Tom Hazelmyer - 2005

Share:   Facebook  HEY DICKHEAD. CLICK HERE TO READ MARK PRINDLE'S INTERVIEW WITH AMREP'S Tom HazelmyerTwitter   Email to friend               

Tom Hazelmyer was a founding member of Halo Of Flies as well as, more notably, the proprietor of Amphetamine Reptile (AmRep), the greatest record company in the history of the world. Home of such infamous and wonderful noisy rock bands as the Cows, Helmet, Tar, Lubricated Goat, King Snake Roost, Hammerhead and a jillion others (see for a full discography), AmRep is unfortunately now a label of the past. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all get together and remember it fondly! Remember the Clusterfuck tour with Today Is The Day, Guzzard and Chokebore? I do! I was one of the 12 people at the Chapel Hill show! Remember how nervous we all got when they started putting ‘pop’ bands like Superchunk and Supernova onto their Dope Guns & Fucking In The Streets 7” compilations? Oh, I do indeed! We ALL do! But in retrospect, they were right. And by “they,” I mean “he.” And by “he,” I’ve finally gotten back to the point. Tom Hazelmyer agreed to an email interview in mid-September 2005, and I was just the guy to do it. Which is fortunate, since I’m the one who asked. My questions are in bold print; his answers are in regular.


1. As a former Marine, what are your feelings on this whole Iraq thingy? Speaking as the exact type of person who would have been directly affected had it happened during your youth, I think your take on it holds more water than, say, mine!

I’ve always had a problem with Musicians, Artists, Actors and others from the arts using public platforms to spout off politically. I personally find the opinions of my plumber, bartender, or accountant more informed and rational. Let’s talk about the most dysfunctional group in America and I’m supposed to turn to them for guidance and knowledge? That’s fucking laughable. That said, whatever microscopic sliver of celebrity/notoriety I ever achieved, I’d be a hypocrite to do likewise. We’re sitting in a bar, gloves are off and it’s another story. I may slip up once in a while and spout off in a format like this, and when I do, I’m an asshole too.

2. How did you get involved with (a) Zippo lighters, of all crazy things, and (b) Feral House, one of my all-time favorite publishing houses?

Flame Rite came out of my collecting old 50’s advertising Zippos since I was a teenager and wanting to make my own. When we did make an Amphetamine Reptile one, we could not keep ‘em in stock. From there we took it one step further and decided to make the Zippos that would have us salivating if we walked into a store. So I hit up artists I’d been involved with through the label like Coop & Kozik, and started the ball rolling. The Scorched Art book through Feral House was from having been friends with Adam for some years. He headed up the S.W.A.T. Release on AmRep years before. I really wanted to do an art-based book and he was the obvious choice. Also now with hundreds of companies using the same pool of artists to make cool stuff I wanted it documented we were pretty much the first to do so. Actually predating Flame Rite was the Research & Development series that paired new bands with new “Lowbrow” artists, which we started in 1991. Some of the artists like Chris Mars, Kozik, Coop have gone on to be founding fathers of the “Juxtapoz” movement.

3. Why did Halo Of Flies come to an end? And were your later projects (Gear Jammer, Pogo The Clown) intended as one-offs or did you also play live shows and hope to develop them into proper "LP/CD" bands?

Everybody had something better to do (ha-ha). Basically the same friction that created a sense of energy and dynamic to the band that I think made us stand out, also made it impossible to be a long-term thing. Gear Jammer lasted about 10 minutes, and that was long enough for me to realize I wasn’t able to mine the same vein without the other 2 Flies. Also during Halo’s the label became more important to me than the band, and I didn’t see how you could split time effectively to give both 100%.

4. Did you ever resist signing a band to AmRep not because you didn't like them but because you didn't think they fit the sound that your fans expected? Or did you always feel free to sign any band you wanted? Alternately, did you ever sign a band you weren't super-sold on simply because you thought they'd sell units?

No. If I liked it, then I considered it AmRep worthy. I honestly never thought of our sound as that singular or confined, but at some point you have to deal with that as a reality when the entire music world thinks that’s the case. Also started running into bands that would hesitate out of concern for being lumped in, as no original band wants to be pigeonholed. On the second part of your question, no but I wish I had. For biz reasons solely we should have become the HELMET label, and only worked with bands that were ripping off Helmet. I would have likely wound up with that whole late 90’s generation of bands like Limp Bizkit that still owe Page Hamilton “influence royalties” and sold millions of units ha-ha. I would be talking to you from poolside in Beverly Hills instead of from an office above a small bar in Northeast Minneapolis. Unfortunately my A.D.D.-based “been there, done that” attitude always got the best of me.

5. Are there any bands that looking back, you wish you had signed but didn't? (Or alternately, DID sign but wish you hadn't?) On a related note, did you give your artists freedom to record anything they wanted, or would you refuse to release a CD you felt was not up to par? For example, I know Chokebore changed their sound a heck of a lot throughout their career -- did you continue to like their music? Did anything like that ever happen, where you just didn't like where a band took their sound?

I think there was only one instance of me refusing to release a record. It was Love 666 who midstream decided they wanted to take their advance and record a pure white noise LP. It was the only time in the decade plus where I gave bands 100% creative control that it came back to bite me in the ass. I know the purists out there will be aghast with that decision, but they never have to write the checks for manufacturing and promotion on a LP you’ll sell 2 copies of, and with limited resources it’s not a hard choice to make. They then went back in the studio and cut “Please Kill Yourself So I Can Rock,” which I thought was amazing. I can’t think of any band that evolved in a direction I didn’t care for. Chokebore’s last LP that they did a year or two ago was the most sedate and least like their AmRep debut, and one of my favorite recent records by anyone. The only reason AmRep and Chokebore parted paths (on friendly terms) was their refusal to tour the U.S. and their shrinking presence as a result. I was recently asked about bands I didn’t sign and wish I had, and honestly none come to mind. I never passed on a Nirvana that went on to do amazing shit that I know of.

6. How did it make you as label owner feel when a band would decide to leave AmRep for 'greener pastures'? Ex. Tar going to T&G, Gaunt signing to a major, etc. Did this hurt your feelings personally or did you just see it as a natural business progression (or big mistake?)? Were there ever hard feelings? And one last semi-question: Did you agree with Interscope that Helmet had a chance of being the next Nirvana? Or was it just a pipe dream?

It depends on each incident and how it was handled. With Tar it really pissed me off as at that moment in time AmRep could do everything Touch & Go could; we had the same sized staffs and capabilities in promotions and distribution. I felt it was a lateral move based solely on their Chicago-based worship of Albini and Touch & Go, that I felt did not take into account that I had busted balls for them when Touch & Go was nowhere to be found and had literally passed on them. Once they started making headway, and at that moment in time things were looking good for them, here comes Corey Rusk to make ‘em an offer. It was also the first time it happened which made it sting all the worse. Basically a public vote of no confidence from a group of guys you considered friends and allies. Later on I came to better comprehend band dynamics and realized that the label was at the top of the list for being sited as to why any given band hadn’t sold a million copies. If they ever get to the point where they’ve blamed the manager, label, booking agent, etc. and finally come to realize that they themselves have something to do with what’s stopping their march to mass acceptance and recognition, odds are they aren’t long for this world. By the time Unsane did damn near the same thing I was far less emotional about it, and even getting to say “I told you so” held no interest. With Helmet we actually worked together to achieve their move as we found with limited staff we were quickly devoting a majority of our time to one band and they obviously far outstripped our abilities. As far as them being the “next Nirvana” I never thought of it that way, but they came damn close. With a band like Gaunt, it was always understood that the release we did was a one-off. With others like Servotron when they left for Lookout, I willingly tore up the contract as it made sense and we’d given it a shot with limited success and I saw the logic in them trying to make it through a completely different channel. I was usually very reasonable about these things for the most part, and in the back of mind knew I NEVER wanted to force a band to work with me. How shitty would that make day-to-day life. It’s a hard enough business even without excessive in-house fighting and sniping.

7. When did you become interested in graphic design? And how did you work - did you listen to the album first and develop a concept based on its sound? Or just think of an interesting image and go from there? What are some of the favorite album covers you created?

Pretty much always was interested in the graphics. It was one of the key elements that drew me to Punk Rock in the first place. I was every bit as enamored of the graphics of say Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols or Danzig with the Misfits as I was the music itself. I loved how a Chrome record had such a distinctive look that seemingly matched the vibe laid down in the grooves. Folks have to realize that the opposite was true in the mainstream at the time. Go look at a Toto LP cover and realize that the graphics in the music world at the time were as dismal as the music they were pumping out. So when you saw something as stunning as early Gang of Four graphics or early hardcore it was a one-two punch combo. My biggest regret was that I wish I had been able to devote more time to the process. I used to joke that a majority of the graphics were a result of the “Fifteen Minute School of Design” as at times it felt like that was all I could spend on stuff when running the rest of the operations as well. As a result there wasn’t enough time to be as thoughtful as you envisioned in the question.

8. If a person had never heard an AmRep release in their life and could only afford to buy five of them, which five do you think are the top of the top? On a related note, which five sold the best?

I think for the best insight to the AmRep credo:
Cows ­ Cunning Stunts
Dope, Guns & Fucking in The Streets comps
Boss Hog ­ Drinkin’, Letchin’ & Lyin’
Unsane ­ Scattered, Smothered & Covered
Hammerhead ­ Into The Vortex

Best sellers, not really sure exactly. Helmet, Melvins, Cows, Boss Hog, Unsane most likely up there. Melvins should make the above list, but by the time we started working together they had firmly created their own independent identity.

9. I know that many of the bands on AmRep created music videos. What were these videos meant for? I can't imagine MTV ever playing any - were they created for local market video shows or what?

We did these all on the extremely cheap. Aside from use on the video comps which sold really well as nobody else was doing that at the time, we also went out of our way to track down local access shows nationwide, get ‘em to clubs that played videos, and other creative outlets as we knew the doors to MTV were firmly locked shut to the underground at that point, and there were no other national cable options at the time. We used to go to the biggest club in Minneapolis and collect hundreds of 3/4” videocassettes the majors would send ‘em and tape our videos over ‘em to send to these weird outlets.

10. Are you happy with all of Halo Of Flies' recordings? When you listen now, this many years later, is it still a sound that excites you? Who or what were your main influences for that band? Mod bands like the Creation? Or noise punk bands like Flipper? Or both? Or neither? All of the above? Some but almost all of a few etc?

Not overall. There’s some moments here and there I feel we were accurately represented on tape, but not many. The influences were all over the place. At that point in time I already had a bellyful of 77 Punk, post punk, early American Hardcore, 60 Garage, primo 60’s acid rock and on some level was trying to blend it all together and regurgitate it. Stuff like No Trend and the Aussie X, as well as contemporaries like Cosmic Psychos and countless others all snuck into the mix.

11. How did you learn the skills necessary to run your own label? Did you apprentice at another indie label or buy a book or just kinda feel your way around it? And what were your most effective marketing tools?

Damn, you must have went to college (ha ha). Buy a book?? The closest I came to internship was watching and helping the Husker Du guys with early Reflex Records stuff as a teenager. The main lesson was, roll up yer fucking sleeves and dig in, and try not to repeat mistakes. Also learning how to get it done on a Private in the Marine Corps pay helped keep shit grounded later on when there were more resources to play with. Folks who start with a sizeable funding from the get go never seem to learn how to keep things reasonable and are usually the first to go bankrupt. Shit like having a new band spend $15,000 to record an LP that in all likelihood will sell 3000 copies. Sending 20 copies to all the writers of a Rolling Stone that never would cover an indie release in the 80’s or 90’s, every release rain or shine. Etc etc etc. For me it just seemed common sense to find a cut out box factory and ship our new releases out in overstock Deep Fry Fat boxes we got cheap (ha-ha). Also having done it all by myself at the beginning I knew most aspects from packing orders to doing contracts so I had some insight on all aspects of operations.

12. Do you still follow the underground noisy music scene? If so, are there any bands you've seen that you would definitely sign if you still had AmRep going?

Not been a lot of interest. I would have loved doing the A-Frames, Polysics, Lifter Puller, Easy Action, Vaz, Heroin Sheiks and a few others. But in reality it would have been really tough keeping the label alive with what became of indie music for the past 7 years since we quit. Most of it holds no interest to me as it seems there’s been a collective sensitivity training draining the ballsy aspects of rock I am always looking for.

13. I know that you got a slack in the past because of your Republican leanings. What do you think about the job that George W. Bush is doing? Also, what Republican (or Conservative) ideals attract you to that party?

Never could figure out how & why that made the rounds. I made a point to not take a political stand in interviews as label guy, as I always felt it had nothing to do with the music. Also why should people in the bands who might disagree with me feel as though they have to shill for the opposition or my beliefs because I’m putting AmRep out there as a political entity. If me & you are sitting at a bar and have a debate that’s a whole other story. I was always amazed at how many folks felt they could discount the accomplishments and aesthetics of the label and its bands because I might not agree with them politically. What the fuck is that? That’s on par with me thinking Gang of Four or Joe Strummer were shit because I thought their politics were run of the mill art school bullshit. Difference being they wore it on their sleeve and I didn’t. Since there is no more label I’ll gladly state that I’m about as Libertarian as they come. At times that belief runs parallel to Republican ideals (especially economically). Back when the Left actually gave a shit about personal freedoms I imagine I would have been siding with them far more than I do now. George W. Bush is a blue blood, country club, silver spoon, elitist douchebag. Then again John Kerry was a blue blood, country club, silver spoon, elitist shit sandwich. I subscribe to South Park politics I guess.

14. Do you still run the Ox-Op Art Gallery? If so, what kinds of work are you showing there these days?

Look it up at Tons going on. What’s happening in art right now is far more exciting than in the music world. A lot of parallels with early Punk/Alternative, as the new school is despised by the establishment that is desperately trying to keep it outside the gates, much akin to how the majors acted for decades. Also the same creative energy and groundbreaking work that can only seemingly happen in the murky primordial soup of an early movement, before the rulebook gets written.

15. Tell us the history behind Grumpy's too! Will we ever see a Grumpy's in NYC? Or, if Citizine runs this interview, LA?

Neither. They both have smoking bans; therefore it’s impossible to do a proper bar. I’m thinking Vegas (ha-ha).

16. What are the worst things about running your own record label? Any particular horror stories you'd care to share?

The worst thing was realizing that if you want a long-term “business” you have to start running things that counter what the artist wants. The two are seldom the same. The artist sees a 14-panel gatefold sleeve with images licensed from the estate of Salvador Dali as necessary to their vision and integrity. You just start to see the fact that you’ll be losing $2 for every unit sold, and find it harder to buy into the creative vision because you get pounded into submission by having to balance the checkbook at the end of the day. Also it got to the point where jadedly I could tell you minute by minute when & where any given band was going to start souring on the business. Not just my label mind you, but I would watch friends do the same thing to other labels. At any rate when you start getting that negative, it destroys and overshadows the magic of when you hear a new band and it lights your world on fire, and you’re pulling 12-hour days for the cause. When you think this is the fucking greatest thing in the world and all that needs to happen is for the rest of the world to figure it out by you pounding on their doors and making ‘em listen. After the 20th time of realizing the rest of the world isn’t likely to share your enthusiasm, it’s damn near impossible to start said fire.

17. Does it make you feel bad to see so many great AmRep releases going out of print? Have any labels offered to buy parts of your catalog from you for re-release? Is there any chance that you'll ever re-release any of it?

I don’t feel bad; it’s just part of my history. It’s not as though I’ve been sitting here since 98 when I shut it down, waiting for the call, “Hey buddy, the kids all wanna hear that kooky AmRep sound!” If there was enough interest I would be reissuing stuff. I never shut it down completely, and kept most titles available (I just never repress anything). I got most of it up on eMusic and iTunes for the younger set that isn’t as stressed to hold it physically, and is just searching for the music.

18. Who in your opinion are the five greatest artists/bands to come out of the Twin Cities -- and what do you love most about each's sound?

Fuck I don’t know. To be honest I’ve never been a big LOCALS ONLY booster. Off the top of my head with little to no thought I’d say

COWS ­ Those guys reworked the book on guitar/bass/drums and got none of the credit they STILL deserve.

HUSKER DU ­ Ultimate mix of aesthetics, raw power and not afraid of using a big assed hook.

LIFTER PULLER ­ That last LP was a fucking masterpiece few bands ever achieve! I can’t think of anymore I’d site, and I’ll get in trouble as soon as those worthy see this and remind me.

19. Were you surprised when Kristen Pfaff and Sean McDonnell died of heroin-related deaths? Or was it common knowledge that they were involved in hard drugs and might be at risk?

Actually Sean wasn’t Heroin. He died from an asthma attack. His lifestyle of 24-hour party marathons, smoking, and living a hard NYC nightlife played a part in wearing him down to the point where a cold might have kicked his ass. Sean was a close friend and I still miss the fuck out of him.

Kristen was a surprise, as it was common knowledge in Minneapolis that she hadn’t even dabbled until the months after she moved to L.A., and hooked up with Hole. You do the math. It was exactly what EVERYONE warned her not to do when moving out there.

The only person I know of that was on the AmRep roster that was a stone cold junky (whom shall go unnamed) is still alive much to everybody’s surprise 15 years later. A fucking miserable existence mind you, but still kicking.

I was out of the loop on the drug info. Most folks know I wasn’t tolerant, so a lot of it was hidden from me. I’m always amazed at how many really smart people start fucking with heroin like they don’t know how many thousands in the music biz have had their ass handed to them by that drug.

20. I heard over a year ago that a new GodBullies album was in the works, but since then...nothing! Do you have any inside information? Also, on the topic of "inside information," doesn't that Foreigner album "Inside Information" kick some ass? "Say You Will, Say You Won't" indeed!

I talk with David Livingstone regularly but haven’t been privy to new God Bullies info. You just had to say Foreigner didn’t you. Now I have “Hot Blooded” going in my head. TAKE IT BACK.

Add your thoughts?

Buy some Tom Hazelmyer books and support your local Tom Hazelmyer by clicking here!

Return to Mark Prindle's "Feels Like The First Time" Foreigner Shrine