There are a few topics which we keep hammering at here at Heavy Blog, whether through the text of our posts, the musical selection which we make, on “external” channels like the podcast, and more. One of them is that music, whether we like it or not, is a business. Albums are bought and sold, concerts are booked, and a truly colossal amount of money is made in the process. Ignoring the models, infrastructure, and realities of this business only harm us; it robs us of the tools we need in order to criticize bad business practices (which run the gamut of draconic contracts and unsustainable streaming models) and keeps us numb to the alternatives that might already be out there.
One of the major upheavals in the way this industry was structured was crowdfunding. The first wave of crowdfunding (Kickstarter and its ilk) allowed bands and labels to make albums, tours, and merch in direct cooperation with their audiences and with their direct support. The second wave (Patreon and so forth) allowed those same bands to take the next step and bring in audiences into the creative process, getting them to fund their existence as a band rather than just a specific album or tour. This gives bands and labels freedom in two ways: once, it divorces them from other funding sources and the strings that usually come attached to securing such funding. Twice, it gives them stability which comes from the knowledge that a significant core of their fanbase has their back.
But what you do with what is, at the end of the day, just infrastructure is up to you. How you change current models using these new tools requires that you be willing to experiment and challenge the assumptions of business as usual. Check out PostWax for example, a child of Blues Funeral Recordings. This is “A Curated Heavy Music Vinyl Subscription Series” running on Kickstarter right now, with six days to go. The idea is that you sign up for a year-long series of vinyl releases from some of the most exciting names in doom and stoner, including Elder (!!!) and Domkraft (with more to be announced). You receive these vinyl records of completely original music in a high end, extremely cool package, alongside merch goodies and exclusive content.
But that’s not all. To be honest, the part that most excites me is that the bands are “unbound” in what they can do with the “12 pressing. This is also original, unreleased music but will the bands choose to create an EP or just two, really long tracks? Will this be outtakes, reimaginings, a new, unexplored direction for the bands or more of the same? Only time will tell and Blues Funeral is counting on fans to want a piece of the exclusive action. But it also seems like more is afoot here, a broader vision into what vinyl, musical releases, labels, and music in general and how it’s released should work in this day and age.
To dig deeper, I messaged Jadd from Blues Funeral and did two things: I asked him a few questions about the label, the project, where it came from and what the vision is. But then I also asked him about the music he loves and we did a sort of Anatomy Of entry but for a label. So, read on below for more info on what PostWax is, what it’s trying to achieve, and for the killer music that fuels the passion behind it. But before you do, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter page here; with six days to go and the project funded, this is the perfect opportunity to get in on the action and secure yourself not only great vinyl but original music from some of the leading bands out there.
How long has Blues Funeral Recordings been in operation?
Technically I started Blues Funeral this past Spring. I had been working on PostWax for over two years already at that time, but then this opportunity came up where I band I knew and was friendly with asked if I wanted to put out their new record, like via a more traditional label model. I thought about it and figured, what the hell, so I pulled together all the elements needed through various connections and industry contacts to put a worldwide distribution and promotion network together, not to mention a sweet setup with the best vinyl manufacturer out there… and then at the last minute that band got a ridiculous unsolicited offer from a European label. I considered matching it, but decided to take it as a sign that I should step back and have another look at things. Now I had a brand new label set up and no record to release, haha. Fortunately, right at that time, one of the bands from Magnetic Eye Records (who I also work for), Domkraft, got in touch about delivering their new album for a 2018 release. I knew Magnetic Eye was 100% focused on their pending merger with Overit Media and on making a massive impact with our Pink Floyd project The Wall [Redux] and would probably not have time to get Domkraft’s record out amid all that, so I basically just said, ‘hey, I just put together a new label, why don’t I put out the new Domkraft?’ Magnetic Eye and Domkraft were both on board, so we went for it. And then, after all that, I figured I might as well just fold in PostWax, which really was the reason I had been working on a new label idea in the first place, under Blues Funeral Recordings, which is what we’ve done. So that’s the long answer, haha.
You’ve gone through a few different distribution/business models in your time. Is this a continuation of how you’ve always thought about music or a whole new thing?
My thinking hasn’t changed that much… the response to various bands I put out back when I was running MeteorCity reinforced my confidence about my instincts, so I still tend to follow what feels musically interesting to me when looking at what I want to release. I have the mentality of a guy who used to love making mix tapes, so with PostWax, it’s not just, what bands would I want to work with, it’s also, which band will fit with each of these other bands in terms of style, vibe, tempo, etc.
As for the business side, the biggest change from when I started is that now the biggest key to survival for a niche-focused label or music project is distributing direct to customers. When I got started in the late 90s, our focus was on wholesale and getting records into stores. Now it’s finding the fans and people who could be into what you’re doing and communicating with them directly… it’s a shift, but an enjoyable one, because now we’re talking to the actual people who are bringing these records home and getting their firsthand feedback, which is usually positive, I’m happy to say.
How do you see vinyl’s future?
For me the appeal of vinyl isn’t that of an audiophile – I know about all the arguments in favor of vinyl being the absolute best possible sound when it’s new, and that may be true, but what I love about vinyl, and what I think a lot of others love as well, are the size and spectacle of it. Some people love having their entire lives including their books and music exist purely in a digital format, but others really feel more of a connection to a piece of music when they can hold this weighty, full-size record, smell it, watch the grooves spin, and get lost in this massive piece of art. I think that’s a lot of what has driven the resurgence, because for a while there it seemed like, after CDs, there was no physical way for the music we love to be present in our lives. And for some fans, like me, we want music to be something that takes up space in our lives, racks of CDs or shelves of records and big towering system to play it. Living in a world where convenience is king, the future of vinyl is tied directly to people still wanting music to be something they can hold and feel and admire with their eyes. As long as that’s the case, I think the future looks good… and we’re certainly trying to provide a hard to match tangible music experience with PostWax.
Do you expect the format to only increase in popularity or have we already crossed “peak vinyl”?
We’re at a point where it’s no longer enough to just put something out on a crazy cool-looking piece of wax to be desirable. Everyone who wants to press a record has access to the same pressing plants, so now it’s as it should be, that a record has to actually contain fantastic music for people to want to get it on vinyl. Revolutionary, huh? But yeah, I don’t know how much the format will increase, I would guess it’s going to be leveling off a bit overall but that certain producers of it who get that the appeal is in the artwork and the feel and the vibe as well as with the music will continue to succeed. Let’s talk in a year and see if I’m right, haha.
Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies
When I discovered this EP, Alice in Chains was my favorite band, and frankly, I had only barely begun to understand that there was music out there to discover and make my own that wasn’t fed to me by the radio. I perceived and heard a number of things about Jar of Flies, even if I didn’t really get what they meant:
First, it was an EP. I had no frame of reference at the time for what this was, but figured out that, basically, the band was releasing something to follow up their massive hit album, but instead of a new album, it was a shorter group of songs meant to stand on their own as a cohesive whole. The EP concept was filed away in the back of my mind as an important thing, an alternative to regular albums that I’d revisit later.
Second, the band’s lead singer Layne Staley had supposedly written the album during or after a stint in rehab for the heroin addiction that would eventually kill him. I didn’t know that last part at the time, but what I did know was that songs like “Nutshell” and “I Stay Away” felt and sounded… dark. But not completely dark. Resignation mixed with resolution. It helped me grow up a bit, figuring out that whatever the world-ending problems in my life were (girls, classes, young awkwardness, etc.), plenty of people out there had it way worse than me, and some of them were writing great goddamn songs about it. That provided some perspective.
And third, my CD copy came with 3 little plastic flies sealed underneath the clear tray of the jewel case. This sounds trivial now, but it was a big deal, because when you’re buying something anyone can buy, there’s something invigorating about getting that special something that not everyone else did. When we can all internalize and claim a piece of music, anything that makes it feel more YOURS is important, even if that thing is 3 cheap plastic flies that probably cost less than a nickel to make… because nobody else you know got them.
Kyuss – Sky Valley
I’m from the desert (Albuquerque, New Mexico), but funnily enough, I didn’t think much of Kyuss when I first heard them while living there. When Blues for the Red Sun came out, two friends saw “Green Machine” on Headbanger’s Ball and went crazy for it, but my best friend and I thought the band felt… unfinished. Unpolished. Lacking. (Yeah, yeah, I know.)
I went away to college in Florida, and a year later, as an intermittent DJ on the local campus station, I stumbled on a promo CD of Sky Valley. I don’t know why I cared, since their last album hadn’t moved me. But I was interested, so I did what most of the DJs at that station did when they saw interesting new promos show up: I stole it.
I took it back to my dorm and played it, and the roaring intro to “Gardenia” raised the hair on my arms. Something was different. The song flowed like a river of magma, and I wasn’t hearing it, I was riding it. It moved in a way that no other heavy band I’d ever heard moved. It didn’t gallop, or race, or drive. It coasted. It grooved. It swung.
And later, I think I figured out that what was different, really, was me. Whether it was leaving the place I’d grown up so I could get the chance to start again as someone new(ish) in a different city and state, or whether it was because, on some level, I missed the desert in ways I couldn’t verbalize, and this album delivered it back to me with all the sun-blistering intensity I craved, whatever was different, I was now ready for Kyuss to be part of my life. And never looked back.
Clutch – Self-Titled
Here’s the thing about this record: it is the career performance of no individual member of this band. But it is, to many, certainly to me, the career highlight of the band as a whole. You’ve got these chunky, windy riffs that don’t feel effortless like in Clutch’s later stuff; they feel just right, but they also feel like someone worked to wring them into existence.
You’ve got these tasteful thudding drums that clearly can do more than they’re doing, but they haven’t figured out how much more yet, so they’re like muscular dogs on short leashes, clearly capable, still a threat, but reined in pretty close to avoid getting out of control. You’ve got the never-obtrusive, foundational rhythmic and melodic bass-lines that always remind you (and the band) exactly where they are, never flashy, never busy, easy to overlook, impossible to exist without. Of everything in this band, this has probably changed the least over the years, and they’re lucky for that, because the bass is the Earth Rocker in Clutch.
And then you’ve got Neil, right as he was figuring himself out, but before it felt like he was doing a thing. It felt new. It felt like he woke up one day following a few years of guttural growl and went, “How else can I sing this stuff?” Vocals as percussion. Nursery rhymes as thematic devices. Phlegm as instrumentation. Neil wasn’t the rock ‘n roll preacher yet, he was the guy at the front of the band, looking down his own throat to see what else was in there besides whatever the DC hardcore scene had shown him. And he found genius. There isn’t a single song that isn’t brilliant on this record. “The House that Peterbilt.” “I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth.” “Animal Farm.” Legends. Masterworks.
Even “Tight Like That,” the favorite Clutch song of legitimately no one, has that moment when Neil roars, “Watch me walk now!” and suddenly gives that song a reason to exist. Well, along with the bass. Obviously.
ISIS – Panopticon
I’m always a fan of albums that impart a sense of place. Lots of records feel and sound and rock like summer. Not a lot of albums feel and sound like the inside of a freezing, wintery gulag under the laser-intense scrutiny of the all-seeing, unseen whoever, even while making the experience feel enveloping and comfortable. ISIS was a gateway for me. I hadn’t been a Neurosis fan, nor Godflesh, nor had I sought out post-metal or even really wanted to understand it. I was a singer, for Christ’s sake, what the hell did I want with a band who’d go 9 minutes at a time without anyone opening their goddamn mouths?
But the thing was, part of my brain was ready for the guy in front to shut the fuck up. It was ready for (I hate using this word) soundscapes. And that’s what ISIS did. They created an ocean of riffs that felt like, in true post-metal form, they could go on forever. But it wasn’t forced. It certainly wasn’t riding a riff or groove too long. You never looked at the clock. You were there, in that cold, dark, monitored world with all the other prisoners, somehow content for it to never end. Waves of sound, pummeling power and delicate washes rising and falling… it was epic. It was actually the first thing I ever heard that sounded epic enough to warrant the word epic, which I think I’d be misapplying it since I first heard Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
I know you can never go back again, but I still miss the ISIS that made Panopticon.