Monday 20 May 2013

20 Questions w/ Gogmagogical Records

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll be with me and remember and or recognise your first exposure to vinyl and many of you will have been addicted ever since.  Am I right??!!

However with the emergence of technology, the music world introduced us to cassette tapes, CD and even minidisc (can you remember those, haha).  With two of the latter formats practically obsolete, we are have now been ensnared by the digital era too.

I am a sucker for the convenience of digital music as much as the next person, however it wasn’t until I started with the blog, until my love affair with vinyl was re-established.  Vinyl junkies are the lifesblood of underground bands and labels alike, with any given individual spending thousands of pounds/dollars/euros on a quality products and as music buyers, we want something memorable and collectable.

Gogmagogical records, recently released two of the best vinyl releases of recent times  (this is only my opinion btw), with as recent Cold Blue Mountain release, as well as  Violence by Fister, which was issued in 5 different colours, yes 5!!.  It is because of independent labels such as this and underground bands that Sludgelord even exists, therefore I thought it would be a cool idea to talk to some of the people behind the labels, who release these great vinyl packages, not because they wanna make a few quid, but because they are fans of heavy music. 

So Enjoy!  Here is my 20 Questions with Gogmagogical Records. 

Hey G.R., How are you?  I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Kudos to you, as I am are big fan of what you’re trying to do at Gogmagogical records and your support of underground music.

Q) Where are you at the moment and what are you doing in terms of the label? At the time of writing this, I’m still salivating at the Cold Blue Mountain vinyl you sent; it is a work of genius.  Congralutions!! 

GR.  Thank you very much. I am really, really pleased with how that record came out. Everyone delivered in spades. It was a fantastic recording to begin with, Aardvark mastered it to vinyl very well, United Record Pressing hit a home run with the depth of the blue against the white split and Holy Mountain Printing made an absolutely lush folder to showcase that astounding Matt Loomis artwork. I feel kind of badly feeling “proud” of it as I didn’t make any of the creative contributions but I sure am pleased with the final results and am more humbled than anything that all of these artists trusted me with their work.

Q) For those people who are not familiar with you or your label, could you tell us a little about yourself, your label and why you decided to start Gogmogogical? When the label first started? Current Roster? BTW what the hell does Gomagogical mean and where did the name come from.  You can’t say it 3 times real fast under the influence of alcohol that’s for certain. 

GR.  I am just your typical Midwestern US music lover. I grew up digesting whatever I could tune into on radio, which was largely country & western and  pop rock of the early, early 80s and only began to develop an appreciation for metal as gateways like early Quiet Riot and AC/DC combined with some savvy record store clerks led me down the proper paths.  40 years old this year, I started with vinyl, experienced lots of great music across a few formats, saw vinyl resurge a bit in the indie scene again in college in the 90s and, lately, in a big, big way. I had the idea for a record label floating around for years on and off simply as the product of being a music lover who isn’t very talented musically. I wanted to be more involved than the average consumer and got spurred to action at show with Jungle Rot and Immolation a couple years back. Kingsblood opened, it was the first time I had ever seen them, and they had zero merch. At the Jungle Rot table, kids kept asking for vinyl and the band had none. I had a little savings set aside, thought “why not try to bankroll a record?” and went from there. Looking back at old Facebook posts, Kingsblood were the first to give some positive feedback to the idea and I started to get everything off the ground. While I laid all of the foundations for the business in preceding months, I’d set our official birthdate with the order for the Fister record in September of 2012 – so we’re not even a year old.

We’ve got records out from Fister and Cold Blue Mountain and a Kingsblood 7” currently in production with test pressings due any day. I have another record in the works but am not quite ready to announce. I believe it’ll be a split so we may add two more bands for the price of one, so to speak. So far as calling that a roster, none are tied to me beyond our current release and all are free at any time to release music independently or with other labels. I try to keep our agreements as free as possible as I am acutely aware that I did not create this music. It does not belong to me. I want to make it possible for others to hear it and enjoy it and, ideally, make my investment back but, beyond that, I don’t want any artist feeling like they’re indebted in any way. I would be thrilled if some of these bands would like to work together again in the future but no one is compelled to do so by any agreement.

“Gogmagogical” was on one of those word-of-the-day desktop calendars a co-worker gave me as a gift a few years ago. I loved it immediately. It was an archaic term meaning, essentially, “tremendous.” Its origins are biblical with Gog and Magog alternately referring to nasty nations or individuals , depending upon where you find them. I was more taken with the mutation into British folklore in which Gogmagog  was a giant who wrestled with someone in Brutus’ army before falling off a cliff to his death. So it was a cool word, lots of consonants and syllables and it meant “huge.” I tucked it away and eventually used it for a blog of the same name, really just trying to communicate the enormity of music. From its breadth and depth to its influence over every aspect of my life, it really is tremendous.

All that said, it’s a bitch to say out loud. More than once a postal clerk or writer has referred to it as something like “Go, Magical!” and I don’t bother trying to correct anyone.

Q) What made you start the label and were you involved with bands before?

GR.  I was never involved as a member of any band, just a big fan of music. I would love to be able to compose and perform but, realistically, it’s just not my talent. Still, I was a little restless as observer and consumer. As someone who collects records I figured the next best thing would be to somehow be involved in making the records others may want to collect.

Q) It is seemingly harder and harder to make money in the music industry, bearing that in mind, what motivates you to continue with the label?

GR.  I will not make money here. I figured as much from the get-go and am convinced now more than ever. In these small quantities, costs for vinyl are very high. Keeping a fan’s budget in mind, I hate to see a single LP go even to $15 and want to produce something that feels rich that a fan can take away and enjoy as more than shelf fodder and a means to a download. At this point I am losing a little money on my last two projects, actually selling each title at a net loss but I am thrilled to come close to break even. As long as the label has a positive balance in the bank account I will continue to invest in the next project. That may mean a little more time between each record but I absolutely love the fact that some kid out there sees or hears this band, enjoys them, goes online to find their record, ends up with me and I’m the one that gets to put it in their hands. I love that a band who may not have had the liquid cash can go to a show, prop up some colored vinyl they got as a result of our partnership and thrill some fan while going home with a little more merch money in the band fund. Maybe I’ll get cold and cynical as time goes by but, for now, this is the reward and the motivation.

Who is Gogmagogical?  Is a one man show, so to speak?

GR.  Me. It is a one-man show in one spare room in a suburban basement. I work the corporate 40-hour week, go home, grab some time with the kids, scratch out some lousy notes on my own guitar and fill any free time I can with making and moving these records.

Q) Lets talk about something which may be the bane of independent labels, the rise in postage cost.  As a new convert to all things wax, who lives in the UK, often the cost of postage put me off buying stuff.  In real terms, how does it affect small labels such as yourselves?!! 

GR.  It’s abysmal. Even in the US shipping is easily 50% of the cost of the record. A 12” record alone costs about $16 US to ship to Europe. And I try to charge just postage internationally. So I’m still losing on the box, the tape, the bubble wrap, the PayPal fees and fuel to the post office – all costs I would normally try to fold into a shipping fee. I have tried to supply some European distributors and many balk at absorbing the shipping costs, especially when I cannot offer much of a wholesale discount margin. All I can say for UK – and any fans outside the US - is “I’m sorry!” I really do try to cut your expense to the bare minimum and I know most other small labels are doing exactly the same. Thirty percent of my orders have come from overseas so I really want to cater to these folks. If you have some like-minded friends and want to split the costs of a larger order of more items contact me directly and I can compile, weigh and quote an exact fee. In the end, I’ll do whatever it takes to get the music to the fan at the lowest possible expense.

Q) You’re obviously a big fan of rock/metal, what bands may have inspired you to start the label or was their a specific reason you felt you wanted to support Fister or Cold Blue Mountain for example, who may not have otherwise have received a vinyl release?

GR.  Kingsblood, whose 7” we’ll release very soon, was the first inspiration as I mentioned earlier. Likewise, Dismemberment, a blackened thrash powerhouse from Ohio, was also an inspiration. They’re always one step ahead and have been doing their own releases across all formats for themselves but, as part of the same scene, they set the bar as one of the bands to whom I would want those working with my label to be compared. Fister and Cold Blue Mountain were both unknown to me before they contacted me and it was simply the music that clicked. A few others had asked for deals and submitted music but these guys resonated. After speaking with each we just hit it off right away and it was immediately apparent to me that I wanted to be involved with each of these bands. They good people making great music and it’s a no-brainer to try to be involved in that process.

Q)  Is there a specific person or persons that you looked up to in terms of modelling your label upon?    

GR.  Frank Kozik above all else. First, his art dominated the posters for shows I was attending in the 90s. Then I started buying his records on Man’s Ruin. Lots of 10-inches, an underrepresented size I always adored, and always cool as hell jackets and such a variety. As I learned about his short licensing terms and the fact he eschewed ownership of the music, it all hit home with my own ethics in this arena. I know this wasn’t necessarily a successful business model, money-wise, but I challenge you to find anyone familiar with the label’s output who will say these weren’t absolutely fantastic releases. Many people still revere their Man’s Ruin records. I know I do.

Q) In your experience, how easy/difficult has been to get coverage for your releases, are you reliant on goodwill of people for example or to you reaching out to people?  I remember kinda courting you, after I purchased the 5 copies of Violence, haha?!! 

GR.  It’s easy in the sense that people in the metal community are generous. That seems consistent. Whether they’re writers, label folks, musicians – everyone seems eager to help one another out. Most blogs and review sites I have contacted have been gracious and responsive and happy to give the records some print. It’s very hard, on the other hand, in that there are just so many outlets. Even with great press – and both of the records so far have gotten great reviews – it’s very hard to make ripples in this ocean. And great press does not necessarily equate to great sales. Violence got a great little write up in Decibel’s vinyl column. Know how many I have sold since that issue came out? Two. Word of mouth and hands on the physical product seems to matter most. I consign these records to a small independent shop locally and consistently sell several a week. And these are to people who probably don’t know either band. They’re simply vinyl shoppers who see a cool record, maybe sample at the listening station and go home with something special and unique. In the end, though, I still want to spread the word. While press may not equate to many orders for me, it may drive folks to the band’s digital products and backcatalogues. I am exploring a PR firm as we speak, though; to see how to bolster my presence and better infiltrate more review outlets.

Q) What do you look for in band, in order for you to say ‘hey id be interested in releasing your stuff’ or do you ask bands to contact you, what the modus operadi? 

GR.  I haven’t proactively approached anyone yet. There are always a few at any given moment that I would love to work with, in theory, based solely on their music. Mount Salem, for example, have an excellent album, Endless, out and the sound and aesthetic are right up my alley. I’d have loved to have had a hand in any of the Venomous Maximus releases if they didn’t already have vinyl. Likewise with Prosanctus Inferi. I saw Jake Kohn perform last year and was so blown away that I have honestly been too awestruck to even approach him at any shows after though he seems to have no problems whatsoever getting his stuff out on vinyl. So far, bands have been contacting me and that has worked well. I cannot just take something on immediately at this point so our schedules have to align. Right now, we have one project in the works for late this year, hopefully, and I’m very excited with this prospect.

Q) Based on your own experience, what do you think is the most important thing for a new label to do in order to promote themselves?

GR.  Make that first partnership stellar. Treat it like it may be the only thing you’ll ever create. It was apparent at the outset that Fister had a great reputation and a loyal following across the world. They’re not a household name but they have opened doors and supplied instant credibility. Of course I worked hard to create a solid, quality record with them but, again, the art and craft was all theirs and my name attached to them has helped immensely. I try to stay engaged in the music community. If people contact me, I reply. If I need help, I ask. Knowing where you fall short is important. I don’t have a significant presence on social media. I certainly don’t have the money to buy ad space in print. Again, PR is not a dirty word and I am not so married to “DIY” that I won’t seek assistance. Choosing the right people to partner with, though, is obviously paramount.

Q) What are some of the difficulties/frustrations of running a label, because there are many other commitments such as family, work etc, that perhaps restrict the amount of time you can dedicate to the band?  Not to mention the financial pressure? 

GR.  Work and family and finances. You hit them all. Family comes first. While it may not fulfill, work pays the bills and my own job occasionally requires travel that can conflict with live shows, order fulfillment and more. I simply sleep less. I travel with a supply of the records. If I make a commitment to a band, I’ll follow through to the letter. There are too many options out there. My reputation needs to remain rock-solid. The finances aren’t so much a pressure as they are an influence on the timetable. I’d start a record a month if I could. As it stands now, though, I need to sell a couple hundred of what I have before I can start the next.

Q)  Where do you see the role of blogs such as the Sludgelord is in the music industry promoting/ reviewing your records? What are your thoughts on changes in the industry over recent years in terms digital versus CD/Vinyl? Providing DL links with vinyls, some are for and against the idea? 

GR.  Blogs are crucial. What credible, far-reaching, influential print media remains? Maybe Decibel and Metal Hammer? As a blogger myself I know the community is saturated with fans writing about music simply because they love music. I know there’s no real revenue or reward for 99% of you guys and, at the same time, your word is gold. I’ll read a review in one of the magazines and maybe buy a record. But if my favourite blogger recommends it, I’ll snatch something up blind. That’s why I am doing my damnedest to get physical vinyl to bloggers. I know this stuff isn’t getting tossed aside. Real fans of music who appreciate the tactile package are going to actually interact with the record and research the bands instead of relying on a streaming sample and a snippet from a one-sheet.

I dislike digital. But I also consume digital. It’s an ugly, permanent reality. If I go for a run, I sure as hell take an iPod. If a band doesn’t have a physical record, I’ll buy a download. I will never purchase a download, though, if a physical alternative exists, even if out of print and overpriced. I am in love with the idea of the album proper as a group of songs meant to be played in sequence together complete with artwork I can hold, feel, even smell. I dislike how digital has made albums invisible, music dissectible and, ultimately, disposable. It’s a convenience, to be sure, and for that reason I like to include download cards, but the experience of listening to music has largely been relegated to the background of other daily life when we really should be sitting in a quiet room, holding a jacket and leaning toward a set of speakers and paying attention.

Q) Is there a massive cost in terms of signing the band, manufacturing the music and the promoting it?  Is running a label sustainable financially and can you make a living doing it?     

GR.  I haven’t signed anyone to any commitment beyond the record in question. For two of these, we were releasing music that had already been recorded and released in cassette format. There the cost was nil aside from pressing the actual vinyl. For Kingsblood, I asked for two new songs to be exclusive to the label for three years and paid a good portion of the recording costs. The basic agreement for everyone so far has been really simple: I print 300-500 records, you get 100. No strings attached. You sell yours, I’ll sell mine. If you sell all of yours, you can buy half of mine that remain from me at cost. If we re-press, you get 100 again and we start all over. The cost to manufacture is substantial. The vinyl itself is not horrible but jackets cost as much, if not more, than records. Add in postage from the plant and to the artist and you easily add $300-500. Vinyl is heavy and expensive to ship. If you could somehow manufacture your own jackets you may make money on small batches of records. If you somehow broke through and sold out of a pressing and repressings, which are less expensive, of course, you may start to turn a profit. Promotion will be an out-of-pocket expense and it’s a gamble. I would love to have the optimism to say I could make a living at this but, no, not with my agreements as they are. I don’t want to be the guy who gives the band ten records, charges for more and promises royalties on future sales once we realize a profit. I don’t want to be the guy who demands the band owes them something. I want to be the guy the band says kept his word and treated them fairly. It won’t ever pay the bills but it does make me happy. That’s worth more than a little.

Q) Lets concentrate on your recent releases; our blog recently reviewed Cold Blue Moutain.  How did your involvement come about and what are your thoughts on the final result in terms of their debut? Is it pleasing to see it finally released and what are your thoughts on how it has been received?

GR.  Cold Blue Mountain contacted me after I had started production on Violence based on my involvement with Fister. I am very, very happy with the final result. It is thrilling to see the record complete and I have not heard a negative word about it yet. Once we make an agreement, a record becomes a repeat part of my daily listening. I memorize every nuance because, when that test pressing comes, I want to be able to hear that every little thing is in its proper place. You would think I may get sick of a record over time but in the case of Cold Blue Mountain, I like it even more. I still listen to it every few days.

Q) Violence also turned out brilliantly well, 5 different colours and 10” (I bought them all for info).  What are you thoughts about it now and did you learn anything from that experience going into your next project?  I can’t think of anyone better to release their new record on vinyl, any plans to do that? 

GR. It’s interesting to contrast against Cold Blue Mountain and says something to me about record buyers in this day and age. People like collectibles. They like sets of items. I sold many, many sets of all five Fister records. People plunked down fifty dollars to buy five copies of the same music. Different colors, different covers, they wanted them all. I’m a collector, too, but often choose one color I like when buying and stick with that. I’m a listener, first and foremost, though, and don’t stick my nose up at black vinyl, either. That said, the immediate response to Cold Blue Mountain, while overwhelmingly positive critically, has been much slower on the uptake in terms of sales. In this case, the band has all the colored vinyl save for my handful of review copies and I am certain their fans are fulfilling their collectible needs and supporting the band by buying directly from them – as they damn well should. I have no doubt the black copies will move but I think this limited lesson speaks a lot to vinyl as a collectible perhaps overshadowing vinyl as musical medium at present.

I would love to be involved with Gemini if it goes to vinyl but don’t know, first, if the band would ask and, second, if finances and timelines would align. It’s an astoundingly good record and I would be an idiot to miss out on it but it would also be a double-LP and deserves some kind of incredible package. It would be monstrously expensive to do it justice but Kenny seems to be a master of creative collaborations so would likely come up with a solution. A double-LP designed around the theme of twins – can you imagine the possibilities? 

Q)  Given that you released two sets so far, how do you measure the success of your releases?  Breaking even? Or getting enough funds to release your next release? 

GR.  Either would please me. I’d love to break even and know I lost no money but, really, as soon as I recoup enough for the deposit on the next project, I’m ready to go. Life is shorter every day so I just want to get that next record started.  

Q)  How much input did the band have in terms of the finished product? Was the idea of the blue/white CBM a joint decision or did it come from you or the band? 

GR.  I’ll offer suggestions but the band has final say. It’s their art with their name on the front and every decision is theirs entirely. I generally offer up to three colors, if they’d like, but would never balk at black. In the case of Cold Blue Mountain the colors were actually my suggestion. We had started talking about three colors, clear blue, white and black and then settled on a split as a band exclusive. They liked that idea and we ran with it.

Q) If you could have released any record past or present, what would it be and why?

GR.  This is going to sound weird. It would be an utter impossibility as the man is the epitome of DIY but I would love to have been involved with Glenn Danzig’s solo 7” of “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Spook City U.S.A.” The man is an icon to me and I find that transitional phase from the Misfits to metal nothing short of fascinating. The Warhol-like aesthetic of the sleeve with its shocking spots of purple is utterly appealing and the sides themselves are fantastic music. It’s not fancy, it’s not considered any kind of groundbreaking recording but instead feels to me very accessible. I know Danzig has a reputation as a loner and controller, to put it lightly, but, for some reason, reading up on this era, he simply seemed eager to make his art. Like, given the right time and place and circumstances, I could have helped make that record. I used to own what I am certain was an original Plan 9 pressing and it has long since been lost. I have been seeking another ever since and it’ll eventually crown my collection again.

Q) What are your thoughts about free legal downloads (I am referring to bandcamp) and the difference between buying a physical copy? Is that helpful to you?

GR.  Again, I dislike digital as a format but I would be foolish to say these don’t provide a superb avenue for a band to gain exposure. I have no issue whatsoever with bands providing digital copies parallel to the vinyl release. Those buying vinyl want it and I doubt any potential record buyer would be swayed away from vinyl just because digital is available or, conversely, tempted to buy vinyl solely due to the absence of a stream or download.

Q) 2013 seems to be the start of something special from Gogmagogical. What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2013? I saw picture of a Kingblood vinyl?  Antifreeze colour? 

GR.  Kingsblood will likely be the last release of the calendar year. I hope to sell a hell of a lot of records and get GOG-004 agreed and underway. And screw antifreeze, that’s Dragon Blood! In this case, the band chose the colors entirely but we were going to go with a transparent green. United came out with this fluorescent lemon-lime and I liked it, suggested it and they agreed. It costs a little more but it’s worth it.

Q) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, you got anything you like to say to people who buy your records?

GR.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. A single purchase realizes a lot of dreams for a lot of people. Literally every penny I take back in goes straight toward the next record. Your purchase is an investment in art beyond any simple addition to your own collection and I hope you realize what a fantastic thing you’re doing for the music you love.


A massive thank you to Gogmagogical Records for talking to us.  Support this great label and buy their stuff here.  Read our review of Cold Blue Mountain here and also read my interview with Fister here and a review of Gemini by Fister here.