Industry Profile
Elitist Records Founder Lee Barrett

A New Metal Label On The Rise

Interviewed by Keith McDonald

It seems the more I look around the more metal-specific labels I see popping up. But Elitist Records seems to be doing something a little differently. Lee Barrett, formerly of Candlelight Records, has started a label that is searching for metal acts that something special. Having inked a deal with Earache Records to manufacture, distribute and promote their artists, Elitist Records is ready to conquer the metal world. I had the opportunity to speak with Lee who filled me in on what's been going on.


How did you get started in the music business?

I started a mail order, selling releases from then fledgling labels like Relapse, Deathlike Silence, Seraphic Decay, etc. I was also buying some stock from Plastic Head distribution who were based close to where I was living. This led to a job at Plastic Head distribution. I was dealing with various labels on a daily basis, and I thought I'd get my own releases together just for the sheer hell of it. The first two bands I signed were Emperor and Enslaved, both on short deals for 12" EPs and a split CD. The sales were slow at first, but about six months after the release the press got hold of the Black Metal Terrorists thing (maybe my fault to a certain degree. I helped Kerrang pretty much exclusively with their "Burning Church" cover story) and it started going mental. I ended up leaving Plastic Head to work full time on the label. I've also played in various bands over the years, including Extreme Noise Terror, Disgust and Mussolini Headkick.


How did Elitist Records start? What happened with Candlelight Records?

Elitist was started after discussions with Digby from Earache. He appreciated that I had a good ear for new talent, and we struck a deal. Basically, I get together at least six releases per year to the point of manufacture, and Earache takes over from there. This is ideal for me, as I work full time as a computer consultant and now, without the hassle of the business side of things, I can get on with finding bands and dealing with my side in my spare time.

The leaving of Candlelight was entirely my own fault. I wasn't committed to the label, and in hindsight it's obvious that I wasn't in a fit mental state to continue. Most days I couldn't even get out of bed, and when I did the first thing I did was grab a beer to try and get rid of the previous night's hangover... I think the way I ended up leaving could have been handled a lot better and the new owners got a great deal, but to their credit they've so far kept their side of the deal without problem. My only problem is the amount of useless bands they've decided to sign under the Candlelight banner. It's either has-beens, never weres or Emperor's friends and relatives. Still, it's not my business anymore. With Elitist I hope to redress the balance a little bit, and hopefully prove I haven't lost my touch.


How has your deal with Earache helped you?

I wouldn't be doing this new label without them. By using Earache's established channels for distribution, marketing and promotion, Elitist is almost the finished article. The tricky part of trying to get the label established and financed is virtually already over.


How strong is Earache's presence in the metal community?

It's still very strong, and I think they've done it in a good way. Rather than signing everything that moves like Century Media or Nuclear Blast, they've taken the route of only choosing a select number of bands and working thoroughly with each one. Some labels throw releases out, promote them for a couple of weeks and then you never hear from the band again until the next album. Earache spend more time with each act, simply because they haven't got 100's of releases to promote each month. Earache have never taken the route of signing re-formed has-beens either, always gunning for new talent and trying to develop it. That's commendable in my book.


What types of bands will you sign? How many would you like to sign a year? How do you find bands these days?

Well, I'll hopefully be signing 6-8 bands in the first year, which will slow down after a time. I'll essentially sign bands that I like. It's as easy as that really. I have to say that I favor the esoteric and avant-garde side of metal, and I'm always won over by bands attempting something original, whether they pull it off or not. I'm also a big fan of the majestic and overblown side of metal. The roots definitely have to be in metal, mind. I wouldn't be interested in any dull old Meat style synth noodlings.

I find bands in a number of ways, but the Internet has certainly helped. I'm always searching out new MP3s and checking out clips on band web sites.


What do you look for in an artist?

I think I probably answered most of this above, but intelligence, originality and potential are the things I most look out for. There are some bands that I feel may not make the greatest debut album, but will be amazing by the time they make their second. Unfortunately, in this age of more labels than bands, you have to work fast and try and get 'em signed when they're still really embryonic.


I see you have signed well-known bands like Opeth and Emperor. How did you accomplish that?

By following my gut instinct I guess. Sometimes you just hear a band and know instantly that they are the "one". Sometimes not everyone agrees, but I'd never sign a band I didn't truly believe was great.


Tell me about your first signing Ephel Duath.

They're a fantastic innovative band from Italy. I've heard them described in a number of ways including "the Dillinger Escape Plan of black metal" and "black metal for the computer generation". Well to me they are all this and more. They effortlessly fuse ultra-complex rhythms with majestic and stylish black metal. It's innovative and exciting stuff and I expect them to shake the scene up a great deal.


How hard is it to run your own label? What's the difference between a major label and an indie?

For Elitist it's not difficult at all, as all the boring stuff will be left to Earache. Candlelight was different, but I guess I made it look more difficult than I should have done simply because I wasn't interested in the business side of things.

I guess the main differences between a major and an indie are down to attitude. Major labels (and big indies) are out to make money and to pay wages each month. The music is almost secondary. They may as well be selling tins of beans.

Majors have a habit of swiping the big names from any scene and wringing them dry. They either get a band to change what it was that made them big in the first place (see Carcass) or they get the wrong end of the stick and totally sign the wrong bands (Onslaught, Toranaga and Slammer are three UK examples). Cradle Of Filth have signed to Sony, but I think it's fair to say that the band have peaked in terms of popularity, and have probably made a sound move in grabbing the last paycheck while they still can. If they get even bigger than they are now I'll take it back, but I can't see it happening.


How important is it for your bands to tour? How hard is radio play for metal bands?

It's very important. Playing live ensures a raised profile and a potential new audience of thousands. I'd advise every Elitist band to tour, and I never really understood this importance when I was running Candlelight.

Radio has always been poor for real metal, especially here in the UK where there's literally no outlet for metal at all. Luckily the Internet has changed this to a degree. Now all the information you need to know is only a click away, and stations like Brave Radio are giving a potential worldwide audience a chance to hear new material.


What advise do you have for an unsigned band?

Listen to what's in your hearts and not what's on the radio. Why copy someone else? They've already done it!


What's the future for Elitist Records?

I'd just like to have a label respected for it's output. I'd like people to be able to buy an Elitist CD in confidence, knowing it will be of the highest possible quality in terms of recording, musicianship and innovation.

2001 Metal Rules!!

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Saturday, November 17, 2001