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The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley Says Farewell to Hydra Head Records

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“I went to Antarctica in late 2005 and took this picture for them while I was there. Man, I do not look good in a beard.”

In honor of Hydra Head’s recent battle against the forces of evil to stay alive, I’ll share a few favorite pieces from our past with them. (Background – we were on the label from about 2002 until they announced they were done releasing new music a few months ago.)

Holiday Gifts to HHR from the Austerity Program

Every year – about three days before Christmas — we’d start thinking about what to send them, and then we would finally get around to it by about March.  Here, in no order, are the ones that I remember:

  • A dead lamprey in a formaldehyde jar ordered from a scientific supply store.  This made label co-head Mark Thompson’s voice jump about two octaves in pinched disgust.  Apparently the veins inside were dyed different colors for “easy student identification” when dissecting, but I don’t know if they ever sliced it open to find out.
  • A clock that said “It’s time to Free ODB.”  (ODB was in jail at the time.)  Aaron Turner, the other guy in charge, liked it so much that he designed a clock logo for our band that we still use. Both of us in our band non-ironically love ODB, especially “Nigga Please.”
  • Custom license plate holders that say “I’m poorer because of The Austerity Program.” I guess this doesn’t seem so cute now that the label has gone belly-up. Oh well!
  • Walking sticks with swords inside of them and skull handles.  Yes, we spent the extra fifteen bucks for the ones where the eyes on the skull light up.
  • A hockey puck sized rare-earth magnet.  The shipping on the thing was really complicated (as it couldn’t be flown) and I had to call them up in advance and say “I don’t think that any of you have pacemakers, but if I’m wrong, you cannot pick this box up from the post office as you will die.”  About two days after ordering it, I realized that it’s a really bad idea to have a strong magnet sitting around a record label’s office, as their key assets are on magnetic tape and hard drives.  But I didn’t cancel the order.
  • Engraved throwing stars.  Weapons seemed like a good go-to plan when I wasn’t super inspired.

And, my favorite —

  • One dozen live hissing Madagascar cockroaches. Word was that this absolutely freaked one of the guys from another label they shared space with at the time, and he immediately left for the day. Oddly, a HHR employee found them cute and set up a little terrarium. The best part was that the company selling them claimed that at least one was “guaranteed to be pregnant.” Fucking yuk, dude! Who’s job was it so ensure that?

My dream gift? A shitty taxidermy of a squirrel and a custom plate for it that said “Bucky, Our Mascot – 2004 – 2006,” but I kept getting sniped out of eBay auctions in the final seconds.  This happened about a dozen times over the course of a few years.  Really weird.

Us Clowning

The Narc — Back when they used to smoke tons of weed, I sent an email to the DEA dripping with skittish paranoia claiming that they were “all on drugs” and so represented a threat to national security.  Now, I don’t think anything came of it.  But it was actually a pretty dick move, now that I think about it.  I was just so sure everyone involved – including the feds – would see if for the hilarious joke I was sure it was. “Justin thought it would be funny but no one else did” was a recurring theme in our relationship.  To my credit, I did promise the DOJ that if they did declare HHR enemy combatants in the war on drugs, we would replace the label’s logo to a picture of McGruff, the crime dog.

My bullshit bragging — When MetalSucks ran their “The Top 25 Modern Metal Guitarists” thing a while back, I started to send notes to HHR, my bandmate, Axl, Vince and probably Decibel magazine that I had gotten advanced word that I was the pick for second place.  No one believed me for a second (no one even believed that I believed it), but I irritated one of them enough that he complained to everyone that: “I hate how much of our time Justin wastes with his ‘jokes’.”  As Sgt. D would say: :(

[Justin is actually leaving out our favorite part of that story — which is that he requested that HHR take out an ad congratulating him in Guitar World magazine. -Ed.]

Bawls Guarana – There’s some energy drink called Bawls and I told the label and PR folk that Bawls wanted to sponsor us to do some shows like they were Scion. (The fake email I forwarded onto them all included the legit url to the Linked In profile of the company’s marketing director, a detail I was particularly proud of.) My “email back” said I thought we should do it and included “The train is leaving the station and, for once, we’re going to be on it.” Some of them bought it for a little bit (like 35 min), but I knew the game was up when Mark responded with “have them call me when it’s not April 1st.”  (It was April 1.)

Commercial suicide – When we put out our first EP, we made an announcement that our lawyer – Rizzo Wylde – was suing the shit out of HHR, claiming that they were not protecting artists by letting them take out patents on their songs. We did this because we find overly legalistic relationships HILARIOUS and it was absurd on the face of it. Wrong, on the second part anyway. We were sent hate mail by total strangers, couldn’t book shows in some places in the Northeast, and treated with genuine anger by people who loved HHR. To their credit, their attitude was “well, we thought it was kind of funny.”

More dumb press releases – For our full-length, I put out a press release issuing a sales challenge to Coalesce, who was also putting out a release on HHR on the same day. This was right around the time that 50 Cent challenged Kanye West, saying he would get out of the rap game if he didn’t sell as much with his new record. Anyway, 50 Cent lost, we lost (badly), and our resulting press release announced that we were also out of the rap game for good.  (Unlike 50 Cent, we have kept true to our word, so draw your own conclusions.)  And for our last thing, we wrote it from the label’s perspective saying they despised us for taking three years to release a four song EP.  By that point, they were just like “fine, whatever, we don’t care” but at least a few journalists got the joke.

Five amazing Hydra Head releases that you may have slept on

Barbaro – Feeding b/w Two Boozlers and A Poundstone 7” – Pretty much the perfect 7”. Two rippers, short and hard hitting. Sounds amazing for such a small record.

Oxbow – The Narcotic Story – worthy successor to “An Evil Heat”.  A really confounding mix of beauty, horror, rock, power and desperation.

Pelican – City of Echoes – The most concise expression of their instrumental power.  Had its detractors aaaand fuck ‘em.

Keelhaul — II – This and Knut’s Challenger were my favorite of the HHR ‘tech-ish’ stuff.  Pummeling but in a way that you want to keep going back to.  Drummer Will Scharf … sheesh.

Bergraven — Dödsvisioner – The longest ‘grower’ of my record collection.  Took me about two years until I finally started to get it.  Weird black metal, but not created with the intention to be weird.

I thought about writing a really serious eulogy about What Hydra Head Meant to Me but realized that would be a DOWNER and a few lists would be much more fun.  And, as you can see, I don’t think anyone had more fun being on this label than we did.

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