Anyone who listens to heavy metal at any point over the last 35 years knows the name Brian Slagel. As the founder of the legendary Metal Blade Records, Brian has forged a path that has been built into an empire than even he admits no-one foresaw. From the days of his Mom’s garage helping the local Los Angeles rock and metal scene to a record label that is indisputedly one of the most iconic brands in heavy metal history, Brian Slagel has managed to not only be a part of music history but also heavily affect the music industry as a whole within the confines of extreme metal and more. This year is the 35th anniversary of Metal Blade Records and to celebrate, Brian put together a book along with Mark Eglinton to document the complete history of the label and more titled “For The Sake Of Heaviness: The History Of Metal BladeRecords”. We had the chance to speak to Brian about the book, the history of Metal Blade Records, working with some of the greatest bands in the world as well as the future of the music business.
Andrew: I was perusing through a copy of your book and reading Lars Ulrich’s foreword and it seems to be a fascinating look into the history of Metal Blade Records. How did this idea come about?
Brian: Well I was kinda thinking what to do for our 35th anniversary and we’ve done box sets and a million other things and we kinda thought, ‘Well maybe a book would be a good idea, especially since it’s probably not a bad time to start selling these stories before I start forgetting them!’ So we decided to go ahead and do it.
Andrew: Have you ever reflected on how much you have achieved over the years?
Brian: Yeah not as often as you probably should, we’re kind of going everyday and working on new stuff and we don’t have that much time to sit back and reflect but it was kind of fun doing the book because to look back and re-live some stories and think and talk about some stuff that happened before.
Andrew: What do you think is maybe the most interesting or most fun part of your history when you were putting this book together?
Brian: It’s difficult to say and pick one thing, there’s so many things. I think putting together that very first record was still one of the main things because I was just a dumb kid that didn’t know anything about putting out records or anything, I just thought, ‘Hey maybe I can help out the local L.A. heavy metal scene and put together a record of local bands’. And to actually put that together and do it and to actually sit there with the record in my hand and having done it pretty much all by myself [laughs] was pretty amazing and obviously a lot of those bands went on to have a lot of success so that’s cool too.
Andrew: And how long did you actually run the label by yourself before it started expanding?
Brian: It was 3 years in the back of my Mom’s house next to the room next to her garage, which had no air conditioning by the way which was fun in of itself. So yeah 3 years before we found a little office and actually had an employee and everything.
Andrew: Those early days must have been pretty exciting at the time for a kid who had never really done that kind of thing before. How did you approach it at the time? Was there any kind of thinking behind it at all or was it a lot of winging it all the way through?
Brian: It was all by the seat of my pants, there was no thinking, totally winging it! I mean more or less had no idea what I was doing and so I was really learning on the fly and making a lot of mistakes but at least learning when I made those mistakes.
Andrew: Was there a particular person or maybe even another label that maybe inspired or influenced the way you tackled it?
Brian: Well there wasn’t really any other independant labels at that time, there was Mike Vardy up in Northern Califoria but he was doing some things a lot different than I was. So I was probably influenced more by what was happened with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal over in England, the kind of do it yourself attitude that they had. So many of those albums were all done on small labels like Neat Records is a good example of a label I probably looked up to, they had Raven and Venom and so many great bands from that whole New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene. So that’s more where I looked at for some inspiration and what those people and bands had done.
Andrew: Obviously back in the day record labels were the big thing and where they got their start from so what kind of feedback were you getting at that time from some of the local bands who were looking to start out?
Brian: Yeah it was great! The whole scene there was one big scene and we were all kind of working together to try and make it big. Even bands like Motley Crue and Ratt that were part of what we were doing, obviously Ratt was on the first Metal Massacre and Motley Crue I helped them get together with a distributor for the “Too Fast For Love” album. Everybody was just excited to try and make something happen back then because it was very new and super underground and the major labels couldn’t care less and this is a million years before computers or cell phones or any of those things so anything you can do to make something happen, even putting out a record and being on a record in 1982 was a huge thing for anybody.
Andrew: Yeah it’s interesting how much the music industry has changed so much over the last 35 years. From your perspective as someone who works in a label and is heavily involved in the music industry, what is the biggest thing that has changed that maybe some people might not know about?
Brian: There are so many things that have changed, I think these days everybody is pretty aware of all the stuff that has happened. I think the only thing behind the scenes is the art of dealing with all the artists and trying to make the best deal for both the artist and the label and make it fair for everybody I guess.
Andrew: There have been so many great bands on Metal Blade Record’s roster and still to this day, it seems like you keep the same mentality and the same approach that you have always had over the years. Is that something you’re very conscious of or deliberate about?
Brian: Yeah absolutely. I think how we do things and how we look for bands and stuff has not changed in 35 years, we just try to find stuff that we like that we think is cool and luckily more times than not, what we like is what other people seem to like. So that’s really the philosophy and that’s really stayed the same from day one really.
Andrew: I know it’s difficult as there’s probably so many highlights but what is the one thing you are maybe most proud of with Metal Blade Records?
Brian: It’s hard to say as there are so many that it’s difficult to pick one. But one of the ones that I thought was really important was Armored Saint’s “Symbol Of Salvation” record because they started on our label and were the first band to get signed to a major label and when that happened they were really great about it and where they came from and gave Metal Blade a lot of press and a lot of love. I was very good friends with those guys over the years and unfortunately their guitar player Dave Prichard passed away, he was the main songwriter in the band and they had also left Chrysalis and they were kinda down in the dumps but they had made all these amazing demos when Dave was still alive and so many great songs. The band was pretty much broken up at that point and I went to them and said, ‘Look you have all these great songs, you have to put these out. We can’t let these songs just die here’. So I tried to get the band to resurrect themselves and go in the studio and work with Dave Jerden who did Alice In Chains and Janes Addiction at the time, and through our Warners deal they made this amazing album that still to this day is one of my favorite Metal Blade records. It was just getting the band together again and getting this whole thing up and running again and putting that record which may not have happened if all this stuff didn’t happen. It came out so well and did so well, that’s definitely one of the moments I look back on pretty fondly.
Andrew: Obviously over 35 years it must be pretty amazing to look back and see all the things that you have done. People reference Metallica and things like that but I always go back to Cannibal Corpse because I think they are one of the bands that have become almost synonymous with Metal Blade Records in a way, do you feel that way sometimes?
Brian: Yeah absolutely. We have several bands like that but Cannibal is a band who we have worked with since day one, we have a great working relationship with them this whole time and we’re always on the same page about everything. So absolutely, they’ve had incredible success, more than any of us ever thought would happen! They have been a great member and still are and they have a new record coming out in November as well.
Andrew: Definitely looking forward to that! One of the things I ask a lot of the extreme bands is the fact that over the years the music has become more heavier and harsher and obviously you would of seen some of that come up over the years as well. Do you think music can get any more heavier and extreme than it is now?
Brian: You never know! Certainly if you would of told me that when all this death metal and stuff came in if it could get heavier and I would say I don’t know and now it’s gotten that heavy, who knows! It seems to me the pendulum is swinging back towards the melodic stuff a little bit now with the clean singing and that sort of stuff but that being said, who knows? There could be somebody out there putting together something really insanely heavy and crazy. So never say never, you just never know.
Andrew: Yeah I guess it’s just a bit crazier now. You have bands like Between The Buried And Me and Revocation and stuff like that who do this really technical, progressive kind of stuff which is maybe where it’s going now I guess.
Brian: Yeah certainly those bands and so many bands are doing stuff like that. There are an insanely amount of amazing players but there are as you said, all this tech stuff that is really doing well now too. There’s probably a few different genres that are doing really well now, it’s going to be interesting to see which ones if any will really kind of rise and be the next thing. But all that prog stuff I absolutely love.
Andrew: Yeah definitely! So I know it’s probably difficult to say as none seems to know but do you have any theories as to where the music industry will go in the next 10 to 15 years?
Brian: Well it’s really interesting, I think for the first time in a long time everybody is very excited about where it’s headed. Last year the music industry for the first time in a long time was actually up from where it was before and the first part of this year is the same thing, but I think we are a little worried about our business because it’s really a physical business for us and we knew that was going to slowly erode and obviously the streaming stuff is going to come up and start replacing it. We’re not really sure how quickly that was going to go so we kind of expected the worst quite honestly and it’s been way better than we thought and all of these formats are doing extremely well now so the streaming stuff has definitely made up for the losses we had in the physical but vinyl and CD’s still continue to exist. So it actually seems good, I think everybody is really excited about the future. A lot of people predict that – and not just people but the music industry people whose job it is to look at industries and predict where things are going to go – and it seems that everybody is predicting that this is going to be a really good time in the next few years for the music business as a whole so I’m optimistic that this is going to be the case. We’re seeing it on a daily basis now which is good for the labels and the artist as well.
Andrew: That’s good to hear and I guess vinyls which I suppose has been popular for a while now, seems to be really popular right now over the last few years.
Brian: Yeah it’s amazing, I’m a huge vinyl fan from way back in the day. It almost put us out of business by me not stopping the manufacturing of vinyl when everybody didn’t want it but it’s amazing how it’s come back and it’s so popular now and hopefully that will continue for a while.
Andrew: Well congratulations on the new book and I look forward to reading this whole thing as it’s pretty amazing what you have done with your record label and how you have really affected the music industry and I think a lot of artists would definitely agree. So thanks for your time today, really appreciate it!
Brian: Oh no problem man, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
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