It’s always an honor to get to sit down with a highly influential industry figure – especially one as well spoken as Albert Mudrian author of Choosing Death, perhaps THE authoritative text on death metal and grindcore. In an in-depth discussion of his life and work we get a better sense of what Albert Mudrin is on about and the exciting future for Decibel.
So how’s life been Albert?
How’s life? Interesting, complicated and busy. It’s good. I just don’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about how it is, I just kind of react to it.
So having death metal be your full time job is no mean feat?
I guess it is. There aren’t a lot of people who can make a living being involved in underground music and I’m fortunate enough to be one of those people and I try not to take that for granted. At times it does feel a little weird. Especially when you have to explain what you do and people are like: “Really?”
Well like – are your kids in school yet?
No, they’re little. My daughter is in three and a half and my son is nine months old. My daughter is in preschool.
Have you had any parent teacher meetings where you had to explain what you do?
I don’t think my daughter knows exactly what I do. She’ll flip through magazines and CD’s and record covers but she’s numb to it. She likes listening to some stuff. She was very much into Ghost and Baroness for a little while. I actually took her to see a Baroness soundcheck about a year and a half ago. She’s kind of moved on from that. I don’t know what she’s into know though. She kind of makes up her own songs now.
I was just reading your interview with Jonathan Dick of Steel for Brains and you were talking about how death metal has now spanned multiple generations. I noticed something similar when I stayed with Noisem for the A389 bash. Do you think the fact that now that we have death metal bands whose parents were into death metal going to impact the music?
It’s hard to say. I think Noisem in particular are still an anomaly. Those kids were exposed to a lot of good records from a very young age and took on the influences you would hope they would take on. These are not things that would generally move most other fourteen year old kids into extreme music. If you’re a fourteen year old kid now I don’t know how early Carcass would affect you. I think that would be something you could get into at some point but that might not be your introductory move to extreme music. The Phillips kids mom and dad are my age and if everybody who had kids in their teens started doing that I think it would be a huge positive effect on things. I don’t think you necessarily have to have parents who are into this music for it to be passed down. As long as the parents are supportive of it and don’t try to squash it that’s all you can really ask for.
I fully expect my kids to rebel in their own ways. You just rebel at what your parents are into. I don’t expect my parents to have any interest at all in extreme music. I think as long as the parents are supportive that’s all you need. I don’t think you need to be like “I’m going to give my kid Altars of Madness when he’s 12 and see what happens” I don’t think that would have a real effect beyond the novelty.
Could you talk to me about Decibel Books? I’m very curious about that!
I’m very curious about it too to be honest with you! The only book on Decibel Books right now is Choosing Death. It’s the only book that we’ve published on our own ,the previous edition was obviously published via Feral House. It wasn’t until about December of last year that the plan began to try to release the book through Decibel. Originally the plan was Feral House but it got to the point that it didn’t feel like Feral House was the best home any longer. We worked on building towards getting the book out since it’s been done since last year. I wanted to get it out on our own. There were books published by other companies like Da Capo who put out the Hall of Fame book. That always felt weird to me, I thought there was a market for smaller runs of books. I realize that Choosing Death is bigger than that but it seemed logical to use the book that was in the process of being released. I hoped it would legitimize the Decibel Books thing also. Coming out with a title that people knew would help establish it more than saying “Here’s a three hundred page book on the history of Finnish doom metal between 1995 and 1998” Not that that’s a terrible idea for a book but that’s probably the tenth book you want to release, not the first.
That’s the deal with Decibel Books. I suspect that we’re going to release more books and we don’t know about the timetable yet but I guess there would be another one this year. In fact I can almost guarantee the next one won’t be ready until next year. We’re still getting the promotion for this book together still. I would like us to start working on the next one this year but release it next year.
So you have no idea what it would be about at all?
I have some ideas and I know some people are working on some books but it’s still too early to give you information that is worth anything at this time.
Is it weird for you that now we live in a world with multiple publishing companies just for books about metal?
I don’t see us at this point in the same kind of league as somebody like Bazillion Points who have been doing this for something like six years and have released tons of good stuff. Ian Christe is a good friend of mine and I really respect what he’s accomplished with that, but it’s really gratifying in 2015 to see books like this having an audience. When I wrote Choosing Death between 2002 and 2004 there were four publishers I pitched it too and two were completely uninterested. The whole time I thought I would end up at Feral House regardless, I figured they would be the only people interested. Knowing that more people have come to it during that time has made it cool.
I think it will allow for a more creative environment too. There are people who have ideas for books and now that they know that there is something that exists to distribute that people might be more willing to act on that idea instead of thinking “It will live on my desktop and never go anywhere” I think it’s going to lead to good things.
I’ve always admired how independent Decibel is. How do you maintain your independence as a magazine and now with Decibel Books?
Its easy, I don’t think there’s a lot of corporations or publishers who look at us and think they could cash in. I think it’s easy for us to pull the independent thing because we’ve never been tested, no one is going to wave a big check in front of us. That’s not to say that people haven’t come up to us with really gross ideas that I immediately shot down. I’ve also interviewed people for jobs who pitched ideas that did not seem to line up with our aesthetic at all even though I knew we could make a bunch of money by doing it.
For me it’s always been about the big picture and the long term success of the magazine. It’s not about trying to reach a bigger audience of Megadeth and Pantera fans and only trying to reach that audience. If we tried we could probably cash in on that for a little while and make some money, but I was building towards something that had a very clear aesthetic and did not want to deviate from that. You can push boundaries every once in a while but I think it’s really clear what we do. We have been able to use this to develop a strong brand that people identify with, they get it. I don’t want to fuck that up! I think that we’ve been doing this almost eleven years now and that’s a long time to do something. It takes a long time to establish that foothold and for people to get what it is. One Decibel tour with In This Moment headlining could undo all of that.
I think that Decibel is a reflection of what I like. As long as it’s like “Hey this is what I’m doing clearly other people have decided that they’re into it” so I just stay the course. I’m not afraid to try different things and diversify but you just have to do what feels right.
I saw you were talking about European metal press as compared to US metal press, could you elaborate your stance on that?
I haven’t seen a lot of it recently. Terrorizer still gets sent to me every month but to be honest with you I don’t take a very long look at it. I know that there are a bunch of others magazines in that market. I don’t know that much about it. I see Metal Hammer once every few years, the last copy of Zero Tolerance that I saw was in 2004 when I was in England. I’ve never seen Iron Fist even though I’m friends with their founder. The landscape is very different in and of itself in that there are so many competing titles. People are trying to get a niche within a niche. We’re fortunate enough that we don’t really have that here, the landsaoe is a bit more clean. That creates a situation where it’s a little more difficult to reach people. When you don’t have a lot of magazines it’s hard to put them in places that people will see them.
The models are completely different – I have no desire to really take Decibel overseas. It’s a crowded market and while we’re different than all of those magazines I’ve mentioned I just know that that market is over served and their has to be some attrition in the market before anyone else can move in. In terms of the writing I can only conjecture. What we do in terms of our presentation shows a little bit more developed sense of humor about things. The metal press over there is very serious and straightforward, especially when you get into the English as a second language countries. A lot gets lost in translation very quickly. I think that our stuff would go over well in most places but I think that there’s a certain American voice and attitude that wouldn’t necessarily work out well anywhere else.
I’ve always felt that a lot of European magazines tend to be a bit self righteous, and I don’t get that vibe in Decibel.
We’re not elitist in any way, we’re elitist. It’s funny because for years people have criticized us because we don’t cover shitty bands! (Laughter) There was some guy on twitter who used to write for us and now is with Revolver referred to us as a ‘purist metal magazine’ which I just view as a nice way of saying elitist. I don’t really believe that. I think that we need to make decisions about what we think people want to read about. I don’t really know anybody who is over the age of fourteen who wants to read about Asking Alexandria so… sorry I guess?
When you added the hundred pages to Choosing Death was that over the course of the ten years or was that in one flurry of writing?
I started writing it in October or November of 2013. It was probably about a years worth of interviews, writing and rewriting. It was done in that period. It wasn’t like I was taking notes for eleven years. But at the same time I kind of was since I had been publishing Decibel. I was involved in everything that had been going on in that entire period. Decibel came out almost simultaneously as Choosing Death and obviously death metal and grindcore is kind of what we do. I had a lot of mental notes but the actual writing and interview process was done during that period. It wasn’t pieced together between 2004 and 2013.
As a writer who influences you?
I don’t know! I’m kind of at the point where… this is a sad commentary for me… but I don’t really read for pleasure at this point based on how my life is structure with work and family. I can’t tell you the last books that I picked up that weren’t music or sports related? Early on I was influenced by some of the mid 90s Terrorizer writers like Gregory Whalen and Dick Perry both of whom went on to write for Decibel at some point. Those guys were really good at having an authoritative voice that had a lot of personality and came to me early. Now continuing I’m probably influenced by the voices in the magazine. There’s so many great writers at Decibel! There’s a lot of talent to look into on a weekly basis. Maybe I’m in a bit of a vacuum but that’s kind of how it is. There isn’t anybody out there where I’m like “Aww man I wish that person would write for Decibel” who I haven’t already gone out to get. That doesn’t mean those people aren’t out there I just haven’t read them yet. There isn’t anybody in that sense who was a big influence at least.
At this point you’ve kind of altered the future of heavy music. You have a place in heavy metal history. Is that something you try to acknowledge? How do you deal with that?
I think we acknowledge it by showing our milestones. One example is the hundredth issue show we he had in Philadelphia or the tenth anniversary shows in New York. These are numerical milestones and self promotional tools that sell themselves. I don’t think that it’s up to us to walk around and say that we’re good at something. I think that if we just kind of present what we do it’s up to the public at large and the metal scene to cast those judgments. I think we’re an honest reflection of what is going on but as far as acknowledging what we mean, that’s not up to me. I think we just need to continue to do what we do and be that reflection of what’s happening and get people into things that they’re excited about that. Nobodies going to reward you with a plaque for your ten year anniversary, it’s kind of up to you to make a big deal about that and then everybody around you will be like “Oh that is a big deal” and celebrate with you. You can’t just sit around and wait for applause in that sense. There’s kind of a balance that I feel you need to have towards things like that.
Obviously you wear a lot of different hats at Decibel, how do you manage that?
I think you just have to have an ability to multitask and have a high tolerance for working a lot and working weird hours. You can’t really have a 9 to 5 job in that sense because in the off hours the emails are going to keep piling up. It’s disparate stuff. It could have to do with the tour, the flexi disc, or something else that’s going on. It could be a customer problem or a festival or whatever. You have to develop the ability to transition back and forth quickly. You’ve got to make things interesting. There’s not really time to chill out. There’s never a moment where it’s not like “I don’t have something from this arm of the magazine to work on” having a family with two young kids is also stressful. I haven’t seen a movie in years if that’s kind of an indication of how things move around here.
Have you always had that drive or was there a moment that triggered that?
I’ve always been motivated to do stuff. When I was fortunate enough to have opportunities I tried to turned them into something. I was really into Henry Rollins growing up too and maybe some of that drive helped. To me it’s just kind of simple, I try to do as much cool stuff while I’m here as possible.
Can you tell me what you love so much about music?
For me it goes back to being a kid and having that kind of soul. I grew up an only child and I didn’t have a ton of friends. I really just kind of allowed myself to get into music. Even some of the bands I liked when I was 12-13 like Def Leppard still resonate. I was way into Def Leppard it wasn’t like “Oh I’ll get a record and listen when I can” I had all the t shirts and as many posters as I could get. It seems for me that it got really deep. It’s hard to articulate because you have an emotional connection with it. It’s up to you as to how deep you want to go. Once you take one step beyond what most people take it’s really easy to just keep moving forward. The moment you find one other person who also has invested themselves in that way you’re like “forget it” and you’re all in!
What it means to me now is not what it meant to me then. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean as much to me now as much as it means something different. I’m not a lost sixteen year old anymore. I’m sadly an adult. I still love that stuff and it still triggers something in me. A lot of them are discussed in Choosing Death. The fact that I’m still excited about new records and bands shows that that part of me hasn’t gone away, it’s just processed a little bit differently.