Voices From Underground – Chat With Brandon Corsair / Nameless Grave Records

I always love giving exposure to the smaller underground record labels making the rounds these days and here is a interview I did with the owner of label Nameless Grave Records founder Brandon Corsair, who also plays in some bands:

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

BC: Hi, thanks for having me for this interview! I was born in Southern California and largely grew up in and around Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills, which are smaller towns about an hour’s drive through traffic from Los Angeles. Not a whole lot of music going on out that way- it’s very much just boring suburbs, without even the normal dive bars and clubs that you’d associate with normal urban and suburban areas. I didn’t even know anyone in bands until I went to college, even of the crappy high school variety.

When did you first get into heavy metal music? How did you end up discovering this form of music?

BC: My story on this one is honestly not the most exciting. My dad got into heavy metal in the early ’70s with Black Sabbath and never stopped. I grew up on bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, and my dad got me into Celtic Frost, Solitude Aeturnus, Rotting Christ, Bolt Thrower, and a lot of other favourites pretty early on. Around when Celtic Frost’s Monotheist came out, he got into them and shared it with me, and I definitely have some fond memories of trying unsuccessfully to get people into Frost in high school!
To more directly answer your question there’s not really a time I can even remember not listening to metal music, let alone a single instance of “discovering” it. My first favourite band around kindergarten was Slayer; metal has been my music for my entire life and judging by how things have developed, it probably always will be.

Now, how about the underground. How did you discover underground metal music?

BC: When I was a teenager, I had satellite radio in the truck I drove to get to school. As I slowly heard the big names via osmosis, I started to get more and more interested in delving deeper than the music I’d grown up with and that my dad gave to me; I particularly remember the discoveries of Vader and Dissection to be tipping points. I am a child of the internet age and won’t pretend otherwise, and when I started getting more into the idea of discovering music myself, I took my search online. It did not occur to me initially to join forums or chat rooms for music, and all of my earliest hunts were very high-level searches on file sharing sites. I had heard the name “death metal” somewhere or another, probably in description to one of the aforementioned bands I was into by then and looked for “death metal” on a file-sharing site. That ended up giving me Possessed and Dismember, for the song “Death Metal” and the album “Death Metal” respectively. I rapidly expanded what I was into and the depth of what I wanted to grow, and I finally had the idea to start joining forums and found my way to a couple of underground-focused IRC servers. The rest went from there.

What were some early underground metal concerts that you went out to in CA?

BC: The first that I went to that wasn’t a bigger band was Skeletal Remains playing at a venue called the Black Castle that was shut down some years ago. Skeletal Remains of course has grown a lot since then, but the crowd when I saw them was probably less than 20 people, and I was the youngest person there alongside another kid- certainly too young to drink by a few years! I remember talking about it with the promoter, Alvin, who later on ended up booking stuff for me when I started playing in bands myself. Great guy. I went in those earliest years to a host of local gigs- Volahn, Skeletal Remains, Morfin, and the like were heavy in the rotation. I don’t remember the first more obscure touring bands that I caught, but over the years before I moved to Seattle some of the most memorable were Mortuary Drape, Aura Noir, Eternal Champion, Tyrant (the Too Late to Pray one), and Deceased, off the top of my head.

Now, what gave you the idea to start your own label? Did you ever do work at any prior labels before starting up Nameless Grave?

BC: Originally, the label was intended to exclusively be for my own releases. I was at the time really into the idea of doing a bunch of anonymous bands, and the whole idea behind Nameless Grave Records was to have a vehicle to release it all. The thought was to put out stuff starting on cassette and work my way up to vinyl over time, assuming that the label and the various anonymous bands got any traction. Obviously, I scrapped that idea and actually none of the anonymous stuff I recorded with friends ever even got released- some of it was quite good, but it just felt like too much and I decided in the end that it was a bad idea.

Now how long did it take you from the time you started thinking about doing a label until you actually put out your 1st release?

BC: Probably six months? Not too long. Draghkar at the time the label started was on Blood Harvest Records out of Sweden and the label idea was pretty much already dead and gone, but they were dragging their heels with releasing an EP we had coming out that we’re planning to tour on. When we were arguing about the release schedule things were said on both sides that shouldn’t have been and Draghkar was ultimately kicked off of the label. We needed a release quickly to tour on, and so Nameless Grave Records ended up coming back to life as a vehicle to put out the EP on tape, with another label from Mexico, Craneo Negro Records, doing the CD release. I can say in a very real way that if Rodrigo / Blood Harvest Records hadn’t cut ties with us, Nameless Grave Records likely would not exist.

So now how did you come up with the name and were any other names considered?

BC: It came from a Bathory song, “Call from the Grave.” Quorthon sings that he’s been “buried and forgotten, in a cold and nameless grave.” It seemed fitting at the time given that the planned projects were all going to be anonymous and mostly black metal and given that like everyone else on the planet I love Bathory. Back then the label was intended to be run collaboratively by myself and Draghkar’s then-drummer, though by the time we hit the first release it was just my own thing. As for other names as I recall we zeroed in on Bathory lyrics really early and spitballed a lot of different stuff, though I don’t remember what the alternates were.

Looking back, what are some things you would have done differently with starting up the label?

BC: Honestly? I don’t really have any regrets. I learned how to run a label on my earliest releases, and if I’d taken on anything bigger, I’d have been biting off more than I could chew. I didn’t make any spectacularly bad decisions in the earliest days and though obviously with hindsight I might have handled individual things- trading, not having a distro for years, little quirks of how I approach packing and shipping, and the like- differently, I only have that clarity of vision looking behind me because of how things went earlier on. Everything happened the way it had to.

Before we continue on the label, a couple of non-label questions, tell me about this fanzine “The Highway Corsair” you are the editor of. How many issues have you put out and what stuff is in it and how well does it sell?

BC: That’s my own personal zine! I do all of the interviews, all of the writing, and have a buddy do the layouts. The whole idea behind it is that I feel like there’s a distinct lack of high-quality, professional fanzines with good writing and long, in-depth interviews right now, especially for death metal; something like Decibel Magazine is inherently going to avoid long interviews with underground bands (and outside of the Hall of Fame series, pretty much at all) and smaller fanzines with more of an underground focus won’t have the same quality, so I wanted to split the difference. I have the whole thing pro-printed in full colour and at full magazine size and do my damndest to write about killer underground bands in a setting that they normally just aren’t in.

Of course, there are other good fanzines out there- Pit Mag basically does what I do and has been doing it for a lot longer, and was a major inspiration, and there are a lot of really cool glossy mags in Europe that do a lot of heavy metal- but I felt like the death metal scene had avoided, so that’s why I decided to do it! I’ve done two issues so far and both actually did better than expected, people really responded to the careful curation of which bands I include and they like the high quality that I do the zine in. The next issue should be out this summer and will include an exclusive 7″ reissue of a really cool old Finnish death metal band!

Now you are also in some of the bands that are on your roster, the main one I would say is Draghkar, in which you sing and play the guitar. What made you pick up the guitar and were you self-taught? Favourite guitar players?

BC: It’s funny that you say that because as much as Draghkar was how the label started and what drove a lot of the initial success (and contacts from the band are a big part of how I find new releases to pick up!), there’s never been a big Draghkar release on the label. We’re co-releasing last year’s album on vinyl with Nuclear Winter Records, but Anastasis is handling the bulk of the release, and the CD and tape of that album were handled by different labels. We’ve mostly just done tapes of Draghkar stuff over the years! I don’t like to tie too much of the label finances into my own bands because I feel obligated on a personal level to give my own music extra attention, and I don’t think it’s fair to all the other bands I work with. I’m not necessarily opposed to it and it’s always a great backup plan and gives me a lot more leeway to tell labels that offer bad deals to fuck off since I can always guarantee a release on my own if it comes to that, but I’d always rather someone else handle Draghkar stuff if possible except for the tapes.

As for guitar, that one was because in my freshman year of college I lived in the school’s dorms and had a buddy that played the guitar- somehow the first person I ever knew to play that instrument. I kept asking him to play specific riffs I liked and kept bugging him to learn songs I was into and he got frustrated with me and told me he’d teach me to play instead if I got a guitar, and that was that. Funnily enough, I don’t think he plays anymore himself, but making music has become an important part of who I am and I’m eternally grateful to him for getting me into it. My influences and favourite guitar plays as a new guitarist were the same as they are now- Mike Scalzi, Tony Iommi, Trey Azagthoth, Tom Warrior, Mark Shelton, and an infinite number of other guys. I really learned guitar on Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, and Slayer, and a lot of my early chops were from working on Helstar and Slough Feg songs that I still probably couldn’t properly pull off now.

So your 1st release was in 2018 an EP release called “The Endless Howling Abyss”. How many copies did you print of this and how well did it sell for you?

BC: That was a super-limited tape-only press to accompany the CD and have something to bring on that tour I mentioned earlier. We only did 75 copies, and sold out of it pretty much instantly; we never bothered repressing it ourselves via the label, but a cool label from Norway called Snake Oil put out a reissue and then it was reissued again as part of a discography compilation that Horror Pain Gore Death and Necrolatry Records did a bit before the album came out, so it had a fair chance to get around!

With you being a small label and with so many other bands out there and labels as well, how do you get the word out about your releases?

BC: Well, the same way as anyone else, I guess. We try to be really selective about what we release so that our fans keep coming back for our quality control and curation, and we spam everyone with email mailing list reminders when something comes out. I do my best to promote via social media and sometimes PR companies as well, and most of our stuff sells decently so I must be doing something right! We’ve taken a slow and cautious approach to grow the label and I think it’s helped a lot with word of mouth.

Now I saw a bunch of your early releases within cassette form. Now with you being a US-based label, why would you do cassettes only? Is that the only form you could release at the time?

BC: I started the label towards the end of college and just didn’t have the space or money for anything bigger. Now that I have a better job and a lot more room, I can branch out a lot more. Cassettes are also an excellent way to work with cool bands and build the label’s name without sacrificing quality control early on; almost any good, well-liked album is going to already be out on CD and often vinyl as well, but many amazing albums have never been on cassette. I refuse to put out shitty music just to have a band to work with, so tapes and reissues were for a couple of years the only way to really go while I built up my reputation.

Where do you get your stuff done at around how long is the turnaround from you placing an order to you getting it?

BC: Depends a lot! Tapes I’ve done with both National Audio Company, which used to be the gold standard until some recent quality drops, and with, who do excellent work but take longer and are a little more pricey. The vinyl I’ve done exclusively at GZ and with Mobineko, but with a variety of different GZ middlemen- 8merch, Precision Record Pressing, XvinylX, etc. CDs I usually do with 8merch. The turnaround varies by plant and it’s a consideration that has to be made at the beginning; different plants have different cost levels, different levels of quality control, different turnarounds, different ways they approach shipping and taxes and drop shipping, and all of it comes together in a way that means that I don’t just work with one plant!

A good example is a difference between doing 500 12″ records and 150; at a larger pressing size, I will always use Precision Record Pressing if it’s a solo label release because I have a good relationship with them, their quality control is excellent, and at non-micro-run-sizes their pricing is competitive, but I use Mobineko or 8merch for 150 copies because at such a small pressing size it doesn’t make sense to go with a pricier plant. Similarly, I use Mobineko for 7″s because it’s just too expensive to do it anywhere else and have it make sense.

Do you do much trading with other labels (I mostly am talking about overseas) or doing co-releases with stuff from them, meaning that you release their stuff over in the US only?

BC: Sometimes! More and more these days with the trades- for a long time the label had no distro, so we only sold our own releases, but as we expand more and more it makes a lot less sense to do it that way. Having a distro encourages impulse buys and encourages bigger purchases, and often those include our own releases, so I’ve been trading more to help that happen. There are downsides- like the cost, the space requirement, the extra logistical stress- but ultimately it’s worth doing.

As for co-releases, it just depends. If I get a good offer on one or have something I think would sell better in Europe but still want to work on I might accept or pitch a co-release. The upcoming Draghkar – At the Crossroads of Infinity 12″ is a co-release between Nameless Grave Records and Nuclear Winter Records from Greece, and I have an upcoming 7″ planned with a good friend of mine who runs a label in Germany. I also do them sometimes just as a way to do something collaboratively with a buddy, or for cost-savings on something when I don’t have the time or money to handle a release on my own.

Are you the only one at the label and around how much time in a given week would you say is spent doing record label stuff?

BC: I run the label these days with my good friend Andrew Lee, who I play within a couple of bands. I do most of the shipping/packing/layouting, and he does all the audio work that the bands haven’t already done- mixing, mastering, double-checking their audio, etc. As for the time commitment it really just depends on what’s going on! At the busiest when we have a new release that sold particularly well I spend pretty much all night after work every night on shipping until pre-sales are all cleared; when I’m between releases sometimes I’ll only spend half an hour coordinating staff and shipping. It’s a rare week when there’s nothing to do but there are definitely lulls in the activity level.

Now, what has been your best selling release and your most disappointing so far in the label’s history?

BC: The best-selling was probably Altar of Gore’s Obscure & Obscene Gods CD or Exaugurate’s Chasm of Rapturous Delirium CD. Exaugurate sold out all the copies, and Altar of Gore is running really low- not bad when CDs sell pretty poorly compared to tapes and vinyl and given that both were reissues, which by their very nature sell a lot worse than a release that you handle the complete promotional cycle of! The worst was a tape reissue early on with the label that barely sold any copies, but it was a good learning experience and I’m good friends with the band and don’t regret doing it.

Are all your releases still for sale in some way shape or form?

BC: Not at all. Most of them are out of print. I believe in reissuing as long as there’s demand, but if it sells out and takes a while I don’t like to risk it, so I try and size my pressings according to demand. I want a release to sell out and to just barely have been a big enough pressing so that there aren’t excess fans clamouring for one and so that it’s also not clogging up shelf space in my garage, and I’ve mostly done a pretty good job at that.
In fact out of everything we’ve done we only have the newest release, Altar of Gore CDs, and a handful of cassettes left.

Now in 2020, you stepped it up, releasing your 1st CD on your label with the band Altar of Gore “Obscure & Obscene Gods”. How did this release go for you and was it a lot of extra money to release something on CD for you?

BC: That was a good one! It had been out for a while on cassette-only and so it was difficult to promote it properly, as most blogs and magazines will only write about very new or still-upcoming releases, but it’s a great album so it spread well via word of mouth once it made it to compact disc. We managed to move a lot of copies and are running low, and learned a lot about how to approach CD releases. It was definitely a bit more money than we’d spent on anything at that point but because we’d spent a couple of years growing the label via cassette-only releases we had the money to move up to a bigger release, and it sold well enough to justify doing more. I can’t imagine going back now to only doing tapes-, we’re here with vinyl and CDs to stay!

Now are any of the band’s you work with directly signed to the label or are they free to work with somebody else after your release comes out?

BC: They’re all free to work with whoever they want whenever they want. This is underground metal. My views on the label are all informed significantly by my experiences as a musician, and at the end of the day, I think that long-term contracts and really anything other than just simple licensing for underground releases is inherently exploitative. It makes sense for a label dumping tens of thousands of dollars into production and promotion to have a more involved, nuanced deal; it doesn’t for a label just doing a few hundred CDs or LPs. It’s no mistake that most of the best underground labels prefer simple licensing and handshake deals.

Any bands that could have signed or worked with that you passed on, but you now regret?

BC: Sure, of course. There’s always stuff where I wish I had come up with the money to get with a band before someone else snatched them up, especially for bands that made it to similarly sized labels instead of bigger ones, since I wish all bands nothing but the best and would never want to come between a good band and a bigger label that could get them further. At the end of the day, though, I am already as busy as I can handle and more, and any “regrets” that I have are twinges of longing, not serious at all. I’m very happy with how the label has developed over time.

What to you makes a good song?

BC: That’s a tough one! It’s sort of know it when I hear it kind of thing and is really dependent on what the band is going for. Usually with metal stuff, specifically I’m looking for good riffs, coherent songwriting, and cool drumming more than anything else, with an extra bonus for cool leads, vocals, and bass playing, but that doesn’t mean a lot, does it? It’s hard to break down so generally; what makes one band cloning Autopsy better than another when they’re both drawing from the same place so closely? I can say why a specific song is good or why a specific one is bad but I dunno how to generalize any more than “if it riffs I’m probably into it.”

You followed up your 1st CD release with another one with the band Exaugurate’s “Chasm of Rapturous Delirium”. How has this done for you so far and will more releases be coming out on CD in the future for you?

BC: That one actually sold out! It was really killer seeing it do well given that Exaugurate are friends of mine and we did the release together in the name of friendship rather than because I was trying to snipe them for the label or anything. I’ve known Chris since before Exaugurate even started and I’ve always wished him the best, so being a small part of what I’m sure will be a great legacy means a lot to me. I’ll certainly be doing more CDs in the future, and in fact, will be sending another two to plant in the next month or so. My priority is and always will be vinyl, which is by far my favourite format, but at the end of the day the label is about working with cool bands and I’ll do that in whatever way makes sense.

Now did this whole COVID crap affect you or the label much?

BC: Quite a bit on both fronts, actually.

On a personal level, it was pretty not-ideal even when disregarding my life outside of music. My two death metal bands, Draghkar and Azath, both released debut albums in 2020 and in the middle of the pandemic, which really hurt sales and promotion. Azath was supposed to tour with Drawn and Quartered to promote Through a Warren of Shadow and obviously that fell through, and Draghkar was unable to do anything in promotion of At the Crossroads of Infinity.

With the record label, it was more of the same. The promotion was disrupted, sales were down, bands couldn’t play shows to promote things we released- just a nightmare all around. The same thing that everyone is experiencing reality, though, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.

So far I see you have been keeping busy in 2021 as you have already released Reaver “Butchery From Beyond”. How has this done so far for you?

BC: A little hard to say so far! The demo tape sold out instantly but it was a very small pressing. The real test will be to see how the 7″ version sells when it comes out this summer.

Have you had any problems working with any overseas labels so far? I imagine if you have to ship something over there that postage is expensive as hell these days?

BC: The only problem really is that with the distance there’s a lot more risk of damage when sending stuff to and receiving things from Europe from the US. I just sent out a box of CDs and vinyl records to Iron Bonehead last week and half the jewel cases got there broken because I messed up and packed it well enough for a US shipment but didn’t double-box the CDs, I only double-boxed the vinyl. Stuff like that is a bigger issue than postage. Postage rates sort of prevent small international trades or wholesale but I do enough bigger trades and sales that it’s not the end of the world, and postage rates equalize a lot more as you send more and more stuff.

Otherwise, sure, some labels are flakey or hard to work with, but that’s the same as with American ones.

Are you currently looking for any bands to work with and if so, what would they need to send to you and where would they send it?

BC: Not really. We’re busy as all hell and have a LOT lined up for this year already. We’re always open to submissions but it’s very difficult for anyone to break into our busy schedule for the time being. Submissions can be sent to [email protected]. Anyone interested, please send a streaming link and a description of the band! It seems basic but so many people manage to JUST send a link or just a description or sometimes neither, and I won’t ever even check out something that half-assed.

Just a few days ago, I know you got your latest release in, Cardiac Arrest’s “Haven For The Insane” on vinyl for the first time. Tell me a bit about this release and where do you go to get your vinyl pressed?

BC: Cardiac Arrest is a long-running band from Chicago that started towards the end of the ’90s and never stopped. I’m a big fan of bands that defy trends and fan expectations to just doing their own thing, and when Cardiac Arrest started off, they really had absolutely no support, no contemporaries, and were just doing what they do out of a genuine passion for dirty underground metal. Through the years they kept at it. Shitty record deals, stuff falling through, promises that didn’t live up, trends that came and went, all just water off their backs. Back in 2010, they dropped Haven for the Insane on John McEntee’s record label, Ibex Moon Records, as a special CD + DVD set. This was before vinyl became quite as ubiquitous in a modern release as it is now, and it just never made it to wax. As a big fan of the band, it seemed like an obvious one for me to do after I got in touch separately just to interview Adam for the zine and it turned into what it is now- a killer reissue of a deserving album, finally on wax. I had this one pressed at Precision Record Pressing in Canada, which do a really good, high-quality job.

I saw you had several releases out in 2020 and you keeping busy right along in 2021. What are some other releases we can look forward to in 2021 and beyond?

BC: Quite a few. We’re doing the new Ruin Death Metal Cult album (AKA Ruin from Southern California) on vinyl, an album from a cool band called Dungeon Serpent on CD, the vinyl version of Draghkar’s At the Crossroads of Infinity, a 7″ of Reaver’s demo, a CD reissue of Sanctorum’s Crystal Tears of Silence, and quite a few other things. It never ends!

How big would you like to label to get? Would you like to make it your full-time job if it isn’t now?

BC: Ideally I’d like to be a competitor for bigger underground labels as a legitimate first-choice for different labels, driven by high-quality control at the label and by giving bands good, fair deals and by being easy to work with- and sure, who likes working at some job that’s not where their heart is? I’d love to transition to doing it for the label.

If asked to work for a bigger independent label, would you?

BC: If it made sense financially. I have a good job right now and as much as I’d rather work full time doing music stuff, I couldn’t quit my job to work for a bigger label without it being at least livable.

Now if someone wants to buy some of the stuff you have, how would they go about that (this webzine is overseas so keep that in mind with your answer)

BC: I try and aggressively trade and get all of my stuff available wherever there are labels and buyers, so everything that’s not sold out should be available from Iron Bonehead or other European labels. Failing that, sometimes stock ends up at Hell’s Headbangers or NWN, who have cheap international shipping compared to smaller labels.

Brandon, horns up for the interview, any last words to wrap this up?

BC: Buy our stuff, and keep an eye out for all the exciting things coming soon on the label! I’ll end with a playlist of the last few albums I listened to today and yesterday:

Led Zeppelin – III

Deceased – Fearless Undead Machines

Holy Terror – Terror and Submission

Pharaoh – The Powers That Be

Desultory – Bitterness

Thanks a ton,

Brandon Corsair

Nameless Grave Records

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