Over the course of eight years, Heavy Montréal (or Heavy MTL, or just plain ol’ Heavy) has ascended to, and maintained its position as, one of the premiere large scale hard rock/metal gatherings in North America. Featuring three stages, roaming art installations, pro-am wrestling, an insanely accommodating area for those selecting to purchase extras and VIP packages and a backstage area cleaner, better stocked and more luxurious than my place of residenceconstructed smack dab in the middle of Montréal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau, Heavy whatever-you-want-to-call-it provides a unique and welcoming festival experience for those amongst us who cringe at the sight of sunlight and consider walking on gravel and amongst trees roughing it as well as those who live for beer-aided sunburns and are working for the weekend. This year’s edition of the fest moves to a different section of the urban park, scaling back a bit on the expanse of the past few years and will see headliners, and returning heavy participants, Five Finger Death Punch and Disturbed sharing the grounds with the likes of Sebastian Bach, Sabaton, Blind Guardian and Killswitch Engage along with more Decibel-friendly fare like Carcass, Napalm Death, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Candlemass, Cult of Luna, Suffocation, Inquisition, Mantar, Repulsion and Fear Factory. So, while you contemplate whether to expedite your passport application and make the trek north of the border for August 6-7 (and/or the pre-fest activities and shows on 5th with Misery Index, lest we forget the after party gigs) and take advantage of the fact that the Canadian dollar is still trading at 75-80 cents on the American greenback, we caught up with the fest’s main booker, Daniel Glick and threw a few questions his way about his long-running endeavour.
One thing I was curious about is how the fest’s parent company, Evenko, got involved. Has Heavy MTL always been a festival that’s existed under the wing of Evenko?
Yeah, I was already an employee of Evenko. We started it [Heavy MTL]; me and few other people here created the whole brand, the idea and everything around it. We had started another festival two or three years before that called Osheaga, which is a more indie and pop rock festival. Montréal has always been a great hard rock and metal market and we felt there was a need for it.
So, you had bosses you had to pitch the original idea to?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, these festivals, as much as they seem to be easy winners, they’re not. They’re super-high risk events we put on. We have to build everything in a field, we’ve got to overpay some artists sometimes because they either have to fly in from wherever they are, from vacations or from another tour. Sometimes tours route through us; during the first years of Heavy, we had the Mayhem tour roll in through us on one of the two days, which was a great partnership, but understanding the whole scheme of how these festivals are put on, it’s a great risk. We have to convince the powers that be – the owners – that this is a viable model and something that we want to market for many, many years.
Has it become easier to convince them that it is less of a risk as the years go on and you gain more experience and prove your success?
This is our eleventh year of Osheaga, so we definitely have a lot of experience in the festival world. I think we do a pretty job of treating our bands right and they want to come play, so that reputation has definitely gone a long way. Has it gotten easier? It’s gotten a little easier from the early years. When we started doing festivals there were very few people working on it and now we have an amazing team behind it with someone making sure that everything is happening the way it should. We have people who oversee the different departments, the budget and everything; it’s all so big right now, so in that sense it’s easier. Sometimes the timing of our festival makes it difficult for bands to play, so we always run into that issue, but I don’t think that’s different from any festival anywhere, unless you’re a Coachella or Lollapalooza that plans three years ahead of time. That’s obviously challenging. Finding the right model for our fans and market is a challenge too. It wasn’t too long ago we felt like hard rock and metal was a little down in terms of people’s interest, but we feel that it’s definitely on the upswing right now and that’s really encouraging to see because it’s something we believe in. Sorry, I realise I’m going all over the place with that answer [laughs].
That’s ok, it’s just reminding me of all the topics I want to talk to you about. You mentioned the team that works on the festival; how many people are involved and how has it grown over the years?
Our production team has increased significantly. When we started Heavy, it was a weekend in June and it was Iron Maiden and Motley Crüe and we thought it was a good weekend. We played around with the dates a little bit at the beginning because of Mayhem and it made sense to do it on a certain weekend. Then, we decided to tie it on back-to-back weekends with Osheaga and that definitely helps the team plan it throughout the summer instead of having to build up the festivals site and tear it down and do it all over again. Now, we’re able to use some of the same site to keep stages up, toilets there, keep fencing and barricades… some of the basic infrastructure that takes a lot of time, money and manpower to construct. In doing that, it’s definitely made it easier and helps the team work better together knowing we have one festival on one weekend and the other the next weekend. The team is pretty large; it’s a huge undertaking putting on an event like this. As far as the booking goes, there are three of us who work on it and send out the offers, but we discuss everything with the entire booking team. We have a couple guys who we call up and get opinions from and it’s great to bounce ideas off of other people.
In having the festival site basically take over part of a major urban park for the better part of a month, you must have a decent relationship with the city. Was it ever a problem dealing with bureaucracy in executing your vision?
No, I wouldn’t say it was ever an issue, we have a very good relationship with the city. And the festivals are done back-to-back, so we can leave everything set up. About two weeks before Osheaga is when we start building. The stages take a while, the perimeter fence, spiking everything, branding everything…our production team works throughout the week between the festivals, changing everything over to look like Heavy. We change the signs, we go from Osheaga’s green to Heavy’s maroon-gold-black colour scheme, change the concessions and we have a few art pieces we change. Last year, we had these ten-foot tall Grim Reapers out and we also have Heavy Mania wrestling, which is super fun and gets a great reaction every year and we’re bringing that back, so we have to set up for that too.
With Heavy MTL being in the summer, do you find a lot of conflict in booking bands who have committed to the European festival circuit?
Yeah, for sure. For hard rock festivals, Europe is pretty incredible in terms of how many they have. Some bands will be booked there, but some will fly in for the weekend and then go back and continue with the Euro festivals. But we always seem to work around it and get the bands we want, most of the time.
Because of that, how far in advance do you find yourselves having to approach bands?
Sometimes a year. We started working on this version of Heavy around August or September; September for sure because we already had Nightwish locked in, which I’m really excited about because they’re going to have their full European festival set and it’s going to be a little bit different from what we usually see in North America. There’s going to be more pyro, they have set pieces, just more of everything and it’s going to be a bigger spectacle than we’ve usually seen. It should be cool.
I’ve heard that your booking team actually approaches the smaller bands that end up playing on the sides stages; that you actually have your pulse on what’s emerging from the underground, as it were.
Well, that’s flattering! For our local bands, for sure; we’ve know them and for years we did a series called ‘En Route de Heavy,’ which is ‘On the Way to Heavy’ and we had a bit of like a battle of the bands thing where we had bands play throughout the year in Montréal, so we really got to know them and I think one or two of the winners got to play at the festival. As they grow, we’ve built a really good relationship with our local scene and we want to continue to do that because I think it’s important.
In terms of getting bands like Mantar and Inquisition this year, is it a mandate to get bands you feel are on the upswing?
Absolutely. One of the bookers in our office, that’s his thing and his scene. He knows exactly what’s going on, the bands he wants and goes for them. I’m really happy that you’re excited about some of those bands. We always seem to have a great crowd for those bands that are smaller on the poster, but still very relevant. Plus, we’re excited for the Five Finger fans to learn and discover, go check them out and watch them grow as well.
In your experience in doing this, what have you discovered are the most challenging or surprising aspects of putting on a festival like this?
I hate to bring up the word cancellation, but it’s always a bummer. You work so hard to bring a band from wherever and you’re excited about their set and things just don’t work out for whatever reason. We’re very understanding about it, but it’s still a bummer. I guess it’s always difficult when you’re really close to confirming an act and it goes sideways for one of a thousand reasons. It happens. I’m always touched by the Heavy bands and their appreciation for everything we do for them. They really take it to heart, they are extremely, extremely grateful and we hear it from the headliners down to the smallest bands. It’s always super-nice when someone reaches out after the festival to say they had a good time.
On the weekend of the festival itself, how much are you running around and how much do you actually get to see?
I see about maybe half of the bands. There’s always running around and always something that needs an answer to, something going on backstage or a tour manager you need to have a meeting with, but we like to go see the bands and it’s important that we do. It gives us a chance for everyone to know who we’re dealing with. We don’t get to make it to every single show we put on over the year, so it gives us a chance to build those relationships. There’s a lot of “being here and there” and with three stages and the wrestling there’s a lot going on.
You probably won’t want to get into numbers, but when you have your budget, how much of it goes where? Like what percentage goes to staffing, building material for the festival site, guarantees for the bands and how does that change in a case like a couple years ago when you had Metallica, who I’m sure…
…Metallica was not cheap! We definitely have to make compromises, all the time. Metallica was a very unique case where we were so confident in that band to do the numbers that we broke our usual model and broke things down in a different way to make the decision that we did. I’m not going to get into numbers or percentages, but you have to look at it like Metallica on their own does ‘x’ number of tickets and if we get them, it’ll probably be about the same and it’ll open the festival to new fans, etc., etc. These were all things we weighed and we increased the ticket price a little because they cost a lot of money, but people were willing to pay the price. But, we adjusted our ticket prices accordingly for the bands this year; they don’t cost as much as Metallica, so the ticket price shouldn’t be as much as when Metallica played. So, we play around with things quite a bit, probably up until the very last minute to make sure we’re doing the best for the fans and the best for us. We’re very conscious about our ticket prices, especially with the Heavy audience. We always look at things and think, “What can we do?” and this year we did a limited time pre-sale for, I think, $100 for the weekend and it worked really well getting people interested in the festival and drew in some people who were maybe sitting on the fence about buying a ticket.
What do you feel stands out about this year’s version that’s different or improved upon?
This year we’re at Plaine des Jeux, which is another part of the park site. We’re not using that main area that we’ve used in other years. It’s still at the Parc Jean-Drapeau, but just a different part of it. We’ve been using that site for Osheaga and we found that the atmosphere there is really amazing and looking at our line up, we figured it would be perfect for the festival, so we moved it over there. I think the fans are going to love it; it’s a little different, it’s not as vast and it’s got a bit more of an intimate feeling. There are more trees and forests around and it’s really nice. We saw the reaction of the Osheaga fans and we saw Avenged Sevenfold on that site before and people loved it so we thought we’d give it a try and we think it’ll enhance the experience this year.
Aside from Nightwish, who are you looking forward to seeing?
Volbeat, because I really like them. Despised Icon, because I haven’t seen them in a while. USA Out of Vietnam is a band from Montréal and I really enjoy them. I haven’t seen Disturbed in years and it’s been a while since they’ve played Heavy so that’ll be fun. I just want to see as many bands and sets as possible.
For info and tickets, go to www.heavymontreal.com