Holy Shit, We're All Fucking Old!: The Final Bit of Celebratory Relapse Shop Talk.

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And so it ends. My personal weeks-long salute to Relapse's 25th anniversary in interview form, that is. The real celebratin' hasn't even yet begun - what with the upcoming fests, tours, beer collaborations, reissues and the loose promise of more Devourment thongs and booty shorts, it promises to be a crazy year steeped in warm fuzzy hugs, congratulatory slaps on the back, lot of awesome tunes and lots more empty wallets. Below, is part two of my interview with Head of European Operations, Philippe "Pip" Soret about his eventful first week on the job as Head of European Operations and his thoughts on the role and future of labels, in general, and Relapse, in particular. So, how did you end up heading up Relapse’s European office? That was in 2010. I was doing business admin, marketing and US sales stuff here and the label just decided it was time for a personnel change over there and they wanted to bring some continuity to the entire label’s operation. Up until that point, there was always a pretty large divide between the US office and the EU office and how things were done. It was just because of the fact that the label hired Europeans, obviously, who had never worked out of our US office and never seen the headquarters’ day-to-day operations. My dad is French, so I have a French passport and I was easy enough to move over. They were like, “Hey, do you want to go to Holland?” and it was like, “Sure, why not?” I had actually only started dating my future wife three months before when I asked her, “Do you want to go with me, or not?” She was like, “Sure.” So, we got married by a Justice of the Peace and went over. It was the only option, really. I mean, we were friends long before that and we knew each other, so it wasn’t as fly by the seat of your pants as you might think. So, we went over there and within ten days of us landing, the Relapse warehouse burned to the ground! What happened was that our warehouse was kind of in the middle of nowhere, in this little town called Sevenum and there were these huge, metal warehouses and we rented out one unit in a larger warehouse. The insulation in each of those building was this highly flammable sort of Styrofoam that kept things warm, but also be cost-effective and cheap. One of the other units caught fire and what happened was that once it hit that insulate, it was all over. It just set the entire warehouse on fire and melted the entire complex. I had pictures of this and literally the steel structure was completely bent over and melted. I made the mistake of not keeping it, but there was literally only one thing that was salvaged from the Relapse Records European warehouse fire and it was one fucking VVerevvolf Grehv LP.

I guess this is a variation on the old “differences between European and American crowds” question bands always get asked, but what are the differences between the European and American offices?

I had to kind of establish the continuity and explain how things worked. The guys that I worked with over there, and after the fire, we had to change the business model and entire structure over there. So, we let a few of the guys go from the warehouse, but what we did was hire them under the guise of a different company, that we then hired to make sure none of those dudes were out of jobs. They formed their own company and we hired them to do our fulfillment and all that sort of thing. That being said, they didn’t technically work for the label, but I had to teach the press guy how we did things in the US and he didn’t understand why things were done a certain way, but once they learned why things were done they way they were, they understood and there was a lot more continuity to it. These are the sorts of things and questions that just coming over here for meetings once a year are not going to smooth out or answer.

So, you pretty much ended up being the label manager over there?

Yeah, definitely. I still technically run the European office the same way. I’m in charge of all of Europe for Relapse, but I do it from here.

What are your thoughts on Relapse’s contributions to extreme metal?

For me, the label’s always kind of been about leading; not following trends, but setting trends. At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of dudes who sign bands they like. That’s about it and we work from that point. The process is that simple, it’s not scientific, there’s no market division or market share conversation or anything like that. We’re fans of music, all forms of music, but we all happen to also like metal and it’s a simple as that. I can’t speak to other labels, but I know that’s how we do things here.

deciblog - relapse logo II
deciblog - relapse logo II

A progression of logos...

deciblog - relapse logo III
deciblog - relapse logo III
deciblog - relapse logo IV
deciblog - relapse logo IV

Matt touched on this in his interview, but how was your experience of the downturn that the music industry took in light of downloading, piracy and all that mumbo-jumbo?

At the end of the day, art is a luxury item. Any time there’s an economic downtown, the first thing people cut out of their budget are luxury items. That’s just the nature of the beast. That being said, I don’t think people will ever stop spending money on music, or at least I don’t think they will. The reality is that it’s a cultural thing that’s deeply ingrained in us, it’s just up to us to be as innovative as possible to make sure music is still an item people want to purchase. We have a duty to make it a marketable item. People will always want it, it’s just a matter of us making sure it’s interesting. I don’t think record labels will ever go away. Part of the reason I don’t think they ever will is just because of the glut of music that’s out there at any given time. People need gatekeepers and the reality is that people need something or someone to go, “This is approved, this is good.” Whether it’s an editor, a label or whatever form of gatekeeper like that, there will always have to be something or someone there because otherwise you’re left with this mass of records that no one will be able, or have the time, to go through and filter it all out. No one has that amount of time. Whether it’s us or some other organization, someone has to do that job. If you’re Radiohead and you already have a huge following, it’s a whole different animal. There’s a reason Nine Inch Nails did a record without a label, then went back to a label. The other thing you have to remember is that a lot of the doomsday stuff that you’re hearing is coming from the big, old dinosaur labels that don’t really have any concept about how to work with a real budget. Relapse is a small business at heart and these labels throw money at huge projects. The budget that a Taylor Swift record gets is astronomical; you could solve any problem with that, but for us, what we’ve had to do is adjust our numbers. As CDs have dropped in market share, we’ve addressed that and adjusted our numbers accordingly. As vinyl has increased in market share, we’ve addressed that and adjusted there. We look at our numbers, review them and make sure that each record has a sound number pressed that we can sell. We’re very mindful of that fact, try to keep a low overhead and remain very efficient for that reason. Whereas I’m sure, whatever label put out that new Taylor Swift record will literally have two million copies just sitting around somewhere. I’m certain they will. That’s not a knock on them; that’s just the nature of the way they do things versus the way we have to do things. We can’t afford to have those amounts just sitting there and our assets tied up like that.

What can you tell us about Relapse’s 25 the anniversary plans?

Dude, we’re putting out so many records this year – like, 75-80 records. It’s kind of crazy! We’re doing tons and tons and tons of re-issues. We’re doing all the Nile albums, there’s four albums right there. All of the Dillinger Escape Plan, there’s another four. And then we’re doing all sorts of older classics like Human Remains, one of the Incantation albums that’s never been on vinyl, we’re doing the Pan-Thy-Monium record, some of the Release stuff on vinyl, like Trial of the Bow…there’s going to be a whole host of all these old re-issue titles and on top of that we’re putting out the usual 40-45 releases we do in a regular year. To be fair, those reissue titles won’t take up a ton of man hours in the same way in that we won’t be doing hard promo on them, which isn’t the same as trying to develop a new band or work a new Torche album or something. But it’s crazy and kind of daunting.

And for the last time (that you'll at least hear me braying about it), 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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