Label Spotlight: 20 Buck Spin

If you read Decibel, you know about 20 Buck Spin. Honestly, you’d have to be supremely out-of-touch as a metalhead to not know about 20 Buck Spin. Over the last several years, Dave Adelson has steered this mighty ship through the rough waters of the modern music industry and taken listeners to many of metal’s most illustrious destinations.

Although the label made its name at the end of the 2010s releasing some of the best death metal out there, Dave is keen to note the diversity of his tastes and what he seeks out for his roster. Personally, I’m a huge fan of 20 Buck Spin’s black metal offerings, but also appreciate the risks and bets Dave has made over the years to expose fans to a variety of styles. The consistent thread here is quality and dedication to promoting fresh, new voices.

Check out our discussion below, along with a few selections from the label’s catalog.

20 Buck Spin is a big Decibel favorite, as you’ve cranked out so many records adored by both the magazine and its readership. With that in mind, how did it all get started?

20 Buck Spin was a logical step from things I had been doing previously. Since high school I’d been getting involved in the underground metal scene in some way, though never as a musician. My senior year of high school I worked at my school’s radio station as a DJ doing an underground metal show. A few years later I was doing a zine. That led to my first label job working at Necropolis Records. I then managed Alternative Tentacles a few years after that, and during my time there is when I also started 20 Buck Spin.

That’s the beauty of song titles and lyrics, you get to decide what they mean for you.

There’s no big story to the name 20 Buck Spin other than I like old Pentagram and I thought it sounded cool because it could mean a lot of different things, including spinning a $20 record — although that was not Bobby’s theme in the song of course. But that’s the beauty of song titles and lyrics, you get to decide what they mean for you.

With your support for bands like Tomb Mold, Ossuarium, and Witch Vomit, the label has become something of a hub for new-old-school death metal. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. Did you set out to carry the banner for this sound? Or did it just kind of happen that way?

No I’m not trying to carry any banner for a specific style, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I entered the scene in the early 90s when death metal was exploding and so that was my first love musically. I was into various music before that but death metal is where I became captivated and abandoned most of my other interests at the time, like sports (which I eventually came back to). I was about 15 years old then. But I grew to love a lot of different styles of metal and I think that’s reflected in my label discography. It is heavy on the death metal for sure because it’s a genre I never seem to tire of. But did you hear the Bleed record I put out last year, for example? It felt natural to me but surprised a lot of people I think. You wouldn’t find that on a label claiming to carry the banner of death metal, no way. People are welcome to think of it however they like of course, I won’t mind either way.

Of course, 20 Buck Spin has a diverse range of bands on the roster. I’m a huge fan of both Obsequiae and Hulder. Could you tell us a bit about how you came to work with these black metal artists? I think they’re two of the best in the game right now.

In both cases it was pretty organic. I think Obseqiuae came to my attention when they had an interview in a zine I published called Chips & Beer. They were interviewed by another writer. I checked out the first album as a result and loved it. When I realized there was no vinyl version I got in touch with Tanner to see if he wanted to do one and he was all in. It immediately became apparent that we had personalities that matched well, not to mention a lot of similar obsessions and worship of stuff like No Fashion Records and various Gothenburg/Swedish obscurities. You can hear that stuff in both Obsequiae and Majesties. Since then we’ve been working together and I think that will continue for a long time to come hopefully. Tanner is a rare talent and wonderful human.

Hulder I was aware of since the demo period. Marz is now married to my friend Sam Osborne, who I have known for about 15 years, since he was a teenager and I was the age he is now. I ran a local record shop in Olympia and he came in a lot and discovered death metal. Eventually he and some friends formed the band Bone Sickness whose record I put out. We’ve remained in touch ever since and he’s another personality that I click well with and so as a result when Hulder was ready to do something on a new label it felt natural and familiar for all of us. She had some bigger label offers and yet still decided to go with 20 Buck Spin. These are folks who value personal connection and stay wary of outsiders.

Running an independent record label is a tough proposition in 2023. Even at the record industry’s commercial and monetary peak in the late 1990s, this would have been a daunting task. What do you see as the key challenges today, from a business perspective?

I think the challenges are related to what the label’s goals might be. Not every label has the exact same aspirations. But for the average label the challenges are many. Nowadays, manufacturing and shipping logistics can get pretty complicated and the delicate balancing act of planning a release from manufacturing to promotion and pre-ordering to release can be tricky to time everything and keep everybody happy. And ultimately I am in the happiness business, that’s what I do. I put out records to bring joy to the people, the bands and the fans. So it sucks when things go down in a less than ideal way.

Metal fans are the most dedicated fans of any music genre, and they buy shit to show it. I know I do.

The common thing people mention is that physical media is dying and digital is taking (or has taken) over. Well, in some ways that’s true. But this is the underground metal scene where we live, and here we still like physical media and people still buy records, CDs and tapes. It’s kind of a tired narrative, the death of physical media, even though at some point it probably will come to pass. This is why more outsiders have entered the metal scene in various ways, like labels that would once never touch it before; because it sells better and it’s cool. It’s always been cool to me but now the cool people seem to agree that it’s cool. The scene has a lot of dedication, where a lot of music has a totally casual fanbase with no real commitment — your average Coachella attendee, say. That’s also why print publications, radio stations, almost anything with a metal fanbase have started to sell exclusive vinyl variants. Metal fans are the most dedicated fans of any music genre, and they buy shit to show it. I know I do.

What are some releases audiences should look forward to this year? Any you’re particularly stoked about? It’s cool you guys got Kommand coming up soon.

Dude, so much good shit is coming. Every year I think, “This year is my best release lineup ever.” I guess that’s because, even after 30 years in the scene, I remain excited about new bands. I’m not the guy who wears only classic band t-shirts — if you catch me in a metal shirt, it’s often for a newer, current young band. It honestly annoys the fuck outta’ me seeing young fans, or the ones in my age range, only wear classic band shirts from decades ago. I realize they’re trying to show they know what’s what, and the classics will never go outta’ style, but it’s much cooler to support your contemporaries. Know your history but save your heaviest support for what’s new. Especially when there’s still so many good young bands killing it. Look at the legend Max Cavalera, always wearing shirts of cool and current underground bands. That’s how it ought to be, the older generation supporting the new, not acting like everything awesome already happened decades ago. And that’s what I try to focus on with 20 Buck Spin.

That’s how it ought to be, the older generation supporting the new, not acting like everything awesome already happened decades ago.

There are times when established names inquire about joining the label, but mostly I’m interested in working with new names we can build up, people that have yet to make a mark with their music. Let’s face it, a lot of metal bands make their best shit early, so that’s when I wanna be in the mix. That’s what you’ll always see a lot of on my release schedule, including this year. But there’s also some of our bigger names and artists that we’ve built up over the years in the works too. It’s too soon to spoil it, but everyone is gonna be pleased. It’s a stacked year. Again.

Is there any style of metal, or music in general, you’d like the label to explore?

There’s things I’d do that I would consider too far outside of 20 Buck Spin’s scope. It would require another label name, but also, I’m not sure I’d be as good at selling and promoting those types of bands since I’m not in those scenes.

But as far as anything dark or heavy, it can fall under the 20 Buck Spin banner. I’ve done doom, death, black, industrial metal, things that are hard to easily label and more over the years. The lineup will stay diverse and continue to both challenge, divide and satisfy. And eventually it will end. It has an expiration date. I don’t wanna become a joke like many labels end up.