I met bassist and vocalist Tommy Stewart at Maryland Doomfest back in the carefree pre-COVID days of 2019, where we chatted about his new-ish record label, his long history of musical projects, and life in sunny Georgia (read the Alternative Control interview here).
It's been exciting to see Black Doomba Records grow, making the small world of underground doom metal even smaller with each signing and show. Check out what he has to say about promoting music, building a network, and more. Plus, have a listen to the upcoming Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf album Doomsday Deferred here -- out on September 3rd!
As I've said on Alternative Control, you are a heavy metal lifer. Can you give our readers an overview of your career in music?
I want to say right away that I appreciate you having me here! I Started playing music at a very young age, jumping through several instruments and finally playing in bands in the late 70's. One of those bands from '79 morphed into Hallows Eve who were picked up by Metal Blade, quickly. We played our first show the same day of our first album release and most bands can't say that one! Second show forward we went straight to doing tour dates with Slayer, Nasty Savage, and almost every one from the time for a few years and released several albums.
Eventually we got to the 2000s and, after another round of Hallows Eve, I decided to have a change from the regular band journey. I put together my own studio, explored other styles of metal other than thrash and began releasing back to back albums such as Bludy Gyres, Negative Wall, and eventually decided I'd like to try some unexplored ideas that would lead to the experiment of Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf. I often get asked why the style changes. I usually answer that I have many ideas to express, I can do many things, and not just one trick.
How has promotion been going for the upcoming Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf album Doomsday Deferred?
Fantastic! I have to write about three things here. One is the incredible job C-Squared is doing as the promo company I use, especially Curtis Dewar and Gaia Guarda when it comes to working with me on a daily basis. A promotion plan was worked out for a good 6 months beforehand with Monica Strut as my band coach, I really resonated with her as she is a determined musician as well.
The 3-month pre-sale was a series of three singles and videos released to create a journey for an audience. And I made sure the physical album was packed with extras such as a 7" single, poster, and fun stuff. Ultimately, I hope to create a worthwhile experience for people! Of course it goes back to the creation of the album, the music itself, which was very intense and personal for me this time. I've been in awe and quite happy to have found my niche audience that did respond well to the new album.
I have to ask about the song "Two Trog Yomp" that AltCtrl premiered -- what is a "trog" in the song? My cat is named Trogdor, Trog for short, so I thought of her when I first read the title lol.
I just knew I would be asked to explain myself! Okay, first let me explain that when I write lyrics to express what goes on in my head, I may choose words that just sound interesting or I may even make them up. So the title is implying that my thought process is an awkward experience, full of fragmented thoughts, ideas zipping around randomly. There's usually at least 2 ideas at a time in there, and as awkward as a troglodyte, I 'yomp' through life. I guess yomping is how I would describe the mind dance for me. I think a lot of people can relate to being overwhelmed in your mind and time insisting you move forward anyway.
Okay, back to business! I know you're working with our friends at C Squared Music to promote the album. What do you look for in a PR company, and what do you feel makes a campaign successful?
When I choose to work with anybody it's important to me to actually like what they're doing and to like them personally. To work with people through a project, I prefer to enjoy their interaction with me because I'll be working with them in an intense way and usually on several projects. I also look at their track record, I research what they've done and who they are affiliated with, and have probably watched what they've been doing for a while. Team settled, I feel a successful campaign starts with finding out who your audience is first. Middle aged men with beards who like beer and have IT day jobs and watch Godzilla? Who are your people? You have to have a target to send your promo out to in order to be effective. I think the next step involves goals and schedules. Personally, for my band, it is a series of singles and videos leading up to the big release days and I think this is effective for taking your found audience on an interesting journey. The fans who stay on the journey with you are taking the ride with you, they become a part of it, the music and overall thing, the monster you've created, and it's all coming to life for them as well as yourself, the artist.
I heard you talking on the Zach Moonshine podcast about starting your label Black Doomba Records. From a business perspective, what are the benefits of starting a record label rather than just self-releasing?
When I decided to do my own "dyerwulf" project, and got past the Game of Thrones-inspired name, I had to make it real. So I did a demo album, Clef Doom, which had some songs but also a collection of ideas. I sent around to labels and got no responses, zilch, ignored. Fine, it's too weird for them, I thought, I'll put it out myself -- which I knew was not going to be so great.
Then I got the idea that if I could create a small label, and here's the benefit, in which the bands were like styled, like minded, on social media and touring out of state regularly to a realistic degree such as within a 4 to 12 hour drive of each other for show swapping purposes, that a network could be created in which a possibly tight knit group of bands could help each other. They could share each other's posts, gig swap, and basically become an interactive family of bands to lift each other to a next plateau. And, hey, if I organize this well enough, my band gets a leg up too! The end result and take away? If you help other people, they will probably help you. Remember that one.
Tell me about some of the other bands Black Doomba works with. What releases do you guys have coming up?
I'm excited to share them! I have releases in que right now. I try to have them come out no closer than 2 to 3 months apart so their pre-promotion periods don't overlap too much and I can give them 100% focus! My goal is to help them, not just toss it out there. The next release is Grave Next Door from Michigan, and shortly after it looks like MNRVA from Columbia SC. New recordings are being done by Joplin's Gravehuffer, HolyRoller from North Carolina who enter the studio in September, and Dayglo Mourning is scheduled to do another one.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting a record label?
Kind of the same as a band. You need to define what you are about, then plan, plan, plan. Also, in my experience, get ready to make mistakes and recognize those mistakes are your teachers. Just correct them, learn, and keep doing it. And thirdly, there is no certain way to do it. For instance my contracts are simple and keep them that way but I've changed the model, modified it repeatedly, to find what works within my label. I think it's good to be aware of what others do, but you'll have to hone it down to what works for you.
You also run a recording studio, Blue Ogre Noise Lab. How long have you been doing that and how did you get the studio started?
I started being more heavily involved in the recordings of my bands than the other members since 1980, from reel to reel and 2 inch tape to now. But I decided I really enjoyed the digital age and could work well with it so I went through ProTools school (via ProMedia), set up a studio and began letting it be known I would produce albums. I like recording, mixing, and editing as much as any aspect of being in the music biz, maybe more.
How has the pandemic affected your music and business?
I produced 6 albums in 2019, but 2020 kinda slowed me down for having clients. That's okay, that's when I made my album! It works out. So that's what I did. I holed up like a hermit and recorded my album in almost complete isolation. In my opinion that was very good for the feel of that album. The studio ended up with no clients, I even declined some because I didn't want the exposure. I slowed the label down and told everyone to hang on till 2022 for releases. But during that time prepare. Get your photos professionally done, make your videos, record your albums and plan. Here it is 2021 and everybody is coming back into motion. I don't know anything and have no crystal ball, of course, but I don't plan on slowing down like that again, but rather adapt to whatever the climate is and keep moving.
And how are you feeling about tour plans this fall -- especially after the loss of Eric Wagner from COVID?
That was tragic and I think struck a real chord for people. We're going on tour, but with respect to several ideas in mind. Most of the shows we're playing are in smaller towns and suburbs, we think there will simply be less people at the shows for fall. I didn't book in larger cities or shows on purpose. The only exception is the Maryland DoomFest on Halloween week, which I'll be at vending and as a sponsor in addition to playing. We anticipate some shows may cancel and that's okay with us, we'll simply reschedule for a later date. Right now I'm booked from October to as far out as March. We're going to make a go of it. All the bands I've booked together are vaxxed, we can mask except while onstage for vocal performance reasons, and we'll keep spacing. We'll keep an open mind and be respectful of each situation as it happens. It's time to be mindful, careful, respectful, but try as well.
Preorder Doomsday Deferred on bandcamp and follow Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf on Spotify.
To learn more about budgeting, band finances, and more, order Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials in paperback and ebook formats: https://amzn.to/3lCsFdq
And don't forget to follow Alternative Control and Metalhead Money's 2021 coverage playlist on Spotify!