I first heard of Ominous Recordings a few years ago, and since it's quite an unusual label it seemed like an interesting idea to do an interview. To find out why it's unusual just keep reading!
We did the interview by e-mail. I sent the first bunch of questions on March 19th, and I received the final bunch of answers on March 31st.
Hey there Johan. I guess I can skip my ordinary standard question about who�ll be answering my questions, since Ominous Recordings is a one-man company I�d be damn surprised if you didn�t answer it yourself, hehe. Or at least I�m under the impression that Ominous is all you, so correct me if I�m wrong.
First off you can introduce yourself, if you�d like. But the first thing I�d like to know is how come you decided to start a legal label at such a young age? �Cause most labels/distros started by young fellows are DIY and under the table�
Well, as said, I'm Johan of Ominous Recordings (which is as you said, a one-man company). Also singer in the hardcore-act Digression Assassins (we are mixing our debut album for the moment, which will be released on Ampire Records in Germany during this spring/summer). I am a sucker for experimental music, surrealistic films and old French erotic literature like Bataille, R�age and De Sade.
The question why I started a legal label at my age is a question I keep asking myself. Mostly because I had to borrow the money to do it, and I got a lot of help from relatives and friends who had their own companies. The idea was that I wouldn't have to "whiten" it later, when it started to roll. But now, 3 years later, I've realized that I should have done it like everybody else. But that's the story of my life, more or less, I've never done like everybody else, which leads me to one of your other questions...
Ahh, so you�re not releasing the album yourself. It seems like most label owners with their own band release their own records, but I guess Digression Assassins are good enough to get an outside label�s attention, hehe. But weren�t you in a grindcore act before as well? I seem to remember hearing some MP3s� And if I�m not mistaken I think I heard Tomas (of Charons Nymfer) saying something a few years ago about a cover band.
We discussed it when we were searching for a label, and Ominous was a last resort. I didn't want to do like everyone else and release my own band on my label, it seemed at bit cocky, spending money on my own release. I've been in a number of acts, with the same members, haha. Avsky was my first, playing what we called Progressive Dark/doom, which meant that we could do almost anything we wanted, but I listened a lot to Bethlehem, Shining and D�df�dd at that moment, so we sounded like a mixture of them. After that it was Rectus Wartus, death/grind with a large portion of ugliness, we recorded five songs on an mp3-player and called "Fuckerpig Session", we actually got good reviews from a number of people on the Devourment-forum. Then we became restless, and the guitarist moved to another town. I think that's when we started to want everything but coming up with nothing. We did noisecore, postrock, doom, drone, noise and ambient, but never seemed to finish anything. But I've never been involved in a cover band, when I started to play in school, of course, but never after that.
As you�ve stated on your website, Ominous Recordings is a label based on emotion and not genre, which is a very unusual thing to do. What gave you the idea to try it out in a different manner than releasing for instance solely metal, punk or whatnot?
I've always liked a very large assortment of music, when I got into metal first, I still had artists like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, The Cramps and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on tapes from my father that I listened to just as much as Cannibal Corpse or Mayhem. I've always tried to find the feeling in music, which has led me away from a lot of metal during the last years, because metal has turned more or less into the thing "metalheads" claim to hate. Like America produce Spears or Aguilera-copies, the world produces metal that has as much emotion in it as the pavement on our streets. So the idea was to create a label that had a broad spectrum of music in its catalogue. As stated on my myspace (I am waiting for a new official site, which will be a bit more attractive and have most of the texts updated), bring me postpunk, hardcore, hiphop, crust, ambient or country with the right feeling, and I'm interested in hearing it, and if I can afford it, I'll release it. Take band like Oxbow for instance, an insane mixture of blues, rock and more or less noise, with mindblowing vocals, they are more evil, insane and more atmospheric than a shitload of "evil" Black Metal bands out there. And probably, kids won't listen to it because it isn't classified as metal. Johnny Cash, the four first American Recordings-albums, it's more dark and depressive than the latest Dark Funeral CD. What I want to do is the open eyes to other forms of music, just because the members doesn't have long hair, corpse-paint and pose with axes in a cave doesn't mean that it can't be evil, dark, depressive or hateful.
I have to agree with you there; Cash is king!
So far you�ve released (or will do so soon) stuff like death metal, noise, ambient, troubadours, blues� It must be difficult to build a solid clientele to purchase your releases when it�s of such a broad spectrum of genres. How are the sales going? Have you noticed that people are trying out genres that might not be their normal cup of tea, simply �cause they like your other releases?
That is the major problem, unfortunately. I have a small number of returning customers, who often purchase the noise/ambient releases from me. But the customers who bought Suicidal Seduction or Charons Nymfer aren't as interested in The Balustrade Ensemble for example. Which I find boring, people should always try new music. If you can't find on the Internet, lend it from someone and listen to it, try to find new music every day!
The sales could be better, that's for sure, but I am to blame for not pushing the name out as much as I should. My mistake is that I've pushed releases out, instead of selling the name Ominous to the world. I thought that I would by releasing great stuff and selling it to customers all over the world, but a couple of more banners, stickers, ad's and stuff like that would have been a better thing to do when the label is so unlike everyone else. Some customers have bought stuff, and have become horrified sometimes, or found something new that they liked other times. Which gives me a small feeling of success. I want the label to be a part of the musical revolution that I support by buying records no-one else likes, it would be better if the people who actually appreciated music would buy records and let the "normals" download 50 Cent, Britney Spears and Metallica, so that good music still would be worth investing in.
And what have people�s reactions been like so far? Are they liking the concept?
I have gotten real good reactions, both from customers and from artists. I released Nattramn a year ago or so, with his soloproject "Diagnose: Lebensgefahr". At first it seemed like that release would slip, because I couldn't afford to press 500-1000 like he wanted to, but after talking to Autopsy Kitchen Records (who did the standard Jewel Case version), he asked me if I wanted to do a limited digipack release for northern Europe. And I took the chance. He wanted me to do it, because he really liked the concept. I have also gotten real good reactions from Stalaggh, who are waiting for me to earn some more money. We've been talking about doing a limited 7'' with previously unreleased material, for the same reason as Nattramn, they like the concept and the idea behind it. To work with emotions, not riding on a genre.
You�ve only released limited editions so far, how come? Simply �cause they sell out faster and easier, or �cause it�s cheaper to print? And will you release different formats in the future?
Everything has been limited so far because I haven't afford to do larger amounts. Charons Nymfer was the first release that was larger than 200 units, now The Balustrade Ensemble was 500, but it still feels like a lot of copies. As said in the answer before, I am hoping that a 7'' with Stalaggh will be my first vinyl release. Would rather have released everything on vinyl as a matter of fact, but amounts and costs have been working against me.
On your site it says that you�re not interested in black metal at all at the moment, how come? I realize that black metal is usually what metalheads think of when they think of depressing music, and that you might get overwhelmed with promos of that sort. But to completely abandon the genre seems a bit weird. What if you came across a promo that really, really got your attention and that totally fit your label; would you just let it be?
Haven't I removed that yet? Well, I first put that on the website because all I got was shitty Black Metal-demos that sounded like something you'd hear on a 8th grade graduation day in a school. And just because they played Black Metal made them all think that they were perfect for my label. You wouldn't believe what kind of crap that came with the mail. I remember one act, from somewhere down Europe, who had recorded guitar and vocals with the microphone to his computer, with digital drums put in the background. I am not talking about a professionally made homerecording with soundcard and sequencer programs, this was a standard computer mic that comes with the computer, and drums that sounded like someone banging on buckets. Another reason was that I was so fed up the black metal image and scene. Everyone was trying to be so f-ing evil, new Black Metal bands, labels and distros every week. This was also a reason for the birth of Ominous, everyone around that I knew - and was in to Black Metal- started BM-distros or labels, and claimed that they had the most depressive BM-bands. I mean, take a Black Metal act like [name withdrawn] (someone will probably hang me for this but whatever), every label/distro or reviewer claims it to be so depressing, and dark, the only depressing thing about it, in my opinion, is that it's bad, I get depressed for the wrong reason when I listen to it. I mean, people claim to like extreme black metal bands, but half of them are just extremely bad. On a personal level, I had a hard time respecting their "values" in some questions, and everything felt so immature. Now, that I've gotten a distance to the scene and not being a part of it, like I was before, I have started to listen to it again, and have found more respect and appreciation for the old-timers and some new-comers. Darkthrone has always had special place on my shelf, together with Carpathian Forest, they never left even if I left, I also saved all my Selbstmord releases, because the stuff he released was pure gold. The standard was very high on his label. But most of the other stuff is gone. And now, I would gladly find a Black Metal act that worked more in the vein of Dodheimsgard, Thorns or something like that. More industrial, experimental, odd. Just no more bad Darkthrone-copies.
And while you�re not interested in releasing black metal at the time, you�re not interested in death metal at all� But you released the Suicidal Seduction MCD, which is most certainly death metal. Did the sales of said band not work out?
The reason is that Death Metal has never been that emotional to me. Suicidal Seduction was a one-time thing with death. The sales weren't that bad, I think I pressed 200 copies, and there are 30 or so left, so they're almost sold out. I came in contact with Tomas (Nilsson, Devian / Aktiv D�dshj�lp) trying to get him to sign Aktiv D�dshj�lp to my label, but they were already working with Chased By Fear with the release of "En Tid Av Sm�rta Och F�rnedring", but he said that they were looking for a label who wanted to release the second MCD of his Death Metal act Suicidal Seduction. So I thought, what the hell, I'll probably release a small amount of metal, even if the plan was to keep away from it.
So the plan was to actually keep away from metal of all genres? How come?
Yes, the plan was to keep away from metal, but Suicidal turned out good, but I hope I never have to release metal again. Not that I don't like it, I just don't want it on my label if I can avoid it. Aleister Crowley said that "Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people", and I say: ordinary music is for ordinary people, and metal now is ordinary. Sounding a bit pretentious, I know...
Have you been receiving a lot of promos? Or how do you usually go about searching for/finding new artists?
When I started, I more or less scanned the web for interesting acts. Contacted Maskinfett first, because I had reviewed his demos earlier, and gave him the proposition of being Ominous first release. Unfortunately that one didn't sell as much as we had hope for in the beginning, but it has started to sell and gone a lot in trades the last year actually. Sekt (or Avskyv�rd as goes by now) is a very close friend of mine, who I've worked with earlier before Ominous, and plan on doing again, because he delivers so well-made stuff. He suffers from insomnia, so he's mostly up all night working on music. Terror Regime was another friend, who sadly has left the music scene. Charons Nymfer was a lucky shot actually, Tomas (Nilsson again) send me a rough mix of a track that he and Dick Lundberg (Lucidor) had done for laughs, but I enjoyed it so much that I asked for more, and it became an album. Then, after that, it's been bands contacting me, Diagnose: Lebensgefahr, Conversations About The Light and now The Balustrade Ensemble.
So you write reviews, or at least you did� Did you have your own zine, worked for a magazine, something like that?
I wrote reviews for a webzine called Projekt15, during that time I was listed as the metal reviewer. Got some really good demos from bands that unfortunately doesn't seem to be around anymore. Got to do an interview with Carl Birath (Insision) and one with Jontho (Ragnarok) which was to fun experiences. After a while on that zine they started to review like 10 tracks with 10 different artists every week, and we had to give them score from 1-5 or 10 or something, and after that I was more or less fired I think, the crap I had to listen to... I actually wrote that one band should be deported to a Siberian concentration camp for taking up my time. And the lead singer wrote a couple of hateful mails to me, haha.
And speaking of work, how do you keep track of time so that family and personal issues don�t get side-tracked along the way, as you are dead-serious about your label?
Well, I am side-tracked from everything in life most of the time. For the moment, I'm unemployed, mixing the Digression Assassins debut, trying to make money for Ominous but have a bit of a rough economical spot. Family have had to adapt to me, mostly, but are fully supporting me in what I do. Trying to push my own favourite music on my friends during the weekends.
How do you feel it�s been going so far? Have you accomplished what you set out to do? It must be damn difficult to get people�s attention at all when it�s a brand new label, yet alone with a concept�
Because of sales, I've been wanting to give up from time to time. But the love for the music I've released so far has kept me going, which sounds like a total clich�, but people have asked me why I don't sign artists that sell or try to distribute music people want - the answer is always the same, I don't want to. Every release by Ominous Recordings will be backed up fully by myself, I believe in every artist that I sign and worship every album I release. I have achieved something, I've released an influence from the past (Nattramn), and hopefully will do it with another (Stalaggh), and I've released a beautiful album with a beautiful packaging (The Balustrade Ensemble), I have released noise that I wish I had done myself (Conversations About The Light). Nothing has been really successful, but that's okay, I have never done this to get rich, just for the appreciation of the music that artist have been serving me.
Well, getting serious acts contacting you for serious reasons (as you mentioned earlier it�s �cause they really appreciate the concept behind the label) must feel like a great accomplishment, am I right?
Yes, it was an honour to work with Nattramn, and that Stalaggh are interested in a co-op, it feels like I've made it clear what my label is about and what I want with it. If customers would understand it as well, it would be easier to run Ominous.
I feel I�m getting close to the end here now, so before we go maybe you have some advice for the guys and gals out there thinking about starting a label themselves?
The first advice is to start with one or two releases, and then work on promoting the hell out of them. Don't do what I've done, and release stuff that you can't afford to promote because you've wasted your money on doing the next release, and maybe start a label that releases music that people understand, haha. And sell yourself, let the artist be how true and underground as they want, but you have to be a whore with the label. Try to find distribution as quickly as possible, preferably distributors that buys the records from you. So you get them off your hands.
A few quick standard questions�
Latest record you bought?
The last two, bought them at the same time:
Oxbow - Insylum / The Stabbing Hand 12"
Insylum is probably the best cover ever made. And the singer in Oxbow is one of the best vocalists ever, insanity is always a bit too close.
Fe-Mail - Syklubb Fra Helvete CD
A noise duo consisting of two norwegian girls, so harsh that it's disgusting. One of the members, Hild Sofie Tafjord performs drone on a french horn when she's solo.
Latest record you listened to?
Actually it was Bob Hund - Jag Rear Ut Min Sj�l, Allt ska bort!
Latest book you read?
Gabrielle Wittkop - La Marchande D'Enfants
Latest show you went to?
Kaizers Orcestra, gypsy/balkan rock, with a lot of Tom Waits influences.
Crappiest record you�ve bought?
Depends, one that was a real piece pf crap was the tape Satans Helvete - Med Mord I Blicken, sounded like it was recorded on an answering machine. But there are too many to just select one, I have a history of regrets when it comes to purchases of records. But the biggest problem has been that I've sold stuff, when it didn't listen to it, and now that I listen to it again, I regret that I've sold them, and some of the stuff isn't around for sale anymore.
You have by far given me the most comprehensive and thought-through answers in any interview I�ve ever done, so in all honesty I feel that I�m already out of questions. If I had a follow-up questions somewhere along the way, you managed to answer it later on by yourself. It feels weird to not have more questions, but I like the fact that you�re really taking this interview serious. But I guess I have to settle for a measly handful of questions. I hope you enjoyed it, and I really do wish you all the best with your future business. So far I�ve really been impressed with some of your releases, so I hope you�ll be able to dig up even more obscure acts from around the world� Take care and thanks a lot for your time!
Thanks yourself. This, I think, is actually the first interview I've ever done. Finally. Digression Assassins - Omega, a debut album containing 11 tracks of gonzo hardcore, will be released on Ampire Records, Germany during May, we hope.
For a closer look at Ominous Recordings' discography please click here