Through A Speaker Rumbly interviews Graceless Recordings

Based in Nashville, Graceless Recordings is a label not solely focused on tapes, but predominantly so. In just under five years, Graceless has (incidentally) fanned the flames of the tape revival craze, served as the launch pad for numerous underground acts (e.g. Lycus, Pissgrave, Alraune, Chthe’ilist), and never once have they let drop their standard of quality extreme metal (not to mention some quality non-metal, too). Graceless’ s M.O. seems to be putting out releases by bands that are perennially enjoyable as well as immune to the ebb and flow of trends. Operated by Mike Meacham (Loss, Recluse, Rituaal, ex-Mourner) and Jake Rothlisberger (Rituaal, Vesicus, ex-Mourner), Graceless Recordings is an institution in the underworld of tape worship. It was an honor, a pleasure and a lesson in metal lore and appreciation to speak with these two southern gentlemen. Here’s how the interview went . . .

So Graceless is approaching its fifth year, bearing 29 releases in total. Is that correct? Did Graceless exist in some crude form before you started calling it Graceless? Because I’m wondering what brought about the label? Experiment, necessity, or something else entirely? Was it an idea that one of you, or both of you had for a while?

J.R.:  Yeah, that sounds about right. I think we’ve been active for just over four years, with about 20+ releases out or in production. This year has definitely been the most productive, starting off with the 15th release and now approaching the 30th, although some will inevitably spill into next year.

 Analyzing it now, Graceless may have started to fill the void of some music projects fizzling out. Mourner dissolved and offshoots were formed, leading to the Vesicus recording. I’d mentioned casually that I wanted to release the demo and we decided we’d accomplish more together with Mike’s previous experience and contacts from War Hammer. It was somewhat spontaneous, without much thought or planning, but the Lycus and Vesicus demos were received fairly well, so that kept the momentum moving forward.

M.M: Like Jake said, I think it was an answer to fill the void that Mourner left in us. We are close friends and just enjoy collaborating on things. We have the same taste in music and are fans of the music first and foremost. We get excited about these bands and want to push push push. We never set out to be a big label. Just something to release tapes and records for some great new bands and the occasional re-issue of lost gems. We are really pleased that some of the bands we worked with went on to work with the labels they did. It wouldn’t make sense for Pissgrave and Lycus to remain on Graceless. We want to help push these bands into a broader underground audience.

Throughout the label’s existence you’ve promoted and released recordings by bands coming from a wide spectrum of genres. I’m thinking of Disemballerina compared to Pissgrave; Black Earth compared to Weightlessness. What qualifies a band to have the privilege of being on Graceless–“privilege” being my word, not yours. I’m saying that Graceless has an unanimously great (and greatly varied) roster, so you don’t have to. I’m also saying that Graceless is a label that a band should be stoked to be on, so you don’t have to. But how does a band get signed to Graceless Recordings? Is it as simple as sending in some music and being killer?

J.R.: We knew going in that it wasn’t going to be just a “metal” label, but that it would represent something beyond genre. There’s an honesty and conviction that we hold in higher regard with what we peruse than how it can be categorized.

M.M.: We don’t limit ourselves on what we listen to, and the same is true for the label. We come from a diverse background of music. We want to put out sinister or heartfelt ART that is powerful.

We don’t “sign” bands per-se. We make a gentlemen’s agreement on amount and royalty copies and that’s it usually. Underground ethics. Bands have reached out to us, and we have stumbled upon the occasional, overlooked Bandcamp page and approached the band, etc. Sometimes we’re already friends with the band.

How many bands that you’ve done releases for have approached Graceless vs. How many bands has Graceless approached?

J.R.: I’m pretty sure every release has been us asking (sometimes persistently) for partnership. Most of the bands have been friends, or we’ve had mutual friends, so there’s typically some common connection to start from. We’ve had some great demos sent to us, though.

What’s the best selling release so far for the label?

J.R.: The Lycus demo. It’s had three pressings now totaling around 500 copies. Behind that would be the Recluse and Chthe’ilist tapes. Those were probably the fastest moving titles, lasting just a few weeks.

Alright, so this whole time I’ve been jamming Arche’s “Plains of Lethe,” the first track off their debut EP that you guys are on the brink of dropping unto the unsuspecting masses. And it’s going to fall like a slab of frozen ocean on those who know well enough to heed it. How did this release come about? I see that one of these Finns also plays in Profetus. Which is likely part of the reason that this two song EP is a paradigm representation of cold funereal doom.

J.R.: Yeah, I stumbled onto their Bandcamp a week or two after they’d released the EP. I’d already written the band before the 1st song had finished, but continued playing on repeat for a few days in complete awe. I was in a low place, dealing with an abnormal amount of anxiety and depression, and Undercurrents provided a tremendous cathartic release, so it truly was an honor to have a hand in this. We’ve both been fans of Profetus since the Saturnine demo and had actually been in talks with them for some cassette releases in the past, which never came to be, so it’s a sort of a conclusion to that, in my eyes.

Now this tape, Auroch’s Seven Veils . . . This came before their Profound Lore full length, right? Was the tape held back for some reason? I’ve never heard this band, so I checked ‘em out while jamming this and found out they share members with Mitochondrion. Wow, no kidding! Who else but people associated with that pack of evil geniuses could crank out such off-the-wall pitchy muck as this? This sounds like a Tremor’s inner monologue as its tunneling toward its hapless prey. Could you tell me a little bit about how this came about?

J.R.: Seven Veils was a recording to showcase a new sound and vision for the band, a preview of sorts to see who took notice. I’m not sure if it had even been mastered when Profound Lore caught wind and signed them up for their next full length. With it serving its purpose before it was even released, it lost some momentum on our end. The A.M.S.G. LP, which had been pressed around that time, had consumed all funds and left us in the red, so it remained dormant for several months. Originally planned just as a 7″, we decided to press a limited tape for the band to have at some important shows while the vinyl was in production purgatory. Glad to finally say the vinyl will be available the 1st week of Sept.

Would Graceless ever sell a tape or a record without providing a sample somewhere on the internet, as a few have bands/labels done and continue to do?

J.R.: Sure. That’s something we’d leave up to the band. If they preferred that it remain a physical presentation only, we’d stand behind that decision. I rarely sample something online, or require a listening before purchasing, but we do like to offer samples for today’s audiences that may require some convincing.

So I’m wondering what you think of this new tape that I just acquired by a French band called KLLK? To my demented ears, this is some killer stuff. It’s like a black metal storm with occasional and unpredictable thunder bursts of death doom. The tape itself came with these smelly, like, incense rocks and this weird, little cloth patch that’s more of an advertisement than a standard patch. Also the O-card’s been singed here and there with a ritualistic candle, I’m assuming. So, what’s the verdict on KLLK’s new tape Between the First Heliocentric Wind and the Great Devourer of Light?

J.R.: Initially, I was disappointed to hear programmed drums, but the song sucked me in and they weren’t an issue after hearing where it went. Dark and twisted, without sounding contrived. I could see this fitting in a listening session along with Leviathan and Blut Aus Nord maybe.

So this Black Earth tape that Graceless just released–tell me a little bit about this work of uncompromising insanity, please. The Graceless website says it’s a special release for you guys. How’s that? I’ll tell you I was jamming this tape the other night, when I first opened your haul, and my girlfriend simply was not having it. She can tolerate a lot of the stuff I listen to–“tolerate” being the operative word here–but she flat out said to me: “I hate this. Turn it off.” The black metal she didn’t mind, but once it started in on the asphyxiating, horrific putrid ambient stuff, she wasn’t having it. After I shut it off, she asked: “How can you listen to that?” And I think that’s actually a poignant question. It’s like certain art, you know? There’s a way of looking at it, and I think that harsh noise stuff is the same way. There’s a way of listening to it. So how would you recommend that people listen to Black Earth? What’s the best state of mind to be in to jam a tape as cruel as this one?

J.R.: It’s a release that’s reversed previous roles. One of the Black Earth members ran a label that released some of Mourner’s material several years back, so there’s a personal connection that goes beyond anything else we’ve done. Musically, this is maybe the most difficult listening experience we’ve presented. It’s extremely horrifying; a morbid glimpse into the beyond.

M.M.: Yes. Black Earth is easily the most twisted and polarizing release we have done. It was great to work with them from the other side of things after Alex released some stuff for Mourner on his label, Black Mass. People either love this or hate it. It’s definitely not for everyone. Some friends in the scene have written us after purchasing it saying “What the fuck is this?” Only to write again a few days later “OK, this is genius. Where did you conjure this from?!” That’s when you know you’ve done something special as a band. You polarize listeners. It isn’t easy to listen to or even to STOP listening to Black Earth. Mission accomplished.

Let’s jump back in time and talk about the Chthe’ilist demo. Where the hell did you guys dig up this modern masterpiece of alien death metal? It’s absolutely one of my most treasured tapes. And that has nothing to do with the fact that nowadays it’s pretty rare and sells for some decent bucks on Discogs. It’s the predator vocals; it’s that breakdown in the first song; the whole Demilich vibe; the invented language; everything about this demo is so impenetrable and foreign. 

J.R.: We were tenacious with this one because, initially, the band didn’t want this released outside of a digital download. I feel like Mike had written Phil before the demo had been recorded, and I wrote them twice right after. It was about a year of persistence before the tape became available. We may have annoyed them into it, I’m not sure, but I know we were all pleased with the outcome! Truly a landmark release in our catalog and one I revisit often.

M.M.: Yes we definitely bugged them until they let us release it haha. They had several offers and we just remained persistent. Now we are friends and have even released one of Phil’s other bands Décombres. I cant wait to hear what Chthe’ilist does next.

So this other tape you just released, the self-titled full length from Québécois’s Décombres. I was doing a little research and was floored to find out that this is the drummer of Chthe’ilist’s solo project. Then I put it on . . . Man, this is really nothing like what I’ve come to expect from that Québécois black metal scene. I’m hesitant to call it catchy because these riffs cut right through me before I even know what I’m hearing. But this is blazing fast black metal, and it’s kind of beautiful, too, for a lack of a better word. I’d like to eventually headbang to these killer riffs, but so far I’m too busy simply trying to keep up with them. Not to mention this sounds nothing at all like Chthe’ilist. How did this release come about, considering it was first put out three years ago? Did you just find out about it, or were there some issues in getting it together?

J.R.: Yes, this is Philippe Boucher’s solo project, which we were unaware of until the other Philippe (Tougas) from Chthe’ilist shared it with us. We felt it deserved more than just a YouTube upload, so we proposed a limited tape version to spread and potentially give this project further exposure. There’s definitely a majestic element to this demo, and the melodies are quite catchy, like you said, yet it still retains a razor sharp and ferocious attack. The Quebec scene is ablaze, boasting some of the most talented individuals in the extreme metal underground! Although quite different, Décombres & Chthe’ilist contribute their own unique voices to that region’s rebellious and nefarious choirs.

Chthe’ilist now call Profound Lore their home, and now Pissgrave have a full length out on PLR, too. Are you guys and Bruni pals, or does he just have very similar tastes? Also, could you talk a little bit about the Pissgrave demo and how you discovered them, please?

J.R.: The only thing I knew about Pissgrave initially was that Demian from Otesanek (a personal favorite) was involved. There wasn’t any need of convincing me, I was on board for Pissgrave immediately.  Of course, after hearing the demo, I knew this was an entirely different monster. A repulsive portrayal of decay and pure death!

M.M.: Same here . . . Demian was in the band. That’s all I knew and I was definitely interested. Brad from TRTRKMMR, and also ex-Otesanek, told me about Pissgrave. Once again we jumped at the chance to work with such a sick band and approached them. They agreed, and now that demo is currently the most sought after release in our back catalog ever since their newly released album, Suicide Euphoria, has caught on. It’s funny . . . When the Pissgrave demo came out, no one wanted to give it a chance because the cover and name “sounds like goregrind”. Well, we tried to tell everyone that the music is perfect and sick. Now those same people beg for “extra copies that might be laying around.” HAHA! Pissgrave is perfect as is. Fuck labels and genre definition. VIOLENCE is key here.

 As for the Profound Lore connection. My band, Loss, is on PLR and over the years of working with Mr. Bruni we have become friends. It’s a matter of us having very similar tastes in metal. Chris and I like a lot of the same kinds of bands and he naturally approached these bands without our help haha. I’m sure he would have without us ever being involved. Im glad to see bands like Pissgrave, Chthe’ilist and Auroch working with PLR. They deserve it. Obviously I’m a big supporter of the label haha.

So have you guys heard this new Dutch band, Confrontation, that this likewise new label Von Frost Records recently put out? I got the die hard version, which came with a bullet shell that was excavated from the Reichswald, where a major battle (part of Operation Veritable) took place during WWII. But what do you think of Confrontation’s style of death doom? The second track especially reminds me of something like Godflesh meets Disma.

J.R.: Your description is right on. Hypnotic and heavy rhythms/percussion similar to Godflesh with obvious death metal influences. Really like this one and may have to track down a copy.

For some reason they had to tell us up front they’re not affiliated with any political extremists, which limits my imagination. It’s something I constantly dwell on when listening..are these guys Nazis, communists..ISIS??!! I NEEEEEED to know before I can form any further opinions!

What’s your opinion on the so-called die hard versions that come with little trinkets or pouches and other bric-a-brac like that?

J.R.: I look at it two ways. From the production side, you get advance costs back promptly from the die hard collectors, but I also feel like it could be the representation the band had in mind for all copies if the budget allowed.

Speaking for myself and what I’m looking for when I’m the customer: I’ll take the utilitarian option, please.

M.M.: These days it’s become a bit of a trend and kind of sets the market up for the eBay collectors and cash hungry wimps to make a buck. Metal isn’t fucking baseball cards and stamps. It’s art. Sometimes it’s cool to get a die hard copy, but sometimes it’s just a waste. Yosuke from Nuclear War Now! obviously started this revival, and he is the only one that I can fully respect doing it on all of his releases. I know because he told me it was a nod to the old ways. Messiah’s Hymn To Abramelin LP originally came with a toothbrush . . . that’s nuts! (There is a song called “The Dentist” on that record.) I know that inspired Mr. Konishi. When we co-released the Blasphemy Live Ritual LP between NWN! and War Hammer, there were some fantastic die hard items. That’s kind of where it jumped off for him. That’s great for HIM. Every label seems to do it. If you HAVE to have a special trinket to sell your record, or whatever, and the music isn’t good enough to stand on its own, then it seems a bit trite. It loses its meaning. Yosuke stands behind all of his releases and he gets a pass on this, but I don’t think it’s necessary for every release to have a fucking die hard version on every label. Its how the underground gets flooded with collectors and not fans.

I’ve already given much love to Ēōs, but they’re a band I could honestly talk about for days. Even still, I think it’s your guys’s turn now. So how did you find Ēōs? And what’s next for them?

J.R.: Earlier this year, CVLT Nation did a spotlight piece on some recent doom that had just been released and Ēōs was the only band I found interesting in the article. I wrote them (CVLT Nation & the band) with my praise and since they didn’t have arrangements with anyone else, a deal was proposed.

M.M.: This demo is my absolute favorite release this year from any band–next to the Impenitent Thief demo. It crushes me every single time. Totally inspiring. The way I love funeral doom to sound.

So I’m wondering how you feel this new band from Holland, Necromantic Worship. Nuclear War Now! just put out their demo, and it’s pretty blatant Necromantia worship, hence the name, but I think it’s mutated enough to stand on its own. My thoughts are that some of the greatest artists start out as straight up copycats, ya know? So what’s the survey say? Cool, or is it too blatant of a rip off?

M.M.: I haven’t given it an honest listen yet. Some close friends whose taste I trust have told me they love it. I really cannot stand the sound of programmed drums (obviously there are some exceptions). So it was an immediate turn off. I like the aesthetic and the theme but hate drum machines. When I get a physical copy, I’ll listen to it in a different state of mind and see if it helps.

J.R.: Yeah, this is on my list of new stuff to hear. When I hear “Greek worship” and it shows any signs of promise, I’m going to get a copy! I’ve listened enough to hear the comparisons to Necromantia, but I’m going to wait until I have my copy and can fully process it before I make any conclusions on originality.

So this Hail/Thoabath split tape is another excursion into the depraved abyss of harsh noise/power electronics. How did this split one come about? And, like Black Earth, how do you think someone who’s not necessarily predisposed to this sort of “music,” how would you say that they might approach this tape in order to get the most out of it?

M.M.: I’ve known Andrew Way for a few years as he also plays in Sutekh Hexen and some other projects. Carl and Brian from Hail have been around for a while and we had come in contact with them through our wanting to do the eventual re-release of their brilliant Crimson Madrigal album. This all lead to us releasing the new Hail album and even further to us releasing this split between Hail/Thoabath, as the members of both projects are allies and had this planned already. It’s a great split. Listen to it in absolute darkness in the dead of night, at maximum volume. I promise every time it will sound different. Especially if you have imbibed any chemicals.

My first experience with Graceless Recordings was Lycus’s Demo MMXI. I was totally arrested by that tape when I first heard it. I couldn’t believe the stark difference between what I had heard online and what I was hearing coming out of my dusty, old boombox. And yet it was this latter manner of listening that seemed not only the most appropriate, but the truest. That Lycus demo was a like a gateway for me into the murky depths of underground demos. Just as Loss’s Despond was a gateway into the world of funeral doom, and slow DM in general. I bring this up because soon Loss and Lycus will be playing California Deathfest together. So have you guys known the Lycus members for a while then, or did the relationship begin with you releasing their demo? And what can we expect from both bands on the upcoming tour?

The Graceless guys with a couple of the Lycus dudes.
The Graceless guys with a couple of the Lycus dudes.

M.M.: Our working with Lycus was the first case of us stumbling onto a band via Bandcamp and asking to do a physical release. We wrote them and they agreed to our partnership. We also did the cassette version of their full length Tempest. The Lycus demo is already a classic in my eyes and I believe it will stand the test of time. We have remained in contact with Lycus, obviously, and Loss has played with them a few times on tour and recently here in Nashville. Lycus just finished their Western and Eastern tours and played their entire new album live minus one song. It is outstanding. Relapse will be releasing it early 2016.

Loss is touring with Worship in October starting in Seattle then touring down to CA Deathfest. We will also be presenting a few new songs . . .

Guys, thank you both for your time and for your candid, grammatically sound and thought-out responses. Graceless Recordings is an institution already and I can wait to see what you guys unveil next! Any words to leave us with?

M.M.: LISTEN to records and tapes. Don’t just collect. End this shitty trend of gumming up the pressing plants so every shitty hipster can have his favorite Jack White jerk off fest on vinyl.

J.R.” Many thanks to you for your kind words and support!

“Hail Satan. Only analog is real. Listen to Black Sabbath.” – Graceless Recordings