A Ripple Conversation with Helmet Lady Records - Russell Mullen and Larry Gartley

How did you get started running an independent record label?

Larry and I both have a long love affair going with music, most particularly on vinyl. Eventually, we discovered so many albums that we would like to own and enjoy on wax that we decided to make that a reality both for us and other junkies.

What motivated you? Why here, why now?

The vinyl community has so many amazing people and I think our passion reached critical mass feeding off the energy and positivity flowing through that community every day. Sooner or later that passion was bound to get channeled into something deliciously creative, and suddenly Helmet Lady Records was born.

What’s your prior history in the music world?

First and foremost, Larry and I are avid vinyl collectors and music fans. Larry has been putting out music with his band Cosmic Shakedown for several years while my involvement has centered around live show, album and festival reviews.

What will be your first release?

Our first release will be available in Spring 2015. It will be a high quality, limited vinyl release of the album Poison Slows You Down by the Canadian atmospheric stoner doom band Hawkeyes. It’s a four track heavy, Lovecraftian madness of tone that we are very excited about. The lead track will be featured on an upcoming movie soundtrack and the entire album is an emotional mindbender of charred riffs and blackened vibes.

Any special projects planned?

We do have some tricks up our sleeve, but it’s all hush-hush right now!

Are you looking to tap into a particular local scene or were you aiming to capture a sound?

We certainly are working to tap the incredible music talent of Nashville and Buffalo, but we are dedicated to keeping things fairly diverse while staying on the heavy side of the pool. Helmet Lady is the first heavy label based in Nashville that I’m aware of and we are very proud of that. Indeed, Music City just got a bit darker.

Tell us about the label name and logo.

The Helmet Lady logo is an image of my first tattoo. It was designed by Atlanta-based tattoo artist Kurt Fagerland, and it’s an image we felt represented us appropriately. We are dedicated to expressing the elegance and beauty of heaviness through music and art, and Kurt did an incredible job portraying that in ink. He’s a beast.

There’s so much to learn about running a label, share with us some of the lessons you’re learning along the way.

The explosion in vinyl sales has created a huge backlog at the pressing plants, and any new release includes months of waiting. So, we learn patience every day! We also learned that this community is very serious about helping each other, and the amount of support we have received has been amazing. Daniel at Riding Easy has been an incredible source of inspiration, and having two friends who work at United Record Pressing has proven invaluable as well.

What changes do you see ahead for the music industry?

Obviously, the way consumers are purchasing music continues to evolve and vinyl sales have shown that fans really desire to connect more with their music and are assigning a lot more value to physical vinyl and gig posters. Consumers aren’t getting the same satisfaction with a download that they can get by actually attending a show and bringing home something to put on their shelf and/or their wall. I see that trend continuing for years to come.

We are a lot more interested in leveraging our knowledgeable friends at United to exploit the older technology to achieve the best sounding records possible than using newer technology. Lots of important nuances to be learned in that regard that can positively affect the listening experience.

What’s the biggest challenge facing you today as an independent label?

Our biggest challenge is getting the word out that we are here and releasing high quality music on vinyl. It’s a building process and we are here for the long haul, so it’s just an organic experience every day.

Seems like there are a lot of independent heavy labels emerging these days. What will you do to set yourself apart?

Our focus is on great sounding, aesthetically pleasing vinyl and art. Our die hard releases will all prominently feature high quality art prints as part of the package and explore that elegance and beauty of heavy like we mentioned before. You will see a diverse range of heavy music and heavy art and our identity will all flow around those two major components.

What do you look for in your bands?

Honestly, we boil it all down to the music. We ask ourselves if this is something we would be excited to own on vinyl and go from there. I mentioned diversity a few times, and that is also a big key for us. Ultimately, we would love for someone to be able to relax at home and listen to all our releases back to back without fatigue and just float away in the moment. It’s about emotion, and it’s important for us to explore many emotions and not just center on one feeling or thought pattern.

How do you find your artists? Are you a club rat, constantly searching live venues for cool acts?

I think between Larry and I we attended nearly 100 shows last year and listened to hundreds and hundreds of albums. Like I said, it all boils down to the music, so if we find that at a live show or on bandcamp or a under a rock, we are going to find it and try to get that out so our community can enjoy it as well.

What are you looking for now?

Sometimes the stoner genre can be fairly weak on vocals, so we are constantly searching for bands that can wow audiences in that regard.

Are you involved in all the creative decisions?

Absolutely. I think our beloved vinyl community would be very disappointed if we didn’t pour 100% of our intense passion into every aspect of a Helmet Lady release. Elegant, beautiful, heavy…every time.

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