Heart of Steel: Interviews

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Interview With Great White North Records
Interview By Keith McDonald

Sometimes we forget about our neighbors from the north, not realizing that there are great metal bands and labels there as well. Great White North Records, founded in 1999 by Remi Cote and Stephane Belanger in Quebec, Canada, specializes on bringing great metal to all of North America. Focusing on the extreme metal, the label boasts a metal roster of Divina Enema, Obliveon and Soulforge to name a few. They have also expanded their metal claws into Europe with the opening of their European division. I recently caught up with Remi and Stephane who gave the lowdown on their label. You can check out their website at www.gwnrecords.com.


How did GWN Records start?

Rémi: Well, we kinda wanted to take revenge from our past ventures ya know? Other labels we've started died after a few years because of various misfortunes and personal problems. We are both over 30 years old now and we've been Metal fans for about 25 years now... It's just impossible to live without it. I've bought my first record at the age of 10 and got my first Metal album when I was about 8! An old Black Sabbath album that a cool relative gave me... But yeah, we've been in and out of the scene since about 83-84 in one shape or the other and I don't see how I will ever get out of it... I'm married, have my house and a regular job and Metal is very important... GWN helps me going through the hard things in life... So that should sums up why we've started it all again: To take revenge! Seriously, it's more for our undying love for Heavy Metal and all thing musically extreme.

Stéphane: Yes… The fact that we were always close to the scene makes it hard for us to stay away from the biz for more than a few months! Like Rémi said, we did try to start other indie labels in the past, but it always seemed like the lack of money, luck and knowledge, combined with the fact that we were kind of naive made it difficult for us the first few times… All along, I was also involved with Montreal’s own OBLIVEON. Then after viewing how things work with them, I thought that the next logical step for me was to join Rémi when he asked me to join him in creating GWN! We just can't seem to take Metal out of our minds at any given time!



How is the Metal market in Canada these days?

Rémi: We've seen better but yet again, we've seen worst! There are way too many releases in stores right now from bigger companies, making it even more difficult for us (much) smaller indies to make our own stuff stand out... As far as bands go, there are some amazing bands in Canada and especially in the province of Québec, such as CRYPTOPSY, SOULFORGE, KATAKLYSM, HANDS OF DEATH, MARTYR, GHOULUNATICS, etc. As usual, the Québec scene is very active. A cool band I recently discovered from the western part of Canada is INTO ETERNITY, excellent! We have various excellent mags, such as the killer UNRESTRAINED and others like RIP N' TEAR, to name a few. We also have a lot of radios playing Metal on a weekly basis, which is great obviously!

Stéphane: I do think that this scene, especially the Québec scene, is pretty influential worldwide. The sheer amount of good bands coming from here is pretty impressive! But we could use a few more places where bands could play… Here in Montréal, between a big place like The Medley and small places like L'X, there isn't much of a good place in between where bands can draw a few hundred fans. And as for 'zines go, let's not forget Shrines Of Echoes! For the most part, we have a pretty good scene, even if it's not the biggest market in the world!



Is there a difference between the US and Canadian Metal scenes that you can see?

Rémi: Well not really in my opinion. Both scenes are more into the extreme stuff if you compare it to the European one, for example. I believe the US scene is still one of the strongest with amazing bands such as NILE, MASTODON, MORBID ANGEL, etc. We might have a bit more variety here but I don't know. You guys have plenty of bigger labels and magazines but we are getting there too, slowly but surely.

Stéphane: You also have to take into account the density of the population between Canada and the US… Like I just said before, the Canadian market is slightly smaller for the simple fact that we don't have as many people here than there are in the US! I would guess that the scene here is as strong as any if you take the amount of Metal fans per people living here… So many bands just love to come and play in Montréal! But as far as I'm concerned, I also think that bands from here (Québec) also have this little "extra thing" that makes them different than most (but not all, of course) American and European bands… I guess I would have to say that it's a cultural thing here, to mix the North American with the European.



What types of Metal do you sign?

Rémi: We are into everything really... We've released mostly Death and Black Metal so far, but we are taking a turn for the more extreme right now as we are both, Stef and I, heavily into Grind and Hardcore... So we'll add a few different releases this year, starting with the DAHMER "The Studio Sessions - Discography", which is a Grindcore fan's dream come true! We are soon putting out a new CD from HANDS OF DEATH, which is a local Deathcore crew who's basically taking influences from everything extreme... Live they are amazing! We have BK 49 from Germany playing blistering Death/Thrash similar to SLAYER and MORBID ANGEL... What else Stef?

Stéphane: Hell, you said it all bro! I guess the key word here (the ONLY important word in fact) is METAL! We love Metal! We've been Metalheads forever and we just love every kind of Metal! It doesn't mean that we'll any kind of crap that comes out… It only means that if a good Metal band comes out, be it Death, Black, Doom, traditional Heavy Metal… or any other sub-genres like Grind, etc… It just doesn't matter. If it’s good shit, we'll love it! If it's crap, we'll hate it!



How did you get involved in the music industry, especially Metal?

Stéphane: Well, as for myself, I basically formed OBLIVEON with the rest of the gang back in 1987… Oh yes, previously to this, me and Rémi did fanzines too back in the mid-80's. But my real start was with OBLIVEON (then named OBLIVION)… The guys in the band and I, we were all friends from high school. I produced them and managed them… Then later on when they found a better manager, I kept working with them, representing them, etc. As for Rémi, like I said, we did some fanzine work but his real beginning was with PURULENCE, in the same manner as I with OBLIVEON.



How has your European division done so far? How does that help the label?

Rémi: They've been through a lot of problems with various distros... Royally ripped-off by some, causing a lot of loss, etc. But they've did some excellent job with promoting MERLIN, DIACHRONIA and NECROLOGY... They've signed BLOODBOIL from Holland (which we will release ourselves for North America/Japan and Australia), etc. We've gained a lot in terms of popularity and exposure. They are, however, in the process of re-organization now because of the aforementioned problems.



I see you had other label ventures. What happened?

Rémi: We've started about 10 years ago with NEW WORLD SYMPHONY Records, we did a couple of cool things such as the GORELUST "Reign Of Lunacy" CD... But we were missing the mighty dollars to bring the label to the next level, so we kinda folded because of that and some other problems. I personally started SOUNDSCAPE MUSIC and did a couple of releases in 97-98 but I've had to stop because of severe health problems... So now we are back with a vengeance! Ha! Seriously, we couldn't just keep ourselves away from all that circus, so we got back to it and here we are... Making millions of dollars a year, living the life of a Rockstar with groupies and all that... NOT! We are starting to make money with it but we always re-invest into the label... we are not doing this for the mighty buck... We are dedicated Metal fans. We have jobs; I'm married, etc. But I just can't stop with it... I love it! And I know Stef's in the same boat!

Stéphane: Oh yeah! It's like a disease this music! And I'm stuck with the deadly virus for the rest of my life for sure! But like I said, our previous attempts at starting labels were sincere, if ill advised. We did not have the money or the knowledge necessary for such endeavors… And man, were we ever naive! I can assure that all these problems have been resolved by now! The only thing that remains intact and unchanged from those early tries is the passion and love of the music!



Is it difficult to tour in Canada as it is here in the States?

Stéphane: I would have to say that in some way, it can be even harder because of a few things: Canada is one of the largest country on the globe, with one of the lowest ratio of people versus space… Now putting aside that the biggest and strongest Metal scene is in Québec, after a band has played a few places in this province, travelling from one city to another can seem endless. And there are also some provinces here that you just have to drive through without playing if you're a Metal band, cause there are simply no Metal scene to speak of in some of them… So it can be a very, very long drive for very few gigs. So that can make it kind of hard, in a way.



How do you find new artists? How many bands do you sign a year?

Rémi: We get literally swamped with promos... So we take it from there mostly. I did find most of our bands so far, but Stef is directly responsible for our albums with SUFFOCATE and our new signature BK 49... We always decide together whether or not we should offer something to a band. We don't set up plans like "we'll do 10 albums this year" or something like that... We go with the flow really. We have a busy first half of 2003... But we'll sign more bands after the summer I guess. We are booked solid for the next 4-5 months. And we are also doing distribution, so we have tons of stuff coming out every month.

Stéphane: But the one thing that we will absolutely insist on is that we both love the band we'll sign! There is not point to us releasing shit we don't like. After the original signing and pressing, we'll both decide if it's worth re-pressing an album or not on a more "business" based decision… But the original signing of a band is always agreed upon by both of us… And as far as we're concerned, the fact that we like a band of not is predominant in our decisions.



How would you describe "Underground Metal"? What are your thoughts on some of today's nu-Metal bands?

Stéphane: Well, the word "underground" has lost some of its meaning over the years. It used to be that the word underground meant just that: UNDERGROUND! We would talk about bands among friends, and other mainstream people or our parents, or whoever was not involved completely in the scene would look at us as if we were speaking Chinese or something. And the attitude between fans and bands were a bit different too… More united, it was. Now I guess that the moniker "underground" has become much more mainstream. This said, the "underground Metal" still is, for the most part, the most sincere and uncompromising form of music(s)… I don't like much of the nu-Metal coming out, aside from very few exceptions. I just seem to prefer bands and music that won't conform to any kind of decent taste! ;-) But I also like bands that are intelligent in their messages and compositions/song writing…



How is Canadian Metal radio? Are there many outlets?

Stéphane: Well, I would have to say that this is one of the weakest points about the Canadian scene. We do have some, but they are not legion and not many of them have great longevity! That, once again, comes back to the fact that we do not have a great density of population, aside from the major cities like Montréal, etc.



Anything you'd like to plug/promote?

Stéphane: Well, we just released DAHMER's "The Studio Sessions - Discography"! All of you Grindcore fans, just don't think: BUY IT NOW! You'll love it so much, it'll hurt! You may also visit our new webstore at www.profusiondirect.com … You'll find tons of cool CDs, which are being up-dated every week! And also DVD, shirts and other stuff! And finally, you may also visit our labels' websites at www.gwnrecords.com and www.grinditrecords.net



Who is currently on your roster? Who has been the most successful so far?

Rémi: I'd say DAHMER and the album aren’t even released yet! Our first 1000 is almost sold out in pre-orders alone and that is cool, a big surprise. We are a small label and for us that's a big deal... Especially for a Grindcore album! We'll definitely spread at least 2500 of this album... So yeah, that is a good one for us... Can't wait to have it in my hands! MERLIN's also been good.



What's the future for GWN Records?

Rémi: We are preparing a home video for SOULFORGE right now... We are also putting out various releases and we are starting to do some merchandising for various bands on the label. We are always looking for more distributors! Spreading the disease and hopefully live off our music sometime in the future! If it doesn't happen, it won't a catastrophe, but we sure as hell would love it!


Label Website: www.gwnrecords.com