Horror Pain Gore Death Productions, located in Philadelphia, PA would appear to be nothing more than an old-school, Florida-style death metal outlet (so much so that I thought he was based in Tampa, FL because I’m an idiot)! But HPGD is so much more. Mike Juliano works tirelessly to ensure that he releases a broad spectrum of music. Music that is infectious, sometimes over-the-top in its campy factor and often hard-hitting in its musical evolution. You can always count on a HPGD release to have a cover that grabs your attention immediately. And you can always count on the music within to get your blood pumping. 2016 has seen a few releases from HPGD that are album of the year contenders. Time to get more familiar. So, here’s a profile of Mike Juliano, the guy behind one of the hardest working labels in America. And, I might add, a fantastic human being to talk metal with.
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?
My first introduction to the music business was through a series of “horror music videos” I edited which wound up being the 4 DVD series called Horror Pain Gore Death. I graduated from Temple University with a degree in film and didn’t quite expect to enter the music business. Music was always my passion but I did not want to have the business side of things impact my love for it. I was also a heavy underground music purchaser and once the DVD’s were produced websites like Blabbermouth posted news stories about them. I began trading with labels that I purchased from, and acquired lots of CD’s from places like Relapse Records (who I also currently work for), Hells Headbangers, Century Media, Nuclear Blast and lots of underground labels from around the world. I really networked and connected with these different labels, so once I decided to start HPGD as a record label I continued trading with them… the formation of HPGD as a record label releasing music came about fairly quickly after the last DVD was released and here we are 7 plus years later.
Personally I have achieved much more than what I set out to do when I started the label. My personal goals were to release music that I love, and to work with some bands that personally are my favorites. I’ve been lucky enough to reissue material from legendary bands in my mind like Deceased, Lethal Aggression, Master, Haemorrhage and Abscess, while also working with newer bands that are leading the path of what quality metal is. March will mark the 125th released on Horror Pain Gore Death and as long as there are bands that I love out there I will continue to release music. It’s not about moving units or turning a huge profit, it’s about quality and personal love for me.
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? If you feel that you have never debased yourself, any embarrassing story involving you and your label will suffice to adequately entice our readers.
Back in the first few years of HPGD I was really pushing for Decibel magazine to review my releases… lucky enough they did review the Lethal Aggression album “Ad Nauseum” which was the 3rd CD release on HPGD. I always relied on self-promotion as a means to spread the word since I consider HPGD more of an underground label. It’s always great to see news stories post about something I’ve released, but if they do not cover something it doesn’t bother me in the least. Some of the best things I’ve put out have been ignored by the media but loved by the fans. Sometimes people focus on the wrong reasons to cover a release… this happened a bit with Castrator who were labeled as a “feminist Death metal band” by Kim Kelly. For me, I have always loved bands like Derketa and Mythic, because they played old school Death Metal that kicks ass. The fact that they are female is something unique but those bands did not want to be labeled as feminists, they want to be labeled as what they are: musicians.
You have a great reputation but 2016, although young, has seen you putting out some amazing albums. What’s your selection process for discovering and signing bands?
I’m kind of lucky because I am able to run the label by myself fully. Not having a partner eliminates arguments about which bands to work with, but also can make things a lot harder in some cases. The past few years I have been averaging about 3 releases per month so I am trying to scale back to 1-2 releases and really focus on pushing them. Pink Mass is an awesome band that I witnessed live last year and immediately knew that I wanted to work with them. Turns out they are very good friends with Organ Dealer so we got in touch and was lucky enough to be a part of their new albums release. Percussor released their debut album last year, I already had an excellent relationship with the band as they were formerly in Lesch-Nyhan who I’ve also released. Their sophomore album “Disturbing Reality” will be released on February 5th and they are already starting work on their next record.
When it comes to finding bands to work with it is usually a physical demo, live performace, something I stumbled across or a recommendation. I always reach out to bands and see what their goals are and if they are the right type of band for HPGD. I’m open to a lot of different genres but passion is the one key component I need to work with a band. Popularity and amount of shows a band plays do not factor into the process for me, it’s the quality of music. I’m also not afraid to reach out to larger acts, and am very flexible with the type of contract a band signs.
How important are issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and do you in any way insert those issues into your work? How do you feel about the semi-recent turn in the metal scene towards a larger and more pronounced social consciousness? Do you feel any of that turn has affected who or what you’re willing to sign and put out there?
Personally I keep my views and beliefs separate from music, but I do tend to enjoy when I band isn’t afraid to speak their mind. I’ve worked with over the top, silly, offensive bands as well as serious, political very much socially consciousness bands. The dynamic of HPGD is something that I am proud of, no matter what you say or believe if you are passionate about it and I like the music, it get’s released. I am all for expression and aside from blatant racism there isn’t too much out there that can offend. And if someone has a problem with a band like Throatplunger, turn it out.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?
One of my earliest memories was being 7 years old and living in an apartment with my mom. In the apartment complex I first heard Death Metal being blasted from a car… not having any idea what it was I was intrigued. Turns out years later that I realized it was the Deicide debut album haha I really got into metal when I started going to the wrestling company ECW events when I was 11 years. They used White Zombie’s Thunder Kiss 65’ as their theme song, and from there I picked up their first album. Ace Ventura also came out around this time so of course Cannibal Corpse had an effect on me. Within the next year I had signed up for BMG music club and acquired classic metal album from Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metallica, etc. But the big introduction of the underground came for me from a video series called Rock Video Monthly. I was 12 at the time and seeing videos from bands like Therion, Benediction, Meshuggah, Dismember, Crowbar and most importantly Broken Hope changed me instantly. I had been heavy into horror since I was 6 years old (cool parents I had), so the metal became a perfect soundtrack for me. I started buying as many metal CD’s as I could and began going to shows shortly after. I was lucky because at the time you could find rare gems for clearance prices all around. By the time I was 13 I was fully immersed in the world of metal.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
First time in Florida back when I was in middle school, a fucking swamp! But I did score some killer Death Metal while down there.
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?
Give the little guy a chance and stop focusing on what everyone else is listening to. Some of the best releases are never mentioned or talked about. Be objective and give everything a quick listen, even if it’s a few seconds… that few seconds may introduce you to something incredible. Try to be as independent as possible, don’t take a biased position based on your co-writers. Do it for the passion and not a paycheck, quality over quantity and avoid clichés. And most importantly try to cover releases you enjoy that aren’t getting as much love as the bigger guys releases.
I know that you actually left your day job to run Horror Pain Gore Death? Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? Maybe, being in Tampa, you just really like sitting in front of air conditioning. I don’t know, but the heat certainly gets to me, man.
Well, I actually started off Horror Pain Gore Death as my sole and only job. In the years since I have been lucky enough to work full time at Relapse Records. Some people know that I have both jobs but many people have no idea. I’m fully submerged in music 24/7, and it is a very dedicated life I have. But I love what I do and wouldn’t change anything. I’m actually based in Philadelphia.
Finally, what are some of your favorite albums that you’re currently spinning (feel free to include non-metal)?
Here are the last five albums I’ve listened to:
- Inferno – Utter Hell
- Glacier – Glacier
- Tankard – The Morning After
- Old Wainds – Scalding Coldness
- RBL Posse – Ruthless By Law
Thank so much to Mike for his time!