“If you like to work in an organised manner, with everything planned out, and have a set routine to follow, this job is not for you.”
Though it exists mainly within the gravitational pull of music, The Devil’s Mouth is not just about musicians themselves. Over the next few months, and hopefully years, you can expect a plethora of characters to leave their stories, motivations and aspirations here, including those who work every day so that the household names we hold dear can actually function without the reward of fame. PATRICIA THOMAS has, for over a decade now, been a manager for some of the most extreme artists you can think of – including bands like Shining, Skitliv or Carpathian Forest or record labels such as Dark Essence, to mention but a few. That’s right, this lady bosses around dudes like Niklas Kvarforth, Maniac or Nattefrost for a living, so she’s probably more bad-ass than any corpsepainted ghoul in your record collection. Though her mission statement actually reads “The only things that actually matter are the bands & musicians. Without them, the rest of us in this business would have no reason to exist,” we thought it was high time to give Patricia the spotlight to speak through The Devil’s Mouth.
How, and when, did your engagement with the music business begin? Did you start by management and promotion already, or did you do something else before that?
I started working in the music business about twelve years ago, I guess it must be. I had absolutely nothing to do with it before, other than as a fan, and I never even thought about doing it. I just happened to be a big collector and “met” various musicians when they were selling stuff. A few eventually asked me to help write their bios, edit their liner notes or lyrics, stuff like that, and it just grew from there. Before that, I worked for several years in personnel for Alfa Romeo in the UK, then I went on to work with a Middle Eastern VIP for fifteen years, and then on to the investment sector (on the admin side) for several more years, before doing the music thing full time.
Were you a fan of extreme metal, and/or heavy music in general, before you started working with it? What were some of the bands that sparked your interest in this kind of music?
I was always a fan of heavy music, if that’s how you want to describe it. My heart is probably still stuck in the Woodstock era. My influences are varied, ranging from musicians like Elvis Presley, Leon Russell, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Runrig or Balfour Brothers. But I have very eclectic tastes and don’t restrict myself to any one genre. I listen to a lot of Cajun and zydeco, new country, classical, folk, big bands and music from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Essentially I listen to what I like, and what I happen to be in the mood for, at any given time. It’s a fallacy to say that people who work in the music business restrict themselves to listening to only one particular genre. I think that’s sadly something fans often feel obliged to do, a kind of peer pressure thing. Most of them would be stunned if they knew what some of the musicians I work with enjoy listening to.
On your business Facebook, it’s hilariously stated that “only a lunatic would do this job“. Why do you do it, what are your main motivations for it, and what ultimately fulfils you at the end of the day?
Given some of the artists I work with, if you weren’t a lunatic when you started out, you certainly would be when you finished! [laughs] I do it because I find it interesting and it allows me to work for myself. I enjoy writing, I much prefer it to speaking, so writing press releases and suchlike gives me a kind of creative outlet. And I love watching artists grow and develop. I certainly don’t do it because it gives me a living.
What is your daily routine like? I suppose it’s a job that demands quite a lot of you?
Other than checking my email first thing, I don’t have a routine. You never know what you are going to need to do from one minute to the next. You can usually plan when you need to be writing press releases, for instance, but even then they can come in unexpectedly. If you like to work in an organised manner, with everything planned out, and have a set routine to follow, this job is not for you. It does demand quite a lot from you, and the stress levels are high, but that’s how it’s been for most of my working life unfortunately.
Is there a particular reason why you’ve chosen to only work with black and extreme metal bands? What do you think sets these scenes apart from the rest, both in terms of the artists and also of the fans?
I work with black and extreme metal bands because I really like the music, nothing more complicated than that. And I’m sorry to have to say this, but I’m not sure that there is anything that sets this scene apart from any other these days, to be brutally honest. The “shock factor” no longer exists. To try and clarify – I think each scene has its own way of doing things and its own followers. Some scenes are tame, some are brutal, some are violent, some are shocking, some are fun. And likewise the fans. The black and extreme metal scene may seem like the be all and end all to us, because that’s our scene, but that applies equally to any of the myriads of music scenes out there. And so it should be.
What is your criteria to work with a certain artist? Do you feel you have to actually like the music, or can you set that apart when beginning a professional relationship with a band?
I absolutely have to like the music, and not just the music, I also have to like and respect the artist or band member I deal with directly. I’m lucky in that I can choose who I work with, because I’m not a huge agency with departments full of pen pushers and accountants who don’t care who they work with as long as it creates enough revenue to pay their salaries. Nor would I ever want to be. I personally can’t ever imagine choosing to work with music I don’t know anything about, that I don’t like, and that I would never listen to myself.
“‘Difficult’ is only ‘difficult’ if you allow it to be, or if you don’t know how to handle it, or if you simply can’t handle it.”
Is there any band that you would like to work with, or have any kind of curiosity about them? And is there anyone you might have been doubtful about at first, but who has surprised you positively?
I’ve thought and thought about it, and actually there isn’t. The internet has killed any kind of mystique. I would love to have worked with people like Leon Russell, Iggy Pop, and some of the Woodstock era bands, but that time has gone, and things are no longer the same. When I was a just a fan, and had I had any aspirations about working in this business, the person I would most have wanted to work with was Maniac, and I’m doing that, so… And have I had doubts about working with someone? Only once. And my instincts were proved correct.
I have interviewed a few of the artists you work with several times, notably some of the more famous whom people who don’t know them usually consider… “difficult”, and whenever you came up in the conversation, the affection and respect they have for you was vastly noticeable, which is wonderful. Have you forged meaningful personal relationships in the course of your management career?
Yes, absolutely. Most are not just close personal friends, they have actually become family friends. Talented and artistic people, no matter where their talents lie, are often not the easiest of people to deal with, because their minds do work on a different plane, indeed, the line between genius and madness if often blurred. But “difficult” is only “difficult” if you allow it to be, or if you don’t know how to handle it, or if you simply can’t handle it. What you have to remember is, that as with anything in life, if one day “difficult” really does become “difficult”, then you need to recognise the fact and walk away.
Would you like to share a few stories or episodes about some of your artists that might shed a different light on them than what we’re used to from their public personas?
Nothing that they’d want me to tell you about and ruin their image, but giving me their own, and only, copy of a very rare album or their stage gear; doing spot-on impersonations of Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger; looking after me after I was hurt in a fall; sorting out my overgrown garden, spending hours chatting to my father on the balcony of his apartment; and making you laugh so much in dressing rooms that you can’t catch your breath… all of those spring to mind, yeah. [laughs]
Seriously, to me they are just really great guys. They are respectful, protective, generous, kind, caring, intelligent and, as often as not, hilariously funny. Many of them are committed family men with responsible day jobs. They are all extremely talented and dedicated to their music, and very, very, serious and professional about what they do. Many, however, do not suffer fools gladly.
“For every message I see from some pathetic loser that makes me wonder why I, or the bands, bother to carry on, there are ten that make me understand why we do what we do.”
Since you also manage some of the band’s pages, I can only imagine the kind of thing that you get sometimes. Is it a tough job to sort out the proper, serious contacts from all the psychos and lunatics? Do you remember some of the most out-there stuff you got from fans?
It’s very easy to sort out the serious contacts from the assholes. We get the usual death threats, and for some reason threats to rape our mothers seem to be a favourite, often describing exactly what it is they will do to them, which is beyond unacceptable and seriously sick. You also get the fans who want to tell their favourite musician something very important, or send them something, and demand their phone numbers or home addresses and get very angry when you say no. I don’t even want to think about the fans (both male and female) who write thinking they are talking to a musician and explain in great detail (but in an atrocious literary style) what sexual acts they would like to perform with him, or even send explicit photos. Some things you just can’t unsee.
Assholes aside, there are a lot of real fans out there who are genuinely touched by the music, and even whose lives have been changed significantly by it. I also come across many who have found encouragement in hearing lyrics that show them they are not alone in feeling the way they feel. For every message I see from some pathetic loser that makes me wonder why I, or the bands, bother to carry on, there are ten that make me understand why we do what we do.
Extreme music is frequently criticised for its attitude towards women – have you ever encountered any obstacles specifically derived from being a woman working in this business, especially as woman in a leadership and management position?
I think extreme music is pretty mild in its attitude towards women compared to rap! It may be slightly different for me because of my age, but I’ve never encountered any problems with any musician, whether I work with them or not. Come to think of it, I’ve never had any problem in any of the jobs I’ve done because of being a woman. Having said that, I have had the occasional label or promoter who thinks they can patronise me or bully me because I’m a female, but they quickly learn that kind of thing doesn’t work with me.
I always make sure I keep it very professional with everyone. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I’m not big on small talk and socialising, I’m very polite. The only thing I do is swear a lot, in several languages. I’m actually very boring. I’m there to do a job. If anyone has a problem with me being a woman, that’s their problem, and they can either get over it, or get out of my way, as the saying goes. I have to say though, that one thing I do dislike immensely is the attitude that a minority of women fans have towards other women fans. Just plain nasty in a way you don’t get with men. Sorry ladies, but I’m telling it like it is.
More generally speaking, what is the best part about your job, and what is the least pleasant?
The best part of my job is that it’s so varied and that someone like me, who has no artistic ability whatsoever, gets to work with, or meet, such fantastically talented people. Not to mention all the great fans I’ve met on social media and in real life, who have become real friends. The worst part of my job is the stress and the fact that you can’t really relax because you never know what crisis is going to come up next.
Of course, we need a Tigger question [Tigger is Patricia’s cat, as anyone who follows her on social media knows very well]. I love the reaction of animals to music. My dog Tina, for example, goes wild with old-school thrash, gets all mopey with Danzig, and seems to love Dark Tranquillity, but only when the vocals are growled. Does Tigger have any favourites?
Tigger likes me to sing to him, I guess there’s no accounting for taste, but otherwise music doesn’t really seem to do it for him. I used to have a cockatiel called Feather who used to sit in front of the TV whenever I put the Mayhem ‘Live in Marseille’ video on, and stay there until the end of the video. I think he was mesmerised by the sound of the drum triggers.
[well, who wouldn’t be.]
(main drawing by Fib Larsen – thank you!)