Cult of Luna
Voivod: Part 2
Voivod: Part 1
Dillinger Escape Plan
The Year In Metal
Dead to Fall
Tapping The Vein
High On Fire
Metal Meltdown IV
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2002
Century Media Records
My Dying Bride
The Year In Metal
Metal Blade Records
Maudlin of the Well
Thrash of the Titans
Dust To Dust
Six Feet Under
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2001
Metal Meltdown III
Pain of Salvation
Children Of Bodom
Cradle Of Filth
Lamb Of God
Garden of Shadows
March Metal Meltdown
Metal/Hardcore Fest 2000
Flotsam and Jetsam
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 4
INTERVIEW WITH JONNY ZAZULA
There's maybe a handful of interview subjects in the world of Heavy Metal who truly deserve the "Needs no introduction" preface aren't there? Well this is a chat with Jonny Zazula who along with partner / wife Marsha are responsible for serving up over Thirty-Seven Million albums and are one of the many reasons we're all here today! Megaforce Records was / is one of the foundations of heavy metal, more importantly American heavy metal for many, many years and I'm grateful to them for it. It's been a long time since I've seen anything on the man and I was not only interested in what was, but also where he's at today. I'm not going to bore you with much of an intro, if you have no idea who the man is you're reading the wrong thing. Much thanks to the Zazula family for the interview opportunity!
MIDWEST METAL: I guess we could start way back when, how about when you started doing Rock N' Roll Heaven.
Ah, please don't ask me that! (laughs)
MM: How about in a nutshell? What drew you to music? Was it as a kid or was it through a sibling?
Just always music fans - both myself and Marsha. We were just always into it. So being fans, we had just a vast record collection as well as a knowledge of music and we took it forward with Rock N Roll Heaven.
MM: And it all started off in a small flea market setting, correct?
Yes, and then it became a big flea market thing which turned into a record store, then a record company, then a management company, then it became, well, it is what it is.
MM: Now being a fan is always important, but what attracted you to heavy metal? Which, in turn, pretty much started this whole new wave of heavy metal?
It was just the power and the emotion because the best players were metal players. But you also have to realize, although we were die-hard metal fans, I was still a big Dead Head also. Even to this day, even though they're not around, I'm still a big Phish Head [Phish has now returned from a brief hiatus]. And to this day I'll still listen to Monster Magnet and Atomic Bitchwax as well. Music that does something for the mind and is emotional, that's always been our thing.
MM: Now the first bands that got Megaforce off the ground were quite, and in some cases are still, quite legendary.
Metallica, Raven and Anthrax were the first.
MM: Now what did you see in this trio of bands that you didn't see in the bands playing the corner club / bar?
They were the best. . .
MM: Well sure. . .
At the time there were other really good bands that we wanted to get involved in as well. We accumulated a lot of great bands really quick. We had Raven, Metallica, Anthrax, Manowar, Exciter from Canada - we would have had that band from Florida who were Avatar at the time. . .
Savatage, yeah, we were very into them. They would've been a part of our circle, but we always had a love for Slayer, Megadeth, Motorhead and Angel Witch who started it all! So we were in good company.
MM: Now how scary was it to invest money in these bands at the time?
Very! At the time we had no money, were very poor and we just parlayed everything - money for food, money for clothes, money from the record store - everything went into it. We all had hard times in the beginning - both the bands as well as us. Metallica had a real hard time then.
MM: You also had the Management division, Crazed Management, where you handled some of your own bands. How was it juggling everything, from personal management to business decisions?
Well the one thing you have to remember is the band always comes first. And you have to do something every day to get the band to a higher level and if that meant them going to another record company that was bigger than yours, then you do it. Always put the band first and whatever it took which is all it really was. Yeah, sometimes it was like babysitting and that's not an easy thing and some people needed more than others, but everybody resents being sat by a babysitter! So you have to be very cool because you get to be such a babysitter you end up being the person everybody hates, you know? It's a very strange thing being a manager and you have to walk a very strange walk.
MM: But were there any conflicts being both the manager and the label boss?
No, it wasn't really hard because it was just one focus which was, "Let's get there and let's make it happen." And that was the driving force, a Megaforce, and that's where the name came from. It was a driving force to get things going. It was like no one could stop us.
MM: When you first started who were some of your peers, record label wise?
We had no peers. But you did have Metal Blade and Shrapnel which was Mike Varney's label and you had Neat records which were pretty cool. Roadrunner was just starting but they had nothing going on and we were the ones who first brought Mercyful Fate into America.
MM: When a few years had passed, short years, the whole scene exploded. It must have been like watching your kids jump from five to twenty!
Oh yeah, and we also watched the whole industry grow up too! Back then no one was even booking this kind of talent when we had the bands, so we had to go through local bookers and agents to get shows and we had to put all this together ourselves! From finding the money to getting the tours together, find the crews and in those days we even had to learn that we needed crews! I mean, yeah, we needed lights, but how do you work the lights? I mean, what's a soundboard? It was wild and today we see many of these people who started with us, they're like monsters in the industry. I'm talking big, big buck guys and that's cool.
MM: Now after years of being in the spotlight - whether it was signing, managing, discovering - Megaforce dropped out of the spotlight in the mid 1990's. What happened?
Well, we were friends with Dave Mustaine. We knew Slayer well. We managed Anthrax. We discovered Metallica. So, we had pretty much had the relationship with the first four bands to really do their business and establish a genre. We worked with Manowar as well, so think about the greatness we worked with and all we really found was people were just regurgitating the past which was not interesting to us at all! To see the new stuff that was coming out, it just wasn't what I was looking for but we had a band called Testament. Now the reason I had Testament, believe it or not, was because I believe they added a whole new element. I mean, Chuck Billy was an incredible vocalist and I was really crazy about Alex [Skolnick], the guitar player. So I saw something really special there but as we went on and on we evolved into King's X, and I think the first three albums they did on Megaforce were three of the most classic albums ever! We had a really great buzz on them and were able to put them on tour with the Scorpions and AC/DC and bands like that. We got to see Nirvana come up from being puppies and being brats playing around the area which was cool. But it got to the point where it was like, "What are we going to do? Regurgitate it again and find another Testament, find another Anthrax, find another Metallica?" Now don't get me wrong, there were a lot of people out there trying to do that, but that really wasn't our gig. And you have to remember, we never intended to become a record or management company it all happened by accident. I mean, all we wanted was for Metallica to do a few shows! And from there it just didn't stop and that's really the reality of it all. We never had a plan. We were just really good at what we did and had a good taste for the scene.
MM: Also being well respected doesn't hurt.
Yeah but what happened was it became more and more business in the end and it was dragging us out. The whole thing turned into money. I mean, we had thirty-two people working for us and even though all those people loved the music like we did, it took so much money to keep it going, it got to the point where I said to myself, "This is not what I wanted."
MM: Well I think that can be traced to your roots, be it a pure music fanatic or even a Dead Head, it's never about the money!
No way. I mean, we made tons of it, trust me, but the point was I had a lot of employees, I owned a building with 8,000 square feet with offices. . .
MM: All the health insurance for the employees. . .
All that shit man, and not to mention I got crazy and bought a huge estate on the ocean and a huge estate in the city and so it got really kinda crazy. What happened was we went to Polygram after we were done with Atlantic and that deal was not good. It was not a good scene and at the time we were dealing with Warren Haynes, Nudeswirl who had a lot of good things going on for them which all self destructed, Mindfunk self destructed so the whole thing just seemed tainted. So, Marsha and I took the family and moved to Beverly Hills! (laughing) No, just kidding. We moved to an area we love more than any place in America called New Hope, Pennsylvania which is right on the river and it's beautiful. So we found a piece of Earth that we wanted to settle down on and decided to manage our kids rather than manage bands because we spent our whole lives worrying about Al Jourgensen and this and that. So there's really no magic ending to what happened to Megaforce. We basically became parents and dig it like you can't believe. Missy who worked for us for thirteen years now has Megaforce Records and continues to this day. It's not what it was, but she had Fozzy and is doing some things. Before we retired we started a distribution company through WEA called MRI Associated Lables and Missy now has that and all together we ran nine record labels and we did it very quietly and very successfully without any press. And now we have a company called Great Jones World and we deal in toys, from the McFarlane stuff to Sideshow stuff, Art Asylum and we got entrenched in these goth dolls called Living Dead Dolls. And all I can say is what Metallica was to Rock N Roll, Living Dead Dolls are to toys, just amazing. It's funny as the biggest selling stuff in my store is Metallica stuff, the stage and all that, a lot of KISS and Alice Cooper figures, the Iron Maiden Eddie collectables. It was funny we went to a toy fair and I ran into my old cronies in Iron Maiden who were doing some stuff for that line, a lot of the old music people I'm meeting again in toys! I think it's really cool to collect an 18" Alice Cooper or Rob Zombie doll. Alice is the biggest seller, Ozzy sells good, but Alice is the main one.
MM: Not too long ago Megaforce issued their first DVD, S.O.D.'s 'Speak English Or Live', how did you enjoy that medium?
I though it was pretty cool for what it was. It was keeping in the S.O.D. / Megaforce tradition. It was a home spun thing and not sent to any huge studio. I think we did a good job of giving the people a feeling of what S.O.D. was. There was a lot of great stuff we had of Billy imitating Eric Adams of Manowar, but the German record company who signed S.O.D. wouldn't let us put it on there. We'd also like to release the Anthrax edition when Joey left on DVD, that was funny as can. Be it was like The Gong Show!
MM: Is there a chance of that being released?
No, unfortunately not.
MM: Is it a personal type of thing, like Anthrax versus Joey holding it back?
No, not really, more like if Anthrax were as big as say Metallica it would be out, I mean if Lars goes to the bathroom it could be out on DVD. (laughs) I think they're filming their recording sessions for the next album for a DVD, but whatever, I hope it's a good album. We all know we can use one, with Bob Rock on Bass.
MM: A lot of people love to bitch and moan about Metallica, but fuck it, I just want Metal Music to continue, inspire kids to keep it up and all that. I also think there's too much information these days, everyone knows who sells what and all that shit. I mean I remember going to the record store every day for months waiting for a new album to come out. I had no clue it was always on a Tuesday! And when you found it, man, it felt good!
Yeah, I hear you. Now it's all a system and totally different and it's one of the reasons I'm not a big fan of being in the business now.
MM: I don't blame you.
It's not where my head's at. My head is filled with good things. But I would like to tell you about a band who I saw that I think is very good, a band called Dragpipe. You know who's in the band?
MM: No shit, what kind of music?
Amazing, rock band on Interscope and right now they're on tour with Monster Magnet. So I've gotten into the "stoner rock" stuff.
MM: Have you ever heard of Electric Wizard?
No, what are they about?
[Tom goes on five minute quest to try to describe EW with the promise of sending Jon some music to complete the quest]
Cool, send it I'll listen to it! I've also been listening to a band from Switzerland called Blind Dog on a label called Meteor City, it's not the greatest recording in the world, but I'll say this if it were produced a little better it would've been one of the best records I've heard in a long time.
MM: OK, before I let you go I'd like to ask about a few of the Megaforce bands, just to get your thoughts on them and so on and so forth. First up would be Manowar. I mean twenty years later and they're, especially in Europe, HUGE!
MM: They're as big as Metallica in Europe!
Isn't that unbelievable! But you know what that tells you?
MM: What's that?
Well that tells you if you have a metal band you don't want to be living here! If you're real good Europe will pick you up a lot faster than here. Over there they stick with you and you become legendary. Plus they love the whole visual thing. Kiss were big everywhere, but there they were over the top. Manowar were at the right place at the right time and they just grew. So that's Manowar.
Great band. I like the new OverKill album a lot. I think they've got it together. I think people should look at OverKill today instead of the OverKill of the past. Sure there were great songs in the past, they're still strong.
MM: I give them a lot of respect as they're still fighting the good fight.
Please, absolutely and they have a DVD coming out which should be great as well!
I thought the band was phenomenal, but I had a real problem with the vocals. That was my whole problem. I just couldn't adjust to it. Maybe if I was Nuclear Blast it would've made sense. I love Cannibal Corpse, but I hate the vocals. I think they play incredible, but, as with a lot of bands, I like the music, but just can't get the Death vocals. I still like a guy who can cut through everything even if it's a guy like Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies - find a voice and get through it. Perry Farrell can't sing and look at him! (laughing)
Testament were one of my favorite bands of all time. I've got a great story for you. Atlantic Records were with us working on Testament and I'm sitting outside the office of the president of Atlantic who's now the head of Universal, and he was asking me about the band and I was telling him, "It's going to happen, it's going to happen." And at the time they were at 17,000 units and Atlantic wouldn't give me any more money to work them. And this was on the first album, so I went from department to department and begged for overages which was like "entertainment budgets" for dinners and schmoozing you know? I went to the Vice-President's office, who's now the head of Epic, and I was like, "Please give me some more money and I'll do my thing." So, I put together another $7,000.00 and did a campaign on them and then they went on tour. Well they [Atlantic] wouldn't give me tour support, so I went to the bank to borrow the money because I had to pay their tour support. Jump to three months later and a guy came up to me in the hallway and said, "What the fuck happened to Testament? They're at 127,000 units!"
MM: No shit?
And it just blew their [Atlantic's] fucking minds, the band just exploded. And even after that they wouldn't give me money for a video so I had one of my film buddies do the "Over The Wall" video. Have you ever seen that video?
That is so incredible - the scene where Skolnick is playing a lead and the light is coming through his guitar and the gates are closing to the music. All that was done and shot at Alcatraz for under $7,000.00. Even though it was only showed a few times on Headbanger's Ball, which did you know they got that from us?
MM: The Raven. . .
. . .Raven, Anvil and Riot show. The guy who would go on to head MTV was at that show, so a lot of history was made by us. But there's a lot of good stories, a lot of good Testament stories, let's see, the first time I saw them was the day Cliff Burton died.
Yeah we were in San Francisco that morning after and we were at the rehearsal rooms and I swear every room had a bassist playing (mouthing the bass line to "Jump In The Fire") they were all playing either "Whiplash" or "Jump. . ." and we said, "You fucking guys, he's not even dead 24 hours." What a day.
MM: Give me a Cliff Burton story
He was my babysitter! He basically would read "Little Rabbit" stories to my kids. He would read them bedtime tales at night because it was hectic and busy in the house. Cliff Burton, he was a prince. He was a good old soul and what can I say?
Oh man, my favorite! My favorite of them all. That was Marsha's baby.
MM: How about all the bullshit going on with them now?
Exactly what you said, I don't get involved and I stay far away from it.
MM: So you don't speak to Billy?
Oh I do, we still get along after all these years.
I wish them well.
MM: Anything to close this out?
We're going to be coming out of retirement with a press release to help a friend of ours. Bif Naked, who's a platinum recording artist in Canada, needs to get something started here in the US. We're going to release her album 'Purge', it's not heavy metal, it's just really good music and we like her a lot and think she's a talent and that will probably be our last thing in music.
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 1
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 2
METAL BLADE RECORDS
BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 3
CENTURY MEDIA RECORDS
GREAT JONES WORLD
MIDWEST METAL MAGAZINE #25
MIDWEST METAL MAGAZINE
Post Office Box 183
Brookfield, IL 60513
Interview: Tom T. Vader [
Metal Update Editor: Brant Wintersteen [
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