Blood of the Scribe #1: Interview with Brandon Geist of Revolver
Blood of the Scribe is a series in which prominent voices among the metal press are given a chance to discuss what they do and how it has affected their lives and the metal scene.
As a young headbanger, I held a deep-seated contempt for Metal Edge Magazine. Everything about this rag infuriated me—its flimsy paper, its terrible stock photos, its poor writing, its focus on either the biggest mainstream acts of this week or 10 years ago, its inclusion of Blink 182 and Three Doors Down as metal, everything. Every time I held an issue of this mass-produced shit-show in my hands, I felt like someone was spitting in my face. That’s right, pal, the last thing you want to do is shell out six bucks for me, but you’re at the airport and I have a hundred-word piece on Immolation buried somewhere within my pages, so pony up. Sucker.
Revolver Magazine was everything Metal Edge failed at being. It was glossy and colorful, thoroughly stylized, pointedly current and relevant. More so, it covered both underground and mainstream bands with equal levels of professionalism; Alien Ant Farm and Emperor, Sevendust and Opeth, all were equals in the pages of Revolver. Every issue had sections dedicated to news in Hardcore and Death/Black Metal specifically, giving these oft-ignored scenes the coverage they deserved. In its design and craft, it paved the way for magazines like Decibel and Zero Tolerance, high-quality trades taking a mature approach to extreme music.
Brandon Geist is the Editor-In-Chief of Revolver, and was for the bulk of its existence the Executive Editor. A long-time Coney Island dweller and a recent father, he is laid-back and incredibly well-versed in the magazine and music industry. Between bites of pulled pork and short diatribes on sexuality in music and his favorite band Neurosis, he takes the time to discuss his history as a heavy music fan and an editor at “The World’s Loudest Rock Magazine.”
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Tell me how you got into heavy music.
For me it was really two bands, Metallica and Nirvana. I got into this shit basically in the early '90s. My dad listened to Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater—some of the darker classic rock shit. But the first time I heard those two bands, it blew my mind. And then I threw myself into all that nineties alt-rock metal stuff, Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Korn, Life of Agony, and then really into the Roadrunner scene, Sepultura, Fear Factory, Obituary . . . a lot of the heavier industrial music, too, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry. But yeah, I’ve always been a child of the Nineties, and that’s the best rock music as far as I’m concerned. Alice In Chains, Soundgarden . . . it all has that perfect mix of heaviness and melody.
I feel like a lot of Nineties metal dudes always saw that classic metal as an antique. Did you?
Yeah, and I still do. I listen to Maiden, and it just doesn’t sound heavy enough. In the same way that I’m sure kids today growing up on Suicide Silence and such hear Metallica or Pantera and just hear classic rock. ‘That’s the music my dad listens to,’ you know. Even if they like it. Some of it’s just the production, too—it just doesn’t have that fucking punch to the gut, that heaviness. Especially if the first metal record you’d ever heard was Metallica’s Black Album, and it was for me.
Getting into heavy music, did you read a lot of music press?
I guess, not a lot but some. My local supermarket had Circus and Rip, and if there was a band I liked on the cover, I’d pick it up. But so much of that shit was so poorly written, so poorly printed, so poorly laid out. In fact, I think the thing that got me into the most music was the CD Music Clubs! Talk about a thing of the past, man. BMG and Columbia House, man—I would read those catalogs religiously. That’s where I’d see, ‘Oh, there’s a band called Life of Agony? Their album is called River Runs Red? I’m buying it.’ This was pre-Internet, so there was no way to be like, ‘Hmm, Let’s go by their MySpace and hear a song.’ So sometimes it was good, and sometimes it wasn’t.
Not to get you talking shit, but is there an album you can remember ordering on that basis and thinking, ‘Oh God, no way’?
Molly Hatchet! To this day, I see a Molly Hatchet record and think, ‘This cover looks amazing! And Molly Hatchet is an incredible band name.’ Nope.
Can you remember the first thing you wrote professionally about music? Or semi-professionally, college, whatever.
I think the first thing I wrote for someone else about heavy music was for my college paper. This was right as nu-metal was happening, and it really set me up for Revolver, because I was doing this series of pieces saying, ‘Hey, this is this new thing going on in heavy music.’ This was right after System of a Down came out, and I think that was my lead-in, a System of a Down headlining show at Irving Plaza. This was right off their first record. So yeah, I tried to sum up this movement and talked about some of the bands. From there, I started writing for this metal webzine called White Trash Devil. By then, I was really into the Hydra Head shit and the Relapse shit, so I was doing reviews of Botch and Keelhaul, all that shit. And that’s how I got involved in Revolver. I sent in some of my clips, and they liked it, so I started writing for Revolver.
How far along was Revolver when you joined on?
Well, we just celebrated our hundredth issue, so I was looking back at all the old issues, and I didn’t realize how early I joined, but I came on for Revolver #6.
What was on the cover of Revolver #6?
Oh, I don’t fucking know. Papa Roach or something.
What was Revolver like in its infancy?
Some people know this story, but Revolver started as a classic rock magazine. The first issue was Jim Morrison on the cover, and the second was Led Zeppelin on the cover. That’s where the name comes from—the Beatles album. It was going to be an American Mojo. But the first two issues sold so poorly that they were like, ‘Okay, we need to turn this around.’ And someone said, ‘You know what’s big is this nu-metal thing. Maybe we should revamp it to be a heavy metal/hard rock magazine.’ So that’s what they did. But while covering this genre that never got much respect, and still doesn’t, we decided, ‘Let’s cover these guys like Rolling Stone would cover a band. Let’s do it very professionally.’ I think that’s why Revolver has done so well over the years, why people gravitated towards it. It was someone saying, ‘This is credible music that is reasonably worth listening to and writing and reading about.’ And that’s why bands wanted to be in Revolver, because we’d treat them like real bands the way non-metal bands were treated by the rock press.
What, if anything, makes metal journalism harder, or at least different, than average rock journalism?
On a surface level, it shouldn’t be different, especially in Revolver’s case. In general, I think it tends to be a little fanboyish. I think that’s because metal fans are so passionate, and that the most passionate guys tend to become metal journalists, and so pieces will often be a lot more fawning and always trying to bring up the legendary aspects of the band. ‘Legendary’ has to be one of the most overused words, not just in Revolver, but in all of metal journalism. And it’s because a lot of these metal reporters have a sense of history, which is a good thing, but also consider these bands godly. We talk about metal bands as gods all the time. So yeah, metal journalism can get a little adulatory and idolatrous, and that’s something we try not to do. Part of treating bands seriously, I think, is sometimes giving them a hard time. Sometimes, that means showing people the seedy side, and not just glossing over the dark stuff, the really dark stuff. Sometimes that gets us in trouble, with some bands who aren’t used to having that story told.
Is there an issue in Revolver’s history that jumps out at you as a perfect issue?
For me, it would have to be the Pantera issue we did in 2005, one year after Dimebag got killed. It’s the thing I’m the most proud of. I’m a big fan of all that sludge metal stuff, Eyehategod and Down and Soilent Green, all that shit, which is all from New Orleans. And at the time, coincidentally, one year after Dimebag’s death, Katrina had just happened. I was executive editor, and it was decided that this would be a really cool piece, so I flew down to Nola. But we’d also been trying hard to get Phil Anselmo’s first interview since Dime’s death, and since I was going to be down there, he went for it. There couldn’t be two more real stories in metal at that time. So I wrote both of those for that issue. The New Orleans story, in particular, is one of the pieces I’m most proud of. The Anselmo story, going back, I wish I could’ve done some things a little differently, but to be honest, at the time I was scared to death!
The next day Jimmy Bower of Down told me, “Phil said the interview went really well. Sorry he was a little intense at first, but right beforehand, he told me, This motherfucker is getting intimidated.” The first thing he said to me wasn’t ‘Hello,’ it was, “Sit down right there. Do not go upstairs. Do not go anywhere else in my house.” It was intense, but I think he warmed up to me. I think he realized I was a real fan. I’d been to New Orleans twice before, both times to go to the House Of Shock, the haunted house he founded. I was asking him about Eibon, his black metal project with dudes from Satyricon and Darkthrone. So I think he realized that I was really into this shit and not just a guy there trying to get the cheap scoop. But yeah, man, that was definitely the issue.
I actually remember that issue. Didn’t that interview end with him sobbing “What the fuck? What the fuck?”
Yeah. One of the most intense quotes during that ending part—he was just sobbing about Dimebag, and then he’s like, “Sometimes it’s tough to be a man!”
Whose careers do you feel Revolver has really helped boost and launch over the years?
Definitely Lamb of God. We were there from the beginning. And Avenged Sevenfold. We were pretty much the only magazine to take that band seriously. And Slipknot, another band who the whole mainstream media didn’t take seriously. And Five Finger Death Punch has been that lately. We’ve been there from the very beginning—going through the issues recently, they were a band I realized we had done every kind of piece on. We did a Quick Fix, 25-word thing. Then a "Bands To Watch", then a single-page feature, 500 words, and then multipage features, and finally covers. Volbeat, we’ve been there since the beginning, at least in the States. But there are some underground bands too that we’ve really helped. Gojira, for sure. I was so stoked on them when I first heard From Mars to Sirius, before they were even signed to Prosthetic, that we came out of the gates with a multipage feature on them, something we’d almost never do with an unknown band. And I don’t think anyone would know who Landmine Marathon was if we didn’t feature them. They were a local Arizona death metal band, and front-woman Grace Perry has been on the cover. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that they would not be playing Metallica’s Orion Fest if it wasn’t for Revolver. And I mean, look, you know this, as a death metal fan, Revolver is my job, not my zine. I don’t like 85% of the stuff we cover. But the beauty of working at Revolver as opposed to working at a magazine covering really underground shit, is that I never feel like I’m preaching to the choir. I can turn kids onto this shit. I can turn a Slipknot fan on to Landmine Marathon, or Pig Destroyer, or Wolves In The Throne Room. Certain blogs and other magazines just preach to the choir. They tell fans of Wolves In The Throne Room about how great Wolves In The Throne Room are, rather than expanding their fan base.
Metal bands have always had an incredibly tenuous relationship with their own press—one minute they’re spilling their guts to a magazine they love, and the next they’re “at war with the media.” Why do you think that is?
Metal fans don’t like to admit this—they like to pretend the opposite is true—but metal is actually a very image-conscious style of music and a very image-conscious scene. Even more image conscious than a lot of other musicians and fans. We like to pretend we don’t care about how we dress and stuff, but metalheads are extremely image-conscious, and metal bands are too. That’s why they often feel like the image they wanted to have didn’t come forth. I mean, is there any scene, anything more image conscious than a black metal band? And especially in Revolver’s case, these bands are used to being covered by magazines or blogs that are run by fans, and so they get these leading questions to make them look cool. A lot of these blogs have these leads, ‘They’re the heaviest, scariest thing, they live in a cave,’ and they’re trying to perpetuate the myth rather than question it.
How do you think metal journalism has changed the most in the last, say, five or six years?
Well, I think a big part of it, largely due to the Internet, is that bands can reach their fans directly a lot more, which is a good thing, in a certain way. It can be a bad thing because, as I was just saying, the bands get to present what they want to present. The whole point of a metal magazine, and a music magazine, the way I see it, is that certain people love music so much that they want to know about the bands. They want to know about the process of writing this music, what in their lives drove the artists to make this music. They want to know about the emotion they feel with these songs—is that real? Where does it come from? That’s what magazines do, tell that story behind the music. But if it’s the band presenting what they want you to know, you don’t necessarily get that story. And if a band can interact directly with their fans, they have less of a reason to give a magazine access to the real story. And that makes me a little nervous. You want these bands to want to participate in this process, because otherwise, they’ll just present that myth, and the objective story might never be told. That used to be the way you reach your fans, outside of your tour or album release. And the other big change is that now every jerk-off thinks they can write. And that’s kind of a good thing, because everyone should have a chance to express their opinion. But I do think, not to sound like a snob, but that writing has been greatly devalued. You’d like to think that the better shit will rise to the top, but the Internet is driven by sensational stuff. You’ve seen it yourself, on the Revolver site—sometimes the least well-thought-out shit will get you the most attention. We’ll do really intense interviews and put them up online, and it’ll get a lot less hits than a cat jumping around to Cannibal Corpse. Though sometimes you feel like the writing equivalent to a cat jumping around to Cannibal Corpse gets put on a lot of blogs!
Unlike many of its competitors, Revolver came into existence while the Internet was already existent and fully-understood. Why do you think Revolver stuck around while other magazines perished, and do you ever worry that the digital will entirely swallow the print?
I think Revolver has stuck around for a number of reasons. One is that we understand that metal fans buy CDs still. They buy vinyl. If you can make a product for them that’s somewhat collectible, they will collect it. They like the tangible. So Revolver has always tried to be more collectible than, say, a Circus or whatever. It’s not complicated: We do good stories and good photo shoots printed on good paper. For our hundredth issue, we’ve had people sending in photos of all hundred issues—or maybe 98, not the classic rock ones—which they’ve kept, because they are collectible. In terms of the digital consuming print, it’s definitely possible. I think people from the outside tend to think that the issue with print is all of these blogs, but the real issue with print is cost. Paper is more expensive. Distribution is more expensive. Every time gas prices go up, it hits the magazine business. How do magazines get anywhere? They’re thrown on trucks and driven there. Distributors keep shutting down. It’s not that people don’t want to buy it, but where do you even go to buy a magazine any more?
You order them online.
Exactly! Every issue, we get Twitter comments saying, “My local Borders shut down, the closest Barnes & Noble is 50 miles away—where do I buy Revolver?” It sucks. The audience is still there, but between distributors and cost of printing the magazine and getting it to them . . . And there’s also ad money. With ad money, we’re not competing with blogs, we’re competing with shit like Facebook. If Slayer’s putting out a new record, and they can buy a Facebook ad that intelligently targets everyone who likes Slayer and Slipknot on Facebook, why would you buy an ad in Revolver? But I’ve always said that the advantage with print is that you’re advertising to someone who is a proven consumer. This is someone who has tossed down 7 bucks to buy a magazine covering the style of music that your band plays. Chances are, on Facebook and blogs, you’re targeting someone who is going to download your album for free. Why not target the proven consumer instead of the possible pirates?
One of the first things you said to me when I started writing for Revolver was that you need to stop being a fan to write good pieces. It was incredibly important for me. Has there ever been a moment where you’ve said, “Fuck all this,” or have you remained a fan through and through?
Yeah. I’ve never stopped being a fan. What I was saying is that when you’re covering a band, you need to drop that fan attitude to ask those tough questions and get the real story. You’re there to look past the myth. The reality is very different from that. And hey, sometimes as a fan, I don’t want to know the truth. I want the illusion. But if you only want that illusion, don’t buy Revolver.
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Header photo by PunkWorldViews.com