Brian Slagel is a heavy metal music biz legend and someone I admire largely because he’s always shaped his business model and handled his label with the same passion and eagle eye that served him well as a young fan of metal. The things that make an impression on us about heavy music as kids often remain either static or left behind as we and the bands we love age. 2012 was another busy year for Brian and Metal Blade especially since it was the 30th anniversary of him starting the label in 1982. He still has the ear for killer new bands while never relegating the classic bands to the dustpile as irrelevant. I recently had the pleasure of asking Brian a few questions about all of the above. Read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: What surprised you the most this past year or what breakout act do you see making moves in 2013?
Brian Slagel: I think just the constant change in the music business. It certainly keeps you on your toes for sure. As for new acts…I think Gypsyhawk will have a big year in 2013.
LRI: One thing I will take from this year was the amazing appearance King Diamond made on That Metal Show. It was easily my favorite episode. Do you think King is an artist a lot of people have misunderstood or underestimated over the years?
Brian Slagel: Well, not sure about misunderstood, but he certainly has grown in popularity. I think people do underestimate how many people he has influenced. Between Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, there is not one major metal band that does not count him as a major influence.
LRI: Mercyful Fate and Metallica are two of the bands who will always be associated with you. Were Mercyful Fate one of those bands that you and Lars were both really into? What was it about the band that made such an impression on you both?
Brian Slagel: Yes both Lars and I were huge fans of them! I think it was the really heavy guitars and structures of the songs that made them unique. Really there was nothing like them when they came out. All the guys in Metallica were majorly influenced by them.
LRI: Metal Blade has become an iconic label over the last 30 years. How hard has it been at times? Were there points that you felt like it was too difficult or wasnt worth it to continue?
Brian Slagel: Yeah there certainly were trying times over the years, but I always believed in the music and knew metal would one day come back. Luckily it has!
LRI: Have the massive leaps in recording with pro tools and home computer studios helped you in terms of keeping costs down as a label?
Brian Slagel: Yes I would say all the technology does make it easier and less expensive to do things.
LRI: I was a big fan of the early Goo Goo Dolls material on Metal Blade. Was it difficult breaking them or marketing them and did you know at some point the public would eventually recognize the band’s songwriting?
Brian Slagel: That was a long process. People don’t realize we we developed that band over a long time. I really did think at some point the band would break big.
LRI: What kinds of music or artists would people be surprised to see on your playlist or hear you’re into?
Brian Slagel: I do like a wide variety of stuff. From Muse to Manic Street Preachers. Probably nothing too out of the ordinary though..
LRI: As briefly as you can explain can you tell us how the legendary GWAR has been to work with and how they came to your attention initially?
Brian Slagel: I fist saw them at a CMJ convention in the late 80;s. People had told me about them and once finally seeing them I had to work with them. They have been great over all these years and I love seeing they are bigger now than ever!
LRI: I would have to imagine that Cannibal Corpse has been tremendously beneficial to Metal Blade over the years. Their album covers and t shirt designs are notorious. Have they or any other extreme band forced you to brush up on legal ins and outs or liabilities of free speech?
Brian Slagel: Oh yes we have had quite a few dealings with free speech over the years. It goes all the way back to the PMRC who targeted Lizzy Borden, Bitch and others. Also Gwar has had to over come that as well. I think it is vitally important for all art to have freedom of speech.
LRI: I always felt Armored Saint deserved more attention from the mainstream. Have there been some bands whose success you would have never predicted or other bands you think deserved more?
Brian Slagel: You’re right Armored Saint should have been much bigger. I could say the same for Lizzy Borden as well. Also the band 3 is a band we have now I feel has so much potential to be big!
LRI: Name the biggest misconception uninitiated or noninvolved have about your job of running a label….
Brian Slagel: There are a lot of people out there who think the labels and bands are all rich. That is so far from the truth. We all have to work extremely hard to make this a living.
LRI: Do you still see bright output from veteran metal acts across the board? How difficult is it for bands with a catalog to stay hungry or fresh?
Brian Slagel: Well I think they are doing a much better job these days. So many of the great veteran acts are still making amazing music. That is great to see and certainly is helping the scene as a whole.
LRI: Last question..thanks so much for your time. Are you confident about the future of metal based on the unsigned submissions you receive?
Brian Slagel: Yes I am very excited about the future. So many great new bands coming up and the older ones are keeping it going too! Keep an eye and ear on www.metalblade.com