Saturday 8 November 2014

Interview with Mike Vitali from Magnetic Eye Records and Ironweed

Magnetic Eye Records has steadily been making a name for themselves over the last few years or so with their impressive list of artists such as Akuma, Summoner, The Phuss, Jupiter Zeus and Elephant Tree to name a few. They have released some stunning vinyls such as the last two excellent Summoner's albums which are very highly sought after. Especially Phoenix.

Though Mike is about to embark on his most ambitious project yet. Electric Ladyland [Redux]. A collection of artists doing covers from that landmark classic double album. Mike has gathered artists such as Summoner, Wo Fat, Mothership, Mos Generator, Earthless, Ironweed, Open Hand and Stubb. Impressive or what. This is being funded by a wildly successful kickstarter campaign where everything is almost gone. More details here.

Mike is also the guitarist in the brilliant Sci-fi tinged Hard Rock/Stoner Metal Band – IRONWEED.

I had to get an interview with Mike as he is doing some awesome things in the Doom, Sludge, Psych, Stoner Rock Community. And Mike has kindly agreed an interview with us at Sludgelord HQ.

Q1 – Hi Mike. Thanks for doing this. How are things with you today.

Things are going good. Thank you for taking the time to ask me some questions Steve.

Q2 – So where shall we begin. Well let’s talk about Magnetic Eye Records. Can you give our readers a brief history of how Magnetic Eye Records came about and where it is today.

Sure, the idea of starting a record label came to me Thanksgiving of 2010. I just had the realization that one of the best ways to learn more about everything related to music would be to start my own label. Slowly over the last 4 years we have really taken MER from an idea into a reality.

Q3 – Was it an easy decision to start Magnetic Eye Records. Or was it something that you always wanted to do.

I played with the idea of starting my own label back in the early 1990s when I formed Ajna Chakra however I was still in Berklee and gigging a lot with Ajna Chakra so I never made the time. Over the years after more experience with labels and being signed to labels the thought returned and finally I took some action because I was in a place in life where it made sense.

Q4 – Why did you choose the name Magnetic Eye Records for your label. Any specific meaning about it.

Choosing the name was very deliberate and yes, there is specific meaning attached to the name. I’d prefer to let others make their own associations about the meaning though.

Q5 – You have signed some great acts signed to your label such as Summoner, Akuma.

Yes, thanks. I agree, we have signed some incredible bands that deserve people’s time and attention. I think that is one of the main roles of a label, acting as a gatekeeper and releasing the best bands. I also believe that another responsibility of a great label is not releasing the same music and working with the same genre over and over.

Q6 – Do you have a set of rules when signing a band/artist to your label or wanting to work with them.

I would hesitate to say that MER has a set of rules. I do work with individuals who are musically talented and driven, who also believe in the value of music. And by value I am meaning the spiritual value and life value of music. Music changes and influences peoples lives – I try to sign bands and individuals that I can have meaningful relationships with. Good people doing great things with art and music.

Q7 – You have released some stunning vinyls with awesome designs to them. Do you have final say of the Vinyl design itself. Or do you leave that upto the bands to decide. How much involvement do the bands/artists have with the design of their vinyls and CD’s.

I definitely have final say on the vinyl and the method that tends to work best in my mind is not telling anyone what the vinyl variants are going to be. I like to take the entire release into consideration; the songs, the mix, the artwork, the band and then select variants that move me. I enjoy that.

And the bands and artists do have input and control with the layout and design and cover art etc. At times this varies – sometimes the band has an artist and they’re sending all the art my way and sometimes we are using a label artist and the band just approves the work.

Q8 – How hard is it to run a Record Label in today’s current climate and market.

Running a label is actually an easy job. I chose to take it day by day and work to grow the label one victory and one day at a time. I find it is also very helpful for me to not get too hung up on the ups and downs and all the distractions of the industry. There is so much controversy and misinformation and opinion, I work to stay focused on the basics; great music, great people, great releases on gorgeous formats etc.

Q9 – If you could change anything about the Independent Record Label scene. What would it be and why.

I would change nothing, I’m completely satisfied as is.

Q10 – I now have to ask you about your newest project and perhaps biggest release so far. Electric Ladyland Redux by the brilliant Jimi Hendrix. When did you get the idea to do this crazy insane brilliant project.

On the anniversary of Hendrix’s death I just started thinking that releasing an album of Hendrix covers would absolutely rule. I’d originally thought just my label and maybe a best of sort of release and then I started thinking about Electric Ladyland and thought it would be real nice for both the music community and fans of Jimi’s music to cover Electric Ladyland cover to cover. I mean, …come on! So I reached out to Todd at Ripple, Steve at STB, and Jay at Hevisike because I felt having a community working on the record would be awesome. I am floored by the response.

Q11 – You have managed to get a ton of great bands involved to record covers for this vinyl. Plus help from some great labels who are mutual friends of ours. STB Records, Ripple and Hevisike. Was it easy convincing everyone to come on board for this amazing project.

Yes, everyone has been super and very into working together on the project. I have to take a minute to really thank the artist David Paul Seymour. Not only is he a great artist, he is also the nicest guy. It has been great getting to know him personally while working on the Phuss record and Superchief record, he really added a lot by reaching out to his friends in Earthless and the Budos Band. I owe so much of this project’s success to David.

Q12 – Obviously, it has been carried out by a Kickstarter crowdfunding project. So it will only be sold to the Kickstarter Pledges. Was it a hard decision to carry out the project by this way?

Yes, this is a Kickstarter release only. The idea came to me and wasn’t in the label’s budget for the next year so this was the only way that a project of this size was possible.

Q13 – Have you received any feedback from Jimi’s family or friends on this project. Think they would be quite happy in what you’re doing to honour Jimi’s memory.

Not at this time.

Q14 – You have STB Records, Ripple and Hevisike on board. Were you on friendly terms with those great labels before this project. Or is this the first time you have spoken to the owners. All awesome labels. Do you all have a great respect for each other.

Definitely. Yes, we have all been friendly and interacted here and there prior to this project. They’re all great guys doing good work with their respective labels.

Q15 – We have to talk about your other musical project that is the awesome Stoner Metal band Ironweed. Can you tell our readers a brief history of Ironweed and where it is today.

Sure, Ironweed was started in summer 2006 and our initial lineup as a four piece really ruled. Literally from the first time getting together we could tell we had an amazing potential as a band. Over the years we’ve had some additions and subtracts with the label mainly due to members getting too busy to stay with it – our original drummer Jim Feck owns the wildly successful DrumART company.

Our last release was the 2011 joint release between Small Stone Records and Magnetic Eye Records for “Your World of Tomorrow”. We are clearly long overdue for a new record.

Q16 – I hear you have a new Ironweed album coming out in 2015. Can you give us any more details. Will that be released on your own label or another label.

The record will be coming out Fall of 2015 on MER. That’s all you get for now. :-]

Q17 – Do you still perform regular live dates with Ironweed or have you been too busy with Magnetic Eye Records over the last few years or so.

Over the past few years I’ve really just worked on some solo electronic and ambient music under the release name Asvara and done some file sharing with a great Chicago bassist Jeff Smith and the original Ironweed vocalist Rocco DiDonna. We haven’t taken it very seriously though, we’ve just done these guerilla recording records where we will all the songwriting, recording and mixing all in one afternoon. This project has mainly been for our own enjoyment and as a means of experimenting and keeping busy.

I have not been playing live since 2011. I hope to start finding the time and having reason to get back out there in 2015.

Q18 – Hard question. Which musical aspect do you like doing better. Running a record label or performing with your band. Or is that too hard to tell.

Writing, recording, performing, and touring will always be my favorite. I do take great satisfaction in helping others get their music out into the world too – I have been surprised by how much I enjoy this and how over time this gets to be even more rewarding in and of itself.

Q19 – It looks like 2015 is going to be a big year for you. Ironweed album and other great releases. Can you tell us what future releases you have planned for us.

I think for the next few years you can expect more of the same with an eye towards MER having a great presence on tours and events like CMJ and SXSW. We will see how it all shapes up though.

Mike – Thanks for doing this. All the best with Electric Ladyland and your future releases with your great label.

Thank you Steve.

Thanks to Mike at Magnetic Eye Records and Iron Weed for his time. You can check out his great label and brilliant band from the links below. Plus check out Electric Ladyland Redux if you want to buy. Though stocks are limited and ends very soon.

Magnetic Eye


Words by Steve Howe and Mike Vitali