From the avantgarde metal of Violet Cold to the stoner rock of Mothership and everything in between, owner Christine Kelly of Tridroid Records has been supporting the musical visions of creative people from around the world ever since she bought the label in 2016. They’ve issued gorgeous boutique cassette re-releases of high profile bands (the first Enslaved album, Vikingligr Veldi and Wardruna’s Runaljod – Ragnarok, among others) while also championing a wide variety of lesser known bands from every known corner of the extreme metal pantheon.
Tridroid Records itself was started in 2012 by Andrew Rehberger in Minneapolis, MN. He worked with a lot of local acts with an affinity for black metal bands. It was primarily a cassette focused label, ahead of the curve of the tape renaissance and he worked with some of the major metal labels like Century Media to do cassette reissues, like Unleashed’s Sworn Allegiance.
In 2016, Andrew and his label mate Jason Oberuc were looking to find new ownership for Tridroid. Christine Kelly is a self-described metal nerd who worked in college radio, wrote for Wormgear, and briefly co-owned an indie label. As a long time Tridroid customer who loves the cassette format, she jumped at the chance to take over an established label. She moved Tridroid to Brooklyn in 2016 and continued to put out quality releases from independent metal bands while maintaining a relationship with the major metal labels.
In 2018 she put the label on hiatus for six months while she relocated from New York to Louisiana and relaunched the label before settling in Texas.
You’ve worked with a fascinating array of talent in nearly every genre of heavy music I can think of. Is there a common thread connecting them all?
I honestly just enjoy working with artists I like, and I want to get more ears on them if I can. I also took inspiration from how Andrew ran the label, because he didn’t stick to any specific subgenres of metal. He definitely had an affinity for thrash (the first release he did, I believe, was a compilation called Thrash Sells But Who’s Buyin?), but he released a ton of doom, death, black… it really ran the gamut. So I didn’t place limits on what I was going to release or try to create an “aesthetic” necessarily with what kind of music I’d be putting out. I guess the only common thread is that I like them as musicians and as people.
The attention to detail you lavish on artwork and presentation for your releases is noticeably exceptional. Why is that so important to you as a label owner?
Thank you! I think it’s because, as a customer and someone who’s bought tons of physical media, I always liked having a nice “piece” to look at while I was enjoying the music. If what I’m doing isn’t adding to the experience of enjoying the music, then what am I doing?
Musicians can sometimes be more focused on the music than the art or packaging. Is a bands level of interest in the art and packaging a consideration when it comes to working with them?
Not generally – if they’re not interested in packaging and presentation, I can definitely fill in that gap! The one thing I would say, though, is that cover art is hugely important to how something sells, so don’t skimp on your cover art.
How did you refocus the direction of the label when you relaunched in 2018?
Back in 2018, I had what I guess a psych expert would call a “Major Depressive Episode” right before, during, and after we moved from Brooklyn to rural Louisiana. I really dropped the ball on a lot of projects and let a lot of customers and artists down. As I was emerging from the worst of it, I was reaching out to people I needed to apologize to and realized that (for the most part) they weren’t angry with me, they were genuinely worried and glad that I was ok. Many also said they’d had a lot of anxiety and depression issues but hadn’t been public with them. As I talked to artists and customers more and explained what was going on, I realized that there are a ton of people going through what I was going through but more silently. So I resolved to myself that a major part of re-launching the label would be being honest about my mental health and publicly speaking up about what I’d gone through as a way to try to give a voice and provide an example for everyone else who either didn’t have a platform or didn’t feel comfortable talking about it themselves. I feel like especially in metal circles, people weren’t talking about mental health at all. I’ve seen that start to change since that time, which I think is really rad.
Anyway, all of that is to say that after that experience, I re-launched with a different understanding of how I was going to run my business so that I could also focus on my mental health. Instead of hustling to the point of a breakdown, I decided to do things at my own pace and in my own way. There is no right way to do this, and freeing myself from the stringent expectations I’d placed on myself helped a lot. From an outside perspective, it probably didn’t look that different but it definitely feels different (and better!) to me.
Tridroid does a lot of reissues, both classics and newer titles. How do you decide what to release?
The long and short answer to that is that I release things I like. Sometimes I get a huge opportunity to work with bands that I’d never expect to be able work with (for example, Enslaved and Wardruna), and sometimes I’ll see a band I’ve never heard of before play live and want to put out their release on tape. I also know quite a few musicians, and if one I respect and want to work with reaches out, I jump at the opportunity. The high creative level of the artists and musicians I get to work with absolutely blows my mind, if I’m honest.
What do you wish bands had done in the past that would make your job easier and the band’s reissues better?
Mostly just get back to me, hah. I get frustrated if I’m working on the project and communication is slow. That’s extremely rare, though. Usually I’m the slow one.
Given that you have done successful reissues of classic metal for major labels, and licensed cassette releases for current bands on other labels, and released tapes for bands you’ve helped develop… is one of these projects more satisfying to you as a label owner, and why would you say that is?
Thinking through it, not really – though moving forward I’ll be doing fewer licensed releases and co-releases because I’ll be putting out some records soon as well as cassettes. I’m starting out slow with just a few projects, and we’ll see how it goes!
Tridroid does a lot of cassette releases, so I’m curious to get your take on why cassettes have experienced a resurgence as a popular media format. I know why I still love them, but what do you think is behind it?
I also know why I love them, but I’m not sure why they’ve surged in popularity. It really started from the underground with metal and noise labels in particular, though arguably cassettes never went away for noise. It’s kinda nuts to me that now artists like Billie Eilish and Lana del Rey releasing tapes affects my release schedule, but I’m not gonna complain too hard about it; it’s just kinda funny. It also illustrates that cassette production needs to expand, especially since tapes are hitting the mainstream and are getting stocked in Urban Outfitters.
Did the recent shortage of ferric oxide tape caused any complications in your release schedule?
Yes, it absolutely did. 2019 was a total nightmare for tape labels, and we weren’t getting a lot of communication about what was going on until the end. What a mess. 2020 is a bit better, but I’ve already had a release be late because of a certain pop star using a cassette shell and buying out all the stock domestically. Just gotta stay on my toes. But again, cassette production needs to expand.
Are there any business or practical advantages to cassettes that bands can take advantage of?
They’re light, easy to pack, hardy, and the overhead is low. If you’re wanting to start releasing things on a physical format, they provide a much lower cost barrier to entry.
You have a strong presence on Bandcamp. Does that distribution/advertising model work for you, and if so, what do you like about it?
It works well for me! Originally I also had a Storenvy and sold things from both sites, but it’s a lot easier to just consolidate everything so customers can both stream the album and buy a copy.
Are you looking for new artists, and do you have a policy for unsolicited demos or bands who want to get in touch?
Sort of yes and no. I do get more demos than I can listen to in general, and I do prefer to find bands I want to work with on my own, but I’ve absolutely put out things that were emailed to me as submissions. For anyone curious, I don’t work with racists, homophobes, transphobes, misogynists, fascists or any other type of garbage person, so if you’re one of those or if that policy bothers you, please submit your demo directly into your toilet and flush. For all others, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
What does a band need to bring to the table when they approach you about releasing their music? Past sales, actively touring, great art… What gets your attention?
What gets my attention first is your email. Why do you wanna work with me? What do you like that I’m doing? Are you connected to another artist on the label that recommended us working together? It’s nice to already have a following or actively tour (and great art is a big must!), but I can work around both of those things and try to help you build a following. I do prefer people who can self-promote, though, because I can only do so much on my own.
The last word is yours: can you tell us what new releases are coming out and what your plans are for Tridroid in 2020?
Already in 2020, I’ve put out the Body Void/Keeper split and Putrescine, The One Reborn EP on tape, and the first edition of the Putrescine has sold out! There’s a second edition available now. Next I’m releasing an album from Jenn Taiga, a synth virtuoso I’d compare to Wendy Carlos. I’ve also got a record in production of an album we released on tape in 2019 that sold out almost immediately, so more on that very soon.
Here are some more hints for things I haven’t officially announced yet:
- A tape release for a band I saw at Shadow Woods Metal Fest IV that blew me away (original CD/digital is from 2018)
- An album on tape for a sludge artist that made waves with a digital EP and an interesting cover track back in 2019
- A new album on tape from a solo German black metal artist I’ve worked with before (with very special packaging that will be replicated this time around!)
- A tape release for my fave doom trio out of Los Angeles
- An album on tape from a project by a fellow label owner and friend of Tridroid
- An album on tape and 2 re-releases from a band that Andrew worked with back when he owned Tridroid
- An album on tape by a solo black metal artist that just had a highly reviewed record come out in January and his more straightforward black metal side project
And I think that’s it, so far! There’s a lot to look forward to. Thanks so much for this interview!