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Relapse Records    

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.

matt jacobson

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 sucked.

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 missing.

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 Psychotic Society.

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 issue.

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 underground network.

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 today's scene?

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 existed before.

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 variables.

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.

MU: Amorphis.

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 godly.

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 band was.

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 times.

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 two bucks.

MU: Did you dream back then about turning this into something bigger?

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 7"?

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 future.

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 and metal.

MU: Like, D.R.I. and shit like that?

matt jacobson

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 another one!"

MU: By the way, this was done under the banner of Relapse Records?

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 instinctual.

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 business.

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?

MJ: '91.

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 years later.

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.

MJ: (laughs)

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 money.

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 some grind.

MU: And none of these records were getting a proper U.S. release.

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 7"s?

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 today?

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 that. That's 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 beginning.

MU: What is the Relapse philosophy, or what is the Relapse sound?

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 we're doing.

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 pursue it.

MU: Are there are any deals you didn't do that you now regret?

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 roster.

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 career.

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 yourself?

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 the scene.

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 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 Nuclear Blast.

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 board.

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.

MU: Sepultura?

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 roster?

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 count?

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 there.

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 merit.

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 and Slayer.

MU: You got Neurosis into a few unexpected homes with that one.

MJ: Yes.

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 more difficult.

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 audience?

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 whatever."

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 call Relapse?

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 Relapse Records?

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 Relapse philosophy.

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 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 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 wild.

MU: Are you going to let them slap the Relapse logo on the CD?

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 website definitely goes above and beyond the standard-issue on-line label component.

MJ: Thank you. I actually had the opportunity to speak with an on-line brand specialist who was fascinated with the whole Relapse and 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 on Relapse?

MJ: Off the top of my head? Coil, Opeth and Katatonia.

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 label.

MU: Finally, tell us about some of the other projects you are involved with that fall outside of the Relapse umbrella.

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 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 well.

MU: How is different from

MJ: Digital Metal is a totally different and completely separate entity from 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 [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
Webmaster: WAR [ ]

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