Some people are destined to be involved in the music one way or another. Our passion is just that great for it. Marty Rytkonen has been into writing about music and promoting it for a very very long time. Starting out with Worm Gear in print, which moved to E-zine format much later on, he now manages Bindrune Records largely on his own. He has also written for the much reputed Metal Maniacs and, as you may have come to notice, writers from that magazine is a reoccurring theme for my music journalist/writer series. I’ve learned quite a bit about how the industry has changed over the years and he’s a great person to talk to regardless of whatever the topic at hand is. Please do enjoy the read.
Which passion came first for you, music or writing and how did you come into each?
Music has been at the forefront of everything for me since 1977. I guess the moment I saw Kiss on TV, I was hooked. I was 6. My Grandmother bought me my first Kiss album that year due to my persistent begging and it seems my fate was sealed. Writing came much later. Myself and three other friends created Worm Gear Zine in April of 1995. The whole concept was born out of some two page newsletter I received in the mail with one of my orders through some distro. I can't recall the name of it, but it was simply three sentence reviews with a logo for each band. I felt I could do a better job than that and convinced my accomplices that we should give it a try. Up until that point, I had no formal training, other than high school in which I was a mediocre student. BUT... Metal was subject matter that I was passionate about and still am, so that alone made the whole process fun to learn how to establish a style as we went along.
It must be vastly different starting up a print magazine back then than it is to do so today. What was one of your biggest challenges while getting your magazine idea realized? Did you get any good "breaks" that eventually encouraged you guys to keep going?
When we started Worm Gear, the Internet was JUST starting. I didn't even own a computer. All my reviews were hand written in a notebook and interviews were conducted through the mail. I would hand write questions and send them off to bands like Immolation and Sadus. Two weeks to a month later, the interviews would come back to me completed in the same hand written fashion. I would then go to a friend's house and type this massive amount of writing in. This was a huge challenge in itself. I remember staying up to all hours of the night writing to bands I appreciated. I think it's hard for a lot of the younger generation to imagine a world without the luxury of instant gratification. Here I go... Grandpa tells a tale! Haha. But it's true. Doing a magazine was difficult back then since the proper tools were hard to come by and expensive, but I wouldn't change it for the world. It was a lot of fun. Publishing is one of those fields that gets under your skin quickly, even though you are learning as you go, making every mistake along the way. It builds character. I would still be doing a proper magazine if I had someone elses' money to work with. The big break, I guess, was the almost instant positive feedback that started pouring in from the readers and the record label publicists as well. We earned a lot of respect quickly and we did so by not caving to label pressure. The promos started flooding in and it became easier getting in touch with the bands I wanted to feature.
It really sounds like a wonderful experience. It has its own charm as opposed to how things are today. Aside from the element of instant gratification, are there any noticeable differences between the magazine world today and back in the 90's?
Well I think today, like many things in the digital era, being a music critic has become disposable. Anyone can fire up a blog and call themselves a "journalist". Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great blogs and Ezines out there, but these days, people only skim reviews, or read the first few lines to get the overall idea. This makes it hard for people to find a relationship with a writer. I used to read Metal Maniacs back in the day, from cover to cover, for I respected the writers and found myself trusting their opinions as if I knew them. Today, people read less and download more. They don't need any direction, they can click-click and download whatever it is they were wondering about and make their own decisions. And it took a lot longer back in the 90's to get an issue together. BUT, there was a bigger sense of accomplishment when it was ready. Today, I could write 4 reviews, then post them instantly online.
That being said, do you think that reviews still hold a place of significance today? Is there even a point in trying during the age of instant downloading?
I run Bindrune Recordings, so other people's opinions still matter to me since I use positive reviews to promote my releases, so in that respect, yes! I still read reviews. I still want to buy magazines. I still care. I think the sad reality is that a lot of people really don't care as much and would rather hear for themselves. I could be way off of course, but this is how it feels to me. I think it's really sad that the days of connecting with a writer or particular magazine are gone. Or have deeply changed.
I think that the internet has changed the nature of magazines of all types. Shorter attention spans is a writer's main enemy. While we're on this topic, what made you decide to turn the magazine into a webzine and what was the transition like?
It felt weird and wrong to be honest. The deciding factor was purely financial. Worm Gear was a free newsprint magazine with a circulation of 10,000 issues. Towards the end, some advertisers didn't pay for their ads until eight months AFTER an issue came out. I needed the cash in hand to go to the printer or I wasn't going home with two pallets of magazines. Also, postage started to get a bit steep. I would send thousands of issues to distros like Relapse, Century Media, Full Moon Productions, Necropolis Records, and whoever else wanted them, and they would put an issue in every outgoing order for free to their customers. The costs started piling up and it was coming to a point where I would have needed to start charging for the magazine which I thought would hurt the overall purpose of it and make it a lot harder to move 10,000 issues. We would drive to the Milwaukee Metalfest every year and hand out, in person, 2000 to 3000 issues. It was a HUGE deal for us. Of course, Jack ran that into the ground and ruined a good thing, so that marketing strategy was removed from my equation. The website was initially created for spillover content that got cut from the magazine due to space restrictions. Then we started adding some new content to it to try to get it off the ground. Then it ended up being the only outlet Worm Gear had for survival.
So it seems like you regret the move despite it being necessary. I noticed that since the magazine was free, what was the main drive behind it? What motivated you guys other than pure passion for metal?
For me, that could have been enough. That and having the ad sales pay for itself, which it was for a while. More ads would have gotten us more revenue and, in theory, more money over the print costs to where we could have gotten paid something. That never happened. I was infinitely proud of Worm Gear. Up until then, I lead a pretty sheltered life and had a pretty small world. I felt like I was doing something good and connecting with a lot of people that actually gave a shit about what we had to say. It was a dream job and, yeah, I miss it dearly. I'm quite a tenacious person and to give up on something where I put so much creativity and work into, and in a lot of ways, discovered myself in it, it was a tough pill to swallow. Still is. But in all honesty, the way the print market is going, the business (or lack thereof) model that drove Worm Gear was destined to fail. This made it a lot easier to take over the years.
That's understandable. During your time as a writer, I'm sure doing your first interview must have been daunting. Once moving past that hurdle, is there one interview that you are particularly proud of till this day?
Even through to the end, I was super nervous doing interviews. I'd have to slam a few beers waiting for the phone to ring. Thinking back, between Worm Gear and my work for Metal Maniacs, I have interviewed a lot of interesting folks. Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity), Abbath (Immortal), Peter (Hypocrisy), Jon Nodtveidt (Dissection), King Fowley (Deceased.... one of my fave interviews for sure), Autopsy, Sadus, At The Gates and hundreds of great underground bands. The Immortal interview for Maniacs is probably one I get the most compliments on over the years due to all the trouble I had getting him on the phone, and I documented it in the intro to the piece in a humorous way. It gets hard to remember specifics as the years bleed together.
That much is true. I still feel nervous before I do one myself and if I'm doing it right, I don't think that will change. You just mentioned writing for Metal Maniacs which brings me to another question. What other publications have you written for and still do? Was it easier for you becoming a contributor to those magazines being already in the business as it was?
Metal Maniacs was the only other mag I've written for. I may have done a couple reviews for Oakenthrone, but memory/details escapes me. Writing for Maniacs was VERY intimidating as I always looked up to that publication and its writers. When Jeff called me and asked if I was interested, I thought he was kidding. Those are definitely some of the best years of my writing "career". It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the craft from working under his editing talents. I guess it was easier to be a contributor because Worm Gear was essentially my resume.
Did your interest in writing ever stray from the music business or scenes? What writers in particular were great proponents in the development of your writing style and how would you personally describe your style? If you do not write on the side, do you have any other creative outlets?
My writing interest never bloomed into anything other than music related. I would NEVER have the patience or talent to write a book, nor would I have a clue as what to write about. I guess my style has always attempted to be conversational with a humorous flair when it suited me. I'm not a writer, rather a desperate word sculptor. Writers that I've always looked up to, ended up being the Maniacs staff in which I was a part of. Jeff Wagner, S. Craig Zahler, Chris "Professor Black" Maycock, Spider, Isten mag (Finland). Those are a few. Other creative outlets? I am a FIERCE scrapbooker... haha. No. I play guitar in a few bands (The Glorious Dead - old styled death metal) and work late into the night on Bindrune Recordings.
Before I get into Bindrune Recordings, I am curious as to what attracts you to metal overall and how has that changed over the years. Any sub-genres that you are particularly fond of and why? What music were you raised around despite getting into metal at such a young age and were you always left alone to foster your obsession for metal?
My father was/is a huge country fan, so I was around that a lot. Truck driving songs, outlaw/old country. I'm not completely sure about the overall attraction to metal, other than it seems to resonate at a similar frequency that I'm on. It clicks and sounds right. Kiss was my gateway into harder bands, but being so young when I first saw them on the TV, the theatrics of it played a big part in opening my eyes. Of course, theatrics more or less died for me as I've grown older, but the music has something for everyone in it. Pure brutality for the sake of making a statement seems a bit weak these days. I tend to gravitate towards the more atmospheric or old death metal which has many evil and airy qualities about it. As far as sub-genres are concerned, I also listen to bands like Fields of the Nephilim, Dead Can Dance, Skinny Puppy, some punk/hardcore, some gothic... again... the moody stuff often sits well with me. I find it interesting in talking to friends and others who grew up listening to metal, in hearing about how their parents dealt with a musical style that I'm sure left them feeling alienated from their own children. Some took their sons' Kiss albums away from them, forbidding them to listen to certain bands. Thankfully, my folks never did that. They knew the stuff I was into was different and bad to a lot of people, but they also knew their son well enough to trust me. I'm sure they hoped I would outgrow it. I think they still hope that, haha, but they never discouraged anything when it came to music. Bitching about it and discouraging it are two different things of course! HA
Very true! So what events lead to the birth of Bindrune Recordings? What is your main concern or purpose with this record label? Would say it was a relatively natural progression from magazine to record label for you?
It seemed like I was always looking at the backside of the music machine from a writers standpoint, but I still felt like a part of it. All the years of dealing with labels and growing up respecting certain labels, it was probably inevitable Bindrune would take shape. It started as a way that myself and my co-editor for Worm Gear, Scott Candey, could work on something together again that is a bit different from the mag, yet both of us are still very passionate about. We were long time friends and stayed at it even after he moved out west. Our main purpose was to work with bands in the black, dark and doom metal realms that weren't afraid to try new things. Scott is no longer a part of the label, but we're still friends and I feel I am carrying on with our initial mission statement.
It must be grueling work going at it alone. Are you currently looking for a partner to help relieve some of the burden off of your shoulders? After all these years, what makes it all worth it to you at the end of the day? Also, what inspired the name?
There is a lot of work to be done. I have friends that do help out with mail-outs should I ask for it. Recently, I have been working with Clawhammer PR to take some of the work off my plate and also I'm working with a web designer to give the site a much needed facelift and hopefully maintain it from here on out. I have MANY limitations when it comes to web design and I would rather put the countless hours of frustration into other label tasks. What makes it all worth it is getting that new release back from the plant and it turned out great. Even more rewarding is when someone buys it and the music has some sort of an impact on them. Also, I have become friends with many of the amazing and creative bands I work with. Being able to help out people like this and be a part of a creative community is very rewarding to me. The name: "A Bindrune is the fusing of multiple runes to reach a more specific end, by combining the individual runes powers more strength and clarity to be achieved to reach the desired intent." This seemed like the perfect description for our situation. Scott and myself lived in two different parts of the country, yet came together both financially and in concept to create something we hoped would be stronger and more focused. Bindrune has been slogging it out since 2000 and I think it is finally starting to turn some heads.
I think that you also sympathize a great deal with bands due to being in a few yourself. Speaking of which, what was it that inspired you to start playing the guitar and how has your experience been playing within bands thus far? Do you prefer playing live or recording in a studio?
I started playing guitar when I was 16 I guess, which was one more way for the metal lust to further infect me. I can hold my own with the instrument, but I was never dedicated when it came to practicing scales or learning the proper ways of going about things. I was never interested in learning other peoples music either. Eventually I did, but I'd much rather work on original songs. Being in a band situation is like my poker night every week. It's fun to get together and revel in the cathartic release that is this type of music. Destroy what little hearing I have left. I have played live in the past and there is some interest from the guys in The Glorious Dead to play out some when we're ready, but I really dislike it. I've never been comfortable in front of a crowd, but I'm not about to say no to two or three other guys in the band if they want to do it. I prefer writing and recording.
Being in a band is a great bonding experience when done right I've noticed. Has your work in Worm Gear and/or Bindrune Records lead to frequent, or even infrequent, travel on a national and/or international level?
Worm Gear took me to the Milwaukee Metalfest every year, but most of my traveling came out of my work for Metal Maniacs. They would fly me out east or wherever to cover festivals for the magazine. I never made it over to Wacken or anything like that. It seemed there was an offer to do so, but flying was never my strong suit and I chickened out. I regret that one for sure! For Bindrune, the internet is my travel, though I have gone to the last Heathen Crusade Fest in Minneapolis to set up a table. I really need to do that more... get the product right out in front of people at shows, but I feel a bit isolated being up in Northern Michigan, and having a child really makes me want to be a home body these days.
Yeah. Having a child does make things difficult. How has having a child affected your work ethic as far as the record label is concerned? Do you find it much more challenging than before?
My work ethic remains the same, though the times I have to work on the label tend to be during his naps, or after he goes to bed. I used to work on this stuff all weekend. Now it's a much smaller window, so I have to make sure when I get the time, I gotta be focused and efficient.
I've found that to be the best way as well. What do you foresee to be the future of all your currently active projects and, in closing, are there any last thoughts that you would like to leave our readers with?
With Bindrune, it is hard to say. I've put a lot into this label and truly believe in the quality of the music and bands I have released. I know the music market and and the economy is volatile to say the least, but I feel there is a good chance this label possesses the heart and strength to survive. This has been an amazing year thus far and like I said, more folks are beginning to take notice, so we shall see with fingers crossed! As far as writing goes... who knows! I still love to do it and I have the blog for that purpose, but I have a lot less time to casually write. Perhaps I'll break down and write for a publication at some point, but at the end of the day, I have much to do for the label and hope to see that through till the end! In closing, I just want to extend a hearty "thanks" to everyone out there who has followed my endeavors over the years. It surprises me that there were people who kept tabs on my writing and still contact me with their appreciation. It truly means a lot and I feel honored that I could help in some way. And thanks to you Sarah for taking the time to research and offer a platform for this old man to spew for a while.
It was a pleasure getting to know you via this interview, Marty. Truly learned quite a bit as well. I have nothing but the best of wishes for your record label and I will be shadowing it as well.