Photo of Mike Vitali by Kiki Vassilakis
Albany’s Magnetic Eye records’ commitment to vinyl and stoner rock has taken the label from bedroom project to a multi-employee business, and a recent tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall appears to be garnering a new level of attention. Label founder Mike Vitali has overseen the creation of other Redux projects including, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and Helmet’s Meantime.
The Pink Floyd redux is populated by bands that fit the label’s stoner metal oeuvre and neatly positions celebrated veteran artists like The Melvins and Mark Lanegan next to obscure and up-and-coming acts like Spaceslug and Domkraft.
It is Pallbearer’s version of “Run Like Hell” that comes across like a cross between Iron Maiden and Van Halen that has earned thousands of listens and a ton of internet chatter.
Vitali and Magnetic Eye’s PR head Jadd Shickler spoke to The Collaborative about the lessons they’ve learned after years of putting together these sort of compilations, and shared some insight about their next covers project—a reimagining of Alice in Chains’ Dirt.
The Collaborative: Jadd, what was it like coming into this process? Mike has obviously done this a few times already. Was it challenging to get so many artists on one page?
Jadd Shickler: I’d done tributes on other labels but nothing like this, we weren’t trying to recreate an entire album with the weight of something like The Wall. I know Mike grew up with this album it meant so much to him. I knew it, it wasn’t like I hadn’t heard it but I had never absorbed it as he had and I took the chance early on to really get to know it. What I ended up doing was really curating folks.
The Collaborative: And you’re doing it with a very specific time constraint.
Jadd Shickler: Yeah, everything is done under the gun. We launch the Kickstarter to generate buzz and a sense of urgency and we’re putting together the band list and along the way to let people be early to be first in door. We launched this before we had a single artist on board and we had 30 days to get this cool array of bands.
The Collaborative: Mike, has doing these successive redux projects opened the doors to more talent? Have you been able to go after folks who are on your wish list?
Mike Vitali: Absolutely, becoming friendly with bands like Earthless, All Them Witches, Elder, Ken Mode, Meek is Murder and others who contributed to Electric Ladyland and Meantime Redux has certainly paved the way for introductions to artists such as Mark Lanegan and The Melvin’s.
And I believe that the word of mouth about these records and the public perception that these are serious projects to pull together the best of our music community to reimagine and deliver these records to new audiences has helped tremendously as well.
The Collaborative: So describe getting these bands on board. How do you pitch them? How do you make sure they’re truly invested?
Jadd Shickler: Essentially it is a lot of text messaging between bands. We didn’t confirm Mark Lanegan until the day before. When I had been listening to The Wall I heard that line “I’ve got nicotine stains on my fingers” and I just thought “That’s Lanegan.” So we contacted his management and we waited to hear back. And he committed but then we heard he needed four more months because his studio had been dismantled. We didn’t actually confirm him until the day before our deadline.
The Collaborative: Knowing musicians and band dynamics, I imagine some of this is a bit like herding cats.
Jadd Shickler: Honestly, it was as varied as you’d expect when working with 26 different bands. Some didn’t have any questions and didn’t need help. Others wanted a little more guidance: “What do you think about this?” “What about the length of the song?” One group was concerned about where their song would sit on the grooves of the record. There was a question about whether one group should tune down as much as they normally do as vinyl is notorious for not being able to support lower frequencies.
Mike Vitali: For sure, coordinating everyone’s recordings and deliverables can be a challenge when you’re working with 26 bands from all over the world. Jadd has done a great job, and all the bands and artists also made great efforts to keep on schedule. With so many participants things come up and there are delays and challenges. That is all true.
So, I keep doing them and think that I will cap the Redux series at 10 releases.
The Collaborative: What was it like when the songs finally started coming in? We’re there any surprises?
Jadd Shickler: Well I spent a lot of time with the mixing guy listening to it and there are so many great peaks and valleys as in the original. These are bands playing absolutely classic songs. No one did anything that was a completely crazy interpretation that interrupted the feel but probably the biggest surprise was the Pallbearer track, which sounds like Pallbearer playing Iron Maiden playing Pink Floyd. But it worked. I needed a moment after hearing it because it just goes balls out.
Spaceslug told us “We Love Pink Floyd but we can’t stand Water’s vocals on ‘Don’t Leave Me Now.’” They asked if they could change it and we said “Do whatever you want.” So that song is missing a substantial element.
The Collaborative: Having secured artists such as The Melvins and Mark Lanegan for the Floyd redux, are there artists of similar stature you’d like to see on the next redux?
Jadd Shickler: Mike has this commitment to preserving and and representing these classic albums and as he did with Helmet after the Hendrix tribute were going from this absolute classic to more of a modern classic. So in some way this won’t have as wide of an appeal as the last one, we aren’t shooting for the moon. But we do have a lot of interest from current popular acts in the genre. We just announced Khemmis and they are getting a lot of attention right now.
Mike Vitali: No one comes to mind immediately right now. I will say that revisiting and doing a Redux for albums such as Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and some others are on my radar and of interest to me.
So, I will need to branch out to new artists to bring the right musicians to the table to accomplish those. And when the time comes, I am sure I will have a list of acts I’d like to work with and the names on future lists are likely be a departure from some of the heavier bands we’ve partnered with up to now.
The Collaborative: Mike, you’ve got a few of these redux records under your belt now, what inspired you to test the format in the first place? It seems like a lot of work.
Mike Vitali: The reason behind the series is I have a strong passion for quality songwriting and performance and I live in this modern world with you and everyone else. We all know that you can take anyone off the street, stick them in front of a mic and use tools like Ableton and auto tune and pretty much make anyone sound like they have some training or musical skill. I want to fight against that.
Music is a craft. The ability to write, perform, record, tour and teach and share music with others has been deemed unimportant by all the technology companies making a killing off of the music industry.
Mainstream labels, tech companies and others profiting off our current music industry have zero interest in fostering a future and teaching new generations what is really involved in quality.
I mean, I am beside myself at the loss of so much important music culture and music history. And by that, I mean, the worst of the worst is elevated to aspire too, and these classic recordings, whether Jimi’s or Pink Floyd etc. just fade away. The industry can pretend modern artists are a big deal, however my feeling is we have lost our way a while ago.