Interview with Calvin from Pulverised Records

Pulverised Records is one of the first extreme metal record labels out of Singapore, a country know more for its indie and pop acts. Clarence and Hong Rui from Heavy Metal Tribune recently got the opportunity to conduct an interview with Calvin, A&R of Pulverised Records. So what does it really take for a band to be signed onto Pulverised Records?

HMT: Hi Calvin, on behalf of Heavy Metal Tribune, we wish to thank you for taking time off your busy schedule to complete this email interview with us. Without further ado, let’s start with the interview. Firstly, give us a brief introduction of yourself.

Calvin – I am the A&R Manager for Pulverised Records and maybe some of the people might know me previously as the guitar-player for Raspatul. I am 32 years old this year and have been a Metalhead for a big half of my life. Happily married to my wonderful wife, who still supports me in whatever nonsense I am doing so far, and I have 2 beautiful black cats as well. No kids at the moment; the biggest kid in the house is probably me 🙂

Pulverised Records is my only full-time commitment now and this is how I make my living these days. I admit it sure feels great to do Extreme Metal 24/7!

I also have a studio project band that I have been nurturing for too long a time. Maybe some of the people also might know Obliterhate, which is a band that I founded some years ago which features Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity, Bloodbath, Nightingale) on vocals and a guest guitar solo, James Murphy (Disincarnate, Testament, etc) on guest guitar solo, Terry Butler (Massacre, Six Feet Under, Denial Fiend) on bass, Erik Sayenga (ex-Dying Fetus, Warthrone) on drums, myself on guitars and Mirai Kawashima (Sigh, ex-Necrophagia) on keyboards. Also, I have guys like Death Metal legend Jeff Becerra from Possessed and Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Bone Gnawer, ex-Edge Of Sanity, etc) helping me out with the lyrical arrangements. I have been delaying this CD release for far too long and I will probably get this release by this year.

Pulverised Records on Terrorizer

Give us a brief history of Pulverised Records.

Calvin – Pulverised Records was born in 1996 that was initially started by 3 guys, namely Leng Hiang and Ayong and myself, with an immense passion for all things Death Metal. The main push that started the label was when I listened to the Amon Amarth demo and liked it so much, I asked them if they would be interested to release a CD and they were. And after the success the Amon Amarth Mini CD, we started receiving demos especially from Sweden and from there, we went on the sign more Swedish bands. The focus from the start was that Pulverised Records signs only quality bands and also bands that we personally enjoy. During the active 4 years, Pulverised went on to sign a healthy number of Metal bands, mainly from Sweden. Some of the albums that Pulverised Records had released went on to become classic albums that are even sought after until today.

The label went on a hiatus in 2000 but Roy decided to resurrect the label again in 2004 as the label was something that he could not let go off. After some discussions and a few meetings later, Roy was wondering if I would be interested in helping him out with the label as he could not possibly handle the label alone by himself anymore. Before I could say anything, a Pulverised email account was created for me and here I am now, slogging my poor ass for Roy! Hahahaha! I was really impressed with the fact that there is actually someone here in Singapore who shares a similar mindset towards Metal music. I could definitely understand the amount of workload Roy was facing with Pulverised Records, so when he got me to help him out with the label, I was very honoured to be a part of the Pulverised family.

So from 2004 onwards, we went on to sign bands like Sathanas, Opposition Party, Quest Of Aidance, 21 Lucifers, In Aeternum, My Own Grave, etc. At almost the same time, we also licensed 2 very important Metal albums namely the last ever Dissection album ‘Reinkaos’ and Watain’s ‘Sworn To The Dark’ for Asian territories. We have also done licensing for Impiety’s previous full-length effort ‘Formidonis Nex Cultus’, and further went on to release their 2-CD album ’18 Atomic Years Satanniversary’ and the latest MCD offering entitled ‘Dominator’.

More current new bands on our roster are Master, Guillotine, Séance, Sanctification, Bone Gnawer, Axis Powers, The Black, Desultory, Algaion, Whiplash, etc.

So in the recent years, we have started to have a more open mindset on the bands we sign but definitely keeping the Extreme Metal tag in mind.

Can you give us an overview of your job?

Calvin – I guess the job of an A&R Manager is to actually listen to demos that get to us and keeping a lookout for any potentially good bands right? However, the music industry is not getting any better and I would personally find it difficult to sign a band that basically unknown. I have a ton of demos from all over the world but sometimes by just looking at the packaging from the demo, it is sometimes easy to tell if a band is of any good. If you want to present your band to a label, I think it should look as professional as possible, and not some Xeroxed cutout with a label-less CD that their mothers did in 5 minutes!

Close-Up Magazine’s Pulverised Records sampler

What is your typical day at work like?

Calvin – My typical day at work? I sit in front of the computer for a large portion of the day, listen to a lot of music and eventually hating Metal! Hahahahaha 🙂

Both Roy and me are virtually nocturnal creatures, so we usually are the most active at 3am in the morning! I guess this is the ideal time for us as we can get things done a lot quicker for the fact that people over in Europe and the USA are wide awake. Even though the both of us are based in Singapore, we still prefer to talk to each other in front of the computer because we just don’t seem to like each other’s faces! Hahahahaha! A usual day at Pulverised is always filled with emails to reply, be it from bands, labels, magazines, etc. Roy still has his family business to handle, so I would try to make sure all the loose ends are tied but of course, major decisions will have to be discussed between the two of us.

What was it that made you decide to start your own record label, seeing that with the improvement of technology, getting music has become as simple as just a click of the mouse?

Calvin – Pulverised Records was started in 1996, so we aren’t exactly at the era of modern technology at the point of time. But coming back to present time, it is indeed scary that modern technology could one day harm the music industry, which in fact, already had.

In 2004, Roy decided to resurrect Pulverised Records again as he felt that the label was simply something that he could not let go off. The first signing after the 4-year break was one of Singapore’s longest running band Opposition Party. Roy met Francis Frightful, the vocalist/guitarist of Opposition Party through some mutual friends and told him that Opposition Party had already recorded a new album and was looking for a label to release it, and so this was the catalyst as to how Pulverised Records came back from the grave again.

From there onwards, there was no stopping the label and I should say that the label is doing much better than it was before.

Music piracy has been an issue for so long and this is probably something we cannot control. Speaking from a label point of view, it does definitely hurt the sales but for the bands, it could mean a certain amount of exposure. We all know that only ‘worthy’ bands will end up having their releases on those torrent sites available for downloading so if there’s anything to blame, it will be the advance technology. Gone are the days where fans will eagerly await their favourite bands’ album release and buy them off the shelf in CD stores. But of course, there are still many who purchase albums and love the feeling of having the real thing in their hands. This is why bands still continue to do new albums and labels still continue to release albums till this day.

I don’t think music piracy will affect Extreme Metal any less than other forms of music. The popularity of Metal music has risen dramatically throughout the years and I dare say that 99% of the people own a computer at home, so downloading music is just a click away. The price of a commercial pop music CD costs lower than a Metal import CD, so I think Metalheads are more prone to downloading music in this case.

With some other local record labels that struggled and eventually failed, what was it that kept Pulverised Records going, and instead of following suit, began to sign on more and bigger bands?

Calvin – I think it’s the entire knowledge of how this music business works. Sure, both Roy and myself are Metalheads and still fans of Extreme music but it was probably the know-how of how the music industry works that kept us going for so long. A lot of the decisions that we make in the label are sometimes based on a business point of view. There were a couple of well-known bands that approached us and we could not sign; the only reason was probably because they were too expensive to afford!

Impiety – Dominator

Were there any difficulties encountered when signing bands onto Pulverised Records, especially with so many big names such as Impiety, Dissection and Watain. What are some of the biggest difficulties encountered?

Calvin – Both the Dissection and Watain albums were license deals to us, so there was no promotion involved. As for Impiety, the “Formidonis Nex Cultus” album was also a license deal, except for the Mini-CD “Dominator, which rightfully belongs to us.

There are always bound to have some opinionated views and difficulties when it comes to working with bands, no matter how big or small the bands are. Especially when 99.99% of the bands that are under our roster are based in Europe, and different bands all have different needs. But I should say that most of the time, it was a real blast working with all the bands and all of us have a great working relationship.

We believe in releasing only great quality albums and CDs, and so the bands are always more than pleased with what we do.

I don’t see it as a difficulty but rather a disadvantage to be running a full-time label at this part of the world. There are at times where I felt that a lot of things could have been achieved if we were able to do Pulverised Records in a different continent, like say in Europe. Almost all the work done in the label are through email correspondence, but if we are able to meet up with our contacts like our working partners, the bands that we sign, attend overseas Metal festivals and conferences, I believe we could really speed up much more than what we can do now. We are based too far away from the biggest Metal scene, which is Europe and America. I feel that I could have gotten more things done if we were able to meet the bands, distributors or organizers personally. As you know, sometimes it is easier to get things done face to face. Like now we trying to get tours for our bands and we have only managed to get hold of a few so far. If we were based in Sweden or Europe, things might have been different and we can easily talk to tour promoters or booking agents, etc.

What are some of the factors that make you decide whether to sign the band on your label?

Calvin – There is an overwhelming surge of bands appearing in the recent years and because of this, I feel that the attention span of the fans and the listeners are getting shorter. There could be thousands of new releases sprouting out each single month and there are only a few that turn heads and create a sort of little rumble, but after a while, the people will focus their attention elsewhere and look forward to other new albums. Packaging have proved to be vital as well, so we will always put quality above everything else.

We get a ton of emails everyday from bands requesting us to sign them but for us as a label, we will need to take into consideration on a lot of factors when we sign a band. It could depend on whether if the bands have been around for a long time and therefore much easier to promote and sell the albums. In some cases, we would also see if a particular band has some well-known names involved, maybe on the production side of things like mixing or mastering, etc. There are too many talented bands out there that writes and produces very good music, but it has to be something special and unique that makes them stand out from the rest. The music industry is definitely one of the weirdest because it doesn’t mean that bands who play and write fantastic music would necessarily mean that they will sell. We believe in a certain ‘X-factor’ that the bands have in order to spark off our interest.

How often do you spend time listening to demos? And how do you get hold of these demos?

Calvin – To be really honest, I barely listen to the demos that we receive. And not even counting the physical demos that gets into our mail-box, we get a ton of emails from bands very regularly as well. Well, I can tell you a nice and beautiful story that we listen to all the demos that come in but I don’t want to be telling lies here.

Almost all the bands that are under our roster were approached by us personally. Like I have also mentioned earlier, there were some well-known bands that approached us as well, and obviously the bands that already had a good discography or at least a decent following needed no demo submission.

Opposition Party at Baybeats 2009

We see that most of the bands signed to Pulverised are from the extreme metal genre. What was it that made you decide to sign bands from various genres besides extreme metal? (E.g. Opposition Party, who are more known as a hardcore punk/crossover band than metal, Guillotine and Whiplash, a thrash metal band) Did it cause any conflict of interest between bands?

Calvin – As I have mentioned in the earlier question, Opposition Party was the first release that we did ever since Pulverised got back in business again. And I think Opposition Party would have no problems fitting into our roster, since they were one of the pioneers of the scene and they also have a very aggressive nature to their current Hardcore Punk / Thrash Metal sound.

I am sure that every one would also agree that old Hardcore / Crust / Punk are always welcomed by any self-respecting Metalhead! If you do remember, we also went on to sign the Swedish ‘all-star’ punk band Iron Lamb recently, which featured guys from General Surgery, Dismember and Repugnant.

I don’t see why this would cause any conflict of interest between any of our bands, since all the bands would be doing their own thing, instead of telling us who we should sign or who we should not!

I think all labels should not follow so much of the musical trends happening, and try to sign bands that they sincerely believe in. There are of course some bands that were signed to some of the biggest labels and we just do not understand what the hype is all about. I guess this is why the music industry is probably the weirdest thing to comprehend. It is definitely harder to get attention these days but as long as we continue to sign killer bands and make more right choices, I am sure we would get the attention we duly deserve.

Amon Amarth – Sorrow through the Nine Worlds

Pulverised Records was one of the first record labels in the region to sign bands that got big throughout the years (Amon Amarth). Any chances of signing of bigger bands in the near future?

Calvin – I think there is no denying that we will always be tagged as the label that discovered Amon Amarth during their demo days and releasing “Sorrow Through The Nine Worlds” Mini-CD. Roy got the Amon Amarth demo from the band and totally enjoyed it, so he wrote to the band and asked if Pulverised Records was able to release something for them. They wanted to sign for just one record deal and so they went to Abyss Studio and recorded their debut Mini-CD release. They ran into a lot of problems as that was the label’s first release and everything was new to them. Furthermore, to release our first release on a digipak format back in the day was an even bigger challenge. Things were not that advanced during those days so it took a while before we managed to get the digipak release out. But all the efforts had paid off and we are very proud to have release a digipak Mini-CD of such high quality.

They really deserve what they have achieved for sure and I wish them all the best in their future endeavors. The amount of hard work, dedication and commitment that these guys have given to the band is not as easy as what it seems, especially when they are playing Extreme Metal. Believe it or not, we still have requests from some fans asking us to re-issue the “Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds” Mini-CD, but we just cannot do it because of contractual issues.

As to whether we will sign any bigger bands in the future, I really have no clue to be honest. We recently have had a few bigger acts approaching us again, but this is all about the money issue.

Let’s pose you a question that is popular with interviews with record labels. Seeing that metal is generally considered an “underground” genre and that Singapore has a lack of music shops that sell CDs from the metal genre, what is your take on music downloads, as a label that deals with metal?

Calvin – The times have changed by miles for sure but with everyone moving on to better technology, there are so many things that gets done way faster because of the Internet. I’m sure that I speak for everyone when it comes to illegal downloading happening in the recent years, and this is something that all of us cannot avoid. As much as we would like to stay ‘true’ and ‘underground’, it is a fact that CD sales have dropped tremendously and also hurt the entire industry, so we are no exception as well. I think the best way to protect ourselves from disappearing from the market would be to keep a constant track on what is happening in the industry all the time.

Well, of course I cannot possibly make blind assumptions and think that every Metal kid these days would just download and not buy or collect albums. In fact, there is still a huge legion of fans out there who are crazy and very serious Metal collectors, which is probably why labels are very much willing to spend on doing up some really unique and collector-worthy releases. For example, look at how vinyl releases are still widely accepted even in this age. Labels would sometimes release the LP version bundled with some limited edition merchandises like patches, stickers or posters and in some cases, put out extra bonus tracks just for the vinyl release. One thing that we have noticed is that bands these days like to release their albums in a CD/DVD format as well. This is indeed a very good idea to attract the fans to buy albums as they do not just only want to listen to the music; they want to see the bands in action too.

I feel that the music industry in general is rather saturated these days. It is so difficult to stand out among the rest when there are thousands of new releases coming out in a month. The music industry is basically on a bullet train ride if you ask me; every piece of information is spread so fast and unreleased albums are already leaked out for downloading even months before the actual release date. Having such a source for the fans would mean that it is creating a form of promotion, but there still lies the unfound possibility that fans might not pick up and purchase the album when the CD is out.

Seeing that the bands on Pulverised Records are from all over the world, what are your views on the trend of the metal scene in Singapore in the next 5 years?

Calvin – Again I have to be truthful here, I barely know what is happening with the current Singapore Metal scene at all. I do have some friends who tell me some stuff from time to time, but I do realize the number of Metalheads here have risen by a large number in the recent years. Extreme Metal is gaining more acceptance, which is always a good thing. But in general, the Singapore Metal scene is still at an infancy stage and we have a lot of catching up to do.

However, I think the Asian Metal scene have improved by leaps and bounds for sure. Looking at what bands like Impiety, Sigh or Chthonic, etc have done so far, it shows a very healthy Metal scene coming out from the East indeed. But then again, I still feel that there are still a lot that the Asian and South East Asian Metal scene have to learn. In terms of promotion and exposure, bands still have insufficient recognition. I like to believe that a contrasting culture between Asian and Western is probably one of the factors. In Asia, our tradition and beliefs have taught us to be humble and down-to-earth, so I guess there is a sense of reservation instilled in our minds due to our upbringing.

The Asian and South East Asian Metal scene are definitely opening a lot of doors and opportunities are gradually flowing in. I do see more Asian Metal bands being involved with labels and compilations and even going on some small tours regionally and even in North America and Europe.

Having said that, touring as a full-time band is still something that is unusual and perhaps to the point of skeptism, from the Asian point of view.

Any chances of seeing more local bands being signed to Pulverised Records?

Calvin – I guess there could be a possibility. But the criteria is the same for bands anywhere around the world that we sign, we will only release and sign bands if they are of high standards.

Any advice for aspiring bands out there?

Calvin – While I totally agree that the band’s music is always important, but we also take a very serious note on the band’s image as well. As much as we try not to be narrow-minded in some sense, but would it make any sense for a Black Metal band to be dressed in casual t-shirt and jeans for a band photo-shoot? I am sure everyone grew up listening to their favourite bands and the first thing that caught their attentions would be the band’s imagery content.

But personally, I believe that the band themselves also have to work really hard on their own promotion and also another important factor would be that the bands have to be on tour regularly. It’s easily understandable since fans love to go to shows and watching a live band on stage is a much better experience than hearing them on an album. Touring will only benefit both the bands and the labels in this case. The aspects of making a band successful is that besides being musically talent and having a flair for good songwriting, the members of the band should be ready to sacrifice almost everything they have and just strictly focus on the band as their full-time commitment.

Once again, thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Calvin – No problem, the pleasure is all mine!

Roy and Calvin, Pulverised Records

Pulverised records on MySpace.
Official website

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©2010 Heavy Metal Tribune | Clarence & Hong Rui

1 comment

  1. Awesome interview!

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