Comments From Captain Contamination
CoC chats with Matthew F. Jacobson, head of Relapse Records
by: Paul Schwarz / Adrian Bromley
You will probably have heard of _Contaminated 3.0_. If you haven't, get ye hence with your eight US dollars and purchase what must be the best value-for-money extreme metal-centric compilations around. Two CDs and fifty-one (yes, 51!) tracks await you -- and if you hadn't heard that extreme music and focussed grind label Relapse were putting out this compilation, this will be your education, your first step into a new world of vicious extremity and vibrant variation. Matt F. Jacobson started it all -- just to put out a 7" from a friend's hardcore band! Ten years have passed since then, Relapse has grown, and in the last three years particularly, the label has blossomed to bear the fruit of many of extreme metal's more interesting and most spectacular moments. 2000 was what I'd call a career best so far. As 2001 and its many future possibilities began unfolding before Relapse, I chatted with Matt F. Jacobson... and so did Adrian Bromley -- he had a lot to say!

Paul Schwarz

CoC: What was the idea of putting out _Contaminated 3.0_, in its volume of tracks especially?

Matt F. Jacobson: The whole purpose of _Contaminated 3.0_ was to allow people an overview of what Relapse is about and what we've done over the last ten years. And we wanted to be able to put it out there and make it available for a low price -- in the States, it's less that eight bucks. I just wanted to give people a lot of music for a little amount of money and give them an idea of what we're about.

CoC: It represents mostly from '95 onwards, it doesn't reach back quite to the beginning; it's got more of a focus on the slightly more developed angle of Relapse.

MFJ: Well, I can tell you that when we sat down to come up with the track-listing it was really difficult and I can say that there's certainly some of the early stuff that I'm really excited about, like Exit-13, Disembowelment, Disrupt in particular. Obviously, we didn't get to dig into the 7" round just because there was a limited amount of space. There's certainly a lot more that I wanted to put on there, but it just wasn't feasible for us to put out a five CD package. It really would take five CDs to really get the idea. So we tried to represent as much as we could and of course there is a little bit more of an emphasis on what's happened lately, and we tried to keep it up-to-date by putting some of the new stuff on there as well. I wanted to give the existing Relapse fans who may be familiar with most of that stuff something still that was gonna be interesting and new and worth their eight bucks. One of the things you'll see is that a lot of the earlier tracks are some of the same tracks from like the _Corporate Death_ compilation, but we really just felt that those were the tracks that best represented what we were about and what we did. So that's why we chose to put them on here again.

CoC: With where Relapse has got to, did you ever expect it to be as encompassing and as big as it is?

MFJ: I certainly didn't in the beginning. When I first started it I just put out a 7" for my friend's hardcore band and one thing led to another and it was probably a year and a half, two years into it before I really realised: wow, we've surpassed everything that I thought we might reach and I realised there's not necessarily a limit on what we can accomplish. So, that was kind of a turning point in my mind when I realised: wow, we can really go far with this and, um, here we are...

CoC: Especially the last three to four years Relapse has really shot up. When I first got into the more extreme side of metal in 1996/1997, I knew a few bands on Relapse, it was only pushed into my face every now and again, and it was kind of around 1997/1998, especially after doing Nile and Incantation's _Diabolical Conquest_ -- it really started to take off around that time. From there you've got to where you are now, but do you expect that same thing to happen again, do you expect over the next two years Relapse will grow to "the next level" as it were?

MFJ: There's no way to predict for sure, although I feel that that's what gonna happen. From day one we've grown very organically, and frankly our biggest problem is always having enough resources, enough working capital, to do what we want to do. We never do, we never have. And that's why we've been forced to grow creatively, and forced to grow slowly and painfully anyway. So, I've seen a lot of very positive things happen and we've reached levels that we haven't before with some of our bands and especially with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan -- this last release has done so incredibly well and the amazing thing is that it's their first album. So, one thing that I see happening with the label is that we still have a number of artists who are still on their first and second records, and when they reach third or fourth records and they have that catalogue that is there to support it as well, it definitely starts to change the dynamics. So, I expect a lot of growth, for sure.

CoC: Virtually none of the bands of the early days of Relapse did as well on their first one or two albums...

MFJ: Correct.

CoC: Nile and Dillinger have done.

MFJ: Except for Amorphis, which is the only exception: they're the exception to every rule.

CoC: What I find interesting is that you've got to a point now where you could take a very commercial angle. A lot of the bands will now start to get, if the progression of sales continues, to a point where you can make a lot more money and it's interesting what you were saying: you do put a lot of money on the line as far as I can see...

MFJ: Yeah, we certainly do.

CoC: ...doing the Contamination tours, doing various other tours and doing Milwaukee, where Relapse's presence is almost omnipresent. Do you feel that if you kept on making more money with the label that you'd keep that close margin, really pushing yourselves to spend money on the bands?

MFJ: I think so. I'm just kind of -driven- that way by nature for a number of reasons. Number one, I believe so strongly in what we're doing that I'm convinced that if we had more resources to put our stuff here and here and here, to do this and this and this, that we could just reach a larger audience. My primary objective is to make our bands as popular as possible, not necessarily 'cause we can make a lot of money, but because they're great bands that deserve the exposure. I mean, I started this as a hobby when I was eighteen years old because I wanted to put out cool records, and I didn't really realise in the process I would become a business man, which is something that I have to deal with. But our ultimate goal, what we really deal with is art and we have art and we have to have business and we want a balance -- but with art first. And we try to incorporate great art with creative marketing and smart business and I hope that it continues to grow and expand and I'd love to expand it beyond just where it is today as far as, even the things we are dealing in. Right now, we're a record company and we're a mailorder, but I see many other things that I would love to be involved with in the future, creatively speaking, and we'll have to see what that brings. We're not gonna go in a more commercial direction because we're not Roadrunner, we're not a company that says: OK, now we can try to break the major labels and reach this other level. We're about underground music and while some of our bands may evolve to have a more developed or accessible sound, and while our roster will continue to diversify and expand in other directions, it's not with the intention of: OK, now we can shift 100 million units. And I see some of the labels that are out there that moved away from what established them to begin with and I think it's a shame, because that's their core audience. And we're always going to maintain that direction as well as expanding from there. There are some people who accuse us of selling out and so on and all I can tell them is: look at the new Regurgitate album! Whatever dude, you know.

CoC: Would you say that you expect that this sort of music will go more into the mainstream or maybe that just the audience for extreme music will expand?

MFJ: I think all of the above. I think that you have kids, the outcasts in high-school, who start out with things like Korn and Limp Bizkit, that now the jocks listen to, so they can't listen to that anymore because it's not cool. So they naturally gravitate to something that's more and more underground. Everyone needs a bridge. I mean, when I started listening to extreme music I didn't go from pop radio to Napalm Death, I went through ZZ Top and Black Sabbath, to Motley Crue and Iron Maiden, to Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost, Napalm Death. And I see those same kinds of things happening. I think that there are gonna be more people out there that are conditioned and have the bridge to get them into more underground music, and I just think that over a long period of time word of mouth just builds things, and if you keep doing exactly what you're doing, over a period of time more people will be aware of it, and because more people are aware of it, more people are interested. There's a million bands out there that change what they do to make them more accessible or commercial, when really sometimes, over the long haul, they'd be better off sticking true and wait it out, because their fanbase will build over time -- but they try to take the shortcut and often they lose their fanbase, and go down the tubes. So, I'm conscious of those things and I wanna always do what we've always done and what establishes those things that we love, but I think that we can expand well outside of that as well and we just plan to try to do it all.

CoC: I've got to agree, I'd be very interested to see where the generation of nu-metal-type sports metal stuff goes and obviously, as usual, will be watching the progress of the label.

MFJ: There's one thing I would like to squeeze in there: I really am proud of our website and would really encourage people to check out because I think it's really at the forefront of the metal sites, and we try to do as much with it as we can and there's a lot to offer.

CoC: It is one of few websites where you can really get into it.

MFJ: I think some of that has to do with the fact that Relapse has more of a distinct personality than some of the companies that are out there. I'm not slagging anyone 'cause everyone has their own thing, but companies like Century Media and Nuclear Blast, they put out black metal when that's popular and power metal... and they just kind of move with the flow and that's really smart from the business perspective, but we have more of a defined personality that's still nebulous but I think that allows some people to kind of identify with it and be into it and we get a quarter of a million unique visits a month to our website. We've had hundreds of thousands of posts on our bulletin board that we have to keep deleting 'cause otherwise it'll crash our site. And I think that's pretty special.

CoC: I think Relapse has a distinct personality where other labels don't. You don't know what to expect from Century Media or Nuclear Blast...

MFJ: ...And I don't think you know what to expect with Relapse, necessarily.

CoC: I was gonna say: you don't know what to expect with Relapse. <Matt laughs> The interesting thing is, you don't know what to expect from Relapse but you know that it won't just be something that's coming out on all the other labels.

MFJ: Right.

CoC: It'll be whatever Relapse sees as interesting and, generally, as going to the extremes of things.

MFJ: Definitely. It's kind of hard to narrow it down or put it into words, but there's something there, I think. I think it's true, and what I'm really excited about now is -- I was very frustrated for a long time because these were the kinds of things that I felt but it didn't seem like many other people recognised. But, over the last couple of years especially, other people have started to recognise those very things and I'm really psyched 'cause that's what we set out to do. And I'm happy to see it happening.

Adrian Bromley

CoC: Are you surprised that Relapse Records has been able to stay grounded after so many years and not sign a billion acts to the roster and have it all spin out of control?

Matt F. Jacobson: It has been deliberate that we haven't done that. We've tried to have a balanced roster. That is really our goal. Sure, sometimes we have a bit too much of this sound and it falls out of whack, but we try to keep it mixed up. We can't really control how our roster goes because we only aim to sign great bands.

CoC: I'm sure you are faced day in and day out with numerous other problems that come with this business other than signing bands and putting out records. What inspires you to keep wanting to do this, since this has obviously grown much bigger than you had set out to do with the label?

MFJ: I think it is my passion for music. I also think it is because Relapse is my creative outlet for both my involvement with the aesthetics and presentation of our material, as well as the business side of things. I approach our business side of things very creatively and I think we do well, but that just may be behind the scenes. There are times when you are up against something that it is hard to make an advance with certain decisions and it gets difficult at times, but those are just temporary setbacks for us.

CoC: How important to you is your relationship with your bands?

MFJ: I think it is very important. The relationship with our bands is incredibly important to me and I realize the longer that we do this and the bigger that we become, there are going to be some people that won't be happy with what we do. I think most of our bands are happy with what we do.

CoC: How do you think Relapse Records has affected today's metal music scene?

MFJ: I am very proud that we have had such an impact on the music scene, because we have such dedicated people and super bands working together. Maybe our bands don't sell the most, but they are doing something that is making an impact somewhere and making people take notice out there. I am glad we have been able to first establish our vibe in the metal scene, especially the death metal scene, and then expand out from there. We are still remaining true to what helped establish us in the beginning, but continuing to push forwards in many different directions.

CoC: How does Relapse decide what bands they want to work with?

MFJ: We get tons of stuff sent to us all the time. We don't have a checklist or look for bands a certain way. We just look for great music. I don't know if we want a certain band until we hear their music or see them play. But one thing that seems to carry through with most of our artists is that they are either incredibly good at what they do -- I'm talking cream of the crop of their niche or sub genre -- or they are doing something fresh and interesting and can't be labeled. I think we are a lot more interested in putting out music that'll be interesting for the music scene, rather than if it will sell a lot of records. From a business perspective that sounds stupid, but I didn't start this to have a business, I started this to put out cool records.

CoC: I don't hear much about and/or from William Yurkiewicz anymore -- is he still with the label?

MFJ: Bill became a silent partner of the label. The short of it is that with the pressures of running a serious business with a lot of stress that comes along with it, it just wasn't something he was looking for. When we started the label, he wanted to just put out cool music like I did. But inevitably as the company grew, it wasn't just about hanging out with the bands and smoking pot -- not that that was what he expected. The reality was that it was pretty stressful for him and that put him in a bad mood and he caused stress in the office and it just wasn't creating a positive environment for anyone. As a result from this, it just made sense for him to get on with his life and do other things. He is still a silent partner.

CoC: Why has there been such a strong allegiance to death metal music for Relapse Records?

MFJ: When we started out, death metal was at its peak and with bands like Suffocation, Incantation and Mortician we were onto something. We were interested in the music style and working with bands of that genre. Death metal had originated in Europe and so we were one of the few labels that was pushing it. Then a few years later other labels like Century Media, Nuclear Blast and Earache dropped all the death metal acts and signed power metal bands, black metal bands and just other genres of bands to promote. We just kept on doing what we wanted to work with and guess what? Now death metal has come back around again and peaked people's interest and all of these labels are signing death metal acts, something we never stopped doing.

CoC: Seeing that you are the head guy at Relapse and know all that is going on, what is coming down the Relapse pipeline that you are excited about?

MFJ: There are so many coming up. One of the ones I am so excited about is the Burnt by the Sun EP [reviewed in this issue -- Adrian]. Fucking incredible band! I am so excited about this band. I am really into the new Amorphis album, the new Neurosis disc as well as a new signee called Mastedon, which has ex-Today Is the Day members. I'm down with Skinless and Pig Destroyer. I just heard some of the new rough material from Pig Destroyer -- whew! That is all I gotta say.

CoC: Tell me about Relapse's role on the Internet. It is a big deal and you guys go all out for promoting Relapse stuff.

MFJ: I think that the Internet and our website are a very important part of our focus of moving forward. I do believe we have one of the premiere sites in the metal realm. We wanted to expand that, though, and that is all part of my vision to help move Relapse forward in the coming years. The vision continues to go. By nature, I have always been a dreamer and the more successful I am, the bigger dreams I have and want to carry out. Some of my ideas seem crazy to people, and a fraction of them will become reality, but the ones that do become reality I am very happy about.

CoC: What was the reason behind the label name?

MFJ: It goes back to the days when I used to do a fanzine before Relapse with John Canady called Horrendified, which was inspired by a Sore Throat song title. We were both going to do compilation tapes and started brainstorming about names for these tapes. I can't remember the name he came up with, but I came up with Relapse. Eventually we couldn't agree on a name so we chose Lethal Records. Coincidentally, when I was set to release a 7" of John's band, I chose to release it under Relapse. The reason I chose that name was 1) it had a nice ring to it and was easy to remember and 2) most importantly, it wasn't limiting. Some people come up with record labels like Deathgrind Records or Fuck Your Mom Records. I didn't know where I was going with this label at the time and I was happy to have it be open-ended.

CoC: To give you a bit of a history lesson about Chronicles of Chaos, when Gino [Filicetti, editor] and I started up Chronicles of Chaos, we had another name planned out. We don't think it would have gotten us this far. The name was originally going to be, and I still laugh to this day when I say it, The Brutal Bugle.

MFJ: <laughs> Yeah! That is incredible!

CoC: <laughs> Isn't that funny. Hey! Stop laughing.

MFJ: <laughter dies down> I just want to say that it is good to see you guys stick with a name and continue to support the scene. It always makes me feel good to see publications supporting the cause. Thanks for your time.

Contact: Label biography:

(article submitted 13/5/2001)

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