Heart of Steel: Interviews


Industry Profile – Distort Entertainment’s Mitch Joel: New Canadian Label Signing Heavy Bands

Interview by Keith McDonald

Distort Entertainment was formed by Greg Below and Mitch Joel, both veterans of the hard music scene in Canada. Joel is the former publisher of three hard music magazines in Canada. Below is known for Distort Productions, bringing live acts like Incubus, Slipknot, System of A Down and Fear Factory to Canada for the first time. The label will be releasing the new album from the Step Kings and will follow with some other hard-hitting acts soon afterwards. Though some people tend to forget about our neighbors to the north and their musical interests, Canada has quite a hard rock and metal scene. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mitch who filled me in on what’s been going on. You can check out their website at www.TeamDistort.com.


How did you get started in the music business?

Believe it or not, I started out as a music writer. The first person I ever interviewed was in 1989 and it was Tommy Lee, who was in town promoting Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood. I'd love to say it's been all uphill from there for the past decade plus, but Tommy is always hard to top. I've been involved with lots of publications over the years and have worked in media relations and marketing in many different industries. I'm just stoked that I have the opportunity to bring some cool new bands to the new generation of hard music lovers. Right now, I'm still involved in writing as the Online Editor for Blistering.com - The Online Home of Revolver Magazine, along with some work at the local weekly paper, Hour, and some other cool pubs. I still have a regular nine-to-five gig as well, which I really like.


How did Distort Entertainment start?

A mutual friend, and music journalist (do you see a theme here?) introduced me to my partner, Greg Below, while I was in Toronto for a conference. I figured anybody who is taller than me and has an appreciation for Entombed has got to be all good. It's kind of funny that the day I got laid off from my last day job, I got an email from Greg asking me if I'd be into starting a label. I hoped in my car the next day and drove down the 401 from Montreal to Toronto and spent a handful of days with Greg, who at the time was in the studio with the Step Kings recording 3 The Hard Way. We just had this raw energy together and knew we could move mountains.


How did the partnership with EMI come about?

I guess it pays to have several years of this business under your belt. Greg is a well-known concert promoter in the Ontario area (Distort Productions - we liked the name!) and he is also a very well respected producer and engineer. Greg's full-time gig is at EMI Music Publishing Canada (which is a totally separate company from EMI Music Canada) where he is the manager of their in-house studio. The President there, Michael McCarty, and the VP, Barbara Sedun, helped get us in the door at EMI Music Canada. We had one meeting with the people there and we saw a lot of familiar faces. It was pretty freaky how simple it was for us to score the partnership. They knew we had our ears on the street and they liked the idea of Greg and I working together. It was very natural.


How does your alliance with EMI help your standing in the music industry?

That's a great question. Greg and I spent many weeks speaking to all kinds of labels that were interested in distributing us. It came down to brass tax: rock n' roll is all about The Beatles. The Beatles were on EMI. We know that EMI has a long-standing tradition of respecting artists and the people they work with. I think the fact that a band can sign with us and know that their discs are being handled by the team at EMI Music Canada gives them access to a brand name and certain bragging rights that will hopefully spill-over into better offers in other territories. EMI Music Canada is well respected and Distort Entertainment really wanted to be associated with that kind of quality in a company.


Who is currently on your roster?

Our first signing is New Jersey's Step Kings who will be releasing their third disc, 3 The Hard Way, through Distort/EMI on June 11th. Greg also produced that disc and those guys, flat out, kick ass. We also have three other deals with Ontario-based bands that are in the hands of the lawyers. I'll keep you posted!


What genres of music will you sign?

No genre. We're looking for heavy. What's next in heavy music? You'll know by checking out the music that's coming down the pipe from Distort. It's all about the music and our company motto is "Listen Harder." (which I just love!)


Being a new label, how hard is it to get CDs into stores?

From what we've seen, it's not that hard when you have someone like EMI Music Canada pushing for you. The hard part is figuring out how many copies to print! Also, as a new label, Greg and I have made a conscience decision to just get the disc into as many people's hands as possible, so we'll be selling it for cheap: create the buzz and let it roll from there.


Will you sign bands for Canada only or will you do worldwide releases?

Right now, we're letting the albums be distributed in Canada. For worldwide releases, we're hoping the bands we sign can get deals that will give us Canada and the rest for whomever else. Would I love to release albums in the States, Europe, Japan, etc.? Sure! So, we're going to be practical and realistic for the time being and keep our fingers crossed for worldwide domination. It's all part of "The Plan."


How has radio been so far? Any problems getting spins?

Radio is always a dirty trick, ain't it? We're actually taking the first single, 'California', from the Step Kings to radio in about a week and I'm curious to see what the take is. I love that song, and this band really reminds of a cool and heavy version of The Police. I've played the song for many well-known artists and they say it's a hit. Then again, people say all kinds of stupid shit. I'm sure we'll have the usual struggles with getting spins, but we're not counting on radio for our bands. This is music from the streets, for the streets, so while radio is important for the bling bling, we're gonna keep it real.


Any advise for an unsigned artist?

Stay honest, be cool, remember everyone that has showed up to your show, written about you and paid for your music. Everything takes time and art is especially high on that hog. Listen and learn from everybody and remember: nothing is above you, you can always learn and you should always be open to change.


Anything else you'd like to plug/promote from your label?

Sure! Check out our site (www.TeamDistort.com) and if you're in the Toronto area, we'll be doing a showcase night at this year's NXNE Music Festival on Saturday, June 7th, 2002. We've got Step Kings, Alexisonfire and Guilt Trip at the Kathedral. And, of course, our first release is coming out June 11th - Step Kings 3 The Hard Way.


What's the future for Distort Entertainment?

Who's knows where evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows. Actually, I'm hoping that the future of Distort Entertainment is Greg and I working at it full-time, making some good floosh, staying healthy and injecting some seriously interesting hard music into the scene.

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