ROADRUNNER’S MONTE CONNER TALKS STONER ROCK
The Obelisk, a new metal blog run by JJ Koczan of the now defunct Metal Maniacs Magazine, recently published a fascinating interview with Roadrunner Records A&R-king Monte Conner on the subject of stoner rock. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the most famous and influential A&Rs in the history of metal, if not just for the interesting stoner rock subject matter then for the industry / label politics / A&R talk. Monte speaks all about his stoner rock heroes from Kyuss to Fu Manchu to Queens of the Stone Age, spends a good deal of time talking about why Roadrunner never ventured far into the stoner rock foray (Karma to Burn excepted — and he goes in depth about them, too), the current state of stoner rock, and why it’s never become a commercially viable genre. Take a quick look at some of the interview highlights after the jump.
The Obelisk: What do you think it is about the genre that never really caught on commercially? The music, by and large, is accessible.
Conner: It is by and large accessible and as I said, most of these bands have fairly accessible vocals. To be honest, I really think most of these bands tend to sound very similar. They all have the same kind of fuzzy guitar tones. The lyrical subject matter. Fu Manchu and Nebula sound alike — well, in the beginning they sounded alike, Nebula eventually branched out into something more alternative sounding. In the beginning they sounded alike. If you listen to a band like Roadsaw, it sounds like all the rest. I just think due to the lyrical subject matter and even the album covers and the guitar sound, it’s a limiting genre. I think these bands all tend to sound too similar. Of course, to me, Kyuss is the one band that stands out as completely unique from everything else. As much as I love Fu Manchu, there are plenty of other bands that can do the Fu Manchu sound — never as good, of course. I think it hasn’t caught on mainly because musically it’s limiting in terms of bands not really being able to expand on the formula. I guess you could call Wolfmother a stoner band in a way, and if you can, they definitely are the most successful stoner band of all time – the only one with a gold record. But if you look at Wolfmother, they also have this whole Led Zeppelin III acoustic side to them that these other stoner bands don’t have, so it’s no surprise that a band like that was able to break out. Because they’ve got another side to them that a band like Fu Manchu or Orange Goblin, Sleep, none of those bands had that.
The Obelisk: You could apply the same thing to The Sword, if maybe on a lesser scale.
Conner: The Sword are definitely a full-on stoner band, but for some reason, people just absolutely love that band and think they’re different than everything that’s come before them. I love The Sword and I can appreciate what The Sword does, but it kind of bears out my thoughts on stoner rock. As acclaimed as The Sword are — and Metallica takes them out on tour — and they’re just this band that’s loved by all kinds of big musicians, that’s a band that pops out 50,000 units. And yeah, 50,000 units is great for a label like Kemado, they can make money on that, but for a bigger label like Roadrunner, we wouldn’t be making money, and I don’t want to just sound like some callous record company asshole, but we are a record company and we are in business to make a profit and it’s my job to keep the commerce in mind while defending the art. We want to sign cool bands, but we also need to sign cool bands that are gonna help keep the lights on, because ultimately this is a business. A band like The Sword, cool as they are, it’s not really the right business for a label like Roadrunner. And it sucks to say that, because I’d love to work with The Sword. I’m a big fan of stoner rock, this just isn’t the right place for that kind of music. I think it would have been perfect to sign Queens because they were a stoner band and they were able to branch into something bigger. That would have been perfect for a label like Roadrunner.
Check out the interview at The Obelisk for a great read. My only problem with it is that there’s one very notable omission: Mastodon. You could easily argue that Mastodon aren’t true stoner rock, but let’s not get caught up in micro-genre pigeonholing; they absolutely have stoner rock elements and appeal to stoner rock fans. Will Mastodon be the stoner rock band who break the genre through to the masses? I guess the verdict’s still out on that one.