Heart of Steel: Interviews

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 "un-established" artists?

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 support?

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 it.

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