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 donât you start by giving us a quick back-storyâan 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 Fireâs first CD. The most recent batch is roughly 140 releases later and includes Charles Mansonâs new full length, the All-American Rejects When the World Comes Down, Ghastly City Sleepâs Moondrifts, and Made Out Of Babiesâ The Ruiner. In between, itâs 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 storeâ¦ itâs 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. Itâs really nice.
I read an interview where you mentioned that youâre kinda able to exist in your own little bubble, separate from "most labelsâ 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. Theyâve 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 agoâ¦ 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 havenât 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, itâs all the fault of the labels themselves. The labels BLEW IT with CDâs. The public eventually figured out how cheap it was to make a CD. What did the labels do? Increased wholesale and SRLPâs until 2002! CDâs 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, theyâre selling single LPâs for $20 in stores and online and double LPâs for $30-$35. IDIOTS. Youâre doing the same thing over and over. Thatâs the definition of insanity, isnât it?
And I donât knowâ¦ I think there are too many shysters out there. Just to name one example in a heap of insanity, Iâve had three artists on Suburban Home forward me their artist royalty statements. Itâs amazing how incomplete and how bullshit these things are. For instance, dude is reporting that SHâs 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 heâs claiming heâs sold is ~1000 less than what Soundscan reports and over 1000 less of what Iâve 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 Iâm 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 everyoneâs just wasting money and non-renewable resources for justâ¦ crap that sits in basements across suburban America. Iâm sure I put out crap tooâ¦ 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, youâll never hear me complaining about money or customers or the way the "industry" or "economy" is treating Magic Bullet. Iâm just not an idiot and I understand that if you make stuff that people want to buy, theyâre going to buy it. If you put out trendy, derivative shit, only trendy, derivative shitheads will buy it. My audience doesnât 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 donât make it. Yet we keep doubling sales every year. We donât owe any of our vendors money. We donât owe people records that we never pressed. And on and onâ¦ The proof is in the pudding - every year we bring in more and more "holy shit" type classic bands that I thought weâd never possibly get. My mom always told me to treat people right and be HONEST. So thatâs what I do. And it pays off. It takes discipline and about 16 hours a day of work, but itâs so worth it in the end.
Looking at your roster, itâs damn near impossible to refrain from asking what itâs 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?
Theyâd talk about Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys, Iâm sure. Ty and Nick moved to Florida so that they could live on the gulf and put their feet in the sand while writing songsâ¦ a methodology heavily inspired by the Wilsons. Charlie crashed at Dennisâs for a while back in the day and recorded "LIE" on Dennisâs 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 heâs done for Haiti post-earthquake (heâs hyper-aware of all natural disasters and world news in general)â¦
Honestly, theyâre all human beings at the end of the day, so it wouldnât 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 thereâs one thing Iâve learned in my trade, itâs that everyoneâs a walking/breathing/pooping human being and expects to act and be treated like a human being. Itâs 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?
Itâs 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. Dwidâs 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, itâs been a positive experience from the get-go. Everyone Iâve dealt with is very much down to earth and appreciates the work Iâve done so far. Itâs 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. Thatâs usually the first thing anybody asks meâ¦ I guess everyoneâs so wired to think in terms of money.
As for interesting stories, I lose sight sometimes of whatâs interesting and whatâs not. Iâm 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?" "Itâs called âAir.â 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 donât look at it in terms of "active/constantly-touring" as much as I look at it as "are these dudes lifers or tourists?" Itâs 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 curveâ¦ 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, Iâm 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 canât absolutely guarantee that Iâll deliver, Iâll 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 youâve 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), youâre going to thrive and the bands are going to love trusting you with their work. Itâs just about being real and respecting art and artists. Itâs about being grounded and no-bullshit. Treat a band how youâd 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?
Iâm pumped for the next batch. Some really awesomely violent material coming up. SSORCâs Infidel Eternal LP. Thatâs a Japanese black metal classic being released on vinyl for the first time. Iron Fist, their drummer, was G.I.S.M.âs last drummer and plays in Crow. Total beast of a man and a band. Jesuitâs discography is finally nearing completion. Remixed by Kurt Ballou with insane artwork from Florian Bertmer. Itâs pretty incredible how urgent that stuff still sounds. Weâre also re-mastering and re-releasing every other Christie Front Drive song ever on double LP and CD. Canât wait for that. Richterâs new band Golden City also just recorded 5 new songs for us. They are incredibleâ¦ Iâve got another All-American Rejects release coming up with 4 songs that people havenât ever heard. More Manson releases. A childrenâs book/album with Julie Christmas. It never ends (and I never want it to)!