Interview with James Beach author of RUSTED METAL and founder of NorthWest Metal Worx
Tell us bit about NW Metalworx, who you are and what you do!
NW Metalworx Music formed out the Rusted Metal book idea and then expanded to a retro NW-only record label and also some concert events. I had the idea for the book in my head for a while and asked my longtime Tacoma friend Brian Naron to help me write it. I had been a writer, editor and publisher in a different field, horror, since 2003 and wanted to branch out into the music field more. I had done a couple of special issues on “Horror and Rock”, and written some articles for magazines, etc. Doing a whole book seemed like a logical next step. I’m a longtime NW guy, was born in Portland with family in Seattle, and I saw a number of shows and followed many local bands over the years. I met Brian initially in 1990 at a Portland record show and would stay friends over the years. We shared a lot of similar musical tastes and Brian turned me on to a lot of local bands over the years. He was and is a big archivist and collected a lot of music related stuff over the years. I have long been a collector as well and saved a lot of things.
We started working on the Rusted Metal book in the late summer of 2014. At first it was just Brian and I and then a friend named Jim Sutton joined us in helping write and research for the book and a while later, a longtime friend of Brian’s, Seattle archivist James Tolin, came on board too. After doing some initial interviews, we had some musician friends and new acquaintances ask about any local labels that might want to reissue and/or release some of their music. Being lifelong music collectors, Brian and I had always dreamed about how cool it would be to own a record label. So we decided to launch one in connection to the Rusted Metal book. An extension to help promote some of the cool and often overlooked hard rock and heavy metal bands from our states. Jim Sutton came on board as a label partner as well, helped us get it off the ground and going and eventually stepped down at the end of 2019. As time went on, we ended up resurrecting the old Metalfests that Brett Miller and Jeff Gilbert held (with Brett’s blessing and invitation there. He was the one who came up with the name and hosted the first two fests in 1981 and 1982 at Lake Hills and said he actually trademarked it a good while back.).
Why do you feel the Pacific Northwest had such a strong Hard Rock and Heavy Metal scene, as compared to say for example… Arizona or Tennessee or Maine??
I think we were basically left to our own up here for the most part. Portland, Washington and Vancouver BC are all on the I-5 corridor, and it made it easier for van/bus travel to our cities, but often times we got skipped by bigger bands that would just do California, etc. There were a couple of major label hubs in Seattle in the 70s, and some industry attention, but those were gone by 1980, and not a lot of major label reps or music industry people made the trek up during the 1980s. At least in the first half of it. But there were a lot of clubs and bars and halls to play over the years and bands could develop their own sound and style and get some experience. There was also the influence of other music scenes – like the early hard rock and proto metal bands of the 70s, and then the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, European metal, California Thrash, etc. of the 80s – but a lot of bands quickly tried to do their own thing and write original music instead of just doing covers. There was a lot of originality actually, and also a lot of blending of genres. Even before the thrash/speed metal “Crossover” stuff was happening by the mid-1980s, you had bands like TKO, Overlord, Shadow, The Trids, Ten Minute Warning, etc. that had a punky singer with a hard rock/metal sound and pre-dated the early “Grunge” bands like Green River, Soundgarden, etc. People would like Kiss and Cheap Trick and the Ramones and Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath and Angel City and whatever and a lot of that went into the melting pots here I think.
The Indie label boom of the 1980s. and the ability of bands to be able to afford cheaper studio time in off-hours and cheaper pressing costs also helped a lot. It the 1970s you needed a major label to sign you and then you could tour and sell a lot of records, etc. By the 1980s, that changed a lot. Pressing up records or putting out demo tapes got you reviewed in various metal mags around the world and got attention. Even if there weren’t much of any record labels in the NW (there were a couple by 1984-1985 though with David Portnow and Jeff Gilbert launching theirs), you could possibly get a deal with an indie label and get some product out there to tour a bit on. You might even get on MTV and win the basement tapes contest, etc. like longtime Bellevue hard rockers Rail did (and the Seattle New Wave band The Allies did too). There were local shows you could you could get on as well, and of course The Rocket magazine, which was huge on through the 80s and 90s and promoted tons of local bands and shows. And that is a lot of the reason a number of bands still have some recognition and popularity outside of the NW.
The model of Queensryche was hugely influential too. With them getting a positive review in Kerrang! in early 1983, getting a major label deal by that summer, and then getting out on big tours, they showed you could record great original music, get it out there, get attention and signed. Without ever having played the club and bar circuit, or a bunch of bigger shows (they did play some as The Mob with Geoff Tate even fronting for a handful, but all covers and all local roller rinks and small clubs). A number of musicians and bands we talked to used that model/influence like Heir Apparent, Metal Church, Fifth Angel, Sanctuary, etc. to good success.
In this day and age of digital domination, how important is it to still have that physical media available for purchase?
I think physical media is still important. We still buy books, LPs and CDs ourselves and many other people do too. When I was a horror book and magazine publisher, even back then in the late 2000’s, people were predicting ebooks and magazines were the future and print books and mags are dead. That never quite happened. Print magazines took a dive mostly, but print books did not. I think many people like to have stuff on their shelves, but often times also embrace the digital media too. They keep the physical stuff on the shelves but like to have the Ipod on the road jogging or driving in the car, etc. I think it’s good to have both options in many cases. We just do Vinyl LPs and CDs of our releases for NW Metalworx (2 we just did vinyl actually as they had already had CD reissues not long before). We don’t do digital releases. We initially just were going to do vinyl only, but had a lot of people want CDs too as there had never been any releases on that format, so we decided to do some. We do 500 hand-numbered LPs and usually two different colors, and we do 300 CDs. So pretty limited edition type of thing.
For the Rusted Metal book we did do ebooks as well as paperbacks and a very limited HC run of 50 numbered, signed and slipcased copies. We felt the ebook was a good idea due to how big and heavy the book is. That way people who just wanted to read it in other countries, etc. but didn’t want to pay the higher cost for the book and shipping, could have an affordable option there.
RUSTED METAL has a pretty long history in the making. How long did it take from inception to coming off the printing press?
The book took 6 1/2 years to do. About 5 years to research, compile and write it and then a year and a half to edit it. Some of it had to do with the logistics of travelling to do the various interviews with people, and some just with how long it took to dig up information and corroborate it, and so on. During this time we worked on the book, we also released 7 records and did 2 NW Metalfests (2018 and 2019) in Seattle. We kept momentum and interest going in the book all along the way at our record release parties, various record collector’s shows, etc.
Looking back at it, I’m very grateful for the support and patience we had all along the way from all the musicians, fans, etc. I’m also very grateful for the internet and social media. If it wasn’t for that, and the ability to get ahold of people so much easier now, I think the book would have taken twice as long to complete and get out there.
At any point did you and the team say, this is just getting TOO big to publish?
Ha ha! We never said it was too big to publish, just too big in general. The bigger it got the more work it was to try and make sure corrections were made, people were followed up with, images were organized and so on. I did the main bulk of the writing and compiling and editing of the book as the “lead” and the other guys wrote parts, helped conduct interviews, researched information, contacted people, contributed a bunch of materials, gave me spare beds and couches to crash on in their houses, shared rides, and kept the cheering section going. I always knew like any of the other books and magazine issues I worked on, or the record albums, that as long as you keep working on it and moving forward on a project, eventually it will be done. And eventually it was.
Will there be an on-line version one day?
Do you mean like a gallery or collection of stuff from the book? Brian and I do plan to develop a website that includes gallery images from the book, some interviews from it, etc. We always planned that we would publish the book first and then after a while we would eventually share content more online. I always believe in the “why buy the cow if you get the milk for free” mentality. I think if people want something they will pay for it. We did share a couple of excerpts from interviews in the book in a couple of magazines as advance promotion, and one had been previously published in a horror magazine (my Thor interview), but other than that we kept it exclusive to the book. So yeah we do plan to share more content down the line, but we probably won’t ever put all of it out there. We’d like to keep selling copies of the book as long as we can honestly.
How has initial reception to the book been?
It’s done very well and we are very happy with the response. We’ve gotten a lot of favorable reviews for the book and it’s sold well so far and keeps selling. We have some distribution for it through Ingram Book Group and that as helped get it into some chains and stores outside of the US. A number of record stores and book stores have carried it directly from us too.
This really is an important historical document in many senses. Have you approached university libraries to have a copy?
I’ve been working on connecting up with some of the local University bookstores like U of Washington, Portland State, etc. and there is interest. It might be a bit more of a “niche” type thing then they would use for courses probably, but who knows.
What is next on the horizon for NWMW?
We have another book that Brian Naron and I have been working on with a friend named Brian Heaton. It is a biography on Queensryche and we are about 90,000 words along on it and wrapping up the initial writing on it now. We made the official announcement on it earlier this year and all goes well it should be done and out this fall. It is a definitive bio on the band’s history and includes interviews with all of the original band members and some later members, managers and booking agents, producers, crew, family and friends, peers and more. It is a chapter by chapter look at their formative years, their climb to success and subsequent slide, on to where they are now. Nobody has done a book on this multi-platinum band surprisingly so we said, “Why not us?”
We also have two more album projects in the works for this year too. The first is a reissue of Heir Apparent’s second album, One Small Voice (our first NW Metalworx release was a reissue of their first album, Graceful Inheritance, to great success in early 2016). This will be a slightly different version of what was originally released by Metal Blade/Capitol in 1989 with a couple of different songs, liner notes, etc. The guitarist and main songwriter and leader of the group, Terry Gorle, was ousted from the band and the other guys buried his guitar in the mix, dumped a couple of his songs and replaced with ones from the singer’s Portland band, and even cut him out of the picture and some of his songwriting credits. He sued and got the name of the band and rights back, but the record died on the vine pretty much once the band didn’t tour much, etc. behind it. Terry remixed the album about a decade or so ago, bringing the guitar back up in the mix and restoring it to what was originally envisioned and it sounds great. So we’re calling this the “Remixed, Remastered and Restored” version.
Our second release is for another great Seattle band, Slaughterhaus 5. They were a bit of a crossover type band fusing a bit of punk and goth with metal and hard rock and were very cool. They included members of War Babies, Sleep Capsule, Rebel, Ice, Palooka, Gunn and other local bands. Slaughterhaus 5 had a great look, image and sound, but only had a self-release single and compilation track back in the 80s. They reformed to play our 2019 NW Metalfest and were awesome. They are a bit known in the metal collector’s circles for the single and comp track, but I think a lot of people will be new to the band and really like them. This will be their first full-length album release and will include their 1985 7″ single, their 4-song 1987 cassette EP/demo tape and a couple of live tracks.
From the NW Metalworx website….
NW METALWORX MUSIC is a company formed by three northwest fans of the music scene (James R. Beach, Brian Naron and J.D. Sutton) who grew up there. We are reissuing and issuing LPs of great NW Heavy Metal and Hard Rock bands from the 70s – 90s along with a comprehensive book on the history of the scene. Sign up for our email newsletter to keep up on our release parties, concert events and special sales!