Industry Profile - Spitfire Records Dennis Clapp
Label VP updates about the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Label
Interview by Keith McDonald
Spitfire Records arose from the ashes of another hard rock/heavy
metal label back in late 1998. Starting with established artists like
Dio, Deep Purple and Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, the label quickly
made a name for themselves in the heavy metal community. Spitfire has
also quickly built themselves a very respectable catalog that has proven
to be so important in a label's growth and survival. Spitfire is not
just another label looking to make a quick buck on the established
artists that the major labels have long given up on. They have been
signing a handful of "newer" artists like Dog Fashion Disco,
Pissing Razors and others that are beginning to make some noise around
the globe. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the label's VP
Dennis Clapp who filled me in on what's been going on. You can check out
their website at www.spitfirerecords.com.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started playing guitar at 15 or so, wanted to be Joe Perry or Jimmy
Page but played with friends rather than musicians so the rock star
career did not go far. At 19, I started work in the warehouse for an
independent distributor/label in Queens where I grew up named
Important/Relativity (Relativity's sub imprints were Combat, In Effect
and a few others I believe), where I would pick and pack orders for
record stores throughout the east coast for $5 an hour. From there I was
promoted into the sales dept of RED Distribution (Important had changed
names due to a SONY buy out) and a few years later moved over to the
label to work in the production dept.
How did Spitfire Records come about?
After leaving Relativity after almost six years I went to work for an
independent "hard rock/metal" label named Mayhem/Fierce. Was
at Mayhem for three years or so working in retail, sales, production and
whatever else that was thrown my way. After three years at Mayhem I
decided to leave along with Mayhem's general manager, Paul Bibeau, who I
had worked with at Relativity as well. We started Spitfire in October of
'98 in Paul's spare bedroom. Two people, two phones and lots of madness.
What happened with Mayhem? I see you have several of their artists
on your roster.
I ran into Mark Puma, who owns Mayhem, a few months ago and he was in
the process of getting Mayhem back off the ground. I wish him luck, as
far as indie labels go, we are all in this together.
Yes, some of the Mayhem artists did end up on Spitfire ( DIO, Cradle
of Filth, UNION, Enuff Z'Nuff and almost Los Gusanos), mainly due to
relationships Paul and myself kept after leaving Mayhem. We had started
signing artists for Spitfire such as Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society
and Deep Purple and when some of the Mayhem artists severed their
relationship they called us.
Who handles your distribution? Do you have difficulty getting your
records into major retailers or does having established artists that
already have a section in most record stores make it that much easier?
We've got a handful of distributors around the globe actually; in
this day and age signing acts for just one territory does not make
economical sense in most cases.
It is easier to get a return phone call about an established artist but
that does not make it easier to get the product stocked. This is a
subject that I could go on about for hours so I leave it at that.
How important are the "mom&pop" stores?
For Hard Rock and Metal they are very, very important, unfortunately
they are becoming something of the past due to the majors underselling
etc. But real music fans usually buy from Mom & Pop's because of the
atmosphere and the knowledge of the storeowners. I was in a major store
about a year ago looking for ZZ Top's "Tres Hombres" and could
not find it, I asked the clerk sitting behind the counter on the phone
if they had it in stock and he said "did you look under
Z"?....I went to Slipped Disc and got a copy.
I see you have an extensive catalog (Master Series). How did you
get it and how important is it to the label's growth?
The Master Series is very important for the labels credibility, I
think, with reissues of artists like Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, Grim
Reaper, Helloween, Masters of Reality, Lita Ford etc. As for how did we
obtained the titles, we licensed them from the majors who did not have
time to deal with the titles. The majors do not want to be bothered with
titles that sell less than a hundred thousand.
Spitfire has built itself on established artists so far. Was that
the idea and who has been your most successful artist to date?
The idea at the beginning was to sign and work with artists that
would be filed under Hard Rock/Heavy Metal", anything from
Firehouse and Enuff Z'Nuff to Cradle of Filth and Testament, and
anything in between.
We've been successful with several of the "established"
artist so far, Alice Cooper, DIO, Sebastian Bach, Ted Nugent, Zakk
Wylde's Black Label Society just to name a few.
How have your new artists done so far? How do you find these
Yeah, we've signed a handful of developmental artists to date. Dog
Fashion Disco, Sixty Watt Shaman, Pissing Razors, Karma To Burn and a
few others. We find them through traditional channels (managers,
lawyers, demo submissions) as well as word of mouth through contacts at
retail stores, magazines and radio stations.
How strong is the market these days for the 80's hard rock and
heavy metal artists that you sign?
Definitely not as strong as it was 15 years ago, but there are still
lots of fans of the genre.
Why do you think there are so few labels like Spitfire that are
willing to take a chance on artists like LA Guns, Testament and Dio?
I do not think they understand how to work with some of the artists
that have been at it a long time, it is very different to work with
Ronnie James Dio than some new jack metal wanna be band. Someone like
Ronnie James Dio or Zakk Wylde have been there done that or however you
want to put it, so they know how things are done, and know when they're
being bull shitted.
Is it easier for Spitfire to get their bands to tour because of
their already built-in fanbase or do you still have to provide tour
For most of our bands we do need to provide tour support, but not
all, and it's not just the more established ones that are self
sufficient, some of the newer bands can manage themselves but not many.
What advise do you have for an unsigned artist?
Think of your band as a label and anything and everything you can for
yourself, you will learn from this and it will save you time and money
in the future. Also, there is a book called "All you need to know
about the music business" by Donald Passman, which is great for
artists that know nothing or feel they could learn more, and everyone
can always learn more...or, don't be surprised by anything you ever see,
roll with the punches and don't change your direction because MTV did.
What's the future for Spitfire Records?
We're gonna forget about the Rock and start signing Rap artists, or
do they like to be called R&B nowadays? But seriously, we're gonna
keep at it as long as we can, as long as Ted Nugent or Dog Fashion Disco
or Zakk Wylde or Overkill wants to record we're very happy to be part of