IKILLYA’S JASON LEKBERG: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
You’re probably already familiar with IKILLYA; “Godsize” appeared on Volume 2 of our free NYC Sucks compilation and we premiered “… And Hell Followed With Him” right here on MS (now streamable via Bandcamp). What you probably didn’t know is that Jason Lekberg, the band’s founder and creative driving force, is something of a professional heavy metal mogul: at his former job with Epic Records he handled digital marketing for Lamb of God, Mudvayne, Hellyeah and others, and he’s now responsible for a whole host of heavy artists at Eleven Seven Music / Tenth Street Entertainment.
In the interest of full disclosure, Jason and I are bros; we’ve known each other since the very earliest days of MetalSucks and pound beers at New York City’s shittiest shithole bars on a regular basis (truth be told, not regularly enough). So rather than ask the same old generic band interview questions whose answers I already know about IKILLYA’s new album Recon — which, thankfully, I don’t have to exaggerate in the slightest when I tell Jason how fucking good I think it is — I decided to toss him some toughies about how his day job in the music industry does or doesn’t cause a conflict of interest with his goals for his band, what he thinks about the current dismal state of the music biz, and why so many members have passed through IKILLYA’s ranks. Our email chat, after the jump.
First, let’s talk about Recon. What was the recording process like for the album? What were you trying to accomplish, and do you think you were successful at it?
Recon has been a long time coming. The whole process took over a year. We were very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Hatebreed, This or the Apocalypse) but his schedule and our cash flow put us on a long cycle. We tracked three songs, two that made the album and one that didn’t, with he and Paul Suarez (Lamb of God, Avenged Sevenfold) at Spin Studios back in January of 2010. We tracked the other six at Nova Studios with Armando Subero, and Manhattan Sound Recordings with Ryan Kelly (Opeth, Orbs) in September/October of 2010. Then we took it all back to Josh to mix, but he wasn’t available until February of 2011.
Our main goal was to make a record that captured our intensity and our sound, and honestly I don’t think I could be happier. Despite how long that process took, those four guys totally understood how to get our vision down and I think it sounds just as aggressive as we do live, which is about the best you can hope for. This is a recording I can die happy with, which I haven’t been able to say with anything else I’ve done so far.
I don’t really know where we fit in. A good friend of mine said the other day that we were his favorite old school metal band. It kind of threw me for a loop. I don’t think of us as old school. Our goal is to play music that we love that challenges us to grow as musicians. The current trends don’t really have a place for us, even though I think there are many similar sounding bands out there; they just have either been around for a while, or they’re on the local level (I guess that would make us the “old school” band my friend referenced). At the end of the day I think it really comes down to the songs. If you’ve got songs that move people, then you can take that next step in your career. I prefer to see the landscape as through a car window, it’s always changing, and you welcome the change in scenery that marks progress on your journey.
IKILLYA has had a lot of lineup shifts over the years. Why has it been so damn hard to hold onto band members? How are things gelling with the newest lineup?
I’ve been asking myself that for six years. I honestly don’t know the answer. I’ve thought that it was because we approach metal from a non-traditional angle and people who were more straight ahead didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve thought that it was a product of this city having so many options that guitar players don’t feel the need to join an existing project. I’ve more than once said that every band in NYC is missing someone so we should all get together in a room, put all the band names in a hat, pull out half, and have those bands break up on the spot so we can repopulate the remaining half. Hell, it may be that the core members of this band are 100% business, and lots of metal musicians really just want to get fucked up and have a good time. I don’t know. What I do know is that the three of us now are the right three [IKILLYA are currently without a full-time drummer. -Ed.]. Maybe someday we’ll find that right drummer and we won’t have to think about it anymore. For now, we’re lucky to have the amazing, talented hired guns we do.
You have a “day job” in the music industry. Do you find it hard at times to balance what you do at your job and what you do with your band? I don’t mean from a time standpoint — every musician has that. I mean that surely you must have to restrain yourself from taking smack about bands you work for that you don’t like, and it must at times feel weird to have your own band that you’re trying to break in when you’re right there in a room with all the people who are responsible for doing that. What I’m getting at is that it’d almost be easier from an artistic standpoint if you worked at Taco Bell or something.
I have found both challenges and benefits to my day job, but they’re not the ones you’d expect. Having worked at Epic and now at Eleven Seven, I’m not really working daily with people who would sign IKILLYA. Yes, I handled Lamb of God at Epic but they were signed in 2003, and Eleven Seven is primarily Hard Rock. I’d love to see them bring metal in, but at the moment it’s not there.
As you well know, I do have relationships with many of the A&R reps, managers and labels heads that would sign us, but I face a different problem there. Because this is my job, I want to remain professional so I often don’t even mention my band. When we finished Recon I did send it to everyone I know, but very few even responded. I don’t know why, but I have a few guesses. Maybe some of them are scared to listen because if they don’t like it they’ll feel awkward next time we have business. Some of them may have listened to it thinking it was just a fun side project. I’m sure some of them haven’t even processed that I’d be willing to leave my career for the chance to live in a van and try to “sell” music nowadays. For some of the people, I’m more valuable to them on this side of the desk. It’s also entirely possible that we suck and no one liked it. My point is that my job so far has actually impeded my ability to help IKILLYA in the traditional get-a-record-deal sense.
In a non-traditional sense, it’s my biggest asset. Five years ago when I decided to quit my former job and work my way into the music industry it was because I was very aware of the unlikely chance that someone was actually going to pay me to scream at things. My passion for music is so great that I wanted to be a part of the process, one way or another. If it can’t be me, at least I can help other artists. And honestly, after a lifetime of choices revolving around being a professional musician, I was not ready to face the fact that I might have failed in that quest. I’m still not. Working in the bowel of the beast though has taught me so much that I’m able to make better choices for IKILLYA, and in turn educate the rest of the band so that we avoid many of the standard pitfalls. Additionally, it’s allowed me to make relationships that have helped us. I have the knowledge of how to be a successful band and I have access to the publicists, radio teams, etc to help me achieve that, even without a label. The money to hire them is another problem altogether, but I’ll get to that two questions down.
If no one is moved to work with IKILLYA in the traditional sense, then I’m going to work this the old fashioned way. The way I see it, as a band you’re always one of three things: 1) people love you and your career moves forward; 2) no one understands your art until after you’re dead; or 3) you suck. No matter which one you are, if you’re a true musician, the only choice is to push on.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry? Has the Internet enabled the good bands who in the past wouldn’t have had access to distribution to find their way up, or has it fucked us all over by changing the structure of finance in the industry?
The internet is undeniably a disruptive technology, and not just for music, but like a fire in a forest of pine trees, only that heat can cause the seed pod to open so that new trees can grow. My biggest concern with the internet (coupled with the proliferation of cheap recording software) is that the quality control mechanisms are all but gone. I don’t believe a band like Guns N Roses would have happened today. They formed out of the ashes of other bands that had dysfunctions. In today’s times, if your bassist doesn’t come to practice, the guitar player just plays his parts and no one listening online will ever know the difference. What should happen is that the extremely talented drummer should quit and find other talented, driven musicians like him. That natural selection process guides the most talented, most driven musicians together, which is how we get amazing bands full of creative ideas and stellar players/writers. That’s less likely to happen now. However, if it does, they are definitely easier to find.
From a financial standpoint, it’s not the technology that has caused the problem. It’s the greed, pride and corruption of the music industry coupled with the selfishness of the average human. The horrible actions of some in the industry give those who don’t want to pay for music all the excuse they need to not do so, and many more people just enough reason to not feel too guilty. I simply don’t believe that anyone who illegally downloads music is unaware of the consequences that has on musicians. The fact that labels can’t make the money they need to survive is also largely due to gross overheads caused by old school executives that would rather ride it out as is until retirement, even if the music dies on the way, and the simple lack of action on the majors’ part to embrace new technology when it was presented. It’s a seriously fucked up situation with plenty of blame to go around.
So how is the industry now? Dying. A slow painful death. You will continue to see major labels combine until they are primarily a legacy catalog division with one front facing label that signs only the biggest pop bands. Indies will continue to go out of business, and quality music as we know it will become more and more scarce. That is unless we all make the choice to save it. And by we, I mean the listener and the record executive.
Do record labels still have a place in the modern music landscape?
Given everything I just wrote, this is going to sound strange, but yes. Two questions up I talked about how I am currently navigating the industry with IKILLYA on my own. The problem is that I can only get so far with the limited money that I have. And if I didn’t have the relationships I do, even less progress would be possible. At its most basic, a label’s job is to be a bank and a marketing company. That will never change, nor will it ever become less valuable. I don’t even need to explain the role of bank. The value of a marketing company is in their expertise and their connections. Not only having the relationships that allow a band to be promoted and exposed to the public, and anyone who could license their music or help their career, but most importantly, knowing what to do with those options as they are presented. Most musicians don’t have that expertise, and if they do, they’re me and they have the problems of the first half of my answer to the question two above this one.
Is the CD a dead format?
I wouldn’t say that the CD is dead, but it’s definitely collecting a pension. There are a large number of people who still prefer to buy their music in physical format, and I think there will continue to be people who want CDs for a long time to come. Although in actuality it’s not a huge number, there has been a resurgence of vinyl sales in the past few years. I believe that speaks to the fact that many people like to have physical objects to represent music they are passionate about. For many genres, especially metal, it’s more than just music. It’s a lifestyle. Living in a big city, where technology takes hold first, it’s easier to see the coming change, but I think it’s going to still be a little while before the middle age of society default to the cloud for their music. There is no denying it though, it’s coming.
Any plans to take IKILLYA on the road?
We’ve had lots of discussion about what the next step should be. I sat down with a good friend who is a very respected agent and asked his advice regarding touring as an unsigned artist. His advice was that it was not the right time. The touring industry took a big hit last year and the tours this year are far more conservative. An unknown band going out on a shoestring budget doesn’t have a high probability of success. We’re letting the music talk and if people respond positively to the right degree, we’re prepared to make the sacrifices necessary and hit the road. That being said, we’re playing every city that will have us within driving distance of NYC right now. I guess focusing on the music is a foreign idea right now, but having a different viewpoint is our comfort zone.
What are some of your favorite metal bands from in and around NYC?
I’m writing this at 4am Saturday morning after just having returned from seeing Hung and Resolution 15. It was a very exciting show. Not just because those bands killed it, but because the place was PACKED and many of the people there were in other bands. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s starting to feel like we might have a supportive scene building here. There are lots of great bands now. Aside from those two, there are Demilitia, Alekhine’s Gun, Ashes Within, Eyes of the Sun, Krystaleen, The Judas Syndrome, Turrigenous, Borgo Pass, Mutant Supremacy…. I could keep going. There is a lot of diversity, and you may not like the music of all of the bands but there is no lack of talent and genuinely good people. It’s an exciting time to be a band in NYC. Now if we only had a great, regular metal club.
Bottom photo by Kathy Mucciolo