Southern Lord is a label that is generally associated with but one word: DOOM. Operated by Thorr’s Hammer/SUNN0))) mainstays Greg Anderson (Goatsnake, Thorr’s Hammer) and Stephen O’Malley (Burning Witch, Khanate), SL has been unleashing the lowest and slowest metal around since 1998. They’ve put out all of the above-mentioned bands, as well as Warhammer, Sourvein and Boris. You might also have heard of the album they’ve got coming out in February: a long-anticipated project called Probot, otherwise known as none other than Dave Grohl?
Anyway, Greg very generously took time out from his ridiculously hectic schedule to provide the initiated with some insights into the releasing of some of the heaviest and most intense music currently being made.
Why Southern Lord as a name for your label? Apart from liquor, is there any significance to the reference to the American South?
Actually it was initially a reference to Southern Comfort, Stephen and I were known to indulge in that beverage a lot back in the daze… hahah, but really I just picked it as it sounded cool… powerful.
I’m under the impression that you started the label with Stephen O’Malley in order to self-release records by Thorr’s Hammer and Burning Witch when others wouldn’t go through with it. Is that correct?
Pretty much. We both wanted those projects to see the light of day, and figured the best way was to do it ourselves. Then the label (d)evolved into a outlet for Stephen and I’s musical offerings.
How do you feel about how the label has progressed since those early days? Did you have any kind of masterplan to reach the lofty position that SL finds itself in currently?
From the beginning we’ve had the attitude of: lets fucking release intense music and see what happens… pretty low-key actually. We’ve been fortunate to have developed a cult following, and put out some fucking amazing recordings.
Were you been inspired by any labels in terms of style/ambition/enthusiasm?
Yeah Early Earache, Moonfog, Touch and Go, early Rise Above, were some labels that were inspiring in different ways to us.
What kind of a role has the internet played regarding your label? Some people these days operate exclusively via the net, whilst others are still very much mail order based. What’s your stance?
The internet is a humongous part of Southern Lord. The quick exchange of information and ideas, as well as being able to sell and market your releases is completely invaluable. I don’t think Southern Lord would be operating at the same level it is without the internet.
Is downloading killing music? Do you harbour any strong feelings sympathetic to or against the RIAA?
I think at this level, downloading music is not doing any harm. Maybe the majors are feeling a sting… but I think the underground may even be benefiting from downloads and digital sharing of recordings.
Do you feel much affiliation with any community with regards to the music that you create/release?
Yeah… I don’t know what I would call that community (i.e. labels) but there is definitely a certain audience for what were doing, and we’re grateful for their support.
Just how many bands or projects have you got going on at the moment?
Existing bands… I dunno, a handful. We’ve released about 30 full-length CDs, ten 7″s and a few vinyl-only 12″ releases.
Has Southern Lord become a full-time enterprise for you yet? You seem to be out playing with bands regularly, yet have always managed to increase SL’s output – an impressive feat.
Thanks… yes, Southern Lord has consumed my life. It’s an obsession. Luckily I do this full time without having to get a ‘regular’ job, but I work here at the office about 12-14 hours a day.
If you hadn’t have started Southern Lord, where do you think you would be today?
Working in music distribution somewhere. Probably not happy with it.
Has there ever been a time when you felt like calling it a day, that the label was too much trouble?
No not for that reason, but yes because of finances.
Where have you found bands you’ve released stuff by so far? Are most of your signings friends, or do you get demos etc sent to you? Do you ask the bands or do they ask you?
Mostly it’s us seeking out a band, or putting out our friends, or our own material. Very rarely we get a demo and then want to work with a band, but it has happened (Warhorse, Orcustus).
Speaking of which, do you have any hot musical tips for us at the moment?
Check out Wendy Carlos. Amazing!!
Who decides on artwork for your releases? Do you have a particular design policy or format you like to adhere to? Obviously, there is a lot of iconography associated with the heavier aspects of metal! Oh, and how the hell did you get that gummy worm in the spine of Boris’ ‘Amplifier Worship’ CD?
Stephen O’ Malley is in charge of 95% of the design, the only covers he has NOT designed are: Place of Skulls – ‘With Vision’, Spaceboy – ‘Searching’ and Grief – ‘Turbulent Times’. The gummy worm slithered into ‘Amplifier Worship’ by itself!!
Vinyl vs CD in one final grudgematch. Who wins?
It’s a tie. Vinyl wins for overall aesthetic and presentation, CDs win for being able to play at excruciating volumes.
Southern Lord is distributed in Europe by Southern Records – how did that relationship come about?
When Goatsnake toured the UK for the first time, we stayed with Allison, the manager of Southern. We got to talking and she was very into what we were doing. That’s about it.
What’s your opinion on the importance of press and media coverage? Do you have any particular policies on how to get it?
Well honestly I’m not really crazy about servicing media. It seems that most the mags/journalists you give your music to (for free) don’t give a shit about it. So it becomes a waste of money. But of course it’s a necessary evil as there are some that do care, and it’s of course necessary to get the word out on your releases. In a ideal world, a writer would buy the music, write about it ‘cuz it affected him in a certain way, and then the label would support the mag by buying a ad… not this pay-to play bullshit way that most mags work, with writers who are writing about the music just because they have been ‘assigned’ it and really don’t give a shit about it and end up selling it anyhow.
Do you any sage advice for anyone interested in starting up their own label?
Don’t do it for the cash or recognition. Do it because you need to do it, ‘cuz you love it, ‘cuz if you don’t do it you will die a worthless death… ‘cuz its in your blood, your passion etc.
Finally, what would be your dream release – which band, which format, and how would it be packaged?
Hmm… here’s a few:
High on Fire
Miles Davis (something from the early seventies)
…and the packaging? I dunno. I’m sure Stephen would do something amazing.
As well as the Southern Lord website, check out Stephen O’Malley’s personal design site at
www.ideologic.org – he’s currently got MP3s for download, which he’s cycling on a regular basis… currently including a Khanate radio session (?!) and a couple of live recordings of Sunn0)))! Oh yeah, it’s got some nice artwork lurking around in it too.