Unspeakable Axe: An Interview with Eric Musall
First and foremost, I have to ask, how doth one make thyne axe unspeakable?
A little blood of goat, a little eye of newt, and a curse from a Nazgul.
In the day and age of digital media, what prompted you to start Unspeakable Axe? Were there any particular artists or people who helped guide your decision?
What prompted me? Idiocy! I say that with tongue in cheek, but it was indeed an odd time to decide to start putting money into physical releases. And I knew that. I believe there’s still a niche who prefers physical media over downloads, and I’m hoping they’ll keep me afloat. As for people who guided the decision, Matt Calvert from Dark Descent was an invaluable help. I wouldn’t be doing this without his advice and assistance.
What were some of the difficulties you had to overcome in the beginning, and are they still present today?
One of the big things – and it’s still ongoing – is surviving slow sales as you gain traction with metalheads and magazines, as well as distros and shops that might want to order wholesale. Every label goes through this, I imagine. It takes a while to build up an audience who knows what to expect from you in terms of style and quality of releases. Then once the audience is there, you still have to make sure you don’t outgrow them. It would be easy, once you start getting more sales, to spend more money going after some high-profile bands and doing really extravagant releases that won’t make their costs back. Basically, you have to have patience, a decent nest egg to start with, and some business sense.
You mention that with more money it would be easy to go after higher profile bands. Is this something that you want Unspeakable Axe to do? Or are you content with releasing unknown bands?
The label mission statement is to unearth and expose unknown, underground bands. So no, that’s not something that really interests me. But there are a handful of bands that if the stars aligned and they fell in my lap, I wouldn’t say no.
Unspeakable Axe is a sub-label to Dark Descent, how did this happen? Were you approached by them?
No, other way around. I did layout work for Matt [Calvert] for several years before I had any notion of starting a label. I had him as a resource, and I had seen firsthand his struggles getting the Dark Descent distro (which is orders of magnitude bigger than mine) off the ground – it seemed natural to collaborate.
What kind of layout work were you doing for Matt?
Ads, flyers, and CD/LP layouts. I still do all of his ads, and the occasional release layout as well. You probably saw the last Horrendous release (I think everybody has!) – I did that one, and have done all of Horrendous’s stuff so far.
There seems to be a plethora of independent labels popping up everywhere nowadays. What do you do so that Unspeakable Axe stands out different from all the rest?
I hope that it stands out! I think it just is about doing everything as well as you can, hopefully above the average. I try to only release great music in attractive packaging that people will want to check out. And I try to find a niche that not too many other labels are in, and fill it. Our stuff tends to be more based around classic riffs and catchy, old school songwriting; even the darker death metal releases have been that way. I think that helps. A lot of labels and bands are heading in the opposite direction: atmosphere, atonality. I like a lot of these new releases too but sometimes I feel like I’m listening to fucking Schoenberg – give me the riff from “Iron Man,” or “Left Hand Path,” and I’m happier.
In regards to your riff versus atmosphere discussion, you are more rooted to the old-school riff. What is it about the riff that is so appealing and have you found the perfect one?
The riff is the cornerstone of metal. Get too far away from it and I’m not sure you’re even making metal anymore. It’s just the perfect unit of aggression combined with melodic and rhythmic memorability. The perfect riff: there’s a lot of them, but the one that always pops into my mind for whatever reason is the main riff in Dismember‘s “Override of the Overture.” Every Swedish death metal revival act is probably trying to write a riff that good.
Your label has a solid lineup of bands; what is your process like for choosing them?
I just follow my tastes. I get recommendations from friends and acquaintances, bands submit demos to me, and I trawl assorted metal forums for new stuff to listen to. I try to listen to as much as possible and usually it takes about one minute for me to know if something might be right for UAR.
Unspeakable Axe has bands from countries around the world to include; Australia, Italy, Chile, France and Switzerland. For such a small label you are wide-spread. Was this your intention, or was it a natural progression? And how does this affect communication and coordination between you and the bands?
Not really intentional or unintentional, but I knew it would be a natural byproduct of signing bands that I liked, regardless of other considerations. It doesn’t really affect communication; everything nowadays is internet-based anyway. I live on Facebook messenger and my gmail account. I do have a few guys whose English isn’t so good (and my grasp of their language is pathetic), but we work it out.
The bands on your label are definitely all Heavy Metal, but each band has their own sound. No two sound alike. Was it your goal to have such a diverse roster?
Not particularly. But I guess I do like bands that set themselves apart in some way, even if it’s a small one.
How many people are involved with UAR? Is it a one man crew or do you have a team working with you?
Just me, baby. (That’s my Ash/Army of Darkness moment for the day. Try to always have one.)
Are you planning on keeping this a one man operation? Or as the label gets bigger, will you bring on more help?
I’d welcome the right help if the time ever came that I really needed it. But my preference is to stay approximately this size so I can manage it all myself.
What does a day in the life of Eric Musall at work entail?
I have a computer-based day job, which is fortunate because it means I can at least stay on top of label stuff (emails, incoming orders, web shop updates) as I work. It’s really more answering emails and messages than anything else, a lot of times. When a new release or two is coming out then the order queue fills up and I usually end up spending a huge chunk of the weekend packing them up. I’ve posted some pictures on Facebook of the resulting chaos: towers of boxes, oceans of bubble mailers, and vast wastelands of scrap paper from printing and taping on labels. In between all that stuff I try to make time for listening to whatever new bands (or new recordings by my existing bands) come my way.
Looking at your website I noticed there are quite a few TBA albums and artists. Is there anything you’d like to say about your upcoming albums?
This could get really pluggy, so I’ll resist the urge for the most part. Next release will be a CD EP by Peruvian black/thrashers Obscure Evil. It’s great.
Finally, what is your favorite Manowar album?
Anything with a Ken Kelly painting on it. I’m a sucker for glowering, Frazetta-esque piles of muscle with big axes.
Thank you so much Eric for your time and hard work! Be sure to check out the upcoming Nucleus, Hemotoxin and Putrisect/Scorched releases. Keep an eye out for all Unspeakable Axe Records news and releases on their Homepage, Facebook and Bandcamp. Drop Eric a line and tell him the Toilet sent you!
featured image (via)