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Chris Bruni Talks One-Man Black Metal

Over the past year or so, Profound Lore has become the label du jour when it comes to metal, whether it’s the “disturbing, surreal, f*cked up death metal” of Portal, the ambient drone of Nadja, the neo-classical chamber music of Amber Asylum, or the extremely harsh black metal of Wold.

Of course there’s some one-man black metal in the mix too, and Profound Lore has managed to steer clear of the Striborgs of the world with quality releases from both Caina and Alcest. So what’s going on with this one-man black metal trend? Label head Chris Bruni tells Noisecreep,

“It seems with computer/recording equipment becoming more convenient, not only is the rise of one-man drum machine black metal continuing to surge, but there are also a plethora of experimental/ambient/drone one-man acts that are coming out in throngs ever since the rise of bands like Sunn 0))) and Nadja, etc. And of course then in turn it becomes very convenient for these ‘musicians’ to start myspace pages too.”

Could you give a brief rundown of your background and what prompted you to start Profound Lore?

It initially started out with me and a few partners to release limited edition vinyl and do something as a hobby/side project thing. I had not much going really, had some money saved up and figured sure, why not? Previously I was involved in “metal journalism” for a good number of years for a few publications and it was through that, that myself and my former partner already had connections within the scene so to speak.

As for my background (literally), I have a film school degree and one in public relations (post grad). So basically I helped to start Profound Lore just to get something else going, but it was pretty much my bad luck in finding a job in communications/public relations that inspired me to take the label even further and create a stronger vision for it. One that’s much deadlier than the one initially conceived.

What are the day to day operations at the Profound Lore headquarters like? Is it just you making the decisions or do you work with anyone else?

It’s basically just me running Profound Lore solo, and I like it this way without having to answer to anyone else. I also have a reliable graphics guy who creates my ads and does the occasional CD setup for me. But that’s it as far as the Profound Lore operations team goes. As for the day-to-day operations, well for the record I do have a regular day job that I put up with, so all label activity has to be done around that or during downtime at my job.

So far I seem to manage OK, I think so anyway. I take care of what needs to be taken care of on time, I find the time to communicate with my artists when need be and get back to them as promptly as possible, and I mail out any orders placed directly through the Profound Lore website pretty much right away. But who knows, with my release schedule slowly building and hopefully with more demand, we’ll see if the label will force me to sever my day job. Hopefully this will be the case.

For me, Amphetamine Reptile was the first label I remember that had a reputation of always having good bands, to the point where I would buy records without even hearing them beforehand (this was before the internet), but I always knew I would be getting the loud, noisy, abrasive music that I loved. Profound Lore seems to have the same credibility, despite an incredibly diverse roster. What is it that bonds Profound Lore bands even though the music is so diverse?

Yeah, a definite goal of mine is for Profound Lore to eventually have a reputation like a respected label such as AmRep. So just being mentioned in the same breath as AmRep is a compliment. But the diverse roster that lies within Profound Lore is I guess an unconscious bond that is a reflection of not only what I like to hear in music today, but music that is a reflection of my personality and who I am.

Admittedly, getting consumed by the label and the artists that encompass it has definitely put a new perspective on how I view music in general these days. But I think what bonds the Profound Lore bands all together is that each artist has an astounding knowledge of music (and art for that matter) in general and these artists just know the overall aesthetic on how music and art should be portrayed, no matter the expression, which can be a commonality in itself amongst the diverse nature of the label’s repertoire, where each artist seems to understand and/or appreciate what the other artist is trying to achieve or do, no matter if the style is disturbing surreal fucked up death metal, harsh black metal, neo-classical chamber music, or doom metal.

I would assume your office is flooded with CDRs from one-man black metal bands. Given that modern recording equipment is cheap and easy for anyone to use, regardless of their musical style, why do you think the one-man band trend is for the most part exclusive to black metal?

Maybe because it’s easier for black metal kids to have access to a computer, some drum machine equipment, and convenient for them to just plug a guitar or a keyboard into their hard drive, hence I guess one-man black metal is probably the most convenient style in metal, where one doesn’t have to depend on other band members (instead of ambient and experimental artists who are known to just be one-man acts a lot of the time).

And I guess it’s not hard for these kids to be impressionable towards bands like Judas Iscariot, Xasthur, and even Burzum, probably the three most notorious acts that made one-man black metal famous. And then again, it’s not like one-man underground black metal has to have the most lavish of productions, so I guess kids can get away with having a raw lo-fi sound. But it seems with computer/recording equipment becoming more convenient, not only is the rise of one-man drum machine black metal continuing to surge, but there are also a plethora of experimental/ambient/drone one-man acts that are coming out in throngs ever since the rise of bands like Sunn 0))) and Nadja.

And of course then in turn it becomes very convenient for these “musicians” to start myspace pages too. But yeah, I can see why this gets stereotyped within underground (myspace) black metal. But there are a few cool one-man black metal acts out there today, the ones who handle their art properly while maintaining a strong aesthetic and musical value, even if it’s from their bedroom.

Do you think the kids who listen to more mainstream metal bands like Lamb of God or Arch Enemy would ever come around to a band like Cobalt or Yob, and if so, is mainstream success something you would welcome, or would you like your bands to stay in the underground?

If mainstream success falls upon whichever one of my acts, then it would be by default I guess because I definitely do not think about mainstream success when working with any of my artists, even though it may sound naïve. I mean what’s the point to even think that (when taking my roster into consideration). If some sort of strange anomaly were to hit the label where mainstream success would manifest, I guess I wouldn’t complain; that means more listeners and kids would get either influenced, corrupted, provoked, or enlightened that much more.

So that’s totally fine with me. I’m not the kind of person who is looking for that one album to be the big break for the label. Everyone always tell me I just have to wait for that one album to be the big break for the label, but I don’t think that way. I’d rather see the label flourish from the culmination of all the quality releases and the creative artists I present because it is each artist’s unique qualities that all converge together to make the Profound Lore repertoire what it is and what gives it its reputation.

But I don’t know if, say, a Lamb Of God or Arch Enemy kid could get into Cobalt or Yob. But more realistically, I know if a Mastodon, High On Fire, or Tool kid were to hear Cobalt or Yob, I think they could be quite intrigued and maybe blown away.

I would agree. If I were you, I would want to go shake every kid I saw wearing a Tool t-shirt and hand him a Cobalt CD and scream “Here, listen to this!” Do you ever feel frustrated that some of those fans don’t dig a little deeper in the cookie jar, so to speak?

Well I think the mentality of this new generation of fans is different. Back then, fans had to put that extra effort into researching new music and new bands. It was like a hunt and it was exciting to go through all these resources to finally discover a new groundbreaking band.

Now, with the internet, things are available more conveniently and faster and there are more outlets like message boards and blogs etc. to discover new music. You would think that with easier access to things kids would delve even further into discovering new acts, and some do go that extra mile (again, those that I would like my label to tender to), but at the same time, it seems this new generation is not as dedicated though. It seems they are a bit more spoiled and it seems kids these days feel that they need to say more than they should.

But yeah, I think it’s important for these kids to take chances on new acts and discover new things because it just makes it all the more worthwhile and exciting, instead of just adhering to bands that get shoved in their faces by the bigger labels and bigger media outlets. Especially for a band like Cobalt, since their new album is definitely pushing more boundaries and introducing new ground within extreme metal. Sure their music may not be the most accessible and easiest to get into upon initial listens because of the epic and almost left-field nature of their music.

But that’s the whole point, it’s music like this that becomes timeless instead of most stuff coming out on bigger labels that, while offering something decent, for the most part is forgotten after a week. Hopefully with the new Cobalt, more people will take notice because it’s been quite the fight and struggle to get these guys recognized and hopefully the payoff will be all worth it. I’m confident it will be.

A lot of your bands don’t seem to do much touring. Most labels wouldn’t consider signing a band unless they were willing to get out and promote themselves. Do you push your bands to tour, or is it something you are not concerned with?

I guess the most I can do is suggest and even encourage; I can’t force bands or individuals to abandon their everyday lives just to trudge it out on the road and scrape away. It’s encouraging though if the bands want to play live, especially because they say to sell more albums, bands need to get on the road as much as they can.

It’s definitely one of the concerns though and it seems more of my acts do want to do some sort of touring and play shows, even if somewhat inconsistently or the odd festival appearance, which is of course a good sign that some of my bands want to take that extra initiative. And it’s definitely encouraging to hear that there is a demand for some of my bands to tour and that some of my acts getting the attention of some respected booking agents, which always helps as well.

But at the same time, I totally respect a band like Yob who want to strictly play a select few shows in support of their comeback album, or a band like Portal who will only play, at most, one show every three/four months. Or a band like Wold who choose not to play live whatsoever.

Is it possible to run a successful label in the era of downloading, whether legal or illegal? Is it profitable for you or a labor of love?

It’s almost like wishful thinking because we’re now in a different era with different attitudes. I mean, there are certain labels, ones I get compared to, that started out in the mid ’90s that have passed that threshold so to speak, experienced a time when people were buying more CDs and have made it into the downloading era with already a reputation in hand.

But now, if you want to run a label, you need to make sure you know what you are getting into because it takes a certain mentality to run one (you can’t just start a label because you are a “fan” and want to be part of the “scene” or whatever). If you want to do it as a hobby/side-project thing, it can be good for an escape. And there are several small specialty labels that are really great that put out really cool shit.

But if you want to plunge into something and try to make a living from it, in this day in age, then good luck. Just prepare to make the odd sacrifice (I’m putting this lightly, by the way) and expect to lose things like money and other things you love. But then again, that all depends on how you define success of course, because success can mean different things to certain people. If you want to run a successful label in this era, you pretty much have no choice but to make it a labor of love.

At the moment, my label is kinda paying for itself, which in a way is good because several years ago I had to sell over half my vinyl collection just to help pay off several CD manufacturing bills (not in full, though) that were sitting nice and comfortably on my credit cards because I didn’t even have a real job at the time to help pay off any of these bills. I’m still kinda traumatized in a way from the experience (the purging of most of my vinyl). But yeah, sacrifices…

It is pretty easy for a band to promote themselves and make their music available over the internet and, if they can scrape up the money, print and release their own CD/vinyl. What benefits does a label like Profound Lore offer in the internet age?

I guess just helping the band get their name spread even further (with press, advertising, etc.) and help them get their record spread out even further with the label’s reputation and its distribution and channels through resources connected with the label that the band might not have complete access to if they were on their own.

But indeed, it’s easier these days for bands to get connected on their own and to accomplish things on their own because this is an age where a lot of bands (be it big bands that were once on big labels, or smaller acts) want to have control of their own art as much as possible.

Where do you see the future of music headed? Will vinyl continue its resurgence? Is the CD doomed?

I think the only thing that will hold vinyl back from its resurgence is maybe the rising costs not only to produce vinyl, but buying vinyl (and mailing it out) is not cheap, even though the fulfillment is much stronger with vinyl than with CD. Plus vinyl sounds cooler. But one thing that seems interesting is releasing the vinyl and the CD together in one package, or releasing the vinyl with a download card where one can also download the music and hear it digitally (even though these sound/drop cards are inferior in sound quality than a CD).

I think the key to maintaining a consistency, if there is any today in music sales and formats, is to keep costs down, or at least keep them within a reasonable range, especially CD costs. Vinyl is a bit more understandable because it costs considerably more to produce and mail out.

I don’t know if the CD is inevitably doomed, I think there will always be people who will want to have a physical product in hand with artwork, etc (the crowds that I’m assuming I tend to attract). At the same time, though, there are some bands who have been around for a while and are seeing their highest sales figures today. I mean when it comes to metal fans, I’d like to think if they had a choice of downloading an album for free or paying for an album off iTunes, I think the choice is pretty clear.

But if a metal fan who wants to actually buy and pay for an album, had the sole choice of buying an album off iTunes for $9.99 or buying the actual physical CD for a few dollars more, where they can have artwork and packaging, lyrics, etc. in their hands, I think they would prefer the latter. I personally think paying for a download is stupid anyway for the most part. I mean, it doesn’t take that much effort to put a CD in your hard drive and copy it into your iTunes player.

What advice would you give to any band looking to get signed to Profound Lore?

Don’t expect to get signed.

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