Metal Blade Records has existed since 1982, and without Brian Slagel, the metal scene would be a different one. There was no way to turn down the opportunity to talk to him via Skype, not even being on holidays in the middle of nowhere in France while having a barbecue, this HAD to be done! After a quick unofficial chat about wines, we got the interview started.
Happy birthday and congratulations on 35 years! How are you feeling about it?
Old I guess! But also it’s been fun!
What are your personal highlights? I’m sure it is hard to choose a few!
Yes, there are so many of them it’s almost impossible to do that. But in all honesty, going back to the very first record “Metal Massacre” Compilation album, just the fact I have been able to put something out by myself, as a younger punk kid, I didn’t know anything, but somehow I figured out how to be able to put something together and that was probably the moment I was the most proud of.
And without internet!
Yeah! no internet, no computers, no cell phones, nothing!
I bet it has exceeded your expectations right?
Oh God yes! None of us starting back in 82/83 ever in a million years thought that the label would become so big and I’ll be talking about this thirty five years later for sure.
One of the present we fans are getting is the upcoming release of the book ‘For the Sake of Heaviness: the History of Metal Blade Records‘ on August 29th. How was this experience?
People kept bugging me to do a book for a while but I was like “that’s something you do when you’re old”, but after discussing what we should do for the 35th anniversary, the idea of the book came up and it seemed like we did mostly everything else every five years from compilations, box sets etc. It made sense to do the book. We started on it about two years ago, it was a lot of work but fun to go down on memory lane, there was stuff I forgot about. I’m really happy with the way it came out and I hope everybody else out there will like it as well.
What does metal and being a metalhead mean to you?
Having a passion for the music is really the most important thing. Looking back in the day, when we started, we “eat sleep breath” heavy metal and nothing else. I would say it hasn’t changed a whole lot through the years, obviously other parts of life got in the way, you know, but it’s still being a Metalhead first and foremost I mean.
What is the story with naming your label Metal Blade? What does “blade” refer to? Did you have other options to name your label?
When I started, I never thought it would evolve to be a record label of any form whatsoever. I initially wanted to call it “Skull and Crossbones” but one of the guy from Blondie had already started a label called “Skulls and Crossbones”, so well! Maybe since it is a Metal label, I felt the word Metal should be in the title . I am a ice hockey fan, also swords and medieval stuff, but also blades, metal and blade kinda go together, and we’ve been stuck with that ever since.
Your logo is a skull and crossbones, you got back the original idea?
It’s funny cos the original logo was a bloody axe for a few years, then flying blades and it’s been only for the last maybe 10 years that we have the pirate logo and skull and crossbones. One of our guy in the office came up with that design for a t-shirt, it looked really cool and everybody liked it so it became the logo.
When did you start recruiting your workforce? How did it feel to become a boss?
That was definitely something I wasn’t expecting neither [laughs]. Doing this whole thing was a learning experience from day one. You know, the first three years, it was me doing it by myself in a room behind my mum’s garage, not air conditioning and when it was 160 Degrees Fahrenheit, that was not a fun summer. Then when it started to become something, I had to hire employees, and then I became a boss which is another interesting experience. I don’t know how it all came around but it worked out well, a lot of it was relearning on the job and making mistakes, and learning not to make those mistakes again. Also, we are all in this for the love of the music, we have amazing people working at Metal Blade offices.
Giving Artistic freedom to bands seem obvious, but not all the labels do this. Can you tell me more about this and if there have been surprises along the way?
We sign a band because we like the band and it’s not fair to change what they are doing. Any bands want their artistic freedom, and it’s been our philosophy not to change them into anything else. I am not an artist, I can’t play music, I can’t draw anything, so it’s always been really extremely important to me to let the artist say whatever they got to say. We had a situation that happened with Warner Brothers telling us to take songs off records,and that was not something I would ever do.
What are the top qualities you are looking in a band before signing them?
It is hard to say but the philosophy we have is “when we like something we sign it”. Clearly there are things that help to be successful, for example be known in your local scene, having a social media presence, that’s helpful to have a long career. But we recently signed a couple of bands that had nothing, or played a couple of shows, hardly nothing but we loved the band so much , Visigoth , they are from Salt Lake City, a very cool metal band from a city not known for metal.
One band I’d like to talk about is Igorrr, a French band whose music is definitely something else! How did this happen?
So that’s one when one staff came in and was really into that sort of stuff, like Perturbator, with a dj vibe. I’m not that most familiar with it but Igorrr brought in something really different and unique. I’ve always loved working with bands that have a different thing going on. But I have to admit, when I signed them, I was a little bit apprehensive just because it was so different. But they are nothing but an amazing, so many people in our music scene really like the band, they are very excited about them. They’re definitely a band to watch.
Brilliant, will definitely do! Now, having existed that long, how was the transition to the age of modern technology? Did you encounter any difficulties?
[laughs] Early on, we definitely had problems which I talk about quite a bit in the book. When CDs were becoming the dominant way and vinyls were going away, I was like “no no no vinyls are never gonna die, it will never happen”. One day all the record stores in the U.S. decided to ship back all their vinyls at the same time, and when that happened I ended up owing our distributor a lot of money, with no money coming in. That was the first time I thought it might all be over. I went out and got as many credit cards as I could, to fund their label for a few months until we got back on tracks. Learning from that mistake with a new thing coming in , now we want to embrace it as soon as we can. Times are changing and very quickly now, it’s very interesting that vinyls are still doing well, CDs won’t go away and now there is streaming.
A bit for everyone! The re interest in vinyls, why do you think that is? Are we Metalhead getting old?
[laughs] There is something about getting an art work, having a really cool piece in your hand,and the sound too, there is just nothing that sounds as good especially for this type of music. You can’t duplicate it and for a real music fan that’s really important. I never saw it coming neither, but I am so glad and happy that it’s still here. We’re doing vinyls on pretty much every release now.
I m a big fan fan of Podcast: when did the idea of your podcast start? Do you have plans for more?
The Metal Blade podcasts are a little bit different, it’s not your typical metal podcast. I’m a huge fan of sports, a friend who runs the National Hockey League website (www.nhl.com) is also a Metalhead. There are so many athletes that love metal and also metal people who love sports, we thought we should do a podcast that incorporate both of them. It’s been incredibly fun and it’s been on for three years and ½, once a month. But I wish I had more time to devote to it. We get a lot of hockey players, football players, mma guys, celebrities. Having those two worlds collide at the same time is a whole lot of fun and we’ll keep doing it for as long as we can.
What is the future for Metal Blade? I hope retirement isn’t one of the plans!
No I plan on never retiring [laughs]! I would get bored very quickly , I want to keep my brain working. I have no desires to retire for sure. But as I get older ,you know, I might not be working as hard in 10 years as I am now, but we’ll continue it going and I don’t think it will stop any time soon. We’ve had so many great fans for so long we wanna find more new and interesting bands out there.
One last question, if you could, what would you tell and advice to your younger self when you started Metal Blade Records?
That’s a really good question [laughs]…[pause].I think I would have just said to keep treating yourself well cause it’s a long term thing and certainly I wish I knew more in the early days about the business side of things. I would have told my younger self to go buy some business books and read them ,to buy a couple of psychology books too, which I eventually got a couple of years later than I should have. I would tell myself to do this little bit of work now that will save some headaches down the road.
Brian it’s been a pleasure to ask you those questions, thank you for everything you have done and all of you at Metal Blade Records for keeping the scene going and finding those amazing bands.
And thank you for taking time out of your holidays to do this, now it is time for your well deserved glass of wine [laughs]
Interview via Skype call by Sabrina Selkis, 3rd August 2017