“Profound Lore is always going to consume me and I’m fine with that.”
If you’re into death or black metal, or even into the more adventurous kind of extreme music, chances are you have a couple of Profound Lore releases in your collection at the very least. Founded in Canada in 2004, it has since blossomed into one of the most respected underground record labels, responsible for bringing many of today’s cult bands into the light. The Profound Lore back catalogue is mightily impressive, as is his forthcoming release schedule, and after having become a household name for the discerning metaller, it’s hard to believe that it’s all been the work of one man, but the culprit is right up there on the photo looking chilled out and not like a man having helped spawn the likes of Portal, Altar Of Plagues or the now-huge Pallbearer into this wretched and undeserving world. Having been responsible for the release of so many favourites, CHRIS BRUNI was an obvious choice for one of the first victims to speak through The Devil’s Mouth.
I recently discovered that people around our age are called “Xennials”, we grew up analog and became digital adults, or something. So, how was growing up as a Xennial and going through the process of discovering music?
Yeah… There’s always someone older in all these stories you hear of people, either in your family, even if it’s your father, or a friend, or something like that. You kind of learn through them. With me, it was my older cousins. Whenever we’d go visit them they’d always be playing music and I would discover a lot of stuff. I discovered Rush through them. Stuff like Van Halen, even Genesis/Phil Collins and general rock stuff. We also had a good music channel in Canada and I’d watch that, and actually, at the time I used to come home from school, it was the heavy metal show that was usually on, so I’d always watch it… it was called something like the metal hour, or whatever. It was on that show that I saw the Iron Maiden video for ‘The Number Of The Beast’, the Mötley Crüe videos from the ‘Shout At The Devil’ album, Ozzy Osbourne‘s ‘Bark At The Moon’ video, the W.A.S.P. videos… all those videos made a huge impression on me as a kid. I was like, holy shit! It scared me, but at the same time I was taken into that world. I remember ‘Bark At The Moon’ for example scared the crap out of me, it was so dark, but I was fascinated by it, I wanted to watch it. I guess it’s like wanting to watch horror movies as a kid growing up, it was the same kind of lure I had to that.
So it was through all that, and through some other older people I was around who were into that kind of music as well. When I was in the second grade, people who were in the seventh or eighth grade would give me posters from magazines and stuff like that, because they could see I was into it. I remember there was this older guy, his name was Rich and I remember him perfectly. I don’t know where he is now, but he was the rocker guy at my elementary school, he always wore the leather stud bands. He knew I was into ‘Shout At The Devil’ so he’d give me Mötley Crüe pictures from magazines and he’d try to talk to me. It comes from all the older people who make an impression on you when you’re a kid, and you’re discovering and absorbing all this cool music. At the same time, I also listened to music that I’m kind of… I’ll say embarrassed, for lack of a better word. [laughs] I mean, it’s still cool, today, to say I was into Ozzy, W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister, but at the same time I used to listen to Poison and Bon Jovi, even fucking Warrant, although I don’t publicise it as much! [laughs] That came mostly from an older cousin I had with whom I hung out a lot, he was very into the hair metal stuff. But then I also got other things from him, I remember him showing me videos that he taped, once he told me “you’re going to watch this video right here, it’s so crazy, it’s this guy, his name is King Diamond, a priest gets beaten up and everything!” I didn’t know if I would be able to get into it, I was afraid it might be a little too much for me, but I watched and I was like, this is awesome!
Was Rush particularly important, or at least more present, because it was the big Canadian rock band when you were growing up?
Well, it was, but I don’t think of it that way, though. I mean, it’s there because it’s Canadian, of course, it’s a natural thing, but I don’t really see them with any kind of “national pride”, be it Rush or Voivod or anything like that. I can say, though, that I think the Canadian bands, whether hard rock or metal, have always been more creative and different from everything else. Rush, Voivod, even hard rock stuff like Max Webster, and obviously the death metal, like the early stuff from Cryptopsy, thrash like Sacrifice, Razor, Slaughter, this is some of the best metal from that era.
This is actually a subject that usually comes up when interviewing Canadian bands – what is it about them that makes them so unique, so quirky even, for their most part? A lot of Canadian musicians attribute it to the proximity of the United States, so many bands coming from there, and wanting to stand out among the deluge. Does that make sense?
Maybe… maybe Canadians are the biggest nerds, I don’t know. [laughs] There’s a certain stereotype that fits with us. I mean, if you look at Quebec for example, where Voivod and a lot of other very unique bands are from, it’s a very cultural province, there’s a lot of history behind it. This year Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary, and that’s not that old, considering, but Quebec goes back much further than that. There’s a certain culture there that’s very rich and it separates it a little from the rest of Canada. I know there’s a lot of nationalism that goes on there too, but I guess there’s some sort of artistic climate there that makes those bands somewhat different, more artsy. You can feel it when you’re there, it’s a different mood. And then in Ontario, where I’m from, in Toronto we had thrash bands, we had Sacrifice, Razor, Slaughter, some of the best thrash around. I don’t really know what kind of climate caused that, and those bands aren’t as unique in that way, but they’re solid and some of the best in the genre. Out West we have bands like Blasphemy, more barbaric, extreme black metal thing. It’s a very diverse musical palate, for metal at least, and a good country to grow up in if you’re into that.
“My classmates were in bands and they played their stupid Nirvana covers, or U2, or whatever, but that never really interested me. Not many people played Mozart or Beethoven, so I felt a bit different doing that.“
In any case, I find it funny that, regardless where you’re from, the “how I discovered metal” stories are usually very “organic”, there’s always a very strong appeal that comes to us very early on and it’s often hard to explain. Not wanting to pull the we-metal-people-are-so-much-better card, it’s a process that isn’t always like that in many other kinds of music.
Exactly, I agree. For me, it was exactly like that when I discovered Norwegian black metal in the early 90s, even death metal around that time too, it was a scarier, darker, more extreme form of metal. When I read my first Deicide interview, I was like, holy shit, who is this guy? It sounded insane! Then I listened to ‘Legion’ and it consumed me. Same as Morbid Angel, too. There’s something about it that drew me into listening to the genre, as it happened with a lot of other people too. With Norway, when the church burnings and the murders and all that crazy shit happened, when I first heard about that, and when I first listened to that music, like the first time listening to Burzum, or the first Emperor EP, there was an atmosphere behind that, surrounding all those events, that drew me and intrigued me in a way.
You don’t have to be a problematic young person to enjoy fucked up music made by fucked up people, basically.
Yeah, I had a pretty good upbringing. There’s always a certain kind of rebellion about it, and you want to be different even if it’s subconsciously, but I was mostly a normal kid growing up in high school. I felt I had a different kind of imagination and that made me attracted to certain things, but I wasn’t odd, or an outcast, or anything like that.
Did you dabble in music as an actual musician at any point?
I studied classical piano when I was a kid, I did my theory exams, my piano exams, up to grade nine. I quit in 1996 when I went to the university, I thought I had accomplished what I set out to do. It was actually hard to enjoy it, there was so much practising involved, there was a lot of pressure, more than any other kind of schooling I’ve been through. I played all the great composers, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Chopin, I played them all, but it was just hard to enjoy it. My piano teacher put a lot of pressure on me, to excel on the exams… I did well on them, there was nothing wrong with that, but I remember my last piano lesson, when I left I was so relieved, it felt so great that I didn’t have to practise anymore. So I literally just stopped.
Is that something you regret?
I wish I hadn’t stopped like that, yeah, it’s the kind of thing that later on in time you eventually wish that you still had it. If I were to start up again, I would have to practise a lot just to get up to speed. But apart from all that, I was never in a band or anything. In high school, my classmates were in bands and they played their stupid Nirvana covers, or U2, or whatever, but that never really interested me. Not many people played Mozart or Beethoven, so I felt a bit different doing that. Just that, it wasn’t that everyone thought it was awesome or anything, people just asked what the hell was that. I didn’t get any dates or anything.
Beethoven doesn’t get you girls, or not at that age, at least.
No, not at all. Not at all, I can assure you. [laughs]
Did that basis, that musical background, help you when you eventually started writing for fanzines and stuff? How was that period?
It did, I guess. The writing thing was fun while it lasted, I got a lot of promos, listened to a lot of music really early, made a lot of connections, got to know a lot of bands that weren’t big that now are really big, I got into a lot of shows and it was cool… but eventually I felt there was really no fulfilment in it. I don’t really look back on it, I got really bored doing it, it became a chore. Even those connections I made, I didn’t really use them, I don’t really talk to anyone from those times. With the label thing, that was a whole new ball park.
So, how does the record label life finally begin?
It was just a hobby kind of thing at first. I was doing post-grad in communications, in public relations, so that was the career path I chose, that I was looking to pursue. The label was just a little side thing. From the writing years I knew people who had labels and bands, and it was supposed to be just a limited vinyl kind of thing, and this was during the years where vinyl didn’t really sell, it wasn’t popular, so it was a cult kind of thing, which I liked. When I finished my post-grad, I could never really find work in my field, it was pretty tough, and as that was going on, the label was slowly growing. Opportunities came, but I didn’t really have any money to invest in it, I came to a point where I had to sell off my vinyl collection just to pay off bills. That was pretty tough. My account at the bank was negative, the bank people would just laugh at me, like, why are you doing this, it won’t get you anywhere. But I kept pushing and things kept happening. This phase happened around a two-year period.
Then at one point I got a day job. It was a boring thing, it happened through a guy I knew who had a small company, he hired me as an extra hand. I got that just to keep me financially stable, and while I did that the label kept growing, things started to pick up. I got the opportunity to do the YOB comeback album, and that was a big turning point. Revenue started coming more, and that’s when I started to think that I could pull this off as a full time venture. When I finally decided to go full time, all I really wanted was to see if I could get by. See if I can do this for a year, it was that kind of mentality. When I moved away to the area where I live now, I thought I might have to find another whatever part-time job to get extra cash, but then I just didn’t, I guess I was lazy and didn’t have the motivation for it, and I just dedicated myself to the label and things just worked. It grew and grew, very naturally and in an unforced kind of way. I never thought I had to work with this or that band to make something happen, it just snowballed into what it is now.
I think it says a lot that you didn’t drop it, even when the circumstances were a bit tough and it would have been probably easier to say “fuck it”.
I had nothing else going on! [laughs] But even if I did, I wouldn’t think of dropping it, I guess I would just push it back a little and do it as a small hobby like when I started out. Here’s the thing – if I had found a job in public relations/communications, the label would probably had been just that, just a side thing. Maybe it was a sign that no one wanted to hire me, that I couldn’t find a job. All my classmates did. I was the only one who couldn’t. I was like, what’s going on here? I did everything right. I networked, I had a plan, such a focused and clearly set out plan, I knew where I wanted to work and what I wanted to do there. But if I had found work at the agencies where I wanted to work, then none of this would have happened probably. I would probably never have worked with bands like Pallbearer, or SubRosa, or whoever. The tide would have been very different if my plan after school had worked, basically. It’s a weird thing, it’s the first time I’m actually thinking about it like that. [laughs] But also, the other thing is that the skill set that I got in school, I’m applying that here. It’s definitely connected, so in a way I’m there, but it’s weird how things panned out.
Was there a defining moment when you started believing that it could work out well?
After YOB‘s ‘The Great Cessation’ came out, sales were doing pretty well, I started seeing some revenue from that, so yeah, that was a key release to help the label get to the next level. I’m kind of indebted to that band for giving me the opportunity to do it, that was the crucial moment. I was already doing it full time, and it wasn’t always a struggle, it was actually working, I was in that first year that I set for myself and when that year was through I thought, yeah, I can make this work.
You told someone in an interview some time ago “you should see what I have to do to get a band on new music on Pitchfork”, which I found funny. Have you ever felt like you were compromising? Even if you didn’t, have the steps you’ve taken outside our cozy little underground ever felt wrong, or strange, in any way?
[laughs] It’s kind of weird… I like to do releases that have that kind of exposure, but at the same time they still have to fit what I do. Like the Sannhet album that’s coming out soon, ‘So Numb’, that’s one of those – that band has wanted to work with me since their first album, then their manager let me listen to this new album and I loved it. Exposure on any of those non-metal outlets like Pitchfork has definitely helped sales-wise, of course, but I never worked with anyone thinking of that, that’s just a consequence of the sound of some bands. I remember when I did the dälek album, I read someone commenting on that saying “oh, sales must be slow, you got to do some hip-hop to get the sales back up“, and I thought, this album hasn’t sold, I’ve had death metal albums that have sold much better than dälek. It’s doing well, but it’s not like this massive off-the-charts seller that got me into the hip-hop scene! [laughs] Nothing like that, and I had loved that band for ten years when I put out that record. It’s music outside the typical metal circle, but I do that a lot. The Prurient album, ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’, for example. That’s probably one of my favourite releases that I’ve ever put out. It did really well. I’m always looking to do something in that kind of experimental, electronic, noise kind of vein, but you never know how those bands will do, sales-wise. I actually asked Dominick [Fernow, the wonderfully talented artist behind Prurient] about his records on Hydra Head and he didn’t really get numbers from them. Mostly I just kind of wing it, and I’m always curious about that electronic music scene, how stuff sells.
“If any mainstream commercial opportunity happens to befall a band I work with, I have nothing against that, because we didn’t set out to achieve that. As long as nothing compromises the integrity of what I do with the label, I’ll take anything.“
Is it a good feeling when a band you’ve worked with crosses into the mainstream, or at least into a greater stage of popularity and acceptance by the general audience?
I guess the best example for that is Pallbearer, that’s the biggest band I’ve worked with, the best selling one. It just happened, for them. That first album came out, there were no expectations, it was kind of like, okay, let’s see if we can sell 1.000 CDs, maybe 2.000… and then 20 Buck Spin pressed the vinyl, and 25.000 units later, we’re wondering, whoa, okay, what happened?! [laughs] I did three albums with them, three solid albums, ‘Heartless’ for me is their peak, and that is a good amount to do with any band. Then they will move on to bigger and better things for them, and then I want to move on to newer things too. After this last album, I don’t know if I want to do this melodic traditional doom anymore, for me I’ve reached the peak with ‘Heartless’, so I want to explore new things too. Although in a way I’ll always work with the band, too. In the future, there’s always going to be that relationship, that’s something that stays. It’s different for each band, of course, but in this case they’ve been such a staple in helping the label, I helped launch their career too, so that’s always going to be there. Cobalt, for instance, me and Erik have a tight thing going on, I’ve been working with them for a while… Some bands I’m just closer in terms of relationship than others, that’s how it is, and that’s fine. I also have a close relationship with Jef from Leviathan, for example, and I’ll want to continue that with him… It’s interesting dealing with these very fascinating personalities.
Is there a limit to the size, or the scope, of the label, you think? At least a limit to what you’d be comfortable with? Would you work with a huge band if they asked, for example?
I know what you mean. And if I were to work with one of those bands, it’s not because I’d want to grow the label even bigger. I know some other metal labels might think that way. Still, with these big metal bands, I’m usually only into their first few albums regardless… the stuff they’re doing now doesn’t really get me anymore. I have opportunities to work with bands that aren’t big in mainstream metal, but still are big and well known and have a history. In any case, the label where it’s at right now, any kind of mainstream exposure, I don’t reject it but I’m not specifically looking for it. It’s always a cool thing, if a movie or a TV show uses music from my releases, that’s great. If any mainstream commercial opportunity happens to befall a band I work with, I have nothing against that, because we didn’t set out to achieve that. As long as nothing compromises the integrity of what I do with the label, I’ll take anything. Sometimes there’s a projection in mind, of course, if I have a more electronic kind of band that I think might be cool for a licensing deal, to shop around for a movie or something like that, that’s good, bands are into that. I don’t deny that thought process occasionally, and that’s fine. I don’t consider it selling out. Every situation is different, but as long as that isn’t the ultimate goal, and there’s no compromise in the art, then it’s fine.
How do the bands themselves usually manage those expectations?
It’s funny, sometimes I get really underground bands asking me, “hey, so is Pitchfork going to review us?” [laughs] They want it! They think it’s cool, and they want to know if I’ve asked them to. And I don’t! I send out the promos, and if it happens, it happens. When Pitchfork reviewed Dead Congregation, for instance, they thought it was awesome, they weren’t opposed to it. And that’s great.
Following you on social media, I’ve noticed there is a certain… difference between the typical Profound Lore release and the music you actually seem to listen to. Is that really the case?
Man, the stuff I listen to now… [laughs] I check out new metal that comes out, I want to know if I’m attracted to it and everything, it’s part of the process of the label too. But the metal that I do listen to on my spare time, purely for fun, it’s either 80s stuff, old school Judas Priest, death metal from the early 90s, mostly the old school classics. Other than that I listen to a lot of electronic music, some hip-hop, experimental music, a lot, anything new that keeps me interested. When it comes to present day metal, it’s mostly the bands I work with that consume me, I’m not interested in a lot of the new things that are coming out. Although 2017 has been a good year, there’s been killer records.
What sort of electronic music have you been into lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of the artists that I’ve heard about, but that I’ve never actually listened to properly. I’ve been into Aphex Twin, Pan Sonic, what else… Autechre, the Warp Records catalogue, the odd movie soundtrack. But there’s much more besides that , I’m fascinated by some hip-hop, particularly from the production standpoint. I also listen to stupid indie rock. [laughs] Nick Cave, of course, he’s always been one of my favourite artists and whenever he puts something out I’ll listen to it. Stuff like that. Also, a few months ago I was really into 80s pop songs, I went through that phase. I love, love Phil Collins‘ solo stuff, I really got into that as of late.
As your tastes expand and grow, do you find that your standard for selecting Profound Lore bands tightens?
I always say I’m going to tighten it, but then new opportunities and new artists I want to work with that keep coming along!
Oh, you poor thing.
[laughs] Seriously though, when planning 2018 I thought it was going to be a little easier. Well, it’s not. I’m looking at my schedule, and it’s like, here we go again! So the standard should be tighter, it should be more discriminative, I’d like it to be, but cool opportunities come up all the time. If a new underground death metal that I like wants to work with me, I’ll do it. I’m still enthusiastic about releasing that kind of stuff.
It seems the label is branching out in two main directions at once – on one hand the death and black metal you’re most known for, and on the other hand the more experimental, out-there stuff, is that something you’ve planned?
I do want to incorporate the out-there stuff more, most definitely. I’m always n the lookout for something. Me and James Kelly [Altar Of Plagues, WIFE] talk a lot, he’s involved in that scene and helps keep me up to date with what’s going on and with the opportunities that come up. I want to bring more of that in, to try something new. I want to keep doing what I do, but I also want to keep it fun and interesting for me, and that means always finding things I haven’t done before, the main purpose of doing this should remain intact. Besides, even when I started the label, I’ve always wanted to do something away from death and black metal, that’s always been there. I worked with Nadja, and technically rereleased their ‘Bodycage’ album, so stuff like that has always been a part of the whole thing. I also love it when the more extreme bands go into that territory of dark ambient and similar things. Gevurah, for example, another band I work with, they’re very much into dark ambient stuff, so I told them that if on their next album, half of it was dark ambient and half was black metal, I’d love that! Open the album with a ten minute dark ambient track! That would be so cool for me.
Do you consider Profound Lore to be your life’s work, at least for now?
It’s the only legacy I have, really. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, this is the only thing I have that’s defined me, that I have made a name for myself through it. Like I said, I was projecting 2018 and I’m pretty stacked, so I think I’ll be okay. There’s always that worry before planning a year, and that extends into the future too, I’m confident that it’s going to be sustainable, but I want to make sure I have a decent schedule that’ll carry me on to the next year. Every year I think the next one is going to be the one where I ease up a bit, but then it’s not. [laughs] It would be nice, I guess, to take a little bit of time to pursue other hobbies, but this is always going to consume me and I’m fine with that.