Brent Eyestone (Magic Bullet Records/Forensics)

For almost fifteen years now, Brent Eyestone has been a busy dude. In 1996, he started his own label, Magic Bullet Records, and put out Boy Sets Fire's first cd, This Crying, This Screaming…. Since then, Eyestone has expanded his operation and now runs the label in conjunction with Magic Bullet Skateboards in Fredericksburg, Virginia. While Magic Bullet isn't necessarily a household name, a few of its artists--i.e. Charles Manson, All-American Rejects--certainly are. Don't let those two names shape your opinions though. Eyestone's Magic Bullet roster is chocked full of punk and hardcore mainstays, and all sorts of interesting side projects and reissues. Punknews interviewer, Michael Dauphin, recently caught up with the no-bullshit Eyestone to discuss his label, the artists and the shape of independent music.

Why don’t you start by giving us a quick back-story—an introduction, if you will, to Magic Bullet Records?
The label has been around for about 14 years now. Ah SHIT, I guess that means I have to start planning some bloated 15 year party or do some goofy 7" of throwaway jams. Dammit. Anyway, release #1 was Boy Sets Fire’s first CD. The most recent batch is roughly 140 releases later and includes Charles Manson’s new full length, the All-American Rejects When the World Comes Down, Ghastly City Sleep’s Moondrifts, and Made Out Of Babies’ The Ruiner. In between, it’s been a really fun journey. Lots of experiments with packaging, lots of great bands, lots of messing with people online and making the weak-willed quit hardcore, etc.

Somewhere around 2004, we started making skate decks for some of the bands. Somewhere around 2009, we opened up a retail store that carries all of our boards and records right here in town. My brother runs the store… it’s awesome being able to work with a dude that I literally grew up with and just know 100% that he runs that aspect of things in a manner where I never have to look over his shoulder or question his methodology. It’s really nice.

I read an interview where you mentioned that you’re kinda able to exist in your own little bubble, separate from "most labels’ imposed realities." Can you elaborate on that?
I probably loathe and despise 96% of all record labels out there and the idiots that run them. So many honestly believe that you can still operate a record label in 2010 the same way that a major label operated in 1991. They’ve got their heads up their asses and refuse to recognize and embrace where everything is at in a modern context. They still want to blow/waste a bunch of money on marketing/radio/etc. The same marketing plans and radio from 10 years ago… Then, to make it worse, the bands never see royalty checks because the label is always able to show through all sorts of bogus chargebacks that they haven’t recouped from all the stupid spending going on.

These "victim" labels are spending their time whining about "the industry" and blaming fans for not buying records, etc. Yet, it’s all the fault of the labels themselves. The labels BLEW IT with CD’s. The public eventually figured out how cheap it was to make a CD. What did the labels do? Increased wholesale and SRLP’s until 2002! CD’s were $15.98-$19.98 in an era where the average kid knew that they cost under a buck to produce. So the labels lost the audience. Now the audience is giving labels a (microscopic) blip of hope because of all these stupid "vinyl is back" articles (basically the same article over and over). So how are labels responding? Well, they’re selling single LP’s for $20 in stores and online and double LP’s for $30-$35. IDIOTS. You’re doing the same thing over and over. That’s the definition of insanity, isn’t it?

And I don’t know… I think there are too many shysters out there. Just to name one example in a heap of insanity, I’ve had three artists on Suburban Home forward me their artist royalty statements. It’s amazing how incomplete and how bullshit these things are. For instance, dude is reporting that SH’s per unit gross on a CD is $6.00. Have you seen their insane wholesale prices? More like $8.00. So dude pockets $2.00 unreported for every disc right off the bat. Then he has the nerve to report the same $6.00 rate for mailorder. Beyond that, what he’s claiming he’s sold is ~1000 less than what Soundscan reports and over 1000 less of what I’ve sold for the same artist on lower profile/earlier releases with a smaller territory (North America v. Worldwide). Wow. This is the same guy that runs Vinyl Collective. Ask No Idea, Deathwish, or any significantly large label how that all went down. Ask all the customers that "pre-ordered" records that never came out how that worked for them. This shit all played out publicly, so I’m not speaking out of school here.

Yet the business practices and stupid "pre-order limited splatter variant" culture that a cracked operation like Vinyl Collective/Suburban Home has foisted upon the public and the industry in general have been adopted by so many fly-by-night record labels that genuinely think that running a label simply means licensing some major label or Tooth and Nail Christian band, setting up a Kickstarter to beg for money to press the record, then post about it on some message board. "Instant record label." Nobody gets it and everyone’s just wasting money and non-renewable resources for just… crap that sits in basements across suburban America. I’m sure I put out crap too… but at least it all ends up in the hands of someone who likes that crap. And at least the purveyors of said crap get royalty checks over here.

Anyway, you’ll never hear me complaining about money or customers or the way the "industry" or "economy" is treating Magic Bullet. I’m just not an idiot and I understand that if you make stuff that people want to buy, they’re going to buy it. If you put out trendy, derivative shit, only trendy, derivative shitheads will buy it. My audience doesn’t give a fuck about pint glasses, slip mats, shot glasses, t-shirts about drinking "craft" beer (while posting endless photos of me and my friends "shotgunating" Miller Lite), and all this other dumb bullshit that has NOTHING to do with music and awesome jams. So I don’t make it. Yet we keep doubling sales every year. We don’t owe any of our vendors money. We don’t owe people records that we never pressed. And on and on… The proof is in the pudding - every year we bring in more and more "holy shit" type classic bands that I thought we’d never possibly get. My mom always told me to treat people right and be HONEST. So that’s what I do. And it pays off. It takes discipline and about 16 hours a day of work, but it’s so worth it in the end.

Looking at your roster, it’s damn near impossible to refrain from asking what it’s like to have both Charles Manson and All-American Rejects in the same stable. What do you think the two artists would talk about if Manson sprung from the clink and met AAR at the Magic Bullet holiday party?
They’d talk about Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys, I’m sure. Ty and Nick moved to Florida so that they could live on the gulf and put their feet in the sand while writing songs… a methodology heavily inspired by the Wilsons. Charlie crashed at Dennis’s for a while back in the day and recorded "LIE" on Dennis’s board. Charlie would probably/quickly ask if they wanted to hear him play and the Rejects would be like, "fuck yeah, we want to hear you play."

Drinks would be had. Other things would be had. Charlie would quiz Ty about all of the charity work he’s done for Haiti post-earthquake (he’s hyper-aware of all natural disasters and world news in general)…

Honestly, they’re all human beings at the end of the day, so it wouldn’t be too much unlike groups of any human beings with stories inside of them meeting and shooting the shit. Elbert Hubbard put it best, "If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize or hate." If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my trade, it’s that everyone’s a walking/breathing/pooping human being and expects to act and be treated like a human being. It’s cool to pay respect, but then you still have to get stuff done and have a good conversation.

Please share the story of how you ended up putting out Charles Manson albums. Any particularly interesting interactions with Mr. Manson?
It’s not too complicated. My friend Dwid did a 7" for him and it was expressed that there was 2 hours worth of additional material that Charlie would like to see make it into the world. Dwid’s label tends to specialize and do really well with 7"s and limited releases, so it was presented to me as something that was available to me to bring to my audience and retail at large if I wanted it. A few days later, I was on board to issue 4 new records using that material.

Honestly, it’s been a positive experience from the get-go. Everyone I’ve dealt with is very much down to earth and appreciates the work I’ve done so far. It’s very much like working with any other artist or band that I enjoy. The only difference is that profits are deferred to charitable efforts versus artist royalties. That’s usually the first thing anybody asks me… I guess everyone’s so wired to think in terms of money.

As for interesting stories, I lose sight sometimes of what’s interesting and what’s not. I’m not exactly a huge fan of cops, so my personal favorite story would have to be the day after the album went up on iTunes. Charlie was so proud and happy that he was floating on air around Corcoran [State Prison], tapping guards and asking them if they got his new album yet. "What new album are you talking about Charlie?" "It’s called ‘Air.’ Go get it on iTunes, brother!"

Your label tends to deal with a lot of reissues and releases from now-defunct acts. How does this effect your business model compared to if you were dealing with more active, constantly-touring artists?
Eh, I see it as more of a mix of both. I don’t look at it in terms of "active/constantly-touring" as much as I look at it as "are these dudes lifers or tourists?" It’s just easier to work with a lifer versus some 20-year old prick thinking that being in a band is Googling yourself to see what "your label" got done for you that day.

It was a learning curve… I had to deal with a handful of bogus bands over the years. But in dealing with them and learning all the tell-tale signs, I’m now able to have damn near every band (new or old) come in and have us all be on the same page from the get-go. I ask people to do records because I love their music and their band. We just sort of figure it out from there on a case by case basis. If a band wants something that I can’t absolutely guarantee that I’ll deliver, I’ll encourage them to seek assistance elsewhere.

You seem to harbor the hardcore D.I.Y. ethics that the upper northeast (D.C./VA) scene has become infamous for. What is it about that area that breeds such a strong sense of dedication to that scene and its principles?
Three words: proximity to Dischord. If you’ve got the founding principles of Dischord down and apply and adapt them to what you do (and not trends, crap that nobody wants, or major label tactics), you’re going to thrive and the bands are going to love trusting you with their work. It’s just about being real and respecting art and artists. It’s about being grounded and no-bullshit. Treat a band how you’d like to be treated if the roles were reversed and you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Forging ahead, what does the future hold for Magic Bullet Records? Upcoming releases? Newest signings? Any new tricks up your sleeve?
I’m pumped for the next batch. Some really awesomely violent material coming up. SSORC’s Infidel Eternal LP. That’s a Japanese black metal classic being released on vinyl for the first time. Iron Fist, their drummer, was G.I.S.M.’s last drummer and plays in Crow. Total beast of a man and a band. Jesuit’s discography is finally nearing completion. Remixed by Kurt Ballou with insane artwork from Florian Bertmer. It’s pretty incredible how urgent that stuff still sounds. We’re also re-mastering and re-releasing every other Christie Front Drive song ever on double LP and CD. Can’t wait for that. Richter’s new band Golden City also just recorded 5 new songs for us. They are incredible… I’ve got another All-American Rejects release coming up with 4 songs that people haven’t ever heard. More Manson releases. A children’s book/album with Julie Christmas. It never ends (and I never want it to)!