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Voices From Underground -Trauma Records/Bells of Acheron Chat

Jesus Claros does 3 great things in the underground. Besides being a fan, he is the editor of a print fanzine called Bells of Acheron and he also runs and owns his own underground record label called Trauma Records so that was more than enough to reach out to him for this interview

CF: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

JC: Hi Chris, thanks a lot for the interview (It’s an honour for me!), here I am, listening to the EURYNOMOS album and having some beers. I was born and raised in a rural area of Colombia, with great natural and archaeological wealth; it is called the department(equivalent to a state in your country) of Huila.

CF: What sort of kid were you growing up?

JC: I was quite the normal child, somewhat withdrawn and quiet (I still am). I enjoyed my childhood quite a lot because growing up so close to nature was more than good.

CF: What sort of teenager were you in high school? Did you hang out with many people or were you more of a loner?

JC: I was more of a loner type, I’ve always put a high value on friendship, I got into trouble sometimes, as all teenagers do! Just like my childhood, I had a fairly normal adolescence, and from that time on, I was drawn to ghost stories and things that could not be explained.

CF: At what time did you start to get into music, does not have to be underground metal. What were some of the first bands you listened to and liked?

JC: When I was a kid, I used to listen to the music that was played in our home, usually traditional Colombian music or some pop/ballad singers from the ’70s… I still like some of those singers, like Camilo Sesto (Spanish singer), then I come into contact with pop-rock groups, like PINK FLOYD (At this moment a Pop/Rock band), THE POLICE, QUEEN, TOTO, SODA STEREO (Great band from Argentina),  was the music that was played on SOME radio stations at that time.

CF: Now how did you discover metal? What bands did you like when you first heard it?

JC: Some (very few) radio stations, which played pop/rock music, sometimes had special programming and played HEAVY Metal. One time I heard one of those specials and I was like in a trance! My mind was like: “What the hell is this, why do I like it so much?” Besides, you had all the paraphernalia and bad press of  HEAVY Metal at that time, which made it even more attractive to me. The first bands were: BLACK SABBATH, AC DC, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, SCORPIONS, MOTORHEAD, BARON ROJO, DEF LEPPARD

CF: Now how did you discover underground metal? What did you think of it the first time you heard it? Did it take a few listens to get into it?

JC: First I met some SPEED/THRASH bands like SLAYER, METALLICA, VENOM (BLACK Metaaaaalll!!!) and one thing led to another and at some point, someone I knew had me listen to a tape where bands like HELLHAMMER, POSSESSED, DEATH, BATHORY and I felt exactly the same way I felt the first time I heard HEAVY Metal, I was immediately hooked! After that, I met bands in a similar way like MORBID ANGEL, CARCASS, NAPALM DEATH, TERRORIZER, MAYHEM and I also discovered the world of underground fanzines…

CF: Now you do a fanzine and a record label. Which one did you decide to do first? I’m gonna focus on your fanzine for a bit then we will move on to your record label ok.

JC: I have been making fanzines since the early ’90s, my first fanzine was HORRENDA VISION (1991 to 1994) than in the late 90’s I was co-editor of HIMNOS RITUALES DE GUERRA, and 10 years ago I began doing BELLS OF ACHERON.The label started in 1996, with a couple of years of inactivity in the early 2000s.

CF: Now when did you entertain the idea up a fanzine? Did you do any prior writing for any before starting your own? Did you read any fanzines before starting up your own?

JC: In the previous question, I told you about my first experiences with zines, I’m always fascinated by the world of zines, especially seeing how the fan/band relationship was done differently and much more personally. Yes, I read several zines before starting my first zine. In those years, there were very good zines in Colombia: NECRO METAL, PODERES INFERNALES, MIERDA TERMICA, ULTIMATUM GOD, Also some from other countries: DROWNED, HOLOCAUST, DECAPITATED, ISTEN, etc.

CF: Now why did you decide to do a paper fanzine instead of a webzine as there are not many paper fanzines around these days? Are you the only writer of your zine or do you have contributors?

JC: I’m a fucking print maniac, I love zines, and everything zine-related. When I started BELLS OF ACHERON, there weren’t many printed zines, so I just decided, some webzines are very good, they are informative and do a good job, but it’s not the same… You don’t get that wonderful feeling of having it in your hands and being able to read it… In every issue, we have had the help of several contributors.

CF: Now to date you have 5 issues I believe. How many issues do you print up and how have they been selling? Where do you sell them at? Is there any record stores that sell underground music in your country that you can sell them?

JC: The country where BELLS OF ACHERON is least sold is Colombia, almost nobody cares about zines, and this is a country of people who do not like to read.

For Issue # 0 of BOA, we printed 300 copies, 500 for other issues. Previous issues have been totally sold out, and the most recent one (Edited in March 2020) is about to be sold out. The countries where it has more distribution are: USA, Germany, Spain, the UK, Chile

CF: Back in the day when I did my fanzine, I would trade issues with other fanzine editors. Do you manage to do that these days or no?

JC: Yes, I think it is very important to trade with other zine publishers, and I do it with many zine publishers worldwide. It is still an amazing feeling to receive and open a pack of zines, and even more to read them, now I remember ORFISMO, CULTO BLASFEMO, NOISE AND SHIT, CRYPTS OF ETERNITY, BY THE AXE I RULE, FORGOTTEN CHAPEL, NECROSCOPE, CALL FROM BEYOND, EXTREME RESURRECTION, KYNODONTAS, etc…

CF: When did your first issue come out and how many copies did you print? How did it sell and what was the feedback like to it? What was it like holding your debut issue in your hands? Your zine is not 8 ½  by 11 inches is there any reason for this?

JC: We made 300 copies of the first issue, which were finished in about 6 months. That was already 10 years ago, the response was very good, even in those days, and some people were surprised, and said: “A printed zine, in these times”. Having it in my hands was a unique sensation… it was the reward for many hours of work. That size was chosen because at that time it was the most convenient one for cheaper printing…

CF: Now when did issue # 2 come out and do you feel it was an improvement over issue # 1? How has that been selling? Who was featured in this issue?

JC: The second BELLS OF ACHERON (It’s number 1, remember we started with number 0), had more pages, and the interviews were better built, it sold out faster than number 0…. There are interviews that I like very much: SADISTIC INTENT, GRAVE/TORTURE DIVISION, Ed Warby (GOREFEST, HAIL OF BULLETS) DRUID LORD/EQUINOX, ETERNAL SOLSTICE, NOISE AND SHIT MAGAZINE, MASTER OF CRUELTY In this issue, there were also interviews that disappointed me, like the one with LUCIFERION, I am a big fan of their album, but their answers were quite poor, and they regretted their past, without actually saying anything and with a totally stupid attitude.

CF: Do you feel with each issue you’re improving more and more as an interviewer and a reviewer? Do you feel your reviews are pretty fair? When you listen to a band what do you look for?

JC: We always try to do things better, to make the interviews more informative and entertaining, I consider myself very bad at reviewing, moreover, it’s very likely that the next BELLS, will not have reviews. Usually what I look for in a band is that they have personality and that they somehow “connect” with me, I like to look at the lyrics, the cover, the sound production, and the “overall” of what I’m listening to.

CF: Where do you get your zines printed at and how many copies do you print and how much does that cost you?

JC: I print them in a print house/shop where an old metalhead friend works, in a neighbourhood of the city where I live (San Nicolás, Cali) where there are many print shops and which is known by just that. Juan Carlos’s (“Kain”) help is more than valuable in that regard, from the last issues of BOA, we have made 500 copies. Since I don’t give a fuck if we are making money with the zine, I always forget how much it costs me to print each issue.

CF: What are your favourite metal musical styles? What are the ones that you hate? Is production or vocals a big deal to you?

JC: I like all the traditional styles of metal, because of the way things were when I discovered and got really into it, I don’t have a closed preference for one style. I was “educated” in a way that there was no problem if we went from listening to JUDAS PRIEST to GRAVE or INCANTATION, and then VOIVOD, and then MAYHEM…

I don’t have any style that I hate, I generally distrust when a style gets saturated and the public starts to follow it because of a trend. Yes, production and vocals, I am interested, about sound production, it doesn’t necessarily have to have an elaborate production and have a known producer, I think it is important that bands understand that they currently have a chance to sound properly. About the voices/vocals, there are bands where they are very important, for you to become a fan or for the opposite, for example, I can’t stand the possessed robot voice from INQUISITION’s Black Metal era.

CF: How long do you seeing yourself doing your fanzine as your also running a record label too? How did you come up with your fanzine name, Bells of Acheron?

JC: Until now, I haven’t thought about when I will leave the fanzine, and for now I am able to do the label’s work as well. The zine’s name was taken from a CANDLEMASS song.

CF: Do you feel that there are too many bad bands out there just sounding all the same and polluting the scene?

JC: I think that there have always been good and bad bands, possibly we have always had a large number of bands, so today we continue to discover old bands, for all the productions that are reissued, the difference is that now we can access a greater number of bands thanks to information technology. About the bands that sound the same, well, I believe that now we find that phenomenon more, of bands that are created to play a certain style like following a script, most of them are born without a “soul” and their existence is ephemeral.

CF: Now we will move onto your record label. What gave you the idea to start up a label and around how many releases do you have to date? What formats are they released on?

JC: In the middle of the ’90s, being in the underground, with the fanzine and tape trader, I saw how new labels were emerging, and it was not very difficult to have a small label, so in 1996 I made the first production of  TRAUMA RECORDS, which was the NAMELESS EP cassette “across the threshold”. I have now over 20 productions, I’ve edited cassettes and CDs

CF: What has been your best selling release so far and do you have one that has surprised you as far as sales? Do you do trades with other labels?

JC: The CDs that have sold the fastest (In both cases, limited editions of 500 CDs) have been DECEASED “Legions of arrgghhh” and EJECUTOR “10 black years of execution”. I do trade with other labels, and that part is basic on the underground. I hate some labels (especially some that specialize in tapes) that do not trade and only take advantage of the tape’s hype, in a couple of years they will not exist. I was surprised by how fast the DEATHFUCKER CDs have been sold… a magnificent Italian band!

CF: How do you get the word out about each release and does any stores that you know of carrying your product? Is it tough these days with so many labels and band to stick out from the pack?

JC: We do several marketing/promotion actions, send physical copies to some webzines/zines, and also do e-mail blasting through a PR company. In addition to some publications in social networks, and generally, we do 1000 flyers printed for each release. TRAUMA RECORDS releases are distributed worldwide through underground labels. You are right, it’s a world where there are hundreds of new productions every day, our releases, always have extra material, like posters, or postcards, besides the material we edit usually doesn’t have other versions…

CF: I am sure band send you stuff to get reviewed and/or to possibly get signed to your label. What exactly do you look for if you’re looking to sign a band to your label? Do you do actual contracts or is more of a handshake sort of deal?

JC: We look for bands to have personality and be honest with their music and intentions, we usually have agreements by email, we do not use formal contracts.

CF: Where do you get your releases printed at and how many copies do you print up at first?

JC: For the CDS, we work with a Colombian factory, they usually deliver the CDS on time, and they do a good job, the problem is in finding a printer that does a good job for the graphic part. The tapes are made in a US factory. We usually do 500 CD editions.

CF: Does the label do any re-issues or do you release all new stuff?

JC: The latest productions have been reissues, but we are not closed to editing new band material.

CF: Who came up with the name Trauma Records and how many people work there?

JC: Currently we are 2 people, getting help from freelance graphic designers. The name came up when in the mid-’90s, a friend and I were very fond of the movie TRAUMA by Dario Argento, starring the beautiful Asia Argento… Besides, the word TRAUMA is read and written the same in English and Spanish.

CF: How long do you see the label being around and how much time in say a given week are you spending your time on it? How do you get the word out about a new release?

JC: So we will keep on releasing records until I cease to enjoy it! This is like having another job (Well I have a 9 to 5 job) so we dedicate at least 3 or 4 hours a day to all the label work, and 1 full day on weekends.

CF: Is there a good underground music scene where you’re based out of these days? Pre covid are there many decent or good clubs where bands can play and do tours come through at all?

JC: Cali, Colombia. The city where I live does not have what you could call a “scene” and never has, there are a few bands that work seriously, and this is not an audience that is interested in buying records. There are no good quality clubs and bands usually play in shitty joints. We’ve had a few international bands come by here. For this reason, most of our releases are sold in other countries.

CF: What are your plans going forward in 2021?

JC: Right now we are releasing the DEATHWITCH “Dawn of Armageddon” special edition on DIGI CD, with some bonus songs. We will also be doing a couple more releases with the new label TENEBRAE RECORDS (A few months ago we did ANATOMIA’s “Cranial Obsession”, on cassette) Also some weeks ago we released PIARA POSESA “Hagase la Oscuridad” A great Peruvian band

In 2021, we will have new releases, but there will be time to announce them.

As for BELLS OF ACHERON, a book is about to be published that brings together issues 0 to III, and will be done by the people of SCHATTENMANN PUBLISHINGS in Germany

CF: Horns up for doing this chat. Any last words to wrap this up?

JC: Thank you! It’s great to see that after so many years, you arestill supporting and working with Metal Underground!

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