Andrew Markuszewski is no stranger to the metal scene. Throughout his career he’s been a songwriting member of the wonderfully weird Lord Mantis (since 2008) as well as Avichi and Unholy Trinity. He’s got a one man project going, SRBM (Sonoran Rebel Black Magick). He’s been a member of the volatile American experimental black metal outfit Nachtmystium. He’s done guest work with Surachai and Wrekmeister Harmonies. And now, he’s decided to throw his hat in the ring as a label owner by starting up New Density. So, needless to say he’s a very busy man, in addition to the web programming for his new site.
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? What adjective would you use to describe your rise to the top?
I first started an underground label out of DeKalb, IL. called NMB Records, short for Numen Malevolum Barathri, back in 2006 to help press and distribute some records including my own. I did it out of necessity having to use my own hands to get things done. It was a brief stint, and by 2008 I had decided to cease the effort when I moved to downtown Chicago to focus more on just playing in general with Avichi and Lord Mantis. In any case, I learned many lessons and gained a great deal of experience trading records for my own band and a few others in the underground with record labels I respect all over the world. I also got a feel for the industry and how things work behind the doors with contracts and agreements. When I saw contracts from bigger labels down the road, I was already familiar with the fine print.
Fast forward two years and I became involved with Nachtmystium again this time touring all over the place. So I got my foot in the door with labels like Candlelight Records and Profound Lore for signing and doing releases for Lord Mantis and Avichi. It was a win win for me regardless of everything that would happen with Nachtmystium down the road.
During that time I had started up a blog of sorts called New Density. I was just covering events in my musical journey and not necessarily on a frequent basis, but it’s something I had put together online. In 2014, Lord Mantis was about to get Death Mask released on Profound Lore while Catharsis Absolute was released by Profound Lore a few months earlier. I filed my legal paperwork for New Density and decided to take running a label again more seriously if at least to help the bands I’ve been involved with in more ways besides on the musician side. New Density licensed Death Mask and Catharsis Absolute from Profound Lore for LP release. It would help Lord Mantis out with a greater amount of copies, and there weren’t any plans by anyone else for the LP version at the time.
Is it possible to achieve all of one’s dreams in one life? Perhaps. To me the climb is perpetual and there is no top. One adjective I would use to describe myself would be unrelenting.
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?
I’m not going to beg anyone to review something they get from me. It’s ultimately their choice, but I feel it’s my duty to give as many as possible the option. I have done mailings for myself in years past sometimes over a hundred at a time. The only thing I had to debase then was my wallet, but it was always worth it to me. My well being always took second place to my art. Now of course the ballpark has changed a bit, and the internet has taken the load. Since I’m also a musician, my role in PR is there but in a more limited fashion I would say. I have to use my time intelligently, so I try to delegate the work to someone better equipped for it. To me that is just common business sense anyways. As a label I see my role more as making sure those connections happen. The bottom line – this isn’t field of dreams, so you can’t just build it thinking people are going to come. You have to make an attempt at catching people’s attention. Most important is to have something worthwhile in your hands. People’s attention spans are not what they used to be, but why should they be. I don’t like my time wasted, and I’m not out to waste anyone else’s.
I’m wondering what your process is for signing and discovering new bands? Do you have plans to expand New Density’s catalog? Anything exciting on the horizon? And, I have to ask, does it ever get dicey for you putting out work by Lord Mantis, a band that you are actually in?
I’m moving at a natural tempo this time with my label. I learned a lot from the first attempt. The foundation for me is key, and I will wait for the right moments as they present themselves to do releases for other artists. My priorities have been to help my bands and projects of course, but New Density isn’t all about me. Obviously it looks that way at the moment to anyone viewing the label, but as long as I have the time and financial capacity I will help out the right band or artist when the time comes. These are goals high on my list. I’m more focused on working with a small amount of artists when the time comes and focusing more on strong releases as opposed to a quantity of them.
Right now Sonoran Rebel Black Magick, or SRBM for short as I call it, had the Desert Hellfire MCD come out January 22nd which is a demo of a new project I started and recorded out in Mesa, Arizona last year. SRBM is influenced by some of my favorite outlaws, Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks, and life in general in the desert. I generally come from a black metal past so there’s influences of that, but it isn’t metal. I call it western doom. It’s basically limited to acoustic guitar, vocals, a hi hat, and a bass drum. Real one man playing and kind of monastic in a way. Just lighting another fire out in this darkness for myself. Part of that whole drawing from the old Americana thing going on a la Chelsea Wolfe and King Dude perhaps. I just read Adam from Behemoth has a new dark blues project himself. The solo thing is something I see taking off more and more these days.
There is nothing dicey about what I’m doing to help the bands I’m involved with. We all believe in what we are doing and trust one another. After last year’s fiasco with the Lord Mantis lineup shift, someone had to step up and get behind the driver’s wheel. We had to deal with the situation appropriately with as awkward as it was between the band and everyone we deal with on a professional level including our label. Everyone agreed the best decision was to let Lord Mantis be free to head in a new direction. We examined all options and talked with industry and label contacts who reached out to us. There was some genuine interest at the higher up level. Simultaneously, New Density became capable of tackling what we wanted to accomplish with NTW, and that’s ultimately the route we took for the EP. Much has been accomplished over the last year while lying in wait and setting up dominos to knock down at the appropriate time. All in all I’m glad this is the way things panned out at this point and look forward to what happens next. We are fine with questions on the past from the press. However, questions from those who’ve revealed themselves to be a lame version of the Enquirer last year will not be entertained. I can’t see them being interested in the truth anyways. These same people glossed over me during the Nachtmystium days when they were stroking someone else off. They’d probably cry and pout if they knew how many songs I’ve had a hand in with that band.
We’ve been relatively silent about it so far, but we’re not going to let anyone dictate some false narrative of the band. Bill and I care too much about this band to allow it. We’ll do it on our terms not someone else’s. I didn’t jump aboard the he said this he said that bullshit express some of the media was hoping to perpetuate in 2015. My time is of greater value than that, and convincing someone to take this or that person’s cock out of their mouth is not on my agenda. If they want to paint me as the big bad wolf that’s fine. The scapegoat tag is nothing new to me. Hell I even embrace it! Trust me I can handle petty internet squabbles about me. They’re not going to put a dent in my creativity. If anything it only adds fuel to the fire. I think a lot of people who maybe rushed to conclusions too soon will come back around. This is Lord Mantis still, and I think any haters out there will largely agree when they hear NTW. The media can be quite professional at offering a skewed version of history whether intentional or not, and yes it even happens in your beloved metal scene folks not just on major news networks. There was a genuine move at sabotage, an extremely blatant move, and everyone who knows us and knows the history of this band knows why what happened in fact happened and could only shake their heads at the stories spread about it. But you have to clear up the record, and where we need to we will. Trust me I am the furthest thing from a masochist you can imagine. I also see things a hundred steps ahead. The next step is to let the people hear the new lean and mean version of the band.
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?
I stay up to date pretty regularly with geopolitics and the social state around me near and abroad. I like being aware of the world I live in. Of course I have my views, and they are important to me. However, publicly I’m more of an observer. At least I am still. Politics are especially a divisive matter these days in the states. I’m a decent guy, and I like being able to get along with people believe it or not. Regardless of your background, I think the most precious thing that needs to be held onto is critical thinking.
As for the social consciousness of the metal scene it’s vast and diverse. I think that’s all grand and swell, but at the same time I’m only concerned about what music interests me and what I’m personally doing. What I do is going to offend someone somewhere no matter what. I’m fine with there being a multipolar scene. Engage with what resonates to you just don’t try dictating to me what I ought to resonate with. You’ll find I don’t take to it at all.
I’m a rebel marching to my own beat far out there against just about everything. It’s called life on the untrodden path. Part of the reason I started SRBM. It’s the rebel inside of me exerting itself in a different way. Avichi’s themes have been focused on metaphysical issues and the condition of the human soul. If any of it was edgy from a social standpoint I could care less. This is still the western world after all.
Lord Mantis has always been a vile band, and we never believed in self-censorship on anything we were doing. It came really close a few times when we were unsure in what context words or elements on the records in general would be taken in. Ultimately nothing was ever censored on the records. I’m not sure where we’d stop once we started. Does that make us irresponsible? Possibly. Would you get the vile records you have if we started editing our creative output? No you would not. Lord Mantis content has dealt with some of the ugliest sides of being a human being. There’s a lot that isn’t pretty out there, and sometimes you can overlook it even inside yourself. We’re taking a magnifying glass to the subconscious current. It’s not exactly the color of the rainbow. We take all the shit you don’t want to see even sometimes your own shortcomings, and put it right in your face. Creates one nasty demon. I’m not going to hold it against someone if they can’t get aboard. This isn’t for everyone, and we never expected it to be. Self-awareness starts with realizing all facets of your self. If you feel like you’ve already transcended all this darkness we put out well good for you.
As to what I’m willing to sign or release that’ll be something for me to decide on at the appropriate time. I’d like to keep things eclectic enough and surprise even myself. New Density has no social or political agenda and is not here to appease anyone else’s. It’s exactly as it’s called – a new density.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you?
I heard Guns N’ Roses at a really young age on some kid’s stereo. Later on around nine I saw Metallica on TV, and when Kirk Hammett played his guitar I think that’s what hit the spark. However, my earliest memories of music are Simon and Garfunkel, The Police, and Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd is probably more relevant and influential to me today than the metal I first heard. Especially David Gilmour’s playing style if you couldn’t tell in my soloing.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
The moment I was born.
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 and musician?
Realize the final product you are hearing probably took a great amount of time and sacrifice no matter if you find it good or bad.
Do you have a day job and how much time and effort are you able to pour into your label and band on a daily basis? Any hobbies (or pets) you’d like to share with us?
My means of making a living has mostly been blue collar related in the past. I did spend a few years in college pursuing my academics, and I went to a two year trade school for motorcycle mechanics in my early twenties. I’ve spent the last few years working on heavy industrial use elevators at power stations in the southwest and specific jobs every once in a blue moon in the Midwest. My father got me in to this line of work, and though it’s a grind, it’s a well paying gig I’ve been able to fall back on. You enjoy your electricity right? Well utility companies like being paid for that electricity, and they have no problem paying well to make sure that stays in place. But the recession still looms over a lot of the economy. Calling it a recession is being polite. This is also still the wild west in many ways. Extremely cut throat. It has been a very radicalizing period for me.
Recently I’ve been able to get a credit line and merchant account for New Density open. With the label and my life, I do have a plan in place for the near term and an outline for the long term. It’s a constant fight to be able to do this, but I’ve learned to leverage my time and talents. Really this is all about being able to record and tour. That’s where I’ve always felt alive and myself. I guess this past year was more of reflection and solitude for the most part. Being comfortable with absolutely nothing and nothingness absolutely. Life ebbs and flows like that. This one feels like a massive drawing in before a tsunami. One sent by god.
My life really is far from the normal. I live out in the desert forsaking a hell of a lot, but it’s really an interesting place. A last stage before death. At least in some areas. It can be a jungle out here too. I can focus on New Density with less distractions here. I spend a hell of a lot of time per week on the label now even in its fledgling state cause the foundations are key. The challenges never cease, but really it’s the same as running any other business legitimately except in this field the risk of not seeing a return is tremendously high. That’s something you have to be willing to accept. This is still more or less at a hobby level for me, but I treat it as a business just the same in case it wants to evolve into something more. Every decision I make is point blank tactical. I can network wherever I am as long as I have an internet connection. I have my base in the middle of nowhere, and shit gets done. Most important this is all stuff I’m happy to be doing, and there’s a satisfaction and charm in it for me. My whole life has really just been a sacrifice to be able to play music and get it heard. This is just the point it’s led me to based on my own successes and failures.
I spent a season out in LA two years back taking some recording and mixing courses. I demo material for Lord Mantis with Pro Tools and send it to the guys back in Chicago. A lot of the new EP was handled that way.
I go to WordPress meetups in the Phoenix area when I have time. They remind me of the meetings Edward Norton goes to in Fight Club except it’s mostly full of other small businesses, developers, and some professional designers. Everyone has to introduce themselves. I’m sure some of them decided to Google me and probably thought “what in the fuck”. Still we are all there for similar reasons. It’s helped me immensely with managing the web presence of everything.
Beyond that I may exercise or spend time at a saloon that used to be a bordello. There’s a killer jukebox with Darkthrone on there. Shoot guns. Other desert related shit. Of course I’ll head to LA, Chicago, or wherever too.
Finally, what are some of your favorite albums of 2015 (feel free to include non-metal)?
Some I enjoyed from 2015 were by Secrets of the Moon, Clandestine Blaze, Mgła, and Urfaust. I finally listened to the last Inquisition record last month – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse released two years ago. Also really great. I recently was recommended (Dolch) which is more like a female version of Urfaust although that’s a pretty cliché description at this point. Check it out if you haven’t. A lot of my spare time is spent working on or listening back to whatever new I’m creating myself. Vale.
Huge thanks to Andrew for his time and best of luck with New Density!