Holy Shit, We're All Fucking Old!: More Celebratory Relapse Shop Talk.

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Here, we continue with the third of four weeks dedicated to Relapse-related interviews in celebration of the label's 25th anniversary. Go check out the interview I did with founder and president, Matt Jacobson here and here. Beyond interviewing Matt himself, the next most obvious thing would have been to track down bands past and present who've recorded and released under the Relapse name for their thoughts and comments. So, of course, what I went ahead and did was get in touch with the label's Head of European Operations, Philippe "Pip" Soret to ask him about his time at the label which has included stints as an intern, mail order dude, doing accounting, calculating royalties, dealing with jerks like us as a PR rep and managing the European office. I've known Pip for a number of years and figured he's probably never been interviewed, so being the gentleman that I am, I politely asked him if he wouldn't mind me popping that particular cherry. The results of our chat will be splayed out before you this week and next.

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning. When did you start at Relapse?

I started in 2001 when we first moved here [Upper Darby, PA]. I was at a show that a bunch of the Relapse dudes were at. I was a freshman in college and I just walked up to them and told them, “Hey, I’d like to work in music. Can I come by and be an intern and shit?” The first thing they ever gave me was to pack up and send off promos of Neurosis’ A Sun That Never Sets. It was a lot different then. Now, we just use Haulix [for digital promos] and just send off a mailing through email and it goes to a thousand people automatically. Back then, I packed about 1200 packages up, going through every step: folding up the bio, grabbing a CD, throwing it in the package and closing the package. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re doing 1200 of them and stamping them and writing the addresses out, it takes forever.

At what point did you make the move to what you’re doing now? I

did mail order for a couple years when they first hired me. That was the general company structure. You would start as an intern and, with a few exceptions, if you were hired you would be moved into mail order to answer emails and phone calls, fold t-shirts, print and pack crap and all that sort of stuff. That was the general trajectory from an intern’s perspective. If you hired for a more senior role, it was obviously a different thing.

After mail order, you handled accounting and royalties for a few years. Does anything particularly stand out for you during those days?

Yeah, I did that for a while. That was what I studied in school, so that was what they had me doing. At the time, there were a lot of different things that people look back on and laugh at or think about as part of an iconic period, like Resound Magazine. That was something we put out four times a year. People would just get a copy in the mail and there you go. But on our end, we had to drive out six hours to whatever printing plant somewhere in Pennsylvania, pick them up and drive six hours back. When we’d get back, we’d pack them all ourselves and then send them off. I can just remember sitting here, almost in a circle with the rest of the staff just working on these stupid Resounds for days on end to get them out. My memories go between that and just the sheer volume of quality records that all came out within such a short period of time. One year, we had a Mastodon and a High on Fire album come out on the same day. Another year, we had a Mastodon album and a Dillinger album come out within a couple months of each other and there were Nasum and Nile records sprinkled in between. All these albums which are considered iconic, classic Relapse titles were, at the time, records we were working on, y’know? Looking back on them, it’s like “Whoa! There are some really big records here.” At the time, you don’t think about setting a bar or anything like that. We all knew Leviathan would be an instant classic, but we didn’t really pause to think about it until after the fact.

deciblog - resound
deciblog - resound

A few examples of the one-time bane of Pip Soret's existence:

deciblog - resound1
deciblog - resound1
deciblog - resound2
deciblog - resound2
deciblog - resound3
deciblog - resound3
deciblog - resound4
deciblog - resound4

That’s sort of what I was going to ask next; did you not have much time to reflect on what you were doing because you were so busy?

When we got Leviathan, it was a little different because the artwork and the finished master came in almost at the same time. I remember all of us just sitting in Jacobson’s office at the time blasting that record and just being in awe of what it was. We all knew it was going to be awesome because when Mastodon was going up to record in Seattle with Matt Bayles, they toured on the way up basically playing the record – they went from Atlanta up the east coast and went due west – live in front of people to work the kinks out and finalise the songs and it worked out pretty well for them.

When you were doing the accounting stuff, what were the surprising aspects of the work you were doing and how did working at Relapse differ from what you were taught formally?

Well, if you went to school for accounting, you were always taught assets and liabilities on the opposite side of the ledger, and debits and credits and all that. Well, what I was doing was a lot of the royalty accounting which is very different from that sort of thing. It’s not quite…a lot of accountants have trouble processing the differences between the two. It’s easy if you’re selling a box of nails or some sort of a finite product, but when it’s something that’s kind of intangible like music is, it’s not quite as easy to account for it in the same way. You have to look at it kind of differently and that was something that nobody taught me in college, for sure. I had to learn on the fly. When I got here, there were a couple kids who had done royalties prior, but I worked with a couple other guys as a team to clean it all up and make it more presentable and ever since then we haven’t had any problems. But, a lot of the earlier bands and bands before that process had issues with the label because some of the accounting was improper and a lot of the time they were right! It was just the nature of the beast. The label wasn’t a major label at the beginning and neither Jacobson nor anyone else knew how to do any of that stuff, so it was a learning experience for everybody. And now that everyone has learned, it’s like a well-run machine, but for a while it was a learning curve, not just for royalties, but for a lot of the different business areas. The label made a lot of mistakes, but learned from those mistakes and has built into what it is by not making those same mistakes twice.

What are some of your cooler stories and reminisces?

The thing with me is that I didn’t always interact with the bands on a day-to-day basis like some of the other people, because that wasn’t a major part of my role for the first few years I was here. It is now, but it wasn’t then. At least in the early years, my most positive experiences were working with the other guys I worked with. We would do a lot of ridiculous things; some the ridiculous partying and going to festivals, there would a lot of hilarious shit that would go on. I can remember going to an Uphill Battle/Black Dahlia Murder show after Hellfest up in Syracuse one year. This was after the festival at a house show those bands were supposed to play and before Black Dahlia Murder was even signed. Uphill Battle played in the living room and Black Dahlia Murder is setting up and all of a sudden the cops show up, everyone just leaves and BDM is just sitting there in this squat house with all their gear set up, going, “Uhh….shit.” They didn’t get arrested, but they got held and stuck there for a while. There are a whole host of things that’ve happened just like that. One time on the way up to a New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, we stopped in New York to see Mastodon because they were touring Remission, on the Contamination Tour. We got to New York, parked our van on 34th and Broadway or thereabouts, watched the show and went back to the van and one of the windows was smashed out. Somebody had broken into our van. They didn’t take any of the thousands of dollars of merchandise we had in there, but had gone through all of our personal bags and took one guy’s weed, a couple bags of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers and my hoodie. What was really annoying was that it was the middle of April and still kind of fucking cold out. So, the windows are smashed out, all the boxes of CDs and LPs are on top of the boxes with the shirts and stuff and I couldn’t get to them. We drove the rest of the way up to Worcester, after we filed a police report and the police kind of laughed at us, and I’m freezing the entire way up there. I can vividly remember just sitting in there and shaking and shivering for three-and-a-half hours. Things like you laugh at; it was a lot of fun at the time.

Again, here's a link to the 180 song compilation spanning the entirety of the label's history that can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp HERE.

deciblog - relapse comp cover
deciblog - relapse comp cover
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