These Celtic Frost Sweatshirts Could Change the Way You Feel About Bootleg Merch
Back in May, we dug a into a presence metal fans are all aware of at shows and on the internet: bootleg band merchandise. It’s an instinctive reaction to think “bootleg merch is bad, official band merch is good,” but there are complexities to that from the bands’ ability to turn a profit to the rise in alternative fashion-meets-band-merch brands and Etsy makers in recent years. Well, prepare for things to get a little more complicated.
We found Forever Street Metal Bitch and its designer, Anna Bryant, through these recreations of Cold Lake-era Celtic Frost sweatshirts. Touring the rest of the FSMB site, one finds highlighter-hued Sacrilege and Hellhammer tees, ombre rainbow Sepultura sweatshirts, and Manowar sweatshorts. There is also, in the "General Information" section of the site, this explanation: "This isn't for money, as I am just a fan of old school punk and heavy metal. I want to support all bands instead of taking away any profit."
It's immediately apparent that the FSMB designs are the DIY work of a fan and not licensed merchandise. That would contradict Bryant's mission statement, then, wouldn't it? Maybe not. Speaking with this one-of-a-kind-item designer could possibly change even the most staunch bootleg hater’s mind, or at least offer a new perspective. What happens when a "bootlegger" is a die-hard metal fanatic who doesn't care about profit and creates for the art of creating and the love of her favorite bands? Or when the bands she's branding Gildans with are no longer around making their own merch? Or when record labels are cannibalizing the chance for bands to really profit, anyway, with their own red tape? This issue is actually not as black and white as it may have once seemed — there might even be room for a little neon.
How did this line of products all start? Where did the idea come from and why?
Well, I've been doing it since December 2015. I always made custom shirts I couldn't find anywhere for myself. I had this amazing Warlock crew-neck made that Doro had [worn] in the ‘80s in this picture of her, and a Sodom hat like Tom Angelripper wore in an ‘80s interview. People asked me where I got them all the time. Plus, being into the underground metal I'm into, there's not exactly accessible merch. And if it is available...I don't know many kids who really get into officially licensed merch because the aesthetic is probably off. Anyways, in 2015, I made a custom Sadistik Exekution shirt for a guy I was seeing, and people wanted it. So I was like, fuck it, I'll do it. And I put it and a couple other designs my friend, John Hayes, did [online]...and before I knew it I had hundreds of orders. The rest is history.
Why this recent aesthetic that’s on your site, with the neon color palette?
All my other releases have all been black shirts. It's what you expect. But see, there are actual trends in the underground metal bootleg scene. They all kind of have a look to them. And it's just like all the original logos completely redone on Photoshop...and I don't want to bash people doing that, I have bought them. I love them. But for myself I was like...no one needs more of that. They got that covered.
I think the ‘80s was a really goofy time for music — heavy metal in particular. That's what I love so much about it. So instead of doing what record labels try to do with albums by "remastering" them as if it's going to make them better — change the album art to ruin it even more — I took five steps back. Maybe these bands wouldn't have neon shirts, but it's kind of a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the ‘80s and everything that encompasses that era and makes it so great as a whole. It's never gonna be that fresh and vulnerable again. I'm doing the best I can with what I got. I don't expect everyone to "get it.”
The designs in particular that caught our attention at Invisible Oranges were the UH! and HEY! Celtic Frost Cold Lake sweatshirts. Can you tell me how those came about?
Well, my favorite shirts to release are ones I think are gonna piss off mainstream heavy metal bros...I love the idea of glam-era early Pantera; Bulldozer released a shitty techno dance album in the early ‘90s...Hell, let’s even reference classic rock n’ rollers Kiss making their disco album Dynasty. This will be the second Cold Lake-era Celtic Frost shirt I have released. (The first one was amazing. Probably still my favorite shirt I've ever done. [The design is] by John Hayes.) This time, it's an actual bootleg from that era that is only possible to find for $300-plus on eBay once in a lifetime. Tom G. Warrior has said he hates that album, but in all reality, a lot of true underground metal fans love it. Maybe it's irony? I can't speak for everyone but...if you love metal and get nerdy about it, you wanna know the good, bad, and ugly. Say what you will about Cold Lake, but I would listen to it over any screamo "metal" band from now. Hell, I'd listen to it before I'd ever willingly listen to Mastodon. You either get it or you don't.
Can you elaborate a bit about what you write on your website, that you are not here to take profits from bands?
Well to start, a lot of the bands I'm making merch of aren't active or with any part of their original lineup. Therefore, you won't see may merch from them, period. But back to like I explained how [the line] happened — it was a fan thing. Let me put it to you this way. Go to a Slayer concert these days. The merch they have is like $45 and looks like a Hot Topic kid would wear it. Not an ‘80s thrash maniac.
The fact is, there is a huge market for heavy metal fans. The record companies or the bands thinking people wanna hear their "new songs," thinking it'll ever even come close to touching Slayer’s first three or four albums, [they’re] out of touch with what fans wanna see...I just want to give the people what they want. It's not so much the guys in the band themselves, but the record companies who take their profits, anyways. I've been around the American metal scene [since] I could start traveling. Sure, I may not be some 40-year-old dude who grew up in the better half of the ‘80s, but I have dedicated a portion of my life to the underground scene. I know enough people to know what people actually want to see. I am for the fans. I represent a fan. I'm not some record label trying to make money off bands. I go to the actual shows. I go to the fests. I've spent money I didn't have to fly or afford tickets.
I sometimes wonder if these record labels even care beyond the money. It's a shame bands listen to their record label managers that don't know what the shit they're talking about. If bands wanna go through me to organize their official merch, I'll be happy to work with them. I would even do it for free. And I bet I could give the band and the people what they want. Not because I'm cocky, but because I have dedicated my life to the heavy metal underground. I know the current people involved in the community who have kept it alive very well. It's all I have.
I've considered working for a label but never was given the opportunity and really wish I could help the bands. I have even worked with current bands who I love, giving them merch in exchange to let me print it. I just wanted to see them do good and keep the "scene" alive. Maybe it's not ‘80s or perfect, but it's all we have.
Your beliefs about this would explain your low prices, then. Are you just covering your supplies and work making these, basically?
I always gain a little bit of profit, but full disclosure: I'm poor. I actually had someone steal a couple thousand from my distro, and my friends know my heart is in this so I set up a GoFundMe and they helped me get my money back...I'm a horrible business person and I'm completely disorganized. It's kind of a mess outside of the orders and my OCD to try and make everyone happy. I like to keep my customer service at 100% and I always offer discounts or free shit if anyone is ever unsatisfied.
Beyond that...whatever. I can't tell you if I've ever made any [real money], and if I did it was probably a grand and the most money I will ever see and be happy with. I don't care. Money makes people suck anyways. I charge what I charge because these items aren't mass-produced. Just like any other small business owner would know. It costs more to make less. Small business 101. And if I did happen to be taking money away from any underground band, I would be happy to compensate or make an agreement with them. This isn't selfish. I can tell you that — but I guess you gotta trust I'm genuine and have a good heart.
How would you describe where your designs fit in among the band merch realm?
Well, like I was saying earlier, unfortunately, a lot of official merch these days sucks. It looks polished and cheesy and something that could be sold at Hot Topic. Unless it's Ratt's current touring merch. Have you seen their most recent tour shirt? Bands need to take notes. A lot of my friends flipped.
Why do you think Urban Outfitters sells $40 Metallica shirts that are rip-offs of ‘80s designs and current Metallica shirts look like they're a part of the TAPOUT line or Ed Hardy? Pay attention, people. Whoever’s running the show could probably take some advice from hipsters mimicking true heavy metal fans from the ‘80s at the rate we’re going. You wouldn't be able to find cool shirts if it weren't for the current bootleggers or getting your hands on old merch that's usually very expensive. And I don't think anyone wants to be known as a bootlegger, but it happens because it's just too much work going through record companies with licensing rights and all that horse shit. Wish I could call up Kerry King and be like "Hey, so how do you feel about selling Show No Mercy-inspired shirts?” It's not like that. I want nothing more than to release licensed shirts and help out bands, but the record companies need their money. So let them have it, I guess.
Your items make a case for DIY items having their place in the metal merch world alongside what's officially produced by the bands. What do you think DIY designs contribute?
My friend Carrie said it to me best: "Bootlegs have always been apart of heavy metal culture." Well, as long as we've been alive. Trust me, it wasn't easy to find a Venom or Bathory shirt even 10 years ago. You ordered them from eBay and got them in from somewhere in Europe four months later after you assumed it got lost in the mail. And they were always bootlegs. I even used to hand paint my own metal patches because they weren't being sold. I guess it used to be accessibility. Now it might be something different.
I would hate to say bootlegs are trending right now, but they kind of are. Because metal is cool again. It's everything that comes along with social media impacting everything. I'm not gonna cry about it. Whatever, everything is shitty, anyways, and it'll never be 1986 again and frankly, I can't afford the $300 original W.A.S.P. shirt some quirky girl is selling on her etsy shop, so I'll make my own. If the bands and record companies start licensing shirts that are badass, I promise you I would be the first in line to buy them and tell everyone who follows me "Holy shit! Go buy this!"
What’s the response been like to your designs?
The neon designs were a big risk. I thought for sure I would have some 30-year-old grown man yelling at me cause I'm not "trve kvlt" on a social media platform. I'm kind of sad I didn't [get that]. I feel like when people get mad I've really done something. But no, everyone is kind of flipping their shit and I think they "get it.” Which is refreshing. I am getting tired of having to explain my tongue-in-cheek take on things in general. This isn't supposed to be trve kvlt. It's supposed to be grown men in makeup and spandex from the ‘80s — YES, even first wave black metal. YES, especially first wave black metal.
Personally, how do you feel these designs capture the sort of spirit of old school punk and metal?
Well, some of them are actual designs from that era. And they're just kind of goofy. Look at TShirtSlayer and eBay, at vintage metal shirts. A lot of them are fuckin’ ridiculous. It's nothing you can put into words. If you love the ‘80s, you know how silly it was. I kind of wanted to capture ‘80s fashion and babes from the ‘80s in general meets ‘80s metal.
I'll never say my shit is catered to women but I definitely feel like you can feel a feminine air to it. I don't want to be tough, or "true kvlt" or "brutal.” I just wanna be Bobbi Brown in the “Cherry Pie” video. It's okay to be in a male-dominated culture and still be feminine and sexy. And make neon shirts. In the ‘80s women did have a place in heavy metal. Whether you are singing for a band or in the bathroom letting some dumb asshole do coke off your tits, at least you're there. I want people to focus less on internet metal guys getting to decide on who is and isn't a poser via social media and more on the spirit of the ‘80s, which was partying and listening to heavy metal. I actually wish Paul Baloff would rise from his grave and kick all their sorry asses. Hopefully people will understand it. I'm a goofball. I walk around wearing white reeboks with scrunchy socks. I don't know what people expect from me. I have always been into ‘80s metal. Motley Crue to first wave black metal. If I was any other way, it wouldn't be authentic. I've created this ‘80s world I live in.