The Whipping Post Presents...
Matt Hunt (Owner of Retroactive Records) Interview - Added 08/17/05
Over the last few years, Retroactive Records has really earned my respect. They have been re-releasing tons of great classic metal albums that have been OOP for far too long. They include a bunch of specials on almost every release, like bonus tracks, re-mastering, enhanced artwork, and many other goodies. Simply put, they make it worth your while to purchase these classics, even if you own the original release. Earlier this year, it crossed my mind to interview owner, Matt Hunt, to get his take on the label. Then after a controversy with Believer broke out, it made me even more interested to talk with Matt after seeing him get flamed on messageboards when people had only heard one side of the story. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his side. The answers Matt gave here clear things up a bit, but it was my long conversation with him at Cornerstone Festival that really gave me the entire picture of what happened. I gave my word not to divulge that conversation in this interview in order to protect both parties, but I will say that what has been tossed around on the net seems to be far from the entire story. You know, sometimes you have to make a critical choice that will make people upset no matter which way you choose. Anyways...read along as I talk with the very friendly Matt Hunt about his record label that has one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
THE WHIPPING POST: Hey Matt (nice name by the way), why donít you start out by telling me about Retroactive Records. When did you start? Is it just you or do you have other staff? What are your goals for the label, etc?
MATT HUNT: Retroactive Records began in 2002 with releases by Titanic and X-Sinner. I had been running another indie label since 1998, but constant distribution problems led me to shut that label down. With Retroactive Records I got a fresh start. Distribution is always a risky thing. People seemed to be selling my label's CDs, collecting money for them, but failing to pay me. So I started my own distro called Brutal Planet Distribution. It has a very limited distribution network of a few Christian Bookstores, and all the Christian internet retailers that specialize in cool classic reissues and Christian metal. I had known those Christian e-tailers for years. Their encouragement had a lot to do with the birth of Retroactive Records. There just aren't many reissues coming out these days, and at Retroactive Records we want to keep those classics alive.
My personal love for the music comes from the fact that I was a teenager in the 80's. I grew up in a strict religious environment that didn't allow for listening to secular metal. If it weren't for bands like the Daniel Band, Whitecross, Believer, Circle of Dust, Rez, Bloodgood, Vengeance, Deliverance, etc. I have no idea how I would have survived. I pilfered through every word of Heaven's Metal and White Throne zines at least a dozen times before the next issues arrived at my mail box. To be a part of the resurrection of some of these classics, and working with bands who made them is nothing less than a complete honor. Working on reissues with people who are my musical heroes is amazing.
Right now I am the only official staff of Retroactive Records, however I guarantee Retroactive would not be where it is today without the excessive help received from gracious partners like Rob Jones, David Bixler, Olaf Becker, Doug Van Pelt, Dave Johnson, Carson Pierce (Flaming Fish), and a host of other people. I also have local friends who help with day to day operations. I work a full time job, and I rely on a lot of other people for help.
TWP: You just re-released a whole slew of albums a few months ago. Which ones were they and which ones are you the most excited about seeing released?
MH: We licensed 13 albums from the company who holds the rights to the REX and Light Music catalog. I was most excited about Believer's Sanity Obscure because that album is one of my all-time favorites. It is a classic that hasn't lost one ounce of it's brilliance over the years. I was also thrilled to see the reissue of the original Circle of Dust - s/t reissue. The songs are simply stunning. I can't imagine what Scott Albert didn't like about that release. And both Seventh Angel CD reissues were very special to me. That classic Euro thrash with a hint of doom is unique, and crunchy. Plus, they both had been out of print for ages. I was also extremely impressed with the Final Axe and Regime releases. Those were never before released albums that turned out phenomenal.
TWP: What albums are you working on re-releasing next and when should fans expect them?
MH: We have some awesome classics we are working on getting reissued, but I don't want to let the cat out of the bag until everything is finalized. Right now the next release schedule will see Whitecross - Unveiled (with the original two song demo that got the band signed to Pure Meta as a bonus!!!), both Six Feet Deep, LSU - Dogfish Jones, Circle of Dust - Brainchild and Disengage, and Stairway - No Rest, No Mercy (+ 1 bonus track).
Next year we will be releasing an album by the band Seventh Power which features Bill Menchen (Titanic/ Final Axe) on guitar and Robert Sweet (Stryper) on drums. You can also be looking for a smokin' hot new Titanic album that also features Robert Sweet on drums.
TWP: What are some albums you have hopes to re-release one day that have maybe been a little difficult to actually do?
MH: Both X-sinner albums released on Pakaderm would be at the top of my list. My Holy Grail is to find band members from the Michigan band Messiah who released some amazing Spinal Tap-ish classic metal (an EP and full length). I can't tell you how much I would love to find those guys and reissue those two albums. I thought I finally reached the mother of the lead singer, but it either wasn't, or she was lying to me. If your readers can help, I would be eternally grateful.
TWP: How do you decide which albums to release next? Do you rely on which albums are in the most demand or do you just go with the ones that fall into place firstÖ.like with contacting the bands, etc?
MH: Release schedule simply depends of the combination of factors you just listed. I check with my retailers to see which one's they want the most, then it all depends on bands delivering promised materials, contracts getting signed, etc. The albums that have the most demand from fans are obviously the priority.
TWP: Youíve been limiting all of these albums to 1000 units. Are there any that have sold out yet or are close to selling out?
MH: Two Daniel Band titles, Eden, X-sinner - Cracked, Valor, and Titanic (almost), and we are down to very few Resurrection Band - Colours.
TWP: Iím sure youíve heard, but there was some recent unrest with the latest Believer re-release that you put out. Apparently, Kurt Bachman was pretty upset about the live tracks at the end of the album that you added. Personally, I love extra bonus tracks, but considering the extremely low quality of those tracks, I can understand why he may be upset. What happened in this situation and was there simply just a lack of communication between Retroactive and the band? Did Kurt ever try to contact you first to work things out or was his public announcement the first you heard about his displeasure?
MH: I was very grieved to hear of Kurt's comments. I can assure you Kurt did not contact me before his comments. I wish he had. I immediately contacted him to see how we could make this a win / win situation. I practically begged the band to be involved in the creation of the reissues. They liked the idea of bonus tracks. I sent Kurt a copy of the live tracks used before it ever went to press.
TWP: Will the situation with Believer change the way you approach future re-releases with bands?
MH: The situation with Believer is frustrating because I work hard to communicate with bands, enlist their preferences and thoughts, make sure they get paid, and give them artistic freedom with our reissues. Except for Believer, that model has served Retroactive well, and no other bands have had any complaints. That should tell you something.
Even more perplexing is the fact that these reissues have certainly helped revitalize the market for new Believer material since the band just happened to reform (is this right?) around the time of the reissues. These reissue have done nothing but help them. I wish they could see that. I am still willing to do whatever is possible to reconcile with the band. I told Kurt that as soon as we discussed this unresolved matter.
TWP: One thing I love about Retroactive more than labels that have tried the re-releasing thing in the past is that you put a lot of effort into making the re-releases actually worth buying. For one, you keep with the original artwork. Then you always make sure to include lyrics, many of the albums are re-mastered, there are bonus tracks on many of the albums, and some have even had enhanced features on the CDís. Why go through all this extra hassle? Do the sales of these albums actually justify all the extras?
MH: I think bonus tracks make a difference in sales. I don't sell more than 1000 units of anything, so the only difference will be in how fast it sells through. I just want people to get as much as they can for the price of the CD. There have been some poorly designed reissues in the past 10 years. We would like to think we work hard to exceed the originals in sound and artwork.
TWP: What excites you the most about being able to do what you do with Retroactive?
MH: It's hard to pick one thing. I am a music enthusiast. I love the music. Bringing back the classics is a total thrill. I want people to know what it was like to be a Christian metal band in the 80's and early 90's. It wasn't easy, and many of your favorite band sacrificed everything to reach out to the lost and hurting. I work with great bands that have put out worthy releases.
TWP: Obviously, you have a love for older metal. What are some of your favorite bands from yester-year and what are some of your favorite bands to listen to in todayís music?
MH: In addition to stuff reissued on Retroactive Records, I grew up on King's X (Out of the Silent Planet changed my world!!!), Crucified, Jesus Freaks, Mustard Seeds, Tourniquet, Bride, Messiah Prophet (I was a member of the fan club!!!), Vengeance (Human Sacrifice rules!!), Saint (blew me away!!!), Barren Cross, Altar Boys, The Choir, Vector, and Undercover.
Lately, I have been listening to a lot of different artists: Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, Buddy & Julie Miller, Demon Hunter, Alice Cooper (Brutal Planet is a must-have!!!), Lovedrug, Kutless, all the Fear Dark and Bombworks Records titles, Extol, Squad Five-O, and Green Day.
TWP: Do you have any final comments?
MH: I want to thank the fans for purchasing our releases. Check out our web site: http://www.retroactiverecords.cjb.net for new release information. If anyone knows how to reach the band Messiah, please let me know!