Interview with the owner of Hand of Death, a tape-only label with an incredible catalogue and a very active individual in the US scene.
We would like to thank his attention and invite you to know him and his label.
1 - Can you give us a little introduction to Hand Of Death?
Hand of Death Records is based in Asheville, NC and started in late 2016 after ending a different label I had been running off and on for about 10 years. I simply decided to take things in a new direction. The old label was a variety of bands and didn't have much in the way of cohesion. I knew I wanted to release heavy and dark music, so I started there. Today it's still that, but I feel like there are many forms of dark music that still fit the label's integrity, so I've started working with industrial artists and more experimental metal bands. Ideally it will be a solid mixture of past releases and this new direction. Additionally, I've been taking on less so that the artists I do work with get the proper attention they deserve. I'm big into the idea that a release should have a lot of push before and after its release date, and since the label is small and the bands are usually relatively newer, it helps us all grow together.
2 – Tell me about your history on the scene, bands or projects.
I have two main projects that I focus practically all of my energy on. I play drums in Secret Shame, which is a dark post-punk band that leans into deathrock as well. I joined the band a few years ago and it's become a big part of my life. I play guitar and do vocals in Harsh Realm, which is my personal project that is also on Hand of Death Records. I started this band as a sole focus for releasing all my internal demons, so to speak. It's a great vessel to channel out all the anxieties caused by simply existing. I also book touring bands at various venues here and focus on bringing more heavy bands to the area. I was lucky enough to work at two alternative bar/venues here before the pandemic hit and that was great for making connections in the local scene.
3 - You have released amazing artist on tape. How has the label maintained this philosophy?
I'm just really picky when it comes to music I'll release. I love all forms of it, but when it comes to what I think is a highly executed project, it's fairly rare in the scheme of things. There's also a fair amount to the business side of things when it comes to deciding on what to release. I try to not care a whole lot about sales of a record, just as long as the band is out there pushing it, but it is a factor. Especially right now while bands simply can't tour. I've been fairly lucky that people tend to enjoy the bands I work with.
4 – Hand of Death Records released such names like Call of the Void, Street Sects, to name a few, that also released on big underground labels . How was it managed?
The bigger bands on the label came pretty organically from touring in my older band. We toured with Call of the Void for a month and they killed it every single night. It made me want to put out their "Ageless" record on tape, since it was already out on Relapse in other formats. It was a cool thing to be able to be more involved with that band once the tour was finished. We continued to work together and the label put out four of their records on tape. They've sadly ended, but I think their catalog will be enjoyed for years to come. Same thing happened with the portrayal of guilt / Street Sects split. I knew Matt from POG when our old bands played a show together and I think I even booked them prior to that in Champaign, IL. I booked POG in Asheville on one of their early tours and he called me a few months later to see if I'd work with them on the split. I really lucked out because I am a huge fan of both of those bands. They've continuously put out a lot of material that is all excellent. Those connections are what makes doing the label totally worth it. Making friends and releasing music I'm stoked about.
5 - What makes an artist be selected to have his work released on Hand of Death?
Preferably something unique, but always something that is executed really well. You don't have to be creating a new genre or anything, but I feel like you can hear a band's sincerity in their writing. Having that, and then also a well recorded record and great art are all crucial. I almost always chip in personal money to see a release come together, so it has to be worth everyone's time. That being said, I've had to turn down a lot of great bands, simply because it just doesn't line up. My advice to bands is to keep forging on. If people dig your music, labels will come calling in due time.
6 - How do you promote your releases and how do you usually get in touch with the magazines?
This depends on the budget for each release. Typically I do the PR side of things and try to lock in some exclusive websites/blogs to promote the release. Other times I've worked with a PR agency to help out with all that, so I can focus more on social media and wholesale distribution. Aside from that it's really a matter of if people like it. If they do, there's always a natural word of mouth that helps a record get out there.
7 – Is it important to you support and release bands from your area/country, right?
I've worked mostly with US bands, but also Cranial and Blckwvs from Germany. It's really just a matter of the material, not so much the geographical location. I think I have more connections in the states, so it is easier to find more bands here. I'm open to anything.
8 – How are you working with promotion and distribution in these pandemic scenario?
It's been really tough. I completely stopped trying to distribute my releases for about six months. I work with a lot of record stores one on one, so there was no way I was going to ask them to buy my releases when they needed to be worrying more about staying in business. Which meant they were most likely focusing on big name new releases to make ends meet. I've since started that up again and it's actually going ok so far. Press overall has been weird. People have been paying more attention to the political environment in the US, which I think is amazing. We all need music and art to survive, but what we really need is basic human rights and decency to be more prevalent in our society.
9 – We have a Listening Today column at our Magazine where we choose 6 new releases, as you know.
What would be your 6 choices for a Listening Today list, outside your label releases?
1) Soft Kill / portrayal of guilt "Split" 7" (Bandcamp)
2) MSC & The Body "I Don't Ever Want To Be Alone" (Bandcamp)
3) Realize "Machine Violence" (Bandcamp)
4) Undeath "Lesions of a Different Kind" (Bandcamp)
5) Necrot "Mortal" (Bandcamp)
6) Hum "Inlet" (Bandcamp)