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Label Profile: Gravedancer Records

By: David E. Gehlke

Byzantine, one of Gravedancer's first signings...

Blistering.com: What type of things did you take away from working at Century Media?

A lot. When you spend a lot of time working for one of the biggest labels in the world of metal, it's hard not to learn a lot. One of my favorite people I've ever been able to work with is Steve Joh (A&R for CM). He is like a walking dictionary of our industry. He knows everyone. He's also really fucking good at his job and taught me a lot over the years. One of the most important things he taught me was just watching out for the scene and the bands in it, whether you work with them or not. Steve always goes above and beyond to help out bands when they need him - even if they aren't on CM.

Then there's people like Hoz (VP of Sales), Jens (Head of A&R in Europe), Antje (Business Development), and, of course, Robert and Oliver (owners). Those people are some of the best in the industry. Getting to spend years of my life working with them, seeing the proper ways to do business and learning from them are the biggest factors that made it possible for me to do this label. Believe me when I tell you, it's a hard climb to do something like this if you don't have a background and I've had some great mentors to get to this point.

Blistering.com: You have a pulse on what’s going on in the metal scene, so what made your first three signings (Byzantine, Chrome Waves, and Conan) worthy of being the first acts on your roster?

Number one is that all three bands are fucking mind-blowing. They are really talented and I just wanted to work with them. Chrome Waves is Stavros (The Atlas Moth/Twilight), Jeff (from Nacthmystium/Wolvhammer) and Bob (The Gates of Slumber/Apostle of Solitude) -- how can you go wrong there? The second I heard the album, I knew I wanted to work with them. Conan came about because I was talking to Jurgen (Roadburn Festival) quite a bit to find a way to work together. We started discussing the possibility of co-releasing some records together and then he sent me this monstrous Conan record. That was a no-brainer. The record is so impressive and I think Conan is going to create a big buzz for themselves over here this year. Byzantine is a band that I've admired for a long time and when they announced they were going to reform, I contacted Chris (Ojeda) immediately and we started discussing the possibility of working together. I'm really glad that it worked out too. I heard two very rough demos and I'm so excited to get the full length finished up.

Blistering.com: Some labels like to flood their roster with several bands as opposed to focusing on a few. What model will you follow: quality or quantity?

Always quality. One thing I can't stand is having a bunch of bands on a labels roster and seeing none of them develop into something special.

Blistering.com: Labels tend to jump on trends rather quickly and pop out like-minded bands who sound the same. How do you plan on staying ahead of the game?

My answer to that is not to follow the trends. I would rather have a few career artists that are, for want of a better word, timeless instead of having 10 bands trying to be the next Asking Alexandria. To me, it's not a good image to have a ton of bands trying to chase the success that another band has already won at. Plus, that's not the scene that I identify with anyway. All in all, it's a recipe for disaster. I'd much rather find bands that have a unique sound that I really love. Those are the bands that are around 20-30 years later.

Blistering.com: Is the hope still there of a breaking a band and pushing them to the next level, or are you more realistic about it?

I have no delusions about having a #1 album on Billboard. However, I do think that you can break a band and push them to the next level. It takes a while, but it's totally possible. Look at bands like Mastodon, Lamb of God, etc. Those bands were small bands that a label took a shot on because they loved the music. Now they're the biggest bands in our scene!

Blistering.com: To that point, what even is the “next level” these days? We’ll probably never have another top-flight, one-size-fits-all metal band ala Metallica and Pantera, so where can bands go once they achieve some level of popularity?

I don't know, man. I think you can still get there. Granted, it's a VERY tough task. However the bands I mentioned above, Mastodon and LoG have done it. I guarantee that no one who bought Remission could imagine just how big that band would become. They're massive. Out of new bands, look at Ghost. They exploded out of nowhere too. It's a lot of hard work and, sometimes, you can even just call it "catching lightning in a bottle" but, one thing's for sure, it does still happen.

Blistering.com: What do you say to those who claim there won’t be a need for record companies in the near future?

Maybe that's true for the old sense of record companies. However, I feel like you just have to have a fresh approach to the business and record labels are still totally useful. Record labels are more useful as promotional firms these days whereas it used to be about getting records into stores, etc. However, as stores disappear, that becomes less relevant but having a well-connected team there to drive people to your music, shows, videos, merch, etc is still just as important as it always was. You just have to know your place in the industry and make sure you do a kick-ass job.

Blistering.com: Finally, what’s your plan for the next 12-18 months?

I just want to focus on the bands I've signed, make sure that their releases are well received and that they are getting what they need to be successful. Past that, I'll be looking for the next bands to sign and release. I'll be looking to further brand and establish Gravedancer Records as a force in the industry. Mainly, I just want to put out amazing music and get more attention for artists who deserve it.



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