that what I was writing was bad - it just wasn't the kind of heavy thrash they were doing. So, I just kept my ideas mainly to myself and knew I'd do them, someday.Then, of course, I quit, and by that time Paul and I were regularly hanging out, jamming, and working on the ideas for what would become the Rampage songs on the discs you can get nowadays. And now Aerik is in the mix. He is a very prolific writer, and he has given me lyrics for a couple dozen songs by now. We get to talking by email or IM and we discuss certain lyrics, talking about ideas for what we want musically, then I scratch it out, send him mp3s, and he approves or disapproves. Or, rather, he approves - he's never turned down anything I have recorded. That's our method of give and take - I use his lyrics to give me an idea of what to do musically, then he takes the music I've written and fits his lyrics into it. Sometimes neither one of us gets what we expect, but it's all to the good since if we don't know what will happen next, the listener won't either, and so things stay interesting for everyone involved.
Take us into the mind of Lord Vic. How is it that you oscillate between writing (what appears to me) as tongue-in-cheek albums like Misogyny series and Cummin' Atcha Live and albums with a more serious tone like the Bellum albums and Crimson Frost?
Really, it's no different than the way I oscillate between writing black metal, doom metal, thrash, or straight-up heavy/rockin' metal. There's nothing in the way metal has been done from the beginning that is 'against' some levity, or outright humor. Hell, look no farther than "Sweet Leaf" - you KNOW the Sabs were laughing their asses off at the idea of doing a love song to marijuana.
Plus, let's not overlook the fact that humor can be a tool used to make a serious point. Just as an off-the-wall nonmusical example, look at Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. He's using humor, quite a bit, and it's funny, but there's a serious thread in there, making critical commentary on politics and society. For a musical example, look at Type O Negative. They're wickedly sarcastic, and pretty damn funny, but there's usually also some serious impetus to the songs, or at least some kind of real point beyond 'let's make some laughs'. I mean, you don't write a 12 minute song called "I know you're fucking someone else" without some real animus behind it. Even if it didn't actually happen to Peter Steele, the idea that a bitch could fuck someone over like that IS quite real, and has happened to more people than I can count. I should know - it's happened to me. More than once.
Too often, I think people just equate humor with a band being a 'joke band', which is actually quite a different phenomenon. If it's just fart jokes or whatever, then it probably is a joke, though I could buy the idea that it might point out the general absurdity of existence. But, more often, humor is just a tool to make a second type of commentary on things - a tone of voice, perhaps. After all, nobody balks at the idea of expressions of anger also being able to transmit other ideas - anger can be a mask for pain, or a reaction to suffering. It just so happens that both Aerik and I use humor now and then. Also, in closing, Aerik and I try to use the humor as an actual tool, not just a crutch, which is somewhat related to the above points, but a bit different when it comes to execution. There may be some sarcastic humor in the song "Every Woman is a Whore", for example, but that doesn't mean we didn't also work hard on the riffs, the arrangements, solos, and lyrics and such to make something that works on its own terms.
Correct me if I am wrong, Black Goat of BARBARIAN WRATH was reluctant to sign RAMPAGE because of your unconventional vocals. While personally I feel that there is a great deal of conviction in your delivery, a few other critics have also pointed out the vocals as a weak point. Would you care to address this?
Sure - I suck as a vocalist. That's really all there is to it. From a technical aspect, I can't really use my diaphragm to get loud, forceful vocals, and while my ear is pretty good it's hard for me to automatically get the voice pitch right without hearing it then correcting. And, even through the technical aspects, I don't think the tone of my voice is right for what I like to do musically. I enjoy singing, but I'm just not good at it, and now I'm happy that I have people, Aerik and Notorius, who can do what I want to hear over the music I write.
DEATH BEAST's debut album is seen as a fist in the face of the influx of weak "thrash" bands over the past couple of decades. What do you find most distasteful about the recent state of "thrash"?
Every subgenre of metal glorifies or focuses on one aspect of what all metal is about. With Death Metal it's the chaos and uncertainty, and horror, surrounding death. With Black Metal it's all the occult, evil, supernatural horror. With Thrash, the focus is on violence. The best thrash albums are, ideally, a sonic beatdown, like getting your ass kicked for 40 minutes.
Nowadays, though, people don't even think music should be ABOUT anything. They think it's all aesthetic stylings. That's how black metal went from 'occult, evil metal' to 'trebly trempicking over gardensprinkler blastbeats, with or without keyboard pads'. And so on. And Thrash went from 'music to KICK YOUR ASS' to 'gallopy fast metal with syncopations.' In the late 80s, thanks to Metallica, they removed violence and turned it into left-wing socialist tripe, or as I call it, "CNN Metal" - the idea that metal shouldn't be about ideas but should be about 'things going on in the world' so that it's 'socially conscious' and 'politically relevant' and 'socially aware'. Total bullshit. That's when every thrash band put up their leather and spikes and started singing about toxic waste, corrupt politicians, greedy televangelists, and just total weak bullshit. And now that's ALL thrash is. Hell, you even have christian pussy-ass poseurs 'thrashing' it up for 'the lord'. How laughable is that!? So, with Death Beast, my effort is to remind everyone what Thrash is all about - fucking VIOLENCE.
With a full lineup in DEATH BEAST, I would assume that you would have more opportunities to play live than you would have as a solo performer in RAMPAGE. Yet, I understand that you have not been able to take full advantage of this prospect. Why have there not been more live DEATH BEAST performances? What are your general thoughts on playing live?
Live shit is way too much more trouble than it's worth. Especially when there's no scene. I've tried with Death Beast to even get some kind of a one-off night gig, but with no places to play, few bands to play with, and not even a full lineup, we just can't do it. The bassist spot is the problem with Death Beast. We have worse luck there than Spinal Tap has with drummers, except the reasons for washing out are different. Mostly, nobody plays bass anymore - they just play a four-string guitar, or they want to be jazz-wimp wankers, not METAL BASSISTS. Seriously, a live Rampage gig would probably happen before a Death Beast gig, the way shit is going now. Not that it bothers me. A band is the songs it writes, not how many shows it plays in front of bored bartenders and bar bitches.
To my knowledge, you currently run two full fledged labels, UNSUNG HEROES RECORDS and ALPHA DRACONIS RECORDS. What is your vision for each individual label?
Despite me being involved with both of them, they're totally different.
Unsung Heroes Records was more of an experiment, or a vanity press that got out of control. The idea came from 1996, when I was first starting out on my own, and the idea was just to use this new 'CD-Burner' technology to bootleg out-of-print classics, which dovetailed with me putting out the demos of my old bands Skiptoe and Early Warning and then Rampage's stuff, when I got around to recording it. Then, the change came when Gortician, who I had been friends with for a while over the 'net, asked if I would release one of their demos. When Jason G. asked me that, it just set a light bulb off in my head - who needs a 'label' when I can do the same shit, on a smaller scale, myself? Then I thought 'well, just how far CAN I take this DIY, with the newest technology'. I imagine there were other CDR labels around back then, too, but I didn't know about them, or wouldn't have cared if I did. I probably would have seen it as more validation of what I was doing.
And so here I am, eleven years later, still doing the same thing on a very slightly larger scale, but with more professionalism in the duplication, packaging, and promotional aspects. Because it's so low-cost, I can afford to take chances, and from day one I've always tried any genre that sounded good to me. I didn't try to make UHR a 'metal-only' label, and though that's most of what I've done, it's never been restrictive. I see it more of a jumping-off point, too, or a demo label - since some bands have gone on to bigger labels. Megiddo, Eyes of Ligeia, Chemikiller, and Agnosis have all had demos on UHR and then done their own releases either on their own banners or on bigger labels - and Autopsy Kitchen, Paragon, and Barbarian Wrath are all great labels. So that's gratifying.
Alpha Draconis is different. Dante from Eyes of Ligeia and I started it specifically to be small but 'real' label - actually signing bands, releasing real CDs, the whole nine yards. We had been talking about it for a while, deciding what kind of music we would focus on if we did a label, and then we heard that Vrolok was looking for a label to release "Resurgence II", since he had just finished that and was looking for a label bigger than the one he had - ironically, Dark Whispers, which was a home-made DIY CDR label like UHR. We snapped up the album, released it, and have been going slowly but steadily ever since. Like regular labels, we focus on one small area of music, look for the best practitioners of that style, and try to give them a good push with a good release, promotion, trading it out to other underground labels and distros, the typical things all smaller metal labels do. It's slower going, since sometimes it's hard to make up the money to get the next release, but it always happens eventually - four years later we have five releases out and are working on our sixth release, the debut EP from Midwynter. That should be out in Summer 2007.
What are the day-to-day activities of a label owner? How are the burdens increased with running two? In what ways is running a label rewarding?
The regular tasks are downloading emails - trades with other labels, communication with the artists, and orders from customers are all done by email. I split it up, read through and make the list of what has to happen that day. Mostly it's mailing stuff - trades to other labels, orders to customers. Then I go to the post office, mail out what goes out, and check the PO box for incoming mail.
As new stuff comes in, or if news happens with any of the bands, I get web updates ready and post them when I'm online. I also spam out news blurbs to mailing lists, message boards, myspace bulletins, and so on.
Demos come in all the time, and we listen to them to decide if there's anything we want to release, or at least good enough to 'follow' a band. Sometimes there's a lot of growth from demo to demo from some bands, and eventually they get to a point where someone will snap them up. Sometimes it's us, sometimes not, but that's how the cookie crumbles. You also have to stay in touch with the bands already on the label to keep news items current, see what the new releases are shaping up to be, and so on. Lots of listening, lots of reading, lots of typing, and lots of packing. It's not all that glamorous.
Since UHR is much less serious than ADR, if things get too busy it can just slide a little bit. Also, since ADR doesn't have too many bands, it's easy to work UHR things in between ADR tasks. Since both work from the same webstore, use the same postal address, and now share a newsletter, some tasks combine which saves time all around. The most rewarding thing is just being more of a contributor to reinforcing the kinds of things in metal which I think deserve support. Obviously, in a band, you support your own vision of what metal should be just by the music you write. With a label, you can do that, but in a different way, by promoting the kinds of bands who have that kind of vision you think would do better to be promoted than ignored. I certainly don't make money on it, and it takes up a LOT of time that could be spent writing music, but I think it is actually a stronger position to affect people, by getting good music and putting it in one spot for people to get. Also, just the business practices that I choose to use hopefully help influence other people to look at DIY rather than just sucking off the big labels and the industry hype machine.
As a man who runs labels as well as masterminds and contributes to several bands, what are your opinions on the current 'downloading culture' prevalent in the Internet metal community? Does it concern you at all?
The thing about free markets is that, like life in biology, it's a constantly changing environment, and the only ones that survive or thrive are those who adapt to the realities of the environment. The underground itself is an adaptation - when labels focus on profits over music, other labels that care about music will spring up to fill that niche. When industry types start forcing prices higher, consumers react by finding a way to pay what they want, not what the corporate cocksuckers want. Downloading wouldn't be a problem, or at least not as much of one, if the industry didn't force a $15.99 price on some piece of shit album that isn't worth three bucks. When you see people preferring en masse to download songs, you either adapt to that reality or you perish. Of course, they still think they can use political muscle, that is - money - to force the market to obey. However, stupid as it is, their other idea - selling mp3 downloads - is what is making them way more money than any of their lawsuits against sharers.
There's two ways to get rid of roaches - one works, one doesn't. One is to stay in the kitchen, with a newspaper, and smack every one you can see. That doesn't work, because no matter how hard you try, even if you use foggers and strips and all that shit, you just can't get them all, and you waste all your time on that. The OTHER thing to do would be to remove their reasons for coming into your house - put your food in airtight containers, keep the floor clean, etc. - and guess which one works? Instead of chasing downloaders, they need to remove the reasons most people download: churning out shitty product, overcharging it, and/or refusing to add enough value to the disc so it's WORTH fifteen bucks and not just three. Or maybe it's only worth, say, ten - and then JUST CHARGE TEN. Deal with reality AS IT IS, not as you wish it would be.
So, after all that, how do I apply these ideas to my labels? First off, I realize that, no matter how much I try, some people will be determined to download the stuff I release no matter what. They're not 'lost' sales, though, since nothing I could do would ever make them buy in the first place. So, write them off. And above all DON'T WORRY ABOUT THEM. In all reality, there are far fewer of those types than people think, and they often don't bother with tiny labels' stuff. And if they do, I'm more flattered than annoyed. The way I figure it, you're nobody until two things happen - people download your shit and people sell your shit on eBay.
Second, I realize that price is a driving factor, so I strive to keep costs low. No matter what, downloading takes time, and it takes more time to organize and store those mp3s, then burn them, and catalog them so you can get to them again. If it's easier to just pay, say, ten bucks for a pretty good album, I think a lot of people, even those more inclined to downloading, will prefer to buy. Maybe for some it's lower, for some they would pay even a bit more, but the point is to find that price point that will help you sell more - the point where someone would prefer to pay rather than download. Value added to the disc itself can help here too - good packaging and layout, maybe extras on the disc like a video track, or a webpage-type biography application, something that wouldn't be there if you just downloaded the audio.
Third, think more like a professional gambler. Don't think of the money spent on a label as an 'investment' to be recouped. Think of it as already gone - and then anything that does come in is just gravy. Don't sink more money into a release than you want to lose. That's more a mental attitude than something you actually do, but having that kind of a mindset helps you deal with things more realistically. This isn't a 401K or the Stock Market - once money is spent it's gone, period. But, then, once it's in it's IN, too - and it goes right into the operating account, or the 'next release' fund.
I understand that your working relationship with a band formerly on UHR, KAOTEON, did not pan out. I also notice that the album is no longer listed at either the UHR site or on ADR's website. Would you care to describe what happened?
Man, you really did your homework. (laughs)
Well, it's like this. Back in 2001 when I was trying to expand UHR more into the black metal arena, I was looking for new bands, and I heard a lot of the bands that people on Black Goat's Barbarian Wrath bulletin board had. ChaosGod was a frequent poster, and one day he posted links to his band Kaoteon's 3-song demo, all online at mp3.com (I think - it was some online mp3 site like that). I heard it, and I heard some talent and potential, but honestly I thought they could benefit from another demo or two of improvement. I emailed him and told him that I'd like to hear his next demo, but then he started messaging and emailing me begging me to release that demo. He was just so insistent, and persistent, that eventually it overrode my initial judgement and I decided to release it.Then I started getting hit with more work as BWV started up, other UHR releases were being worked on, I think it was when I was trying to get Rampage restarted with Aerik. I just had too much going on, but ChaosGod was being more and more insistent that I promote it more, much more than I told him to expect when he agreed to let me release it. I let him pester me into releasing something I didn't really want, and then got tired of him complaining that I wasn't doing more, when I was doing just what I did for everyone else, and then he got mad, and I got mad back and just dropped him and deleted the album from my catalog.
I'm not mad about it anymore, but I did have a lesson to learn from that - ALWAYS trust my first instinct about a release. In retrospect, I see that it really wasn't ready for release - I mean, maybe not even in retrospect because I thought that at first back then - but I let him talk me into releasing it. So, seeing as I was initially against it, my later 'lack of enthusiasm' was understandable - it's hard to really pitch something you're not behind 100%. Kaoteon is still kicking it around, and they seem to be doing fine, though honestly I haven't checked back up on them. I should, because I always wondered if they managed to fulfill that potential I heard on that demo.
I guess there's a second lesson there, too, in that I have to stop juggling so much. So, I've been trying to scale things down - not ending anything, of course, but just really focusing on doing ONLY what really strongly motivates me.
You've recently begun releasing pro-CDRs of new UHR releases, as well as reissuing some of UHR's OOP albums. Will you be giving this treatment to all future UHR releases and will you look towards reissuing more OOP albums?
It's always a progression. When I first started UHR, I would photocopy covers, cut them by hand, burn the discs individually on my PC, and hand-write the album name on it. It was the only way I had to do things - well, the only way that I could afford. However, as improvements came along, and became affordable, I went with them. Disc-face labels, mass image duplicators, copy/cutting services at DIY printshops... every time I changed my modus operandi, it was because it wouldn't increase cost too much and gave the consumer a better product.
As it is, now professional booklet and insert printing and professional CDR duplication and on-disc printing has finally become affordable. The bonus is that it saves my time as well. I'm not spending hours on end walking to Kinkos on my lunch hour, or cutting inserts at night, or burning and labeling discs in my off hours. All future UHR releases will be getting the pro treatment, that's for sure.
As for the back catalog, for the ones that still have demand I'll be getting them duplicated - at least the discs, if not all the inserts and such. I don't expect that to happen too much, though, because my back catalog has done pretty well on its own, so most anyone who would want those releases already has them. I doubt I'd fill them out just to have them done on pro-CDR, because that's money that could be better spent elsewhere, but in principle I'm not opposed to pro-releasing the back catalog. There just has to be the demand for it.
Maybe it's because I was isolated from the American underground metal scene, or maybe I just didn't look hard enough but I could never find any information about DISJECTA MEMBRA, a band which I feel released one of the finest slabs of metal in the 90s. Who were these guys, and are they active in another incarnation?
Sadly, they're one of those bands doomed to be mostly forgotten. They had a really good thing going, but just didn't get any breaks, and also never got much of anything recorded. Here is everything I know of them, just so their story stays out there.
As you know, Early Warning formed in late 1991. Our first gig was February 9, 1992. It was one of those 'local band' nights at the Wreck Room, the club we played - where they just book five or so local bands and have them play. I had a friend, John Selbie, who worked at Georgia Tech's radio station, WREK, and the week before the gig I asked him to have us on the radio to promote it - announce the show, have us do like a two-minute interview, that kind of thing. As we were there we saw another of the DJs pull up with four guys in the car all in black leather, military-type coats, real cool looking. As we were waiting for our radio spot, we got to talking to them and they introduced themselves - Disjecta Membra. Their first gig was that same night as ours, so we wished them well, they did the same, and we said we'd see them there.
February 9 comes, we play our show, and I load out really quick afterward because I want to see the band. I come back in from loading my car just as they start, and they just fucking floored me. They were so damn heavy, and loud, and the monster riffs and Andrew's vocals were just a shock. They kicked ass. Sadly, though, I had to leave quickly, about halfway through their set, thanks to some stupid bitch I was seeing at the time.
A week later I talk to Selbie about the band, asking if they have any more news of them, and he tells me that they were set to play on the 'Live at WREK' feature that month, on February 28. He also said he could get me in, so I could meet the band and hang out in the radio studio with them while they played. And, needless to say, I did. I just hung out with them afterward, went to their practice place to hang out and drink beer later, listened to the tape - which, funnily enough, they weren't happy with - and talked about metal and stuff.
Here are the guys in the band. Andrew Hudson was the rhythm guitarist and vocalist. His vocals were really intense, but without being screamed or deathgrowled. It was freaky, because he was kind of a short guy, slight build, and looked and sounded so normal offstage, just talking to him. You never knew he had THAT voice inside him. Guy Grogan was the other guitarist, the lead guitarist. He was a music major at Georgia State University, specializing in guitar performance, so he was incredibly talented, but he could write some heavy stuff. Brian Riggs was the guy I knew best, because we saw him the most. He was the drummer, and he was really technical. From the Neal Peart school, fill-wise, but he knew how to sit in the pocket and just play, too, which isn't really Neal Peart. Regardless, he was good. Their first bassist was a guy named Greg Harper. He was alright, but they didn't like his playing after a while, so he left, and then just before I lost touch with them they got Scott LaTour to play bass - he was the guy who was the singer/bassist on the first Incubus demo, and he did backing vocals on one song on Sepultura's "Beneath the Remains". I only saw them live with him two times, and never got to talk with him, really, so I don't know much of anything about him except what the guys told me about his band history.
I stayed friends with them for about a year, then we lost touch. I must have seen them live about a dozen times, talked them up every chance I could. I got them to make me a mix tape of live songs from their various gigs, but an ex-girlfriend of mine lost it. And that was that. They stopped playing sometime, but I didn't notice because I was getting too busy with school and my own band.
So, fast-forward to 1996. I'm in Skiptoe, just about to quit, though, and we managed to get a "live at WREK" gig of our own. The engineer is setting up the mics on my bass rig and we get to talking, and he's telling me about how he will record the show onto his own ADAT for the station archives and we can get a cassette dub of it from him in a couple of weeks. I ask if they archive ALL the shows, and he said that he had archives back since he started working at WREK back in 1990. My eyes bug out and I ask if he remembers a band called Disjecta Membra. He not only remembered them, he said he could give me a dub of their set - just remind him after the show and give him two cassettes to dub. A couple of weeks later I have the tapes, and I listen, and it's like a time-travel trip. I see myself and the band back in that tiny little studio, headbanging, ears almost bleeding from the volume. I was in bliss. And, since I had just started UHR, I knew this would be one of the releases I'd put out. I stopped copying it almost as soon as I started, since I never really knew if the guys would be okay with it, but I do give free dubs out sometimes, on request. I wonder if anyone knows what they're up to now. I idly search now and again when I think about it, but nobody knows anything about them. I'm so damn lucky I got that tape.
DAUDER SOFA is a band I have heard recently being associated with your name. Would you care to shed some light on what this project is all about, and what your goals for it are?
It's Aerik's baby, mainly. He likes doing all different kinds of things musically, but where I'm more inclined to mostly roll it into one project, he just has different projects, even if they involve the same people. He wanted to do something that's very relaxed, mellow, clean tones, musical... not pop, but definitely not metal. He said maybe like early Katatonia, when he first told me about it, then I asked about Dire Straits, and he said that was okay too.
I may have written hard-rock type of metal songs before, but I've never really done much of anything soft, so this will be an interesting challenge for me. I got a Stratocaster a while ago, sort of a childhood dream of mine since it was Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits that made me want to pick up a guitar in the first place. This will get a lot of use here, I think. Strats just sound so fantastic clean - plucky, almost like a bell, and with just a bit of chorus it sounds awesome. I did something like this on the intro to the "Crimson Frost" EP, so that's about the sound palate I want to work with. Composing songs like that is something I've never done, though, so we'll see what happens.
Thanks for your time Vic. Is there anything more you would like to say?
There's so much I could say, but I've just about talked your ear off as it is. Thank you, first for the interview itself and second for getting down into lots of different subjects. Most interviews I do are just about one or two things, and those are great, but maybe it's because I'm on the inside, I see everything I do as connected to everything else in some way. ADR and Rampage do affect Death Beast, even if you never hear how.
And Destroy Yourself for Satan.
Copyright © 1999-2018, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.