Into the woods with Bindrune Recordings

In 2000, Marty Rytkonen of Worm Gear zine and Scott Candey of Crionic Mind Records and distribution started Bindrune Recordings; today, Rytkonen admits that “it took us a while and a few releases to find the true voice of Bindrune, but we did and have been turning out consistent and inspired art for 16 years now.”

Candey left the label along the way, though, leaving Rytkonen to carry the torch. And carry it he did, through to some noteworthy releases by Panopticon and like-minded black metal bands, through to companion label Eihwaz Recordings with Jim Clifton (“to release music that we both loved, but maybe didn’t quite fit within the aesthetic of Bindrune,” says Rytkonen), through to today, when, in our ongoing quest to look at one-person labels (see previous interviews with Dark Descent and Transcending Obscurity), we thought we’d catch up with Rytkonen to find out what’s going on with Bindrune.

Tell us a bit about yourself; apart from being a label guy, what makes you tick?

I’m married; we have a son. So, as you can imagine, there is never a loss for something to do, or somewhere to be. I am also a screen printer (Bindrune Screen Printing), have been so for 12 years and have been a rabid music collector/fan of the varying forces within the metal world ever since I was bought my first ever Kiss album—Alive!—back in 1977/78. Music is power and centering. Music is the closest thing to spirituality I have ever, and likely will ever, experience.

You’re a one-man label; is that out of necessity or do you keep it that way for a reason?

Being a one-man label was simply a matter of circumstance for a lot of years. Perhaps it was a lonely, though incredibly rewarding, pursuit, but it always struck me as a “me against the world” way to help bands get a step up from the underground. As time has gone on and my circle of creative and gifted friends increased, so did the inner workings of this label. Bindrune has united with Andreas and his label, Nordvis Produktion in Sweden, and he has been an instrumental part in helping spread what we do throughout Europe by distributing and co-releasing Bindrune tiles. Here stateside, the Bindrune “staff” has grown with Jim, Austin, Jack, Joelle, Jake, and Ben, who all step in to offer support, whether it’s with design, marketing, aiding with the merch table live, or stepping in and helping fulfill orders. Bindrune has become a family. Perhaps that would sound a bit cheesy to some, but it’s true.

What’s the best thing that’s happened to you during your time running the label?

Hands down, the friendships that have arose out of the band/label experience. I’ve met a lot of amazing people I never would have if it wasn’t for this label, and for that alone, I am eternally grateful. Also, Bindrune keeps me in a position of learning and trying new things. It doesn’t matter if it’s in regards to the business side of the recording industry or how to communicate and work with individuals in an otherwise very misanthropic digital world; I learn something every day. On a personal note, I would say the birth of our son Parker back in 2010 has been the biggest, most meaningful event that has ever impacted my/our life. I’m pleased to report, only six years into his life and it appears he is building an appreciation for metal.

What about the worst thing?

Money. Not having enough to do something quickly, or doing as much promotion as I’d like when it comes to an ad budget. As anyone still releasing music will tell you in 2016, it’s tough out there to “compete.” Fans of this music are constantly bombarded with “this is the best album you will ever hear” marketing tactics and have relied on the digital world to download as much as they can to keep up to date with what’s happening in he underground. Artists can now offer their fans a direct link and a professional marketplace through bandcamp, which is great for the bands. I will never say that’s a bad thing. But having made the investment into their future, it puts the label and artist in direct competition. This is where the learning process comes into play. How does a small label continue to exist and hopefully thrive in such a market? That is the challenge.

Why do you do a record label?

Supporting the arts is an important and admirable pursuit, maybe now more than ever. Today’s fast-paced culture is centered on disposable media and the quick sell. I feel taking time to give bands a helping hand may take some of the stress out of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the industry, allowing them to concentrate on creating powerful art and taking it out on the road to perform for fans that still want to get out of their houses and support something. Also I have been a life-long fan of music and the heavier genres… I suppose it’s my way of “giving back” and also feeling like I’m part of something bigger that has had a profound impact on my life.

What do you feel is the importance of record labels in 2016?

Promotion and getting bands’ releases into stores. Thanks to the vinyl revival, people care about buying music again and it has saved some of the brick-and-mortar shops out there that have weathered the storm, so to speak. It’s been a long time coming, but Bindrune/Eihwaz finally has a distributor (Thrill Jockey/Redline Distribution) that we are striving to grow with, and it has become top priority to get our releases out there and under the fans’ noses. It’s damn good music that deserves to be heard.

I imagine, given what you release, you spend a lot of time in the woods. True or false?

Having lived my entire life in the northern section of the lower peninsula of Michigan, I grew up in the woods. Though we moved closer to town 10 years ago and I’m not as immersed in the forest as I used to be, I still try to make it out there for a hike or an overnight in a cabin as often as I can. Being out in the woods is a fantastic and humbling experience and I tend to gravitate towards bands that present that similar atmosphere with their music.

Now, you also have a history in metal journalism, having written for Metal Maniacs (hails) and being the man behind Worm Gear zine. What’s your take on the state of metal journalism today? And do you hate us if we give one of your releases a negative review?

Having been a part of the metal journalism community in one form or another since 1995 with the birth of Worm Gear and my eventual move to Metal Maniacs, the change out there is painful to witness and seems foreign to what I’m used to and used to deeply enjoy. Metal journalism seems tired and beaten down. Of course this is somewhat of a generalization, for there is still some fantastic work being done out there, but before the big fallout of the print medium, where a lot of publications moved to the internet, I feel there were a core handful of the same writers writing for multiple magazines in order to make a living. I get that from a personal standpoint—we all need to put food on the table—but this practice killed a lot of individuality that was found in certain magazines. They became interchangeable with the same writing style and ideas. As a fan, it made the thrill of getting your favorite magazine a lot less meaningful. All magazines covered the same bands…. basically whatever the label PR reps were pushing, the bigger mags were covering. A new Amon Amarth would come out, and Johan Hegg’s face would be on 35 covers. Now with the internet, there are thousands of webzines/blogs; many possess the passion for sharing information but lack the identity to really build a fanbase. Writers are making names for themselves by riding on a holier-than-thou social-justice viewpoint. It strikes me as less about the music and more about how pure one’s moral compass is. I feel there needs to be a balance. A good writer can effectively describe an album while entertaining and injecting strands of their own belief system into their work. To me, it needs to be more about the music again, and less about the individual supplying the word count.

Regarding bad reviews… I have dished it out many times in the past and can take it. What bothers me about a bad review is when it’s sometimes obvious when there is an agenda behind the slam, or it’s a completely uninformed/unintelligent slam, or in a style that the writer obviously hates. What’s the point in reviewing something you think will be crap before you even go into it? Trying to push your bad day off onto someone else? But yes, bad reviews happen. Everyone hears the same piece of music in different ways and it’s to be expected. If someone offers a critique that is constructive as well as being critical, that still gives the reader an idea what to expect.

What’s next for the label?

More releases—Waldgefluster, new Falls of Rauros in 2017, Panopticon, Nechochwen, Murg, Stilla, Paths, Alda, Krigsgrav… so much to do. Sharpen your PayPal accounts, folks! We are wandering out of the woods and into your pockets.