Heavy metal and hard work: KC label The Company releases two new LPs this Friday

Since its formation less than two years ago, heavy music label The Company has released five vinyl LPs, two cassette tapes, and two compact discs from the heaviest of the heavy in Kansas City, including Keef Mountain, Hyborian, Youngblood Supercult, and more. This Thursday, January 25, the label kicks off 2018 with a double release party when The Company’s two most recent additions, Merlin and Orphans of Doom, will release their respective albums, The Wizard and Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods.

Merlin’s album is its third full-length, overall, and sees the band’s sound expanding from Sleep-inspired epic doom into sax-accented psychedelic metal. Orphans of Doom’s debut is a branching out from the band’s earlier, instrumental work, but the addition of vocals adds a level of harsh power to the trio’s swirling metal.

Additionally, the Company will be branching out further from its doom foundations when it puts out the debut LP from Lawrence punk rock outlaws Young Bull later this year. It’s a time of growth for the label, so we spoke with the Company’s founder, Joshua Wilkinson, along with Merlin’s Jordan Knorr and Jeremy Isaacson and Bryan Sedey of Orphans of Doom, all about where the label was, where it is now, and where it’s headed.

It seems that The Company has figured out how to release quality metal records in just a few quick years. What’s been the process of growing the label?

Joshua Wilkinson, The Company: The Keef [Mountain] boys and I began talking about releasing their album in July of 2016, so I like to think of that as the start of the label. So, I’ve managed to build this thing up in less than two years and I only expect it to go up from here. I think, first, the quality of the bands I’m releasing is foremost the reason for any success. These bands are all incredibly talented. The label wouldn’t be anything without them. I think my reputation as a designer for other labels helped me get a step ahead, and I’ve brought that over to my label. I’ve learned a lot from the other guys [about] how to stand out. I’ve made a lot of great connections, and like with anything, it just takes time for things to grow. The label is still pretty new and it’s already accomplished a lot.

The Company started off with a doom kind of focus, but with the addition of Young Bull, you’re branching out. Is that a conscious act? 

JW: We didn’t really focus on doom, necessarily, it’s just kind of how it worked out. I personally loved Keef Mountain before I had ever even met Jake or Dillon, so they were my obvious first choice to approach for a release. I like all different kinds of heavy music but I generally lean toward the stoner/doom side of things.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Relapse Records, which boasts a vast array of bands, so I kind of took a page out of their book and began branching out a little. I feel like it might be easier to reach a broader audience if you have a diverse roster. Young Bull is a bunch of stoners who play a heavier brand of punk rock, so they’re going to fit in just fine.

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Hyborian is your first act to move on to another label. How do you feel The Company helped them get to another level, and what was the reaction when you heard from the band that they’d signed with Seasons of Mist?

JW: Aside from releasing that album, there was some great PR surrounding Hyborian. They worked really hard on that album, and busted their asses on the road supporting it. I knew from the moment I heard the first note of the first song they showed me that it was bigger than me. I knew they would go places.

So, when they told me that Season of Mist was sniffing around, I knew we had done something right. This label always has been about everyone growing, both myself and the bands. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in Hyborian and I hope them all the best. We’ll always be homies and they’ll always be part of the crüe!

Starting the year off with two big releases — where do you go from here for the rest of 2018?

JW: Up, hopefully! My method of business is pretty fly-by-the-seat, but I have plans to work with Inner Altar in 2018, and after these first two releases, I’ll be working on the Young Bull release, which is gonna be nuts! After that I’ll be scouring the land for more bands, or trying to get Keef back in the studio. There’s a band outside the KC area that I would really like to work with, so I’d like to see that pan out. Perseverance is my focus.

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Does the Company offer more than just releasing a record for a band? Tour support, advertising, connections with other labels, etc.?

JW: We’re still a growing label so right now I can only offer tour support verbally. As far as the other stuff, I definitely offer graphic design and advertising that I think sets us apart from other labels. Most of my bands are able to take care of things and put in some work. I have yet to work with a band who just didn’t know what the fuck they’re doing, but when I do, I have a pretty good network going of artists, labels, printers, studios, etc., that will come as a nice resource for an up-and-coming band.

Jordan Knorr (vocals, Merlin): Yes. Josh has offered not only a seemingly endless supply of free labor for us, including, but not limited to: posters, album art, promotional art, album trailers, single releases, otherworldly merch connections such as our own Merlin Beer, and, most important off all, he provides an ear for all the crazy ideas we want to do but are entirely unobtainable and nonsensical.

Jeremy Isaacson (guitar, Orphans of Doom): Josh has worn a lot of hats for us. Record releases, setting up shows, art collaboration, videographer, promoter — you name it. It’s hard for new or even some old bands to get hype and interest going. The Company has created an outlet for generating just that with bringing all those skills together.

Bryan Sedey (guitar, Orphans of Doom): With Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods, we illustrated the whole record, and then submitted it to The Company to handle the rest, including layout, color, and all of the rest of the materials that make up the entire package. I’ve always known Josh to be an unbelievable designer and I knew that we would get something incredible back when we handed our illustrations over.

The packaging for the label’s releases is killer. How closely do you work with the bands to assure everything stays at a certain level [designwise]?

JW: I work as closely as I need to with each band. It’s different for everyone. Working with the members of a two-piece band vs. a five-piece band is obviously easier because you don’t have five sources of input. All in all, though, I get input from the bands, absolutely. I wouldn’t dare release an album with a design that wasn’t approved by the band.

Everyone pretty much knows Im a graphic designer by trade, so they trust me. I feel like I have done a good job at branding a certain aesthetic for The Company, and I can be a little controlling because I’m so intent on keeping that brand up to standard.

JK: It all comes down to aesthetics. Josh is an incredibly talented artist with a good eye for whats good and what sucks; he never lets anything slide. If he’s gonna spend hours producing the layouts, promos and such for a band, he’s gonna want as much say in it as possible and not gonna accept if a band brought him some jabroni-level cover a la Iron Maiden’s Dance Of Death. He works his butt off, and by having his hands in every possible area of the release, [that] leads to an exceptional amount of quality and coordination in what he produces.

BS: I’d say this depends on the bands level of talent in regards to the visual aspect and actual product design. Just because you’re a writer or riffer, doesn’t mean you can draw a stick figure or be depended on to choose an appropriate typeface. In our case, we split the creative duties, handling the concept and line work on our end, and having Josh polish and refine the raw elements into the finished product. At least in our case, the work is better than it would have been, because of the quality control at The Company.

KC had a really strong metal scene for a while, then it seemed to kind of dip for a bit, but now there’s enough bands for an entire festival. Do you have any ideas as to why that’s the case?

JW: I’ll be honest: I didn’t really start delving into the local scene until 2012-ish, and I wasn’t familiar with all the amazing talent. I found out about Hössferatu and it spiraled from there. Everyone in the heavy scene, in this town, [is] all tightknit. Everyone’s played in bands with each other at some point. Everyone is willing to help each other get gigs. I think now, people are seeing bands like Keef Mountain getting international attention, or Hyborian getting signed to a much bigger label, and it inspires them. They realize, just because we live in the Midwest doesn’t mean your band can’t succeed.

JK: We’ve only been in the “scene” for a little bit of time now, but in the last five years, the metal scene seems to have shifted for the better. More and more people are loving doom and psychedelia and all styles those two blanket. Less bands are playing the same old generic lugubrious metal that has long grown stale, and you have more bands out there trying new things and approaching more areas of what it means to be heavy. People go to shows for a good time and the original, unique bands stand out over the Slayer rip-off bands playing the same set over and over for six years.

Spacey doom, heavy psychedelia, ’70s proto-metal — they’re all so different, and people are loving it. Not to mention the vinyl for said genres of music unites fans from all over the world. They want more, they need it, and in the last few years, more KC bands are seeing that and taking the time, money, and energy to put out their album on vinyl and push sales outside of KC to fans who have long been collecting doom and stoner rock bands from the great labels putting them out. There’s such an immense support for this style of music that lesser artists are provided a great opportunity for new fans to discover their take on the genres, no matter where they’re from.

JI: There [are] always a lot of metal bands coming and going, but I think we have been cultivating a community recently that is thriving, evolving, and pushing each other to create. The more the community grows, the more great bands will derive from it.

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This show at the Riot Room is pretty striking in terms of how big a deal it is to have two bands releasing albums simultaneously on the same local label. How do you feel the bands complement and contrast one another?

JW: In contrast, both bands are very different sounding, which I think will bring in a mixed crowd. On the other hand, both bands are releasing concept albums that have a fantasy/sci-fi aesthetic to them, so hopefully fans of Orphans will be turned onto Merlin and vice versa. 

JK: Orphans of Doom are putting out one of the most crushingly heavy albums I’ve heard in a while. They’re incredibly talented and amazing musicians. And we, two new members deep, are putting the weirdest, most diverse set of songs based on Dark Souls that we’ve ever done. We will bring the loud and weird, sax-crazed theatrics, and Orphans are gonna bring down the house and blow your dicks off. Stone Grower opens, though. Don’t forget that. Stone Grower is playing some of the craziest psych I’ve heard locally in years. Thank god, too: [I] thought the psych scene was dying under the “party psych” movement.

BS: I think the contrast is the compliment. All three bands are so different from each other sonically that what will be great about that night is – even though the sentiments are similar — they are three very unique sets. Sometimes shows lack that variety and get stale when the bands are paired too literally. Not on this night.

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The release party for Merlin’s The Wizard and Orphans of Doom’s Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods is at the Riot Room this Thursday, January 25, with opener Stone Grower. Details on that show here.