A lot of my album reviews recently have been funded by smaller underground labels who remain loyal to the scene that they love and keep us metalheads listening to the music that we love. What you find from these smaller underground labels are the hardest working, loyal and faithful people you would ever meet to support your band. There are a plethora of record labels out there all having great bands on them and who require the music fan to remember the old days before downloading and support the underground scene and keeping the bands alive. Recently, I was contacted by Raul after my interview with Death In Pieces Records in Mexico and after some correspondence, Raul Sampedro of Memento Mori Records in Spain was more than happy to answer my questions. Support the labels. Support the scene. Support the underground! Thank you Raul for a hugely entertaining read and insights to running a record label.
Simple question first. Are you mad running a record label in the world of internet downloads? How do you survive and flourish as a label and sign new acts under the severe pressure of a diminishing market?
Actually, that reminds me of something that some French label owner told me when I got Memento Mori started back in 2010. He said something like “Are you crazy? You don’t know what you’re doing!” He was referring to how poor sales were back then because of the global financial crisis. I didn’t give a toss then and I don’t give a toss now, even though it’s a whole different story with the internet downloads now. And I’d guess it’ll only get worse and worse, but I honestly don’t think about that very often. I took the label name from the old Latin saying that goes, “Carpe diem, memento mori”, which basically means “Seize the day, remember you’re gonna die”. And that’s what I do: I cherish what I have today and I work hard to keep it going, unaware of anything the future may hold for us.
How did your life in heavy/extreme metal begin? What was it that brought you to this form of music?
I began listening to heavy metal and hard rock under my own criteria when I was only 9 years old, back in 1981. But that’d be a long-ass – and probably boring – story, so I’ll focus on extreme metal. Well, I was totally into thrash metal, crossover and hardcore/punk back in the mid-to-late 80s, and then one day, by late 1988 or very early 1989, a good pal of mine played me a couple of new albums he had just purchased. The titles were Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. I still vividly remember how hard I fucking flipped out, man. My jaw dropped to the floor. It was something new to me that took thrash metal’s brutality to a whole new level of viciousness, something that actually sounded like blood and decay had taken a musical shape. Then, shortly after, came Autopsy, Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Pungent Stench, Obituary, Carcass, Master, Pestilence, Repulsion, Entombed, Macabre and many others. I learnt about tape trading being a huge thing in the underground community worldwide (before then all my tape trading had been done with local friends) and I started hunting for demos, EPs and albums, and I learnt how you didn’t really need to go get your music at regular big stores, and I learnt how you could actually be a proactive member of the scene instead of just play a consumer role… and I got addicted to it all. The infection had just set in. I got involved in a couple of local acts as a growler, I arranged gigs with friends, and so on and on and on.
Memento Mori is a relatively young label with your first release being in 2010. Do you see this growing substantially now that you have more experience?
I ran a super tiny and super short-lived label prior to Memento Mori, called Acoustic Trauma Releases. And before that, I worked for a couple of labels/mail-orders, so I was quite experienced by the time Memento Mori set off. And I had a moderately large amount of contacts, as well as a nice mailing list of customers and potential customers to get started with. That’s something that the French label owner didn’t know when he kinda questioned my “risky” move! As for the chance to see this growing substantially, I honestly don’t think so. It may grow a bit more, but not substantially as in, for instance, having a need to hire hands to help us out. Firstly, I don’t have the funds to try and get more exposure via paying for costly promotional campaigns that may draw more potential customers. In this regard, we do the best we can accordingly to the limited budget we have. And secondly, and most importantly, this is nothing but a slow, excruciating agony, like it or not. I’d be a super duper merry lad if things remained like they currently are for the next years, because the future for physical formats is nothing but a certain death. Or a certain state of total stagnation at best. I can safely say that the average age of our customers is 35-45 years old. What will happen once those peeps stop purchasing music? I can safely say that the average age of proactive people in the underground (people that run a label, a mailorder or a fanzine/webzine, people that arrange underground music events), is 35-45 years old as well. What will happen once those peeps quit? Younger lads, or most of them at the very least, are passive consumers that only care about downloads. Unpaid for, illegal downloads if possible. I’m not even sure there’ll be a core of physical format diehards in 20 years time. Time shall tell.
How is the extreme and heavy metal scene in Spain? Is it growing to become a real force in music or will it always be an underground scene in your opinion?
I can’t really tell about the mainstream metal scene here, simply because I don’t give a rat’s ass about mainstream metal in general. Regarding the extreme metal scene, there’s basically two types of blokes: those that totally support the underground and actually have a clue about the way it works, and then there’s those that buy lots of apparel of well-known bands and attend their shows, but are f**king clueless and uninterested in scratching under the surface of the Cannibal Corpses, the Napalm Deaths and the Behemoths out there. Most people belong to the second category. I don’t think there’s more than 200-300 people fully supporting, and caring for, and understanding, the underground extreme metal scene throughout the country. On top of that, and metal-wise, we’re a country of followers, not leaders. No Spanish band hit it big time in metal or provided it with something truly unique and ground-breaking in the past, and no Spanish band will in the future. So nope, this country will never become a real force in metal music. I won’t go into further detail regarding possible reasons for this, though. That’d be way too exhausting for the reader. That said, we have a good number of respectable bands in the extreme, underground side of the metal spectrum nonetheless. I won’t drop names because that’d be unfair to those not mentioned, but there are bands that definitely deserve support and pushing.
What is the scene like in Spain for music shops, venues for gigs and recording studios?
I believe it’s crap for the most part. Music stores are disappearing almost on a yearly basis, which is quite logical if you come to think about it. Physical formats again, blah, blah. It’s all about online distros, eBay, Amazon, Discogs and the likes now. There’s less venues as well. Good enough venues for underground gigs, that is. You either have to book a tiny shithole or resort to larger and more expensive places (and then likely end up losing a nice amount of cash from not recouping costs). Recording studios are a different story, I reckon. These days you can get your album properly produced (recorded, mixed and mastered) for a decent price and get it all done at some sound engineer’s own homespun studio, as long as the guy’s got the proper equipment and software. There’s cheap enough, yet totally professional, sound engineers everywhere, and you don’t really need to invest shitloads of money at a fancy recording studio at all. Unless you want to or can afford, of course.
There seems to be an old school aesthetics movement at the moment with a lot of releases being so in cassette. Is this been something that you will maybe look at doing yourself?
You say movement, I say trend. It’s just something cool that comes and goes. And this particular trend will eventually go, sooner or later, as well. I have many a friend that’s never stopped buying tapes for the last 30+ years. And I’m totally fine with that because it’s people that actually grew up with tapes and vinyl in the 70s and the 80s, just like I myself did too. However, I personally banished tapes from my music universe about 25 years ago, except for demos. I still think that’s the best format there is for a demo. But albums on tape? No thanks. I pretty much understand how tapes are still a suitable format for people that live in places where they can barely afford to buy a CD or an LP, plus the shipping cost. But here in the so-called 1st world, in the goddamn year 2018, I think it’s basically an act of snobbishness, something youngsters do in order to show off to their fellow metalheads how of a true and devoted metalhead they are, and also to recreate that revered analog era that they didn’t live through. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I’m entitled to my opinion on the subject. And even though I despise that format when it comes to albums, I’d rather see someone buy a tape than bragging about the latest digital album he paid for, or illegally downloaded. That goes without saying.
How many people do you have helping you run the label? Has this grown considerably in the last couple of years since your inception in 2010?
We’re two people running the label: me and my wife. She takes care of anything logistics (stock, packaging, warehouse) and I manage and coordinate just everything else. But we’re not that alone in this. There are other people helping us out with the stuff that I can’t do, such as layouts, flyers and the website. And then there’s the cover artists and sound engineers that we usually work with. All those people, along with us and the bands on our roster, are the body of what I like to call “the humble yet proud Memento Mori family”. And I may even add our regular customers, some of which became good friends of ours, to that family thing.
What would you recommend bands do in order to attract your attention and get themselves signed to your label?
I would recommend that they not use terms such as “hails” and the likes when reaching out to me, in the first place. That slang shite is how you guarantee to get your message moved to the trash bin in the blink of an eye. Nah, not really. But I won’t deny it doesn’t help much. That aside, it’d be nice for a change not to keep receiving so many inquiries from bands that obviously didn’t even bother to take a look at the releases we’ve put out so far. It’s bloody annoying to see they’re just sending out a template to a random label without making the slightest effort to actually realise their music lies a zillion miles away from the stuff we’re interested in. Those inquiries do get ignored and deleted right away. Anyway… I’m always open to get promos, be them tapes, CD-Rs, Bandcamp links or whatever, but it’s usually me who approaches bands whose previous output I dug, or bands that I’ve been pointed out to by some friend that kinda scouts for us. It’s not too often that I get impressed by some promo I’ve been sent, as much as to be up to discuss a deal. But it’s happened a couple of times in the past, so there’s a chance it may happen again.
What level of pressure are you under every day in order for deadlines to be met and what setbacks can you face running a record label?
My second name is stress! We work on a tight deadline basis accordingly to a schedule that’s previously fixed with our digital promotion agent (Nathan Birk, at Suspicious Activities PR) and our main distributor (Plastic Head Distribution, UK). We’re talking months in advance here. Sometimes bands are not quite used to working like that even though they knew about the tight schedule long before the actual release date, and that often leads to stress in spades, most specially when it’s them that have to provide us with the final audio and/or the CD layout. As per usual issues get sorted and deadlines are met in the end, but the cost of that stress is greyer hair in my beard and in my head! As for artists, layouters and sound engineers that we commission direct, we’ve barely had any trouble when it comes to them meeting the deadlines. In regard to the setbacks from running a record label, well, ultimately this is nothing but a public service, and that means you’re exposed to the same bullshit you’d be exposed to if it was any other kind of public business. Every now and then you have to deal with liars, hypocrites, egomaniacs, rip-offs… People are people, you know, and the underground scene is no exception to what you can experience outside of it. Fortunately enough, those idiots are the minority and things flow nicely with most people.
What are your ambitions for your label Memento Mori?
I’m a realistic type of person. As stated above, I tend to think it will keep going downhill for us labels over the next years. Sales will keep slowly dropping, etc. So I’d be happy if we managed to maintain what we’ve achieved to date, for a number of years at least. I’ll of course try to reach out to more people, and I’ll definitely do my best to foster loyalty among our customers by providing them with the personalised attention we’ve carefully implemented over time. That’s a good recipe for survival nowadays, I believe: music quality and a diligent customer service. If anything, I’d like Memento Mori to be considered a label that puts out good music and treats bands and customers as people that need to be given care and attention as opposed to being simple figures or tools in a business related context.
What future releases will there be for the label and do you see the label signing local acts in the near future as well as international acts?
Earlier this year we put out 6 CDs: Rotheads’ debut album, Ectoplasma’s sophomore album, Rapture’s sophomore album, Cardiac Arrest’s sixth album, Petrification’s debut album and Shrine of the Serpent’s debut album. Atavisma’s debut album and a Damnatory’s discography CD will be unleashed in late July, and we’ll put out Ruin’s sophomore album, Morbid Messiah’s debut album and a third release (yet to be fully confirmed) in late October. And there’s already quite a few albums scheduled for a 2019 release date, from bands such as Vile Apparition, Horrisonous, Ravenous Death, Filtheater, Malignant and others that we still haven’t gone public about. With respect to local bands, we’ve already put out releases from a few of them. We’ll see what happens in the future, although I must confess there’s a particular Spanish band that I’d love to sign. In fact I tried to in the past, but they chose to go with a different label back then. I won’t say the name, but if they’re reading this interview, I’m sure they know it’s them that I’m talking about, hehe.
Do you have any limitations when it comes to bands that you would sign to your label?
The main limitation there is, is the style, the sub-genre they play. I like what I like and there’s no way in hell that I’d consider to put out something that I didn’t like, despite the sellability or the marketability it might have. My time, my energy, my passion and my money will only be invested on something I like, regardless how illogical that may sound regarding the fact this is our full time job. Death, doom, thrash (all of them of the “old school” kind) and anything in between those is all that I’m interested in. Other than that, I want the bands to be seasoned enough, be it the band itself or the musicians it’s comprised of. Bands, or musicians for that matter, that are not experienced enough, won’t be considered. Oh, also to be active in the live front is always a plus. Not quite interested in studio/home-based bands/projects anymore.
How long do you see yourself doing what you are doing within the music industry?
We’ll be around for as long as there are bands that trust in us to spread their music, and there are fans and customers that support what we do. Simple as that. Should a day come, when we didn’t have that, I’d fold the label and re-invent myself like I’ve had to do multiple times before. Fuck the future. It’s the present continuous that matters.
A question I have to ask at the end of this interview. Is there one band that slipped through the net that you would have loved to have signed to your label?
Plenty of them, actually. “Thanks for your interest, but we’ve already inked a deal with _______ (add a label’s name there)” is one of the sentences I’ve read the most over the years!
Thank you for your time Raul. A fun question to end this interview. If you were a DJ and were allowed to bring 5 CDs to the party, what would they be?
No way, Ricky. Thanks to you and Moshville Times for giving me the chance to talk a bit about Memento Mori and other shenanigans. Oh, I spent quite a few years working as a DJ by the late 90s/early 00s. I’m quite narrow-minded when it comes to metal, but in fact I’m an unrepentant melomaniac who digs shitloads of music genres and played different sessions back then. I take it you mean a metal party, right? Well, it’s a party after all, so I’d play Lawnmower Deth’s Ooh Crikey album on repeat for hours!
Any last messages for our readers over here at Moshville Times?
Go check out our site, if you will. Besides our own releases, we have about 2000 distro items in stock, and we always have deals/promotions going on. And if you guys are into social nets, go like and follow us on Facebook. Cheers for reading!