This week we have the distinct pleasure of speaking with none other than David Adelson of 20 Buck Spin. He’s a young-buck, handsome but not overwhelmingly so, at the tender age of 38. David can be found banging out e-mails behind his computer, scarfing down latte’s at the local coffee shop or just taking a leisurely stroll through Washington state with his trusty companion.
Throughout David’s career in music he’s worked at Necropolis Records and Alternative Tentacles. Since 2005 he’s been running his own label that puts out some incredible metal. 20 Buck Spin was originally started in San Francisco, where hills and shellfish abound but was recently moved to Olympia, WA. Just this year alone 20 Buck Spin released at least five albums that will be featured on nearly every writer’s end of the year list. (Including Vastum’s Hole Below, Ævangelist’s Enthrall to the Void of Bliss, Nightfell’s Darkness Evermore, Obsequiae’s Aria of Vernal Tombs, Abyss’ Heretical Anatomy, Magic Circle’s Journey Blind, Dead in the Manger’s Cessation and Khemmis’ Absolution.)
How did you first get into being so involved in the music industry and have you achieved all your wildest dreams that you set out to achieve? How meteoric was your rise to the top?
I got into underground metal in my early teen years. I was lucky that even though I attended a public high school there was a rock n roll radio station at the school that broadcasted throughout the local area, called KVHS. In addition to being possessed by metal during those years (Debbie Abono lived down the street from me, look her up if you don’t know), I realized I wanted to be more actively involved and get free music (no Internet yet) since I had little money to buy it and wanted to hear more of the stuff I was reading about in Metal Maniacs.
So I joined the station and got on the airwaves as a DJ, living out my dream of becoming Dr. Johnny Fever (again, look it up). I started doing an underground metal show on that station called ‘Mosh Monday’. Yep, dumb name, but perhaps not as dumb as my DJ handle Mr. Crowley… This was like ’94-’95. I got to do on the air interviews with people like Alex Webster and Chuck Billy and went to shows to interview Carcass and Entombed, asking the important questions of guys like Jeff Walker such as “Jeff – why’d you take the dreads out dude?” Quite exciting at age 17. I also got a lot of free CDs which back then was like getting free beer or weed.
My wildest dreams are more like Ratt and Dokken videos than industry based, so in that regard, I haven’t yet reached the pinnacle. Brian Slagel, Tony Wilson and Al Goldstein are the main influences on my work. And I’d probably describe my rise as more Khanate than Meteoric, ie. slow and ugly but ecstatically punishing.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get a site to review or interview a band on your label that you really cared about?
Oh my friend, we have such sights to show you… I once told a Pitchfork writer that I would act out the full course of a Vastum album with him if he’d just review the record positively. I don’t normally swing that way but I’m in this to win this, you know? Scorin’ that ‘Best New Music’ tag doesn’t come easy. Unfortunately only after I had carried out the deed did I discover Pitchfork doesn’t actually write about metal anymore.
You have one hell of a stellar reputation for putting out quality music. It’s pretty easy to see “20 Buck Spin” on an album and know that it’s going to be worth your time to listen to. What’s your selection process for discovering and signing bands?
Stop kissing my ass man… No, keep it up, I like it… But seriously. I do try. However I gotta say, to me, record labels don’t matter. Well, to clarify, they matter as far as helping bands get heard and helping bands with the business end of an artistic medium. When I look at other labels, if I like 20% of what they release, I consider that high, usually it’s 1 or 2 albums. But I’m old and particular and still prefer to focus on repeated listening of a small group of albums than devouring everything that comes out (unlike my younger years which were the opposite). But labels don’t matter, only good bands matter and most labels (with the exception of 20BS) only have a few.
I cast a wide net on 20 Buck Spin. I’m not trying to be a bestial black metal label, old school death label, alt noise sludge label, or traditional heavy metal label. That’s boring to me, but I respect those who can live within such narrow parameters for their presentation. I’m not gonna sign 15 bands that all wear hoodies and take photos in ossuaries. I like a lotta stuff in the heavy realm and so I release bands as different as Foreseen, Aevangelist, Vastum, Obsequiae, Oranssi Pazuzu and Magic Circle. The bands on the label are representative of my personal music collection at home. If a band is cool and not out of my league, I go for it, just like with women. In both cases I usually fail, but once in a while it works out.
What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your work?
I’ve always hated the conventional or prevailing wisdom. I’m a natural contrarian, whether it be within the metal scene or within the mainstream. A devil’s advocate. I don’t like orthodoxy, idealism, trends, blind adherence to tradition or group think, and I’m drawn to exploring the extremes of ideology only so I can better negate them. If a large majority like or agree with something, whether it’s a band, a political platform, a fashion fad or a deity, I’m involuntarily repulsed by it, for better or worse. I believe that’s something that works it’s way into the operation of this label.
But I don’t directly think about or consider much in the way of social and political consciousness as it relates to running 20 Buck Spin. For the most part I think people are much too open about all that nowadays and it weighs too heavily on who they’ll associate with. I’m a pessimist and don’t consider myself liberal, conservative or moderate but some combination of all of them, apart from them. Like Bill Maher says ‘I’m practical’. I will say I consider humor an essential part of life no matter how black or bitter, to paraphrase Thomas Ligotti.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?
Couple things. Back in like ’83 or so I was maybe 6 or 7 years old and saw the Quiet Riot video for Bang Your Head on MTV. I thought that guy in the mask was kinda scary but also cool and it piqued my interest in the aesthetic and sound of 80s mainstream hard rock and metal albeit in an appropriately innocent and infantile way (think the kids in the movie The Gate). Thereafter I was always looking for those kinds of videos on MTV. Then at age 10 Appetite For Destruction and Dr. Feelgood really sealed the deal for me to be a rocker, and from there I just went lookin’ for tougher stuff. The true come to jesus moment was Metallica… And the born again moment was Left Hand Path…. Fun Fact: I discovered Black Sabbath because of Metal Church playing Iron Man for Sir Mix A Lot on Swass, which I consider the birth, life and death of Rap Metal in one sweeping tune.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
Ask your mom, she knows.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a label owner?
Seek out and read rock critics and old zines from the 70s and 80s primarily and absorb that stuff. Read a lot of Forced Exposure, Touch And Go, Creem, Metal Forces, and Slayer, maybe some Brit rags like Sounds, old NME, etc. Then put your own spin on it. Good rock crit should be like good rock, it’s gotta have some grit, balls and dirt on it, some attitude and originality or be utterly effective as a copy. As a label (and as a fan) I’m not looking for a handout, I wanna be entertained. Whether it’s positive or negative, make it count. My fave music critic is Steve Albini and my favorite interviewer lately is Bret Easton Ellis.
Do you have a day job and how much time and effort are you able to pour into your label on a daily basis? Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
20 Buck Spin is my job until the ‘vinyl resurgence’ meets its inevitable end. I’d say I work in the neighborhood of 60 hours a week, only 30 of which I’m drinking Rainier Beer while doing so. I have a teenage daughter who takes up the rest of my time. Everything you’ve heard about teenagers is true, they’re fuckin’ terrible. If you’re thinking of having kids, don’t. Things I have no interest in include cars, guns, food, homesteading and exercise. It may also surprise you to learn that I’m single. I live an extremely uninteresting non rock n roll lifestyle kind of like a poor version of Larry David.
Finally, what are some of your favorite albums of 2015 (feel free to include non-metal)?
I always have to issue the caveat that I’m not including my own label releases when doing these lists. That said, in no order:
Vorum – Current Mouth
Volahn – Aq’Ab’Al
John Carpenter – Lost Themes
Magister Templi – Into Duat
Cultes Des Ghoules – The Rise Of Lucifer
Wolf Eyes – I am a Problem: Mind in Pieces
Fuzz – II
Killing Joke – Pylon
Thanks so, so, so much to Dave for his time. Long live 20 Buck Spin!