BEHIND THE SCREAMS - PART 1
INTERVIEW WITH MATT JACOBSON
How many label presidents are as comfortable handing out fliers on the edge
of a mosh pit as they are cutting deals with an
international impact on the metal music scene? How many
former photocopied fanzine editors have successfully launched multiple
labels, a mailorder business, a booking agency,
websites, a magazine and a retail outlet? How many of them have played a
major role in every major American metal festival for the better part of the
last decade? And how many of these people have done all of this several
years before turning 30? Relapse Records founder and co-president Matthew
F. Jacobson has done all of the above and more. The scary thing is that
you'll only need to talk to with him for a few minutes before realizing that
Matt's probably only just getting started. Thus, in recognition of
Relapse's recent 10th Anniversary, the Metal Update took the opportunity to
sit down with Matt to once and for all to document one of the most important
D.I.Y. success stories in the modern extreme music scene.
METAL UPDATE: Ten years of Relapse Records. What a
long strange trip it must have been. Did you ever have
the mindset when you started that Relapse could become
what it is today?
MATT JACOBSON: Certainly not. In the beginning,
I just wanted to put out some cool records. And I
thought that would just be seven-inches--or maybe a CD
someday. I never realized at that time that it could
reach the level that it has today. I think it was
nearly a year into it that one day--outta the blue--it
kinda hit me that we'd already surpassed any
expectations that I ever had, and maybe there were no
limits that needed to go with it.
MU: Let's go back to the beginning. I'm talking way
back. Tell us how this whole thing came to be.
MJ: In high school I was a huge fan of music. Even in
middle school, like most people, I started with ZZ Top, Black
Sabbath and the like.
MU: What years are we talking about?
MJ: I can't say for sure. Somewhere - I'd say 1985.
In that area.
MU: So it's 1985, you're in middle school, and you're
listening to Black Sabbath.
MJ: And that led to Motley Crue. And Iron Maiden. And
Iron Maiden leads to Metallica. Metallica led to
Slayer, Celtic Frost, Kreator.
MU: You were a Motley Crue fan at one point?
MJ: Sure, sure.
MU: Tell us about the apex of your Motley Crue fandom.
MJ: All I can really say is that I was a huge fan
of 'Shout at the Devil' and I liked a few songs
on 'Theater of Pain', and after that I thought they
MU: Did you see the tour where Tommy Lee's drum kit did
that thing where -
MJ: No, I was very interested in going to shows very
early on, but I was often not allowed to go. Once I was
like sixteen, my parents said that I could go. But even
then, for instance, I had a ticket to see the Iron
Maiden 'Somewhere in Time' tour, and I also wanted to go
see Slayer on the 'Reign in Blood' tour. But both of
those, I was not allowed to go because I had gotten poor
grades on my report card. Slayer - on the 'Reign in
Blood' tour - played in a strip mall two miles from my
house. And I couldn't go because I got a "D" on my
report card. I would have gone and disobeyed my parents
if I had had any idea in the scheme of things what I was
MU: I wonder if your parents ever realized which one
was more important to your future career - getting good
grades or seeing Slayer.
MJ: (laughs) Indeed, indeed.
MU: Back to how Relapse came to be.
MJ: Yeah, yeah. So I got into underground music. I
became more and more interested. And, of course, I was
in a band. We were terrible. We were in Aurora,
Colorado. A suburb of Denver.
MU: What was the name of your band?
MJ: We had a number of bands in different forms. One
was called Incessant Mutilation. One was called
MU: Will your former band members be offended at you
having called those bands terrible?
MJ: No, not at all. One of them works here. I'm still
in touch with most of the band. Anyway, I realized the
band wasn't going to go anywhere but I wanted to be
involved in music somehow. So my friend and I started a
fanzine called 'Horrendified'. And we produced one
MU: What gave you the idea to start a fanzine? What
year was this?
MJ: I don't know. If I had to guess, I'd say late 1988
or early 1989.
MU: Were you reading other fanzines?
MJ: I had seen a few. I remember seeing the first
issue of 'Pit', which was nothing like it is today. It
was more of a hardcore and art magazine that was all
photocopied. And I saw issues of other 'zines
like 'Slayer' mag from Norway. There were a bunch that
I was into. And I was into tape trading, demo trading.
You'd find out about other 'zines that way.
MU: How did you find the people to trade tapes with?
MJ: I guess I'd see an ad in 'Maximum Rock 'N Roll',
write to a couple of people. And back in that day, if
you'd write to somebody, you'd get a letter or a tape
back, and inside would be tons of little fliers
advertising demos and fanzines. And I'd write to those
people and it would spread all around - a little
MU: Instead of the Internet.
MJ: Before the Internet was common knowledge.
Also, I used to print T-shirts and stickers for bands. I
didn't make any money. For instance, I printed the very
first Unleashed stickers. 'Cause I used to write to
Johnny, who used to be in Nihilist. When he formed this
new band, I did a thing in the fanzine and I had a
friend that was an artist who did some artwork for
them. I offered to print their stickers. I
printed stickers for Suffocation, and shirts for some
local bands. Things like that.
MU: How did the underground of that time compare with
MJ: It was different yet at the same time similar.
Back then, death metal and grindcore were still fairly
new forms. And that was exciting, because literally
this new genre of music was being formed which hadn't
MU: Who invented death metal?
MJ: It's hard to say. I think there were bands that
were transitions between thrash and death - bands like Death, and some other
ones. If I listen to Death, I'd still call it more thrash than I would
death metal. But it was the first step, because of the
vocal styles and the double-bass.
MU: How do you define death metal?
MJ: To me, a lot of it has to do with delivery.
Especially the vocal style, and sometimes to do with the
speed and the guitar tone. It can be any number of
MU: Can you sing clean and still be a death metal band?
MJ: You can have clean parts, but I don't know of any
death metal bands that have all clean vocals.
MJ: They're not a death metal band anymore.
Anyway, at that time we were talking about, almost any
band coming out of the genre was exciting - it was all
sounding so fresh. I'd be in a record store, and I saw
this one particular LP that had a sticker on it that
said "forget what you know - this is the sickest thing
ever!" I bought it immediately. It was the Pungent
Stench / Disharmonic Orchestra split LP. And it was
MU: And you were totally into vinyl.
MJ: Back at that time, most things didn't even come on
CD. Especially the underground crust and grind stuff.
Grindcore came from a cross between metal and the
underground, crustier side of hardcore (keep in mind hardcore then was
different than today).
MU: So anyway, you never said who the first death metal
MJ: I'm not sure I can pin down one. I can tell you,
one of the first was definitely Bolt Thrower. 'Cause if
you listen to their first album, and their Peel
Sessions, while it is one of the heavier things on the
thrash side, it's definitely one of the first
transitional records. Whereas their second is still
100% death metal, their first album still has many
thrash elements to it.
MU: Is this pre-Morbid Angel?
MJ: It's around the same time. And when I heard Morbid
Angel, it sounded like Slayer but more insane. That was
my perspective, because thrash metal was the most
extreme thing prior to that. And grindcore, like Napalm
Death, came out more from the hardcore world than the
metal world. But they quickly merged into metal, just
because of the parallels in the tones and sounds.
MU: What about Carcass?
MJ: Carcass is straight-up deathmetal/grind in my mind. But
they came from the same world, 'cause they were
associated in the same musical circles. I think that if
you look at a lot of the people who were attending shows
by Bolt Thrower and Heresey and Napalm Death and Carcass
back in the day, they were more on the hardcore side of
things than they were just straight-up metalheads.
MU: So is death metal an American genre?
MJ: No, certainly not. I mean, I don't think you can
put any borders on it, but I think you can see distinct
movements. There's definitely the movements in England
and Florida and in Sweden and so on. But I think with
any style of music, you can't isolate it to a particular
location. It's virtually impossible because a lot of
times similar things are happening - developing in other
areas with their own tones and takes on it at similar
MU: Back to the story of Relapse. You set the context
of an exciting time happening, there's a lot of new
music, and you're doing a fanzine called 'Horrendified'. . .
MJ: Right, so in this first issue we had interviews
with people like Carcass and Dead Horse and Deceased and
Exit 13, and actually many of the bands I started to
work with later. In that issue we reviewed things like
the Nihilist demos, and Paradise Lost's demo, and a lot
of the early stuff I got through tape trading.
MU: Do you still have a copy of the issue?
MJ: Oh yeah.
MU: How many issues did you do?
MJ: We actually produced two, but only one was ever. . .
The first one was printed and sold, the second one came
together, but was never actually printed because that's
when Relapse started to happen. Frankly, everything
fell so out of date it was not really useful.
MU: So where's that long, lost, unreleased version
of 'Horrendified'? You'll sell that on Ebay, right?
MJ: (laughs) And I have to say
that 'Horrendified' is a name inspired by Sore Throat,
who were a big influence of mine at the time.
MU: Yeah, well I'm still waiting, I had a subscription
and that issue number two never came. . .
MJ: (laughs) Anyway, I started selling them mostly
through the mail with little fliers myself, and also at
shows in Denver. I'd go see the Accused or whoever and
I remember standing there trying to sell my 'zine for
MU: Did you dream back then about turning this into
MJ: Well, yeah, I have to say I've always had
this "dreamer" or, unknown to me at the
time, "entrepreneurial" mentality. I would sit in my
room and calculate booking shows for bands and how many
people it would take to break even if I had to pay this
amount of money, and blah, blah, blah. . .
MU: Did you do any live show promotion?
MJ: I never actually did it, although I had plans to.
In those early days, I wanted to work in a record store,
do a radio show, do a fanzine, and book shows. And then
ultimately, later do records. So the only ones that
happened were fanzine and records and now the store, I never got to work at
a record store when I was youger, do a radio show, or book shows, but those
were all things I had aspirations to do.
MU: Matt, are you still the same guy on the same trip
as you were back then and it's just, "holy shit it's ten
years later"? Or is there a clear delineation between
the kid we're talking about and who you are today?
MJ: No, I think to a large degree I still feel like a
kid because I love the things that I loved before, and I
still buy Hot Wheels cars. Some people, I think, as
they grow older, they have clear stages in life - you go
to high school, then you go to college, and then you do
this and that. Whereas for me, after high school it's
just been kind of a blur. And so I haven't had as
distinct of a transition. I certainly realize that I'm
older and wiser and definitely have a different
perspective on lots of things, but the things that drive
me are basically the same as they've always been--my
love for music. I set out to release cool records, not
to become a businessman. I had no idea that that's what
I was doing in the process.
MU: Are you at the endgame? Was everything you were
doing leading to this or is Relapse still on a journey
that's leading somewhere else?
MJ: It's really hard to say for sure. I think,
obviously, Relapse as it stands today is a big part of
the whole equation, although I think that this will
ultimately evolve and grow and lead to other things as
well. I can't say exactly what those things are, as
always, I'm a dreamer and I have a million ideas and
things I would love to see happen. But of all those
ideas and dreams only a fraction of them will become
reality but I'll be psyched with any ones that do.
MU: What happened after the fanzine?
MJ: Basically, I realized I didn't really have any
musical talent and I wanted to be involved in music any
way I could, and this was something that interested me.
One day I went to see my friend's new band play and
I thought they were great. So for the hell of it, I
said, "Hey, do you guys want to put out a 7"? I'm going
to do it." And frankly, I don't think they believed
me. I think they were like, "Yeah, right, OK, Matt,
whatever, that's cool."
MU: For those who are unfamiliar with vinyl, what's a
MJ: A 7" is like a 45-rpm record. Some people, early
in the days, thought of them as singles, and before LP
format became very popular back in. . . I don't even know
when. . .
MU: So it's a small little circular. . .
MJ: Exactly, it's a 7" record, seven inches around, and
they used to have the big holes. And sometimes they
have the big holes, sometimes they have small holes, and
it used be that the single was the format. Bands early
on didn't necessarily release full albums and market
them like they are today. It used to be that a single
would go out to radio and whatever and the ones that
would take off would sell well as singles and sometimes
then full albums would follow. But, really, from my
understanding, and this pre-dates myself as well, but
full albums and all that stuff didn't really start to be
a major focus until the 60s and 70s.
MU: Let's stick to the topic of vinyl for a second
before we go back to the history. Currently a lot of
bands in the underground are
releasing 7" singles and split singles, why is that such
a popular way to go?
MJ: I think that it's just an underground and a
collector's thing. There are some people that really
cling to vinyl because of the packaging - it's really
cool, or the covers usually look better when they're
bigger, or in some sort of deluxe kind of packaging.
And there are some people who are just vinyl enthusiasts
or loyalists. And personally, I really like vinyl a lot
myself, although it's not the most practical format
because it's not portable at all. But nonetheless, I
think it's a really cool thing to do and I think you'll
see more vinyl releases coming out on Relapse in the
MU: Do you think that it makes sense for a band
starting out to go that route to begin with?
MJ: It really depends on the circumstances.
MU: Power metal bands don't do 7"s, do they?
MJ: No, no. It's usually more in the crust, more in
the hardcore, or certain aspects of metal. And I think
that comes because most of that comes from the hardcore
roots and the hardcore audience is part of the punk
movement, and that has traditionally been loyal and
interested in vinyl.
MU: Let's finish with the history.
MJ: Sure. Basically I asked my friends if they wanted
to put out a 7" and I was kind of inspired by a local
guy named Bob Rob, who had a label called Donut
Crew Records. He basically promoted a lot of the
hardcore shows in town and put out a lot of local bands'
7" - mostly straightedge hardcore bands.
MU: Were you a "hardcore kid" Matt?
MJ: I loved hardcore. I was really into both hardcore
MU: Like, D.R.I. and shit like that?
MJ: D.R.I., Accused, C.O.C., but even on the
straightedge side of things, things like Brotherhood, or
Uniform Choice, or Minor Threat - that realm. I was into
a lot of local bands and that kind of thing. Hard rock
and metal were what got me into non-mainstream music,
but that quickly diversified into first hardcore, and
then out from there.
MU: So you're hanging with this guy and he's promoting
a lot of local bands.
MJ: I knew him from going to a lot of shows, I wasn't
like personal friends with him, but I kinda
thought, "Wow, man, if he can do it, why couldn't I?"
So literally, when I decided to do it, I just called him
up one day and I was like, "Hey, dude, I was wondering
if you could tell me how I could make a record?" And he
basically said, "Hey, look up in the yellow pages,
there's this guy named Aardvark who masters records in
the basement of his house and he can tell you where to
press them." So I called him up, and Relapse was born.
MU: What was the first release?
MJ: Velcro Overdose, 'Flesh-ripping Sonic Polka'.
Which, I'd like to add, is a play off of a Carcass demo
title, 'Flesh-Ripping Torment'.
MU: And how did you know these guys?
MJ: Jon Canady was the co-editor
of 'Horrendified' fanzine, and basically the two guys
were my best friends in high school and the other guys
were guys they had met through other classes outside of
my high school. I became good friends with all of
them. You can't really get any closer than my two best
friends from high school!
MU: Their music was already recorded?
MJ: No, I told them I wanted to do something, and, if I
remember correctly - which I probably can't for sure, but
I think they went in and paid for the recording and then
I paid for the pressing and put it out and gave them
copies. And I'd like to add that it took about four
years to sell those 500 copies.
MU: That's pretty good though, right?
MJ: Well, not really by any standards. I had a tough
time selling them. I went around to record stores in
the local area and put them on consignment. And then I
started using some of the contacts I had made through
tape trading and the fanzine, saying "hey, I'll send you
ten of them, if you can sell them, send me $2 a piece."
Really just to try to get them out there. And I ended
up getting some other stuff, so I started trying to sell
that stuff. Then I put out another 7" - once I did the
first one I got the itch and said "wow - I should do
MU: By the way, this was done under the banner of
MJ: Yes it was. With almost the same logo even -
basically a poor quality, 3-D rendering of the exact
same logo we use today.
MU: How did you come up with the Relapse name and logo?
MJ: The name actually dates back to the Horrendified
fanzine days, 'cause both John and I were tape traders,
and we had planned on releasing compilation tapes to go
along with the fanzine. And when we decided to do that,
we both thought we should come up with a name to release
these under. So we both brainstormed independently a
whole bunch of names we wanted to pick, and we came back
to each other with the one name that we thought we'd
want to use. I'd picked Relapse, he'd come up with some
other name I can't remember now. Anyway, neither of us
could agree on the other's name, so we ended up agreeing
on Lethal Records, which was our next choice.
Well that never happened, nothing ever came to be. But
then went I decided to do something on my own, I went
back to Relapse. Part of the reason I chose Relapse was
that it was a simple, one-word name that had a nice ring
with "Records," but at the same time, it was something
that didn't limit me. It wasn't "Grind Kill Death
Records" or "Fuck Your Mom Records."
MU: Yet the name is still dark.
MJ: Yes. It has a dark tone, so it can be accepted
within the extreme world. But it wasn't totally
limiting. Frankly, I didn't know if anything would ever
happen, or what I would want to do. In retrospect, I
was thinking about marketing, but it was somehow
MU: Are you interested in that intersection generally?
That space where something maintains pure underground
credibility yet at the same time becomes palatable to
perhaps a wider audience.
MJ: I guess it does interest me. I think you can see
that with everything we do with Relapse. We try to take
a professional or sometimes corporate approach to things
while gearing the content toward the underground. Our
presentation is supposed to be 100% professional, and
more corporate-like, but the content is always geared
more toward the underground. That philosophy
represents my ideal: blending great art with smart
MU: Well there's a lot that flows from that statement,
but first, let's finish the birth of Relapse.
MJ: So then I contacted this other band. I used to go
visit my grandmother in South Dakota, and one time I was
at a record store, and I bought a local band's demo that
was on consignment. The next time I was there I just
called them up out of the blue. I looked them up in the
phone book and called them up and started hanging out
with them. I went to some shows and stuff and I
said "hey, I'll put out a 7" of your band." They
recorded a 7" and I released that one. I didn't
like the recording for the 7" as much as I liked the
demo, so that one didn't actually have the Relapse logo
on it, although it did say Relapse on the label itself.
MU: What was the name of it?
MJ: Face of Decline. From there, things launched into
more of the death metal realm. I had actually arranged
very early on to work with Deceased, Suffocation,
Incantation and Mortician, but just due to how things
came together, the next release was an Apparition 7".
The band later changed their name to Sorrow and put out
records on Roadrunner. Then the next 7" after that
was Incantation, a re-issue of a record that originally
came out on an underground 7" label called Seraphic
Decay, which is now long gone. From there, the first CD
to be released was Suffocation 'Human Waste', followed
by the first album--which was the first band actually
signed to Relapse: Deceased, who are actually still
with us today.
MU: What year did that first CD come out?
MU: Thus, the ten-year anniversary.
MJ: Yeah, technically it is kind of hard to say when
the ten-year anniversary is. The first release came out
in late 1990, the first CD in 1991. We started putting
this project together early in 1990, but due to typical
record company delays, it actually came out in 1991.
So, it's ten years, give or take three months.
MU: It's wild that the first band you ever signed is
still with you. You couldn't have possibly been
thinking that you'd still be going with Deceased ten
MJ: No, I wasn't. Like I said, it wasn't until a year
or so after Relapse started that I was sitting in the
basement in Pennsylvania . . . I can actually remember
the moment. I was sitting there, working by myself,
staring off into space. I remember thinking to
myself, "my god. I can't believe we've reached this
level." That's when it hit me - we've already gone
further than I ever thought we would. I wondered then
if there was any limit to how far it could go.
MU: And you're still hanging around with King Fowley.
MU: How is it that Relapse and Deceased have managed to
stay together for so long? It must be the ordinary
course that a band either eventually outgrows the indie
label and moves on to a larger platform, or doesn't
outgrow the label and therefore eventually packs it in.
MJ: I think it all goes back to our dedication to the
music. We've loved Deceased and we've believed in
Deceased. And although their record sales--especially
early on--never performed as great as people would have
wanted, being that we are a small company, as our growth
continued, most of our band's sales increased. But
really, their sales weren't stellar, but the bottom line
is that we loved them. Many labels would have dropped
them because they didn't reach a certain level, but, for
us, we loved the band. So what if we weren't making
money, we hoped we weren't losing too much, and that's
good enough. Especially because you can see a clear
evolution and development in their ability not only to
write music, but also to record it.
MU: I mean, those guys personify heavy metal in the
current state today.
MJ: They certainly do, and therefore as their music got
better and better, there's no way I could say OK, even
though your records are good, I'm not gonna work with
you. 'Cause to me it is about the music. And since
they kept getting better and better, we kept putting out
their records. And they have a new EP coming out soon.
MU: You put out the first Suffocation record.
MJ: Yes we did.
MU: How do you feel when you hear platinum-selling
artists like Slipknot say things like their music is
really just based on Suffocation?
MJ: It's really amazing, 'cause I remember the
Suffocation 'Reincarnation' demo coming to my P.O. box
in Colorado for 'Horrendified' fanzine. I remember not
having a car and always bumming rides off of people.
And the bass player from my band at the time had given
me a ride to my P.O. box, and on the way home we popped
in the tape. Both of us just shit our pants. We could
not believe how incredible it was. I immediately wrote to the band and said
that I was doing a
label and asked them if they wanted to do a 7". And
they agreed to do a 7". Of course it took forever to
get it together. Actually, once they delivered the
material, it was longer than what would fit on a 7". So
we started planning for a cassette. But it took so long
for us to get enough money together to release a
cassette, by the time that we actually got it together,
they had signed to Roadrunner and were putting together
the album. As a side note, when I was at the Accused show selling
my fanzine, I remember seeing this kid who'd I'd
remembered from seeing at WaxTrax Records asking about
the Napalm Death 'Peel Sessions'. At that time there
were only a few people around who knew who Napalm Death
were. So I made a mental note. And then, when I met
the guy, I remembered him, and we hit it off. He lived
45 minutes away, but we talked on the phone and became
friends. Anyway, for some reason he felt inspired to
get his mom to co-sign a loan and he gave me the money
to release the Suffocation cassette. He works here
today, he is now our accountant. To me it's still
amazing that he had enough confidence in me that he
would get his mom to co-sign a loan and give me the
MU: Pretty fucking stupid, huh?
MJ: (laughs) The deal at the time was simply that I
would make the loan payments and he would get one copy
of everything that ever came out on Relapse Records.
MU: Do you still honor that to this day?
MJ: Yep. It's pretty easy now 'cause he works here now.
Anyway, it is significant to point out that very early
on, we had been trading our stuff to get it out there,
and that gave us tons of stuff to sell. And we knew
there was stuff that people wanted and couldn't get
easily. Especially imports and stuff like that. So we
started doing our mailorder. It was very small time.
We were selling bits and pieces here and there, and then
at shows and stuff. We had heard through the grapevine
that Nuclear Blast Records was going to open a U.S.
office. We'd been dealing with them because they were
selling our 7" through their mailorder.
MU: What kind of bands were on Nuclear Blast back then?
MJ: At the time they had an incredible roster of bands
like Pungent Stench, Disharmonic Orchestra, Defecation,
almost all death metal, a little bit of hardcore, and
MU: And none of these records were getting a proper
MJ: No. The scene was building. There was a demand
for the stuff but no one could get it very easily. We
had heard Nuclear Blast had wanted to open a U.S.
office, and that they were interested in licensing our
Suffocation record for Europe. So we started talking
with them. At the time, I had graduated high school and
was working at a print shop. I got fired from the print
shop on Friday. That Sunday, when normally I would be
in bed 'cause I'd have to get up and go to the office on
Monday, I was at Kinko's where I hung out a lot. I used
to photocopy my fanzine there. I knew everyone there
because of it. Anyway, I was on their fax line at
fucking four o'clock in the morning calling Germany, and
proposed this crazy idea to them.
MU: Were you on the fax line just so you didn't have to
pay for the call?
MJ: Exactly. (laughs). The fax line at Kinko's.
MU: You knew the German guys from the fanzine and the
MJ: Exactly. I started trading early on with one of
the guys who worked there who had his own label called
Gore Records. He put out a lot of really early rare
stuff like the original Incubus 7", the original Macabre
7" and a lot of really early, classic stuff. I used to
trade a lot with him. I got stuff for him in America he
couldn't get there, that kind of stuff.
MU: So you made the now infamous bold call to Germany
from the Kinko's fax line at 4 am and said you wanted to
be the U.S. office for Nuclear Blast.
MJ: Myself and Bill Yurkiewicz. He was still living in
Pennsylvania, but we had contacted each other through an
interview I did with Exit 13. My tape trading
friendship had evolved with the drummer and he
said "hey, you ought to talk to my singer 'cause he's
trying to start a label too." So I talked to Bill
Yurkiewicz and found out we had a lot of the same
ideas. We liked a lot of the same things. And he was
gonna move to Colorado to go to graduate school, 'cause
he was just about to finish college. It was real
casual, "yeah yeah, maybe we'll do something together
sometime." 'Cause he was gonna live like an hour away.
So then I called up Nuclear Blast and basically made
this proposal. And after going back and forth a few
times, Nuclear Blast amazingly agreed to allow two kids
who had no previous business or any sort of experience
whatsoever open their U.S. office.
MU: Do you think that was based on the credibility you
had amassed as a tape trader, or just the energy they
sensed when speaking to you?
MJ: The enthusiasm that they could get from speaking to
me. I'd never met them in person. All they knew was
they wanted to license my Suffocation record.
MU: Were they familiar with 'Horrendified'?
MJ: I might have sent it to them, but probably not.
They were in a position where they needed a U.S.
presence, because they had a distribution deal waiting
with a company called Important Record Distributors,
which later became R.E.D. Important wanted to work with
them, but they didn't want to deal with them on an
import basis. They said "we will give you a
distribution deal and distribute all of your records,
but you have to have someone physically in America
handling your pressing and your affairs." So we moved on this deal with
Nuclear Blast, and it was great because it allowed for the first Relapse CD
to have distribution through the largest independent
distributor in America upon its release. And Nuclear
Blast America was born at that time as well. It was
fantastic, because, at the time, we were fans of all of
their bands. It was just perfect.
MU: What do you think of Nuclear Blast as it stands
MJ: Focusing on Nuclear Blast as a whole, and not just
the American office, Nuclear Blast are a great company
that's evolved in an incredible kind of a way. I think
part of the reason that Markus, the president of the
company, trusted us to get involved way back then was
because his company grew the same way: out of his
parents' basement. It was still pretty early on, it's
not like they had a huge office building or anything
like that at that point in time. To think that someone
else in a basement across the ocean could do the same
thing they've done. . .
MU: They're a pretty big company worldwide, right?
MJ: They're gigantic. One of the biggest independent
metal labels ever. It's really interesting, because
they've definitely grown substantially. They're
mailorder is a big part of it, and they've been very
aggressive on the A&R side. But they just have a
different philosophy today than we do.
MU: Explain that difference.
MJ: I think that if you look at the Relapse roster,
especially going from the early 90's until today, you'll
consistently see a lot of death metal and grindcore
releases. In the early 90's when we started, death
metal was a new thing, and you look at the landscape
labels like Nuclear Blast and Earrache and Combat even,
through Earache - everyone was putting out death metal
and grindcore. But as things started to shift, death
metal and grindcore's popularity in the underground
started to give way to gothic metal and black metal and
even power metal.
MU: When do thing that transition began?
MJ: It started to transitition in '93, '94 or '95.
When that happened, it was a really smart business move
for labels to move - look even at a company like
Roadrunner. They established themselves to a large part
on things like Obituary and Deicide, and a largely
death / thrash crossover, heavy music roster. You started
to see companies like Roadrunner, and later Nuclear
Blast, change their direction to move toward music that
could appeal to a larger audience. Not that there's anything wrong with
really smart from a business perspective, and everyone
has their own priorities, but I think that the
difference is that we've stuck to what we like. Maybe
it's because we're stupid and we didn't want to sell a
lot of records, I don't know, but we just stuck to what
we wanted to do. It is interesting now that death
metal is starting to come back around and become more
popular. We are the only label which has done it
consistently. Even labels like Earache who established
the genre stopped doing it, with the exception of a
couple bands which have been with them from the
MU: What is the Relapse philosophy, or what is the
MJ: The primary aspect of the Relapse philosophy is
working with music that we love and we are interested
in. Most of the time that means music that I love
personally. But Relapse is larger than just me, we are
a collective, kind of. There are many other people
besides me who are involved with bringing bands to the
roster and the entire A&R process.
MU: Which members of the Relapse staff really have the
power and / or credibility with you to push through a sign
a new act?
MJ: Almost anyone does. Everyone from long term
employees like Gordan Conrad, Sean Pelletier, Andy
Hosner and Tom Hailey, to fairly new mailorder employees
like Greg Alexander. People find music which they think
is great, and they bring it to the attention of myself
and other people within the office, and then it's
ultimately my decision as to whether it fits in to what
MU: How do you separate out the things that fit in
with what you are doing from the stuff that is good,
but not for Relapse.
MJ: Well first, let me explain that while there aren't
things that I don't like - they probably wouldn't be on
the label - there are things that aren't my own personal
favorite but are the personal favorite of three or four
other guys here at the label. In general though, we
work with music because we love it. There's certainly
bands, albums and deals that could have been done that
would have made a lot of sense from a business
perspective and made a lot of money, but if they didn't
fit into our vibe and our mentality, we just didn't
MU: Are there are any deals you didn't do that you now
MJ: I can't say there's any regrets. We could have
licensed the first two Cradle of Filth albums early on.
We were the first people selling their stuff early on,
because of the mailorder, and we
certainly saw the popularity. If we were to base
decisions just on numbers and units, we could have
jumped on that and sold a huge number.
MU: Why be so choosey? Give me the best argument not
to license those first two Cradle of Filth albums.
MJ: In that instance - to some degree, even though, in
retrospect it was too black and white than what it
should have been - we were, in general, not
aesthetically interested in the black metal movement.
Because it was incredibly trendy.
MU: There are no black metal bands on the Relapse
MJ: None at this time.
MU: Will there ever be?
MJ: Possibly, and I'll tell you why. The reason we
shied away from it at the beginning was it was
incredibly trendy, and it was somewhat silly with the
over-the-top corpse paint look and the "we're more evil
than you" mentality. Then once it got into many of
the bands moving in a white power and Nazi direction -
because they were trying to be more extreme because
Satanism had become the norm - we wanted nothing to do
with that. I don't like it when the image is more important
than the music. Again, I have to stress that the main part was how
trendy it was. All the labels were moving toward black
metal because black metal was all the rage. While
we wanted to provide that music in our mailorder because
we're about distributing and doing everything we can in
the underground scene, it just didn't fit in to what we
are about. There are some black metal bands that I
love, but a lot of the black metal bands I'm not a fan
of. I can understand why some people are a fan of some
of these bands, but sometimes it's so fucking silly.
Some people look at Abscess and Regurgitate and say the
same thing, so now I can understand their perspective,
but for me - the whole corpse paint and "I'm eviler than
you" - it was so ridiculous. Some people were taking it
so seriously, and it just didn't fit in to what we were
trying to do.
MU: It's about more than selling records for you. You
have to be psyched, as a fan.
MJ: I tell people all of the time, if all I was
interested in was business and making money, I'd
certainly not be releasing death metal albums and I'd
probably not be in the music industry. It's not easy.
I think I could identify more profitable, simpler
businesses. But I do it because it's my love, and I
feel very fortunate that it's not only my job, it's my
MU: Let's get back to trying to define "the Relapse
sound." You said before that it is what you like, but I
hear people all the time describing bands that aren't on
Relapse as Relapse bands. Have you ever heard this
MJ: Yes I have. That's because I think the Relapse
sound in general is a very vague thing that has a
reputation of being left of center and somewhat weird.
Besides that, if you look at our roster, I think you can
see a number of bands that are either clearly at the
very cream of the crop, the top level for the very style
or subgenre that they play, are literally creating or
leading in a new area - an area that's very difficult to
define - or bands that literally that don't sound like
any other bands. Amorphis. Neurosis. Dillinger Escape Plan. You see
those bands used by journalists as a yardstick by which
to measure other acts. I think that's one of the things
that carries through to the majority of the Relapse
roster. The bands are either on the top level of the
music that they're playing, or they literally are doing
something totally new and difficult to label. And I'm
really excited about that because I believe that - even
in the short term it may make it more difficult to
market - I think in the long term bands with those
qualities have more of an impact on the music scene.
MU: Should the scene support "all that is metal" or
only "the best that is metal"?
MJ: Getting back briefly to the Relapse philosophy, I'd
like to say that I don't think we have artists that are
like "fourteenth generation, this band." There are
labels that do that, thinking that if a certain band is
really popular, they need to get another band that
sounds like them. That's not how we approach things.
But the broader question is more difficult. In general,
I'd like to see as many people supporting the scene in
every capacity possible. I think that in order to do
that you have to have fanzine editors, and people
working at college radio and at the retail level, that
understand and support it. Journalists, people in
bands, people going to shows, buying records, releasing
records, doing webzines and on every level. If there is
a local band that is out opening a show or playing a
local show, if you've got nothing to do you should go
out and check out the show, have a few beers and support
MU: Even if it's fourteenth generation whatever?
MJ: Sure, it doesn't matter. It's metal, it's all
good. But at the same time, if you're in a position to
select what gets presented on a larger level. . . I may have
a friend that's in a band that's metal and that is
cool, but I might not think they are good enough to
release them. You do have to be discerning at a
certain point, especially when you are in a position to
either influence people or spread the word about
things. There's got to be some level of quality control
and you can't simply say that everything is good as long
as they have a black t-shirt on.
MU: If the scene gets overloaded.
MJ: It bogs down, and it hurts. For instance, one of
the things about the Internet that scares me - and one
of the things that is different between the music scene
today and when I started - is that anyone can release a
CD, and anyone can put up music on MP3.com. The problem
with that is that it takes the quality control and dips
it down to nothing. Today, anyone can see an ad in the
classified section of a magazine, call up and have 1,000
CDs manufactured. When I went to manufacture CDs, it
wasn't that simple. You couldn't just turn to any
newsstand and figure out how to do it.
MU: But isn't metal a populist art form that is about
empowerment of the masses as much as anything?
MJ: I agree and I'm all for it. I'm not saying that
bands shouldn't be able to put out their music. In
general, I say support the scene, but remember, Rolling
Stone magazine can't review every CD they get - they
have to pick them. Bottom line.
MU: So you hear a band whose sound you liked back in
the day - let's say the band is Suffocation. Years go
by, and now we're onto to whatever generation of
Suffocation ripoffs it is. You liked Suffocation, and
this new ripoff band comes along that sounds just like
Suffocation. Do you like that band?
MJ: It's really hard to. 'Cause if I want to hear that
sound, I'd pull out Suffocation.
MU: What's the difference between Suffocation and
Skinless, one of the newer Relapse signings?
MJ: I don't think you could draw a direct comparison.
Sure, there are bands that sound like a Suffocation
clone. Whereas with Skinless, sure, you see influences
of a bunch of different things, but one of things is it
goes back to the feeling that it gives me. It's really
hard to define, but there can be a record that I hear
that maybe isn't the most original thing, but it fucking
kicks so much ass that it gets me going, gets my head
noddin' and makes me want to kick over my office chair.
If it's got energy and it's captured that spirit. Maybe
it doesn't have the most original arrangement or vocal
approach, but it can still be amazing and still be among
that top echelon, even though it doesn't have the most
original this, that or whatever.
MU: Let's go back to the Nuclear Blast partnership and
talk a bit about how that ultimately deteriorated.
MJ: Sure. Basically, over the years things just
started to change. Two things happened. One: their
musical direction started to change, and moved away from
where our heart was, and two: Relapse also started to
grow and develop. And really, at the end of the day,
they weren't happy about the amount of money that was
being made out of this office, and we wanted to focus on
our own stuff, and it just made sense to split up and go
our separate ways. It was a rocky departure. We were basically married and,
well, divorce often isn't pretty. So there was
definitely some rocky times back and forth. But over
the long haul, I think it was a really positive thing
for everyone involved because it allowed us to really
focus and do our thing and be proud of everything we
do. Frankly, I couldn't have stomached releasing
Hammerfall records all of my life. Not that they're a
bad band, it's just not my cup of tea.
MU: What do you think of Nuclear Blast putting out
Savatage's latest record?
MJ: Personally, I think Savatage suck. I saw them play
at my first concert - actually not. They cancelled.
Jag Panzer replaced them. So my first concert was
actually Jag Panzer, Helloween, Armored Saint and Grim
Reaper. Anyway, I don't like Savatage at all. But hey,
more power to them. If that's what they're all
about. . .
MU: I find it curious that they were still on Atlantic
Records up through last year, and now they are on
MJ: I think that they're a lot of companies like
Nuclear Blast and Century Media - and I'm not talking
shit about them, 'cause I totally respect those
companies on every level - but those companies maybe have
less of their own specific identity. Because they
release any kind of music that they think they can
sell. That's the bottom line. Major labels release any
music they think they can sell. As a result, they have
no personality and are just another faceless company.
That's the difference between a major label and what
Relapse does. We do what we love, not necessarily what
we think will sell a lot of records. As a result, I
think Relapse has developed a little bit more of an
identity or personality than some of these other
companies have. I think that's illustrated not only
by our fanbase, but by our website and our bulletin
MU: Back to the labels for one more moment - give me
your take on what Roadrunner has achieved.
MJ: Roadrunner is a very interesting company. They
established themselves first in Europe by licensing and
releasing a lot of artists that had a presence in the
United States but not over there. For example, they
licensed the Megaforce stuff like Metallica, they
licensed the stuff like Metal Blade and stuff early on.
They worked with Mercyful Fate and a lot of those things
early on. And they definitely established themselves in
metal - that's how they became a successful company.
They also started doing thrash metal bands when thrash
rose up, and they started working with death metal bands
when that began. And they were very successful with all
of it. But when they reached a certain point, they
realized that what they were doing was not that far away
from having mainstream appeal, and if they just started
to change the direction or focus the direction of what
they were doing to make it a little more commercial,
they could reach a wider audience and possibly break
through to a much larger level.
MU: Do you think there is still a genuine love for the
kind of music they are releasing?
MJ: At this stage definitely not. I think that they
are a business and they are based around selling
records. The thing I think that is incredibly
interesting is that if you look at the label as a whole,
even though they've had dance labels and imprints,
they've done country and they've done all these
different styles of music, what has been the most
successful for them? Heavy music. Mostly on the metal
side of things. Slipknot is the only band they've had
that has sold more than 1,000,000 records in America.
What kind of style is that? It's definitely very
heavy. I think that they're best off when they stick to
what they know best or when they stick to things that
major labels aren't good at.
MU: Where did you first witness the crossover for
Roadrunner from thrash to a more expansive roster?
MJ: Type O Negative was a really big part of it, but
that had a lot to do with the band's evolution. It was
Carnivore before that, and they turned into a new band
with a new direction. That was kind of a bridge.
MJ: Sepultura for sure, thank you. That was obviously
a band - the 'Beneath the Remains' record was straight-
up thrash. That album was very aggressive. As many
bands like Slayer can play that kind of music and reach
a larger audience, that is definitely part of what
helped Roadrunner reach that larger level.
MU: Hypothetically speaking, would you ever put out a
more mainstream record as a sort of "gateway drug" to
attract a larger audience to the balance of your roster?
MJ: No, because putting out a more commercial or
mainstream band compromises our aesthetic, but the
bottom line is that I want our bands to reach as many
people as possible. I get annoyed when we get accused
of being sell-outs or corporate-this or corporate-
that, 'cause we want our bands to sell records. I mean,
it's retarded. Do bands want to records their record
and then bury it in their backyard? No, I don't think
so. I think the point is for people to hear the music.
And frankly, I'm a fan of this music, and I think other
people will enjoy this music and I want these bands to
have as many fans as humanly possible. With that said, I don't want to just
put out anything that's gonna sell records or maybe turn people on to more,
because I think that it can grow organically. If one of our bands can tour
with a more mainstream
band, or can gain fans because Slipknot is popular, I
think that is fantastic. But artistically and
aesthetically speaking, I don't want to compromise what
our vision is simply to increase sales.
MU: Do the bands stand on their own two feet? Meaning,
is there any relationship between what happens to Nile
and what happens to Neurosis? Does sales of one band's
records seem to impact sales of other artists on the
MJ: Oh yeah. I can tell you from a label perspective,
when we have a band like Nile become very popular and
sell more records-or, this is a perfect illustration.
Going back in time, I was at a concert once in New York
City. These kids came up to me and asked me if I was
Matt from Relapse and I said sure. So we started talked
about the bands on the roster that they liked and they
started going back to how they got into Relapse. And
they were like, "the first thing I got into was
Amorphis, and from that I got into Neurosis, and from
that I got into the other things." It makes sense.
Kids will first get into the highest profile band, and
then from that see the inside top spine, or go onto the
website, and find out if they may be a fan of the label
in general or many of the other acts that we work with.
I know that back in the day, I bought a couple of
records on Earache, and then after a while I was
like, "Wow. I love Earache."
MU: So the myth of the metal "gateway drug" has some
truth to it.
MJ: Yeah. I think it works with the entire genre, with
bands like Slipknot serving as a bridge for Korn fans to
get into underground metal. And it works the same way
with a label. If Nile sell 100,000 records, it's gonna
be the exact same thing: that many more people are gonna
be aware of what Relapse is doing. And therefore that
many more people might buy Skinless or Mortician. And
let me say this - if there's a band that has the ability
to appeal to a larger audience but at the same time fits
in with our aesthetic, then that's great. As long as
the music is great, that's the important thing.
MU: Let's talk about the roster as it exists today.
Who are the biggest bands on Relapse Records?
MJ: Worldwide? Worldwide, our biggest selling band is,
by far, Amorphis. Clearly.
MU: Is that a catalogue assessment or an individual album
MJ: Each record individually and the catalogue by far.
I always look at bands on a per record basis,
basically. But I'd say the next group of popular bands-
and it's hard to label because some bands only have
certain territories, and whatnot-but basically, the next
group of bands, popularity-wise, includes Nile, Neurosis
and Dillinger Escape Plan.
MU: That's a nice cross-section of extreme music right
MJ: It is. And from there it goes to Soilent Green and
Mortician, and probably someone else I'm forgetting
right off hand.
MU: Can you still do things for Amorphis? Does it make
sense for them to remain on an indie?
MJ: We can definitely still do things for Amorphis.
With that said, there might come a time when it might be
right for them to move to a large label with greater
resources and put them in front of a different
audience. I think their audience pool continues to grow
with Relapse and continues to expand, but their music
has evolved in such a way because - number one, I
completely support because its totally from the heart
and totally genuine and totally quality - but number
two - I really believe that if Amorphis had the
worldwide tour opening for Metallica for two years, that
they would sell a million records.
MU: What is the mainstream audience best suited to
actually like Amorphis if they heard them, even though
they don't know it yet? Pink Floyd fans?
MJ: The thing that's really amazing about Amorphis is -
like so many of our other bands - they could appeal to
so many different audiences. I think the Metallica
audience - many of them could embrace Amorphis. I think
more of the traditional rock audience could appreciate
them. I think some Monster Magnet fans could like
them. I think it's a really diverse group of people
that could dig them.
MU: Neurosis played the Ozzfest a couple of years ago.
How the hell did that happen?
MJ: It really came about primarily because Sharon
Osbourne found out about the band and was interested in
working with them. Recognized their originality and
presentation, especially their live performance and its
uniqueness. Actually had interest in working with them
for her label. And I think she asked them to Ozzfest,
number one based solely on their artistic merits and
also she had interest in working with them further.
MU: That doesn't seem like the corporate version of
Sharon Osbourne you usually hear about in the
underground metal scene. I never thought that Ozzfest
slots were being handed out based solely on artistic
MJ: No, certainly they are not, but I think the thing
that pushed it over the edge was that she was interested
in signing them to her label. So she thought, "Let's
develop a relationship, let's build a base, let's try to
work this out." I also think that was very early on in
the Ozzfest, before things started to take the same
shape that they are today. I'm really psyched actually 'cause that Neurosis
song that was on the original Ozzfest CD, which was long out of print
because they label they partnered with went out
of business, has been reissued as part of a double CD,
and its really amazing. This CD's got Soulfly, Slaves
On Dope, Kittie, Queens of the Stone Age, Ozzy, Coal
Chamber, Earth Crisis, Neurosis, Fear Factory, Biohazard
MU: You got Neurosis into a few unexpected homes with
MU: Hopefully somebody will listen. Did being on that
tour do anything for Neurosis' sales back then?
MJ: Yeah. I think it did have an impact. But I
believe also that Neurosis are a little bit of a
challenging band. 'Cause I think if you look back at
the majority of the Ozzfest roster at that time, and
also the majority of the people that were there to see
those bands, and again - not putting anyone down - a
lot of that music I think was simpler, more something
you could groove to or bang your head to. I think that Neurosis is a more
complex, deeper sound that maybe doesn't come across the best in an outdoor
environment, as well as it doesn't have a lot of catchy
hooks and grooves. It's something that you really have
to delve into and digest. I definitely think it helped
have a positive impact on the band, and I definitely
think it helped our evolution as a label, and I think we
sold some records as a result, but I think that other
bands which would have fit more of the vibe of what was
going on at Ozzfest may have benefited more from that
appearance simply because Neurosis' music is a little
MU: The fundamental question in all of this: are there
inherent limitations on what these bands can sell? No
matter what you do, business-wise? Is extreme music, by
nature, always extreme, and therefore only for a small
MJ: I think that there definitely are ceilings that
most bands can reach, but I think that if you look at
the worldwide music underground, those ceilings could be
much more significant than some people realize because
we're talking about a worldwide movement, rather than
just a local or states-side level. I think there are
some bands which can break out of those limitations, but
for most bands - yes, there is a limit, but that's fine
by me, 'cause this is what I'm interested in doing.
MU: So do you think there's a limit to how big you can
grow Relapse Records?
MJ: Not necessarily. There's a limit to how many
records a particular band or album can sell, but I don't
think there's a particular limit to - well, I mean,
based on what I'm doing now, I'm not going to become a
major label. I think that Relapse has the ability to
evolve in many different directions, but frankly, I'm
not concerned with becoming the biggest thing or this or
that. I'm just concerned about doing what I'm interested
in and making it work.
MU: How does the Release sub-label fit into things?
MJ: Release was created in 1992 to release music
outside of the Relapse box that was still great.
Basically, it's rooted in our love and interest in all
forms of music, and we certainly realize that not all of
it would make sense to release inside death metal.
You're talking experimental or ambient, things that
create a different mood or different vibe. I think we
touched on the Relapse personality before and I think
that if we just went any direction we felt like that
we'd ultimately end up just like a major label because
you'd dilute that personality to the point where you'd
just end up losing things. So we created something that
was associated and attached, a sister label if you will,
that still has to this day its own vibe, even though it
is more undefined than Relapse. I believe that's
one of the reasons its been difficult to establish,
because it is all over the board. And it's tough. But
at Relapse, even though we are known for releasing a
wide variety of music - something I'm very proud of - we
were able to establish ourselves first by specializing
in one area and then gradually expanding outside of it.
MU: Do you think there are fans that are interested in
everything that Relapse does?
MJ: I think there are very few people that like
everything that Relapse does. I think there are many
people that are interested in things people do. I've
heard people say - and I believe that it is true - there
are some bands that really couldn't find an audience or
sell any records on their own, but by being associated
with Relapse, get the attention of a certain, small
maybe, group of people who say "Relapse is interested in
this. It must be weird or different or great or
MU: Does Release have those kinda fans?
MJ: Not yet.
MU: What kind of scale of record sales are we talking
about for the Release bands?
MJ: Amber Asylum sells between 3,000 - 5,000 records.
They're one of the bigger artists on Release. Really we
have artists on Release that have sold everything from
200 records to 8,000 records. It's still on a much
smaller scale than Relapse where we have bands that have
sold 150,000 records.
MU: Is Release a business on its own, or is it a hobby
within a business?
MJ: Well, I mean you have to keep in mind that the
motivation behind all aspects of the business is the
same. So on the Release side of things, we do it
because we love it. On the Relapse side of things, we
also do it because we love it, it just happens that the
Relapse stuff kinda carries more weight in actually
keeping the business growing and moving forward than
does the Release side of things.
MU: Let's talk about Relapse mailorder. How did you
hook up with Blue Grape?
MJ: Blue Grape was later in the equation. It certainly
was a helpful part of our evolution, simply because the
line of merchandise that they carried and manufactured
was similar to the stuff that we did, but maybe a little
more of a mainstream crossover. That allowed people
into things like Slipknot to find out about some of the
things that we did. That came about because the
person that runs the U.S. office of Blue Grape used to
be a wholesale customer of ours ten years ago and the
guy that's the head of sales used to work at Earache and
we've been longstanding friends. They're aware of
our company and they knew that we had a solid reputation
within the music scene and had the infrastructure to
provide that kind of service and still had a similar
kind of customer base. We were the largest metal
mailorder and they were the largest metal merchandising
company. They couldn't handle their own metal
mailorder operation so why not hook up with us.
MU: So if people wanted to buy a Fear Factory t-shirt,
or a Slipknot sweatshirt in the mail, they'd have to
MJ: Not anymore, but back in the day yes. We have
moved on last year for a number of reasons. It's a
similar thing to what happened with Nuclear Blast. Blue
Grape continued to grow, but in different directions.
They now do merchandise for everything from Phish and
the Grateful Dead to Sarah MacLaughlin and Buffy the
Vampire Slayer. And we're still metal and we're going
to remain metal. It made sense when their main focus
was Fear Factory and Sepultura but now, when it's
really grown way beyond that, it made sense for them to
find someone that just packs orders and doesn't care
what it is.
MU: How does the Internet change the equation for
MJ: I think the Internet is a very important part of
our business both now and moving forward. A few years
ago I was really feeling frustrated because I knew that
we had a number of great bands and excellent musicians
that people were interested in and would love to listen
to if they knew about them, but we were having a really
difficult time really reaching people. I realized
that it wasn't the music, it was really what was
standing between us and the music fans. That
consisted of chainstore buyers and big magazine editors
and radio programmers and distributors. Many people
that didn't care about this style of music and - in many
instances - music at all. Many people that dealt in
dollars and cents and commodities. I determined at that
moment that I wanted to find as many ways as possible to
interact directly with the music fan because I know
that they understand what we're doing - at least a
segment of them. I wanted to create the ability to
reach them directly. Anything that we got beyond those
traditional channels would really be great. That's
really the philosophy behind Resound as well.
MU: What is the role of Resound in the whole operation?
MJ: Resound was really created to give us an editorial
outlet to expose people to other music. Granted, it's
focused on our bands. That's because we believe in our
music. But we have in the past and currently tried to -
hopefully more, moving forward - provide exposure
editorially to other artists. Of course, Resound
couples nicely with our mailorder catalogue. We
actually deemed it "the Music Resource Guide" 'cause we
figured that people would read about bands for the first
time in Resound, then that would cause people to be
interested and they might see it available in the
listings. So it is a guide in the sense that it is a
cross-section of what is available in this current
underground segment of music.
MU: Is Resound a magazine or a catalogue?
MJ: It's both.
MU: Any plans to evolve it?
MJ: I think you will see it grow, both in its frequency
and its size.
MU: Back to the Internet, and how it fits in to the
MJ: Like I was saying, I wanted to deal as directly
with the fans as possible. We'd been involved with the
underground music scene for a long time. Back in the
early days we used to sell records out of the back of
our car at Gee Willikers in New Jersey because the
stuff just wasn't available. We'd pull up and people
would recognize the car and gather around. We'd
literally sometimes sell thousands of dollars of stuff
from the trunk of our car. That evolved into us
having a little table at the Michigan Metal Fest and to
us cosponsoring the Fleet Fest of Freaks early on, two
of them annually in Rhode Island when we set up a huge
merchandise booth. And that lead to us promoting our
own festival in Maryland where we had a huge merchandise
stand and had a number of our bands perform. We've had a presence at
Metalfest that has evolved with
them for years and years and years in America. It's
interest that for the last couple of years as we've
become officially involved with the Metalfests and had
our own stage and such, you've slowly seen every other
labeld and distrod build a presence and include themselves
at these events as well. But again, it goes back to us
wanting to reach as many people with this music as we
can, and doing it on a grass roots level means being
right there at the shows. If I can personally,
physically hand someone a sticker for one of our bands
that I think he's gonna like based on the band that he
just liked or the t-shirt that he's wearing, that's the
best possible thing that I could do. So our website is again part of that
philosophy. When I first started to realize the things you could do with
the Internet, I became extremely excited. I think it was
fairly early on in the grand scheme of things, and I
think that we have the URL for Relapse.com is a
testament to that. Because as people realize, URL's
started to go really fast, and any good URL has been
gone for a long time. I feel really fortunate that we
have Relapse.com. Nonetheless, that's one of the best
ways possible for us to allow immediate access to
everything that we are up to, or at least an overview of
such, and I'm really excited about it. It's been great to see
it evolve from just a list of upcoming releases into
full on-line ordering and now to the audio and visual
side of things - and especially things like the free
email and our bulletin board which has developed into
quite a little active community. I'm really excited
about it - it's such an active community that people on
the bulletin boards created their own web sites where
they post pictures of each other and facts about
themselves. Members of the Relapse UBB are
now organizing a compilation CD of bands who have
members who are members of Relapse UBB community. It's
MU: Are you going to let them slap the Relapse logo on
MJ: Frankly, we're going to be involved in some
capacity, we're still working out the details. We're
definitely going to let them use the logo. How much
more community could you get when they take the
initiative to organize this on their own out of some
sort of spirit of community?
MU: How is the Relapse message board different from the
other metal message boards on the Internet?
MJ: I think people are attracted to it because of a
general feeling of personality, just like they are the
other aspects of Relapse Records. Sure, people are
going to go to other metal-related Internet sites or
other label sites, but those who are interested in the
Relapse type of personality will come here.
MU: Do you read the messages on there?
MJ: I frankly just don't have time to read all of
them. I do scan it from time to time, I do get a heads
up from someone if there's something extremely funny or
over the top on there.
MU: Do you post?
MJ: I actually have not posted to this date.
MU: Well anyway, the Relapse.com website definitely
goes above and beyond the standard-issue on-line label
MJ: Thank you. I actually had the opportunity to speak
with an on-line brand specialist who was fascinated with
the whole Relapse and Relapse.com aesthetic. I also
know someone who was working on building a site for a
major label and was telling me it was just impossible
because there is no personality or identity to that
label whatsoever. It was totally faceless. No one
cares. It's really amazing. I think the Internet is
perfect for organizations like our own.
MU: What bands that are not on Relapse do you wish were
MJ: Off the top of my head? Coil, Opeth and
MU: Do they fit the Relapse sound?
MJ: Yes. They are bands that are very distinct and
that are influencing other bands and musicians.
MU: You've talked about the Relapse personality. What
do the personalities of the Relapse staff members
themselves mean to the company?
MJ: I think that we've been incredibly blessed to have
an incredibly dedicated staff of people who are totally
passionate about music. That's why they are here. It's
great to look and see - at least half of the people who
work here actually moved from other states simply to
work here because they love the music and the scene and
are dedicated to what we are doing. Gordon Conrad is
simply amazing. He has his own incredible label called
Escape Artist. He moved here from Connecticut. People
like Andy Hosner, and Chris Dick who moved here from
Michigan. We have Tom Hailey who moved here from North
Carolina. And Shawn Pelletier, more well-known as
Pellethead, who is very infamous in the scene because he
is one of the most genuine, coolest, nicest guys you'll
ever meet - he moved here from Maine. And Carl Schultz,
who moved here from St. Louis. I think that in and of
itself - especially because most of those people came to
Relapse when we were in Millersville, PA. You have to
be very dedicated to the cause to pick up your life from
another state and move to BFE, PA.
MU: How did the move to Philadelphia come about?
MJ: Well, Millersville was really suffocating myself as
well as everybody else, in that it was really a small
town with no direct connection to the music scene. We felt very isolated.
It was very difficult to relate
to people or meet people because there was no common
bond. Most people here - myself especially - live in
Relapse-world. I live, breathe, eat and shit everything
that is Relapse music and the things that come with it
and around it, and it's great to be in a more
metropolitan area where concerts are coming through
every week and there is closer access to New York City - just to give us a
greater ability to be a bigger part of
the music scene.
MU: Where will Relapse be in another ten years?
MJ: I can only imagine that things are going to
continue as they are now. We are going to continue to
carve out our own niche and to do our thing and I think
that some of our bands are going to get bigger than
ever. And I think our catalogue is going to grow with
our own label releases. I think our mailorder will
continue to grow and diversify. And I think that
Relapse will also branch out into some other areas of
lifestyle and entertainment besides just being a record
MU: Finally, tell us about some of the other projects
you are involved with that fall outside of the Relapse
MJ: Sure. They go back to my original philosophy of
trying to do things ourselves or with like-minded people
to reach the fans directly. Not having to rely on
people that don't understand the music. I have created a company outside of
Relapse called 33 1/3. As part of that we have a booking agency called Rave
Booking that books acts - everything from
Corrosion of Conformity and the Misfits to Dillinger
Escape Plan and Napalm Death to In Flames. All kinds of
shit. I'm also very excited about a website we have created
and launched called DigitalMetal.com which is an online
news and information source and magazine for metal.
News, reviews, interviews, tour dates. Tons of
information that's literally updated daily. And that
site is going to continue to grow substantially as
MU: How is DigitalMetal.com different from Relapse.com?
MJ: Digital Metal is a totally different and completely
separate entity from Relapse.com. Relapse.com is
clearly centered around Relapse the label and our
personality and function and arms. Whereas Digital
Metal is its own editorial content site, which is focused
on any aspect of metal.
MU: Any closing words?
MJ: To me, Relapse is a creative outlet. Aesthtically,
with the design and presentation. With the types of
artists that we're working with, and really, with the
creative side of business and marketing. It's amazing
to me how some people can't understand that business can
be creative. But really, it is my creative outlet. It
is something that is so close to me. Really, the
challenge is to balance great art with great business.
But of course, the balance has to be struck in favor of
the art. I wouldn't ever have this business if I didn't
care about and love the art and the music.
Interview: Eric German [ email@example.com ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Webmaster: WAR [ email@example.com ]