Every year since 2012, giants of extreme music walk over North America under the Decibel Tour umbrella. Fans have the chance to see ambitious lineups, gathering legendary formations side by side with younger warriors. The shows, however, are the final product of a year-long process of organization, decisions, and hard work. Head of Editorial for FreqsTV, Valérie Blais, had a talk with Albert Mudrian, Decibel‘s editor-in-chief, in order to learn more about what it takes to put together one of the most extreme tours out there.
All photos by Thomas Mazerolles
How pleased are you with the 2017 line up?
It has been very gratifying for me to see the ticket sells, and the reviews of the shows, watching some of the videos on Youtube. And the bands are enjoying it, which is usually a pretty good sign.
What was the theme of this year lineup?
I didn’t have a theme. It was only the first year of the tour, in 2012, with Watain, Behemoth, Devil’s Blood and In Solitude, that had a straight theme. It was more or less just Satan. Sonically, those bands are dissimilar, but they all have this occult overtone, which manifests in completely different manners.
I guess the second year had an old school death metal vibe, with Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, and Immolation, but those bands are vastly different from one another. By the third and fourth year, I just wanted to put together cool bands, and not have the same thing all night. You can get 4 bands that are all related but not necessarily from the same style.
There is never a black metal tour or a death metal tour. It’s always just the question, what works from year to year. What seems interesting? What seems fun? What’s a line up where we can put a couple of bands that will probably not get on the road together?
Could you take me through the process of putting this tour together?
We started talking about doing it back in 2011. A friend of mine, a booking agent, Nick Storch, approached me with the idea to do the Decibel Tour. He is a big fan of the magazine, and he likes the music, so he told me that we should do this. The idea was to do something where we take all these bands that fit under the umbrella of Decibel, put them all together, and have it be this cohesive thing. I was immediately intrigued by that, so we started talking. We ended up figuring out that we would have Behemoth available for the first tour.
The main thing is figuring out who our headliner is, and then build out around that. That isn’t to say that the other parts of the lineup aren’t important. It took us a really long time this year to get the second band right. I still can’t believe we have Midnight!
We literally start looking at bands a year in advance. We’re deep into the 2018 line up right now, in terms of who’s gonna be on it, how it’s gonna be rounded, when it’s gonna happen.
All that can change, too. We can have these plans in place, to have a headliner band or a support band, we can think that we’re ready to give them an offer. By the time we’re planning it, the band could have gotten an offer to play Europe for that period and have accepted it.
We try to think as forward as we can. We try to have as many plans B to Z as possible when inevitably something falls through, either a band can’t do it because they’re not available at that time, or the offer isn’t high enough for them, or they don’t want to be part of a package like this.
There have definitely been bands that we’ve approached who didn’t want to be involved because we pick this line up. Some bands are very particular about who they want to have an association with on the road. They have this very stylized view of what their band is and how it should be presented. It goes down to who they are touring with, the lineup from top to bottom.
How involved are you in the organization?
Obviously, I’m heavily involved in the curation, in terms of who we put on the lineup. I have final say in terms of all the bands. The line up often reflects my personal taste, and they reflect the voice of the magazine.
In terms of negotiating the deals and stuff like that, I don’t very often get involved. Nick does most of that stuff. We take the reins on the promotion and the presentation, like the magazine cover stories on the tour, the artwork, the logos, and the constant hammering of promotion on social media. We also take care of the tour management.
It’s a good trade-off because Nick is a professional in the booking world. I know that he’s gonna do right by the bands and that he’ gonna do right by us. It works great, because I couldn’t have all of that on my plate too.
How do you choose the bands?
We kinda break it down. Right now, we’re looking at 2018, and we’re thinking of who’s gonna have a record out in the second half to the later part of 2017. We have a pretty good idea of this stuff with the magazine. We know what’s coming and which bands have something in the pipeline.
We know for sure that these half dozen bands are gonna put something out in the last quarter of 2017. We then ask ourselves if there is a headliner among them. We also ask ourselves if we can put them in the size room that normally works for the tour, which is the 800-1200 size room. These are the venues where we have the most success. We can sometimes fill bigger rooms, but it’s more pressure. Mid-size rooms are our sweet spot right now.
Sometimes, it works out like this. Sometimes, it works out when you don’t think it would.
It was the case with At The Gates. It’s one of my favourite bands, and one of those bands I have a long personal relationship with. I knew they were putting out a record in 2014. We worked with their booking agent, but it seemed he couldn’t figure it out. They wanted to do something weird, where they would tour for two weeks, go away for a month, and come back for another two weeks with a different lineup. I understood why they wanted to do it this way. The guys have full-time jobs besides the band, so they can only go away a little at the time. But for me, it was not cohesive. How do we promote that? Do we promote two tours? Or one tour with two different lineups? I didn’t see how it could work. That was at the beginning of 2014.
They played at the Maryland Death Fest that year and I ran into the guys backstage. They wanted to figure out the Decibel Tour and how to do it. I thought this wasn’t happening.
We ended up with the shortest tour we ever did. We were able to make it work because the guys were just determined to do the tour. Sometimes the bands come to us, like with At The Gates, but we like it more when we go get the bands, to be honest. It feels that this is how it should go.
We are six years in, and the six headliners have been Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, At The Gates, Abbath and Kreator. I feel the Decibel audience is into that. I’m into that, so they’re into that. The choices we make are driven by a basic fandom, which is the case of everything we do.
We also need to figure out how it can be applied in a sensible business manner. We need to make sure that the bands make the money they need to make and that the magazine makes the money it needs to make.
This is obviously fun and I enjoy it. This is a good thing for our scene and community. At the end of the day, I invest a lot of time in it, so it has to be a legitimate revenue stream to keep doing it.
Who is on your bucket list for next year?
There are two bands, one in particular.
The first one really wants to do it and has always wanted to it. We just haven’t made financial sense for both sides yet. It’s Paradise Lost, a long-time favorite band of mine.
The second band is Triptykon. I’m a huge fan of Tom Warrior’s work. He is a fan of the magazine, so he is not averse to do it. It just comes down to what it often comes down to, the logistics and the financials. It’s very expensive for a European band to come to the US.
I would like to figure out these bands sooner or later.
Talking about Europe, do you plan to export the Decibel Tour to Europe?
I don’t think so. The US market is so massive. I feel we haven’t got the magazine everywhere we want it to be in the US, and we don’t have the tour everywhere we want it to be in the US. I would rather get this right first.
If it just took off in some crazy ways, we were bored and we were setting piles of money on fire all the time, then I would consider going play around in Europe. North-America is monstrous and keeps us plenty busy. There are other markets that we could hit in the US or towns we’ve had to skip. I think we’ve only played Detroit once. It would feel weird, even disingenuous, to go figure out Birmingham, Amsterdam or Paris when we haven’t figured out Detroit yet.
Which place does the Decibel Tour occupy in the Decibel family?
I don’t rank them in terms of importance. However, at the end of the day, without the print magazine, none of it works. In my mind, the print magazine drives everything. After that, to me, it’s all equally weighted. There are different kinds of investments involved, sweat, blood, and tears. For me, I look at them all as an entity and try to get an idea of what the ceiling is, for each one.
For the books, for example, we’re only doing the limited edition runs that are just available through the magazine and the website. We’ve definitely talked about doing national distribution of the books. That’s the ceiling there. How far do we take that? How much time do we have to develop it?
It’s the same for the live events. The Metal and Beer festival is in a room with a capacity of 2500 people. What’s the ceiling on this thing? Do we need to move it on an outdoor stage, so there can be more people? But then, how do we deal with the infrastructure issues that come with something like this? Again, you go back to the basic time management.
It’s the same with the Flexi series. It was that thing that we added. We’re always doing this. We’re just like: “Let’s start doing this, and that!”, but we never stop doing any of the other things to create space for the new projects. That’s the problem: we always add things.
We’re a really small team. There are only 5 of us who work full time on this. That’s it. That’s for everything: the graphic design, the ads, the website, the customer service, the order fulfillment, all of it. There are people who come in and help us, but there only 5 core people. We really need to budget our time wisely.
What is the biggest challenge you face with the Decibel Tour?
Time management! It’s a combination of being able to know your own limitations and trying to get to the point where you either learn how to do some of these new things you’re taking on, or you’re smart enough to bring other people to do it.
It’s a combination of time and people, really. We have ideas. We’ve done a lot of interesting things, in my mind at least, over 13 years that a lot of magazines haven’t really done. We’re not short on ideas. It’s not that there aren’t bands that we’re not excited about, because there are constantly bands that we’re excited about. It’s not because there isn’t an audience. The audience has been there, and it’s not going anywhere! The challenge is to figure out how we sensibly do all the things we want to do.
We’re pretty much at the end of the interview! Any final thoughts?
I hope people are willing to check out the live events that we put together. I have attended tons of shows and events as a fan. It has only been over the years that I’ve learned how much goes into it. What we’re putting into it is only a fraction of what is going into it. What all the bands have to go through to get on that stage every night and perform, it’s a grind. It’s a lot of work.
If a band comes to your town, and you don’t know if you should go, GO! In most cases, they’ve worked really hard to get there. I would encourage people to go see live music.
For more info on all things Decibel, including the tour, books, and subscriptions, visit the magazine website!