Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Metal Advisor Interviews Mark of Gogmagogical Records

I've loved Gogmagogical Records from the start. Mark, the label's founder, is an incredibly generous guy, giving bands a safe haven for their music, and the fruits of his labor are always incredibly well crafted and carried out. After featuring each of his vinyl releases, from Fister, Cold Blue Mountain, and Kingsblood, I finally caught Mark for a revealing chat about his development as a music lover and Gogmagogical Records itself.


Let’s start from the beginning, Mark. You like punk, especially the Misfits. Did your love of music start there? 

Mark: Not particularly, though love of metal definitely stemmed from there. My parents were very much of the stereotypical strict Midwestern “anti-KISS” variety when I was young and impressionable, so anything even remotely “dangerous” was impossible for me to acquire until I hit high school. Until then, I was very much in love with music but, admittedly, what I owned or listened to was what was popular on the radio. Once I was in high school - and especially once I had a job and a car – my exposure to other sounds and rapid acquisition of all that forbidden fruit had me veering toward punk and metal. Those were the days when record store clerks were the gatekeepers to all of the knowledge we now take for granted. Now we’d just branch along in Wikipedia and find a band’s entire discography or go somewhere like Last.FM for similar sounds, but then it really was an effort and a journey. That journey overall and the joy of what felt like real discovery was and still is what addicts me to music. Early punk that got me down this path was kind of the tongue-in-cheek variety: Circle Jerks, Meatmen, The Dictators, even the Dead Milkmen. It was likely the “initial-named” crossovers - D.R.I., S.O.D. and M.O.D. - that helped bridge the gap. 

All three variants of Kingsblood's release.
Exactly when did metal hit your radar? I assume a big name—Danzig’s connection to the Misfits—pushed you toward heavier music. 

Mark: I'll admit hair metal was a big factor. Some of the earliest impressions I recall are Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister, and I still love those guys to this day. My high school days were filled with Slaughter, Warrant, and Winger as this stuff was all over the radio. I still have a soft spot for the BulletBoys. Say what you will about the genre, but that stuff got onto the radio and did serve as a gateway. And, of course, we all find Zeppelin and Sabbath and the like somewhere during those years.

Like I just said, a lot of the punk encountered in high school was leading there but …And Justice for All is one of the earliest “real” metal records I remember encountering when it was released and, thanks to TBS’ Night Tracks, the video for “One” hooked me in.

I didn’t find Danzig until I was at a mall record store, and Danzig III was out on a new release rack. I remember vividly that a guy and his girlfriend were browsing, he picked it up and she said “absolutely not!” and he put it back and walked away all dejected. That denial combined with the Giger cover made it an instant blind purchase for me and it blew my mind. That was what we called a “telegram record” back then. You’d buy it, hear it, and immediately drive to a buddy’s house to hand-deliver and play it again together. And then to the next and so on. Something that is so good it has to be urgently delivered to another person. The first guy I played it for called me later and hooked me up with tickets for my first Danzig show and the rest is history.

Even when I was waist-deep into Danzig, I had no idea he was in the Misfits. Going back to the record store days, I would literally browse everything, A to Z, and remember seeing Misfits records and noting the font styles on the logos were similar compared to Danzig’s. I liked the aesthetic and bought Walk Among Us blind as well. When I popped it open and saw Glenn Danzig on vocals, it was another telegram scenario.

Head over to Violent Resonance to win this Gog swag.
Do you ever feel the urge to explore “poppier” music?  I hear you’re a sucker for a good synth-pop group.

Mark: Oh, absolutely. I love Prince, I love Sade, New Order, classic Duran Duran, Cheap Trick – and that’s just what I see glancing over to my shelves from here. I enjoy any well-crafted music. In terms of synth-pop, Depeche Mode were – and still are – a parallel obsession. I could play their 101 double-live every day. I do lean toward the darker side of that synth sound and still enjoy those who kind of bridge the gap like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. At this second, I am kind of enamored with Ghost Noise, out of L.A., and, in terms of analog synth sound that is less poppy, I am dying for someone to release Jeremy Schmidt’s score from Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Your first concert must have been an eye-opening experience, too, cementing your fate as a music enthusiast. We’re dying to know who it was.

Mark: This is a subject I won’t be straightforward on, chronologically. I saw live acts as a kid, but always in conjunction with a state fair, a baseball game, a tagalong trip with a friend’s family and so on. Because none were “pure” to me, I always count the first one I drove myself to and this is an odd one, given my current tastes, but it was eye-opening. This was March of 1992 when I took two friends, my girlfriend, and her sister up the road to the old Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland to see U2 on the Zoo-TV tour. It was eye-opening. This is a band I no longer follow and, frankly, I don’t even play the old stuff.

That said, in that time you may recall they were literally the biggest act in the world and stepped away at the height of that success and very dramatically reinvented their image and much of their sound. To go to a show when the U2 you know is leather vests and cowboy hats and “Angel of Harlem” and to be greeted with the live equivalent of Blade Runner meets William Burroughs meets Max Headroom felt like you were witnessing something special. A band was not only redefining themselves but also the direction of pop music. It was spectacular. I did catch the next tour, Popmart in 1997 at Soldier Field, and it had all gone to bloat bordering on self-parody. They were unable to keep ahead of their own evolution and, in my opinion, have been decaying ever since.

Gogmagogical's first release, Fister's Violence.
Today, you run your own record label, boasting three releases ranging from sludge, doom, and melodic death metal. You’ve come a long way. Are you satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?

Mark: Yes and no. “Yes” in that here sit three pieces of vinyl that otherwise would not exist (at least in this incarnation) and each band has them at no cost to them. These have been extremely well received by fans of the bands, and I like to think that long after I am dead and gone some of these records will be on listeners’ shelves, passed down and still being played by new fans. “No” in that, at present, I’m a little disheartened with sales and stalled forward progress. This summer has been dead. It was some great forward momentum getting the first three records off the ground and now, waiting to recoup funds to move ahead, overhead is eating away at the label’s small bank account balance and I worry if we’ll see another release anytime soon. I am impatient. I am not a particularly good businessperson. Music I love and music that sells very rapidly do not necessarily align.

You always mention that there’s work to be done, especially in pursuit of the high from seeing your hard work materialize. Is there anything “in the works” you can let us know about? 

Mark: Unfortunately, we’re stalled just waiting to accumulate some cash. I have a couple projects in line, both in the doom and sludge vein, but have been very up front with those involved and have urged them to proceed elsewhere if they feel that waiting for me will hold them back. I don’t want to commit anyone to an agreement until I have the funds to actually move a project ahead so won’t ask anyone to make a commitment when I cannot deliver in a timely fashion.

And, please, for the millionth time, tell the Internet about that tongue-twisting Gogmagogical name. Some of us aren’t as cultured as you are and hadn’t heard it prior to learning of your label.

Mark: I love words and language in general. A few years ago, a like-minded co-worker gave me one of those little “word of the day” desktop calendars with neat, archaic entries. “Gogmagogical” was one I saved for a number of reasons. It meant “tremendous and monstrous,” had origins in ancient folklore surrounding demonic giants and, just to look at it, I loved the consonants and syllables all crowded together.

All hail the Gog Bot.
You and I crossed paths at a Uriah Heep concert in 2011. I learned of your blog shortly thereafter, when I stumbled upon your review of the show. And because your blog shares the same name as your label, I take it that was the label’s inception? 

Mark: It was. When I originally got the idea for a blog the name came back to me and, of course, was a word that didn’t come up in many Google results. I registered it as a domain early on, used it for a Blogger site and, by the time I decided to try a label, had some online presence associated with the name so just stuck with it. I decided I needed a label when I first saw Kingsblood live, and they had no recorded music available. I loved them so much I wanted to be somehow involved in getting their sound on wax. 

I remember when you mentioned you had signed papers, reserving the Gogmagogical trademark. Has your life changed since that momentous day?—aside from becoming even more music obsessed, of course.

Mark: It has changed in intangible ways. I have developed relationships and connections online and elsewhere that I never would have without this label. I appreciate the process a hell of a lot more. I appreciate the expense and effort of creating a vinyl record, in particular. I would never complain about a $15 record or the shipping costs associated with heavy records but, at the same time, I am disgusted with larger labels who print thousands of records and charge $30 or more when their per-unit cost is so much lower. Do they put that extra music back into the bands? I’m skeptical. Bands benefit from the exposure from one of those bigger labels but wonder if contracts still have them essentially in debt to their labels. Above all, though, I am more impressed with people than ever. Musicians and bloggers and other small label owners, all have been generous beyond measure and I am impressed with virtually every interaction I have had. 

Mark's got plenty of merch left. Help him out.
I know I bring up the subject often, but do you have plans to bring the blog back in full force? I can’t help but prod you again. It was that good.

Mark: Thanks, but I think you may be in the minority. As long as I am working on the label, the blog will be in a state of neglect. I still have a full-time straight job, a couple hours of commuting, and a wife and three kids that take a lot of my time. Even with The Black Birch working for us, I still try every night to make connections and spread the word about the records we have out. I try to sleep five hours. I don’t know if I’ll ever find much more time for the blog. That said, I really enjoyed writing a bit recently for The Sludgelord and wouldn’t balk at opportunities to add to other sites regarding music I am excited about. 

Concerning the current label roster, you signed Fister first. What did you learn that carried you though Cold Blue Mountain and Kingsblood’s records?

Mark: Above all, what to expect regarding the timeline of the process. Vinyl is a drawn-out affair and takes three to four months to deliver in full, especially with multiple colors. Also, with credit to Kenny from Fister, to think outside what the plants offer in terms of packaging. Finally, that the price estimated is no the final cost. Freight is insane. Every little extra, from inserts to printing download cards to that new color you like better than the first one, adds up fast.

Has pressing multiple versions of each release been beneficial in the long run?  It’s a collector’s wet dream, if I say so myself.

Mark: Yes. I am always torn here. First and foremost, I am a listener. I never balk at black vinyl. Still, I like colors, too, and will often buy a colored version of a record but just as often only choose one. Fister’s Violence in five colors was a huge success. It’s been just about a year since we released 500 records, and that pressing is nearly sold out. I believe I have six of the blue version left. People clamored to grab all five.

Now the lesson kind of turned on its head with Cold Blue Mountain. As a 12” record, I wanted to keep priced at $12, [and] I couldn’t afford another color after the split. And I was keen as a purist to press a black record, anyway.

I cannot speak for the band, but [I] believe they have had success moving their colored copies. Mine in black have been very slow to sell. People love the music. Reviews are 100% positive. But as buyers, they want the colors. When I had sent all my review copies of the split version and had two left over to sell, they went in under five minutes. We went back to multiple colors again for Kingsblood and again saw multi-packs do well in pre-order. A 7” is a harder record to move, especially via mailorder, so time will tell but, long story short, I’ll probably urge bands to stick with colored records from here on out.

A peek at Mark's music collection.
And if I may ask—and I’m not trying to make you pick a favorite—which band has been the most satisfying to work with and realize your dream?

Mark: Fister. Hands down. Everyone else has been perfectly cool and each has been easy, but Fister made it happen. They had the fanbase with the built-in demand to guarantee sales out of the gate, a vision for the record as physical product right off the bat, and the experience and ideas to more or less hold my hand through the process. Kenny Snarzyk was selfless in his generosity and my experience with him in particular has been the greatest personal reward realized from this entire endeavor.

A hot commodity, the Halo of Flies records in your distro are nearly sold-out, indicating a successful partnership. How did that partnership come about?

Mark: Cory, who runs the label, got in touch proposing an inventory trade after Cold Blue Mountain’s LP was released. He was friends with the band and, I believe, may have had to pass on that record for some reason, but wanted to carry it. He was – and still is – exceptionally generous with his trade ratios and enabled me to get some great inventory while also increasing the reach of my label via association with his own distro. We have only made a couple trades, but Cory has been totally cool about sharing colored versions and records he has in low quantities. Add in the fact that the records are marvelous, musically and physically, and it’s a partnership that complements my own tastes, too.

Have you hit any walls since starting Gogmagogical Records aside from getting your feet off the ground?

Mark: Only currently, as I mentioned earlier. Summer sales are stagnant and I need to move about 200 records to get my next project moving. The irony is that those prods I need for sales – advertising and the like – are beyond my bank account so I am still working my ass off to drive reviews.

...and some more. A true music lover right here, folks.
A month or so back, you mentioned that you splurged on 50 CDs for less than $200. Fill us in on your personal record collection, from cassettes, CDs, vinyl, and even 8-tracks. You must spill the beans on this one—provide us pictures, even.

Mark: I don’t have any 8-tracks remaining, though I do recall owning a Star Wars soundtrack I used to play in my Mom’s car. Likewise, I abandoned cassettes in the ‘90s and only own a half-dozen right now. I detest the format, despite what artists and labels say right now about analog warmth and affordability. It’s a largely personal preference, I know, but it’s my collection, my label and I refuse to go back.

I still love the CD, again as a personal preference, and probably have 10,000 or so. Most of my music is boxed in a basement, having been ported to iTunes prior to a move a few years back, and I keep a thousand or so on shelves. My kids are small and still share a room, so the spare bedroom closets are currently housing the CDs I have “in rotation.” 

My vinyl collection was pretty large in the ‘90s, mostly sold off during some hungry years late in the decade and only really revived in the last couple years. While I have a lot of stuff that has fallen out of print, I don’t have any exceptional ultra-rarities aside from the Misfits’ 12 Hits from Hell that was deleted from Caroline at the 11th hour. My stuff is scattered everywhere – in the car, the living room, the bedroom, usually a few on the kitchen counter. I keep a couple hundred metal CDs in the label office where I also keep my guitars as I am constantly trying to hone those skills, too, and there’s always some record I am struggling to play along with. In short, I love music and find myself happiest surrounded by it with albums always within reach.

Do you have plans to press CDs, in spite of its continual downhill slide?

Mark: I love CDs but don’t see myself pressing any. I haven’t investigated but think they’re very affordable for bands and kind of negate any need for my help.

Will you distribute music digitally, say, through Bandcamp? With physical media on the decline, save for vinyl, that seems like a smart move. But I’m not the guy running the label! I know nothing!

Mark: I have a Bandcamp site for the label, but my site only allows download with purchase of the physical product. I have written that into my agreements. I generally give the bands 100 records free. That limits the income they can realize from our partnership, so I don’t want to ask to siphon off their digital sales. It doesn’t seem fair for me to make money off of music I did not write nor record. I feel fine about selling physical records I financed, but, as an intangible product, the digital file and any associated income should belong to the bands, in my opinion.

What do you look for in a band when choosing one suitable for your label? Being metallic is a requirement, obviously, but do you care about sticking close to one style?

Mark: I want to stick with death and doom for now. They’re both sounds I enjoy, personally, and the aesthetic seems to go well with the vinyl format. I listen to a huge variety of music, but it is better for me to focus here, as I am trying to build an identity and core audience and don’t want to spread myself too thin, sonically.

What do you look for when trying to promote your releases? You provide materials to blogs and publications, but can just anyone make the cut?

Mark: Generally speaking, yes. I have targeted review sources who write intelligently on metal, particularly subgenres and/or the vinyl format, but would not discount any blogger of any size who was interested in writing about these records. No matter how large or small their reach, people who do this tend to be passionate and connected to others just as passionate and this kind of word of mouth is what we depend upon. I have been bitten before, though, and it should go without saying that if you asked for a record, I shipped it and then you never wrote a word nor bothered to tell me why, I won’t be sending any more. Those are few and far between, of course, and the Black Birch currently handles the lion’s share of our submissions digitally, but I will still reach out to get physical copies to those who appreciate that aspect of the art.

Any last words or shout-outs? It’s always a pleasure to talk, Mark. 

Mark: Shout-outs, to be certain. James Fiend, of None More Negative, is a constant positive presence, providing feedback at every step and assisting lately with graphic design. I’ll forever be grateful to Ren from The New Wave of Thrash Metal for the logo and support and Mack Sabbath of Rockthought as both technical and creative resource. Cory from Halo of Flies and Jacob Shively of Goatlord Records (and Dismemberment) are label visionaries whose examples I aspire to. The bands, of course, as I am humbled Fister, Cold Blue Mountain, and Kingsblood all trusted me with their art. Also, Bariann at The Black Birch who is helping this tiny fish to navigate and make some ripples in a giant pond. Finally, a shout-out to you, of course, as you’ve had my back from the start, and it will forever be appreciated.


And perhaps the most fun part, a selection from Mark's vinyl collection. Click the video to pause on a particular release.

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