Interview: Slay at Home Festival Organizers Discusses Planning, Livestreams and Collaborations

Live music is one of the many casualties of COVID-19, which has caused the postponement of every event for the foreseeable future, including our own Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Philly. Rather than accept that it could be a year or more before concerts can safely resume, artists and organizers from Metallica and Oranssi Pazuzu to local bands, have experimented with pre-recorded video and livestreams to bring that experience into fans’ homes.

Metal Injection co-owner Frank Godla took that a step further when he conceived Slay at Home, an all-online festival that features multiple “stages,” some of metal’s biggest names and commissioned, collaborative pieces between artists like Gorguts, Revocation and the Dillinger Escape Plan. Decibel spoke with Godla about the festival, which begins today at 3pm EST and ends on Saturday night, May 30. Viewers are able to donate to the event, with donations going directly toward Musicares and Global Giving. Delve into the details now and head to Metal Injection’s YouTube to see the complete lineup and watch the festivities in real time.

There have been numerous online performances and festivals from artists of varying sizes, but Slay at Home is a little more ambitious, featuring art installations, commissioned pieces and artist collaborations. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas to begin an undertaking like this?
[laughs] I’m definitely ambitious by nature, and seem to thrive in the chaos it comes with. I suppose the idea started last year, when I was organizing the Metal Injection 15-year anniversary party and got about 20 of my super-talented friends from notable bands to join a collective cover jam, and then we donated all the proceeds at the end of the night. It was one of the most fun nights ever for everyone, and it felt great to be part of something right. That’s really what it’s all about, great people doing great things for great causes.

As for inspiration, some of it is my taste for doing things different, but I also love visiting metal festivals all over the world, and consider myself very fortunate to attend them often enough to have favorites I can draw inspiration from. When I started Slay At Home, I knew I wanted to have the personal touch of a festival like Roadburn, which I have tremendous respect for, but also include the vibe of open air festivals like Summer Breeze and Domination Fest.

My first mission was to set up a commissioned piece, so I asked Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Dave Davidson (Revocation), Elliot Hoffman (Carbomb) and Liam Wilson(Azusa, The Dillinger Escape Plan) if they’d be willing to write a song to debut at my fest, and once they all confirmed with a unanimous yes, I thought anything else could be possible and just went for it.

The lineup includes a range of acts from Tesseract to Suicide Silence to Der Weg Einer Freiheit to A.A. Williams, with more being announced. How did you go about curating and selecting the lineup of artists to play?
Honestly, that’s the easiest part! To say I love music is a gross understatement. My favorite thing in the world is discovering my new favorite band, getting to know them and doing everything I can to help the rest of the world see them the way I do. Almost every performer on this is someone I’ve been backing since their debut and built a relationship with over the years, but I’m more than a friend, I’m a real fan. I’ve been in constant contact with most of them for weeks and getting texts about their rehearsals, updates, set lists, questions… it makes all the insane workload behind this worth it knowing they’re just as stoked as I am!

Of course, I couldn’t get every artist I wanted this time around, but that’s what the future is for. 

While organizing Slay at Home, have you been able to incorporate any ideas or attractions that wouldn’t have been possible at an in-person festival?
Oh, definitely. Naturally, an in-person festival has a clear business structure to always adhere to: selling tickets, making profits, bill all the biggest names at the end of the night, etc. I’m clearly not in this for the money; Slay At Home is actually costing me money with no ability for a return, so I tossed the idea of “playing it safe” out right away. 

First, is the fact I pulled this off in about seven weeks and not a year like a conventional fest. It’s a curse for so many logistical and stress reasons, but ultimately a blessing that it can happen when it’s needed.

Also, by keeping the set times between five and 15 minutes for each artist, it allows me to not only keep things moving, but mix it up in ways that conventional festivals simply can’t. Every single hour will contain big names and emerging artists right next to each other in an effort to make this event more of a discovery tool for every viewer out there. There is a lot happening every hour, but the beauty of video is that it’s archived so you can pause it while you run to the portapotty.

The other big difference from other festivals (streamed or conventional), is that this is not about profits or proceeds. I’m not pushing products to try and recoup my costs or collecting donations to my own third party account. This is a real-deal fundraiser where myself and every performer set aside a certain loss, be it monetary or time, to provide a free show in support of two great causes. I wanted to be completely transparent about this, because I feel that’s important in a time where there’s a lot of opportunists taking advantage of a rough situation.

What’s the biggest challenge of pulling off an event like this, that has so few examples as precedent?
That there are so few examples as precedent! [laughs] It sort of brings me back to the origins of Metal Injection, but when you don’t have an example to follow, it could be an uphill battle explaining what you’re trying to do. So getting artists and even the charity organizations on board came with a lot of explanations. This is to be expected, though.

I’d have to say the biggest challenge by far has been the insane amount of work and the deadlines. Time is never on my side and with Metal Injection alone, I’m accustomed to crazy deadlines and 12+ hour workdays, but this really threw me into some new shoes. Now I know why festivals have entire teams dedicated to different areas around the clock. Trying to manage them all at once is just insane and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do it.

When the world goes back to a relative form of normal and concerts resume, do you think there will still be a place for digital and live-streamed shows?
I think nothing can replace the experience of an actual show or festival, and I personally can’t wait for things to return to normal so I can travel to my favorites. However, I do think many people are being unrealistic about the timeline in which things will be safe. All it takes is one sick person in a mass gathering to start the chain all over again. Until there is a solid vaccine available to everyone in the world, I think embracing creativity digitally is what we need to work with. 

Have you considered entering the physical festival game when festivals return or is this a strictly-digital venture for you?
It’s been a dream of mine to organize a metal festival of my own since I was a teen, and right now doing it digitally made sense, but I’m a firm believer that anything is possible. I’d love to make this a real thing someday, we’ll see what happens!