Nelson, John (Horror High)
They handle such bands as Zombeast, Michale Graves, The Death Riders and Wednesday 13. If names like those don’t peak the interest of Dread Central readers, then I’ve tapped into the wrong vein. Established just a few years ago, Horror High—part record label, part marketing and management company—has already become a virtual feeding ground for underground, cutting-edge horror rock, rock and metal bands.
Are these bands at the top of the Billboard charts? No—but not every band aspires (or expects) to be the next Beatles or Rolling Stones. And, in fact, not every record label can be Warner Brothers or Capitol Records. Where there are good bands willing to work hard to make a name for themselves, there is Horror High and its founder, Jon Nelson.
Nelson took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Dread Central about the history of Horror High, what type of bands he’s looking to work with and why, if you are in a band, you’d better be willing to work your ass off if you expect to make a dollar and a cent in the music business.
Dave Manack: When did you establish Horror High, and what was your background prior to establishing Horror High?
Jon Nelson: In 1998 I started Streetteam.net / Bandbitch, Inc. It's a marketing company that has given me the chance to work with bands I never thought I would be able to. We have promoted over 100 bands including Static-X, Pantera, Kiss, Guns n Roses, Slayer, Disturbed, Judas Priest and on and on. Each time we would get hired to work a big band I would try and work a smaller band for free.
A few years back, I guess in 2004, I found out that Michale Graves (formerly of The Misfits) was touring with his band Gotham Road and thought we should help him out. So we sent him an email and asked if we could make some postcards to help promote his new project.
At this time I was still living in California, and Michale was playing the Showcase in Corona, California. We went to see the show and it was good—not great, but good. Michale was amazing! We left the show and decided it was time to revisit the idea we had half-ass started a few years back. We then released an EP of a band called Die Section, a band that Wayne Static of Static X had been helping out, and another from a singer songwriter named Shane Cannedy.
In 2000 we had discovered a great band on MP3.com. Marlene (from www.MerchMonster.net, an affiliate of Horror High) had discovered this witty kid from North Carolina. So we flew him out to the “big city” to discuss what he wanted to do and how we could help. This kid, of course was Wednesday 13. Back in 2000 we had given him some money to put together what would later become 6 Feet Under The Influence. For us it was bad timing, for him it was great timing. About the time he was recording the CD, The Murderdolls (a music “side project” for Slipknot drummer Joey Jordinson) formed. So, we helped out the Murderdolls; I called a few friends and helped them get a manager.
DM: So is Horror High a record label, management company or both?
JN: When I was younger I was into "being a manager." That is, until I realized exactly what is involved and how much work it is. I had done management for a short time with a band called Flybanger on SONY. I was hired to market the band when their A&R guy pulled me aside one day and asked me to manage the band. When the A&R guy for Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen asks you to manage a band, it's hard to say no. However my heart wasn't in it, so I soon quit.
Also you have to understand, management is a full time gig. Back in 2000/2001, Bandbitch was promoting anywhere from 5-15 bands a month. Time is always very precious for me.
Horror High was basically something that had been on our list of things we wanted to do. We just needed the catalyst to get it started. And in 2004, working with Michale Graves was that catalyst.
DM: How did you come up with the name “Horror High?” Does it have any specific significance?
JN: Horror High wasn't the original name; we had tried to get a few other names, but they either already had been trademarked or copyrighted, or the website wasn't available. The name Horror High comes from a MerchMonster (their subsidiary merchandise and apparel company; www.MerchMonster.net) shirt we had made a few years prior.
DM: If you can, please tell me a bit about each of the bands currently on the Horror High roster: Zombeast, Wednesday 13, Bourbon Crow, The Death Riders, Michale Graves and Blitzkid.
JN: In order of releases:
Michale Graves - I shouldn't have to say anything here. I mean, he is Michale Graves. Michale will never get the respect he deserves. People hate him for jumping at the chance to join The Misfits. People hate him because of personal beliefs. People hate him because he supports WM3 (the West Memphis Three; three men convicted of murder in West Memphis, Arkansas, who many believe are in fact innocent). People just hate him. However, if people would just take the time to listen to his music, I don't know anyone who sounds like him or writes like him. I love when people say they hate Michale, but list some of the songs he wrote as their favorite Misfits songs.
The Death Riders – A great band, and underrated band. The thing that has to be mentioned here is this band is a project. Will they ever tour? Who knows. The Death Riders is a creative outlet for some very talented guys (including former Rob Zombie bassist Blasko and Coffin Case owner Jonny Coffin—Ed.) who all have big things going on. It's very hard for them to get together and play. This CD was like two years in the making... or something like that.
Blitzkid – The new generation of horror rock. Each CD from them has shown real growth. Blitzkid could be a great band. The drive is there, the potential is there....
Zombeast - These guys are great. Come on… I mean, wow! Don't really know what to say. I have really big hopes for these guys. The reviews have been so great. The guys are extremely nice. They don't try and be anything they're not... and they're fucking motherfuckers live. The cover art for this CD was done by Mario, the lead singer. There is so much talent in this band. Enough said here!
Bourbon Crow - I have been waiting for a year to put this out. This is something I am happy to be involved with. I just think the packaging—the CD was made to look like a record—along with the music, and the inside pictures, it all worked together on this one. This was recorded in November 2005 and we just put it out in October 2006. It's outlaw country drinking music. And the emails we are getting are so funny! Yes, it is Wednesday 13 singing country music... and no he's not selling out. If you are selling out you do a popular form of music where you can make money, not an outdated one. W13 and Kid Kid grew up in the South, it's what they were raised on.
They will be going back in the studio soon to record the follow-up.
DM: What is the "goal," if you will, for Horror High? What sort of bands are you looking to sign, promote and/or manage?
JN: That’s a difficult question to answer. Horror High, LLC is the legal term. We didn't want it to be Horror High Records because that would be so limiting. There are some things outside of music we will be doing. We have some video ideas we are getting involved with in the coming year.
As far as signing bands, they have to want to work. Don't expect a label, especially an indie label, to give you thousands in marketing, tour support, radio advertising etc. etc. Bands have to want to work. Before any CD hits the streets, an indie label has usually already invested tens of thousands of dollars. So they will want you to work.
I also don't want to say what we want to work with, because there are so many good bands out there that are outside of the typical rock or punk. I can't tell you how much I love the Bourbon Crow CD, not because it's Kid Kid and Wednesday 13, but because it's just damn good! It's an old school record. I would own this CD whether we put it out or not.
As far as bands I want to manage... man I don't wanna manage anyone! But seriously, working with Wednesday 13 is great. He has been doing this for over 10 years and has been fucked over more then most people, yet every day he has a new idea or something else he wants to do. Nothing gets him down and he never says he doesn't want to work. I mean come on, the guy is barely known in the U.S. but has a box set out already. I can think of a ton of platinum selling bands that don't even have box sets!
DM: What are some of the common threads that bind the Horror High bands? Do these bands tour together, or will they in the near future?
JN: There really aren't any common threads any more. In the past I could have said they are all horror rock. But that's just because once we started working with Michale, Blasko gave us a call and asked if we would be interested in The Death Riders. When you start off with Michale and Blasko (who at the time was playing with Rob Zombie), we kind of started with some heavy hitters in the horror rock world.
Are we focused on horror rock completely? No, not really. We love it, but we don't want to limit what's out there.
DM: What are some of your personal favorite "horror rock" bands of all time?
JN: Of course I could say the typical answers; I do love The Misfits and I love Alice Cooper. But I will add to that list... I love Insane Clown Posse. Yeah that's right, I love ICP. They are creative, funny and they put on one hell of a show.
But I don't just listen to horror rock. As I type out these answers I have been listening to Jellyfish, Brad and some Wednesday 13 demos. In my car right now I have some country like Johnny Cash and The Highway Men, as well as some old cock rock like Beautiful Creatures and Motley Crue and various other stuff like The Bronx and Bubba Sparxxx.
There is so much good music and then there is just fun music. And I think that's the point of Horror High. We want to work with whatever makes us happy.
DM: If a band is interested in being a Horror High band, what do they need to do? What sort of bands are you looking for?
JN: We aren't looking for any "sound." We are looking for people who want to work.
Here’s a good example: One of my previous employees wanted to manage a band, which prompted me to start Bandbitch management. We spent all this money setting it up as a real corporation and helped his band set up some showcases. We got Warner Brothers to go out and they asked the band how they expected to grow their fan base. Their answer was, "Well, when we get signed it's the record label's job to build our fan base." That's how a lot of people feel. Man, son, when you get signed, that's when you better start working twice as hard as you did before.
If someone is willing to invest thousands of dollars into your band, project or idea, you show them that you want to be the priority. Set up local shows, then grow to the city over, the state over, tour a three state area. Just get out there and work. Never expect someone to do more work for you then you are willing to do for yourself.
Big thanks to Jon for taking some time to give us the low-down.