|© Van’s Ography
On February 5th, we flew to Brussels in order to learn more about the prolific Belgian label Weyrd Son Records, who has been taking Belgium’s underground music scene by surprise since 2012. We had the opportunity to cross paths with its owner, Michael Thiel, and we spent the end of that afternoon getting to know how did he start the label, what happened after he decided that he would continue to work as a label manager, how did he sign the interesting names that are part of Weyrd Son‘ catalog and how the whole process of growth occurred, among other things.
Learn more about Weyrd Son Records by reading our interview below.
Hi Michael, hope you’re good. It’s a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. I wanted to know how did all the process involving Weyrd Son Records start (I know that it was primarily because of your father). Why did you decide to start it and what was the process that came after the release of the label?
Michael – Indeed, it’s all coming from my father as he was a musician, and some kind of synth music pioneer, back in the early ’80s with a project called Snowy Red and he passed away in 2009, so this year marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. After he passed I got contacted by lots of record labels in order to reissue his work as Snowy Red, I had to shop between all. I finally chose for Onderstroom Records – which is a Belgian label – but what I really wanted to do with that, was to be totally involved with this project. I wanted that thing to be also something I would take as a personal journey, maybe try to know my father through his own work. So what I suggested to that record label – Onderstroom Records – was to take care of all the visual aspect, write down all the texts – because there is a booklet inside retracing the history of Snowy Red – so I’ve been doing this, well I would say all by myself, though of course it was first the idea of the label, and it was natural to work on that, as a gift from a son to his father. So it was indeed a journey because I had to contact everyone who was close to my dad back in the days. I’ve been interviewing them all, so I’ve learned lots of stories and I’ve been trying to write them down in that booklet and after 9 months the project was born, which is quite a mark to do that. It was giving me a great feeling working on this also because it was my dad. And what I did after that was to pay another tribute and be in charge of everything and maybe even more than what I did in that boxset. So, the next idea, I remember waking up in the morning, I think it was sometime in March 2012, with that idea of contacting lots of musicians I liked back in the days to ask them if they would be into covering his songs and make a tribute album. So the next step was to get in touch with all of them and see if they would be into it, and from that point, I had to choose from a record label again but very quickly what shook me was that I didn’t want to ask anyone else to be in charge with that because I think it was way too intimate, maybe even more than the previous one. I wanted to have 100% control on that and so it was obvious that I should be doing that through a record label that I would create myself. And that’s how Weyrd Son Records was born. Weyrd Son is the anagram of Snowy Red.
So you started everything in 2012?
Michael – Yeah, in 2012 I totally started working on that. The first musicians I approached were musicians I was already kind of in touch with. Well I’m gonna go back to that story, as I said, I’ve been working on the first boxset, and to be honest, I wasn’t really into ’80s electronic music I was more into metal – which I still am today – but working and writing on my dad’s music, I also had to write on what was happening back in the days, so if you want to talk about Snowy Red you don’t have to talk only about Snowy Red, because he wasn’t alone, there were so many musicians that had a great impact on him and his music. So I started to document myself, listening to all the big names back in those days. That’s how I got into cold/dark/minimal electronic and my growing interest for it lead me to meet musicians online that were keeping going in that direction, people who today were maybe the age of my dad 35 years ago. I’m thinking of bands and artists such as Animal Bodies, Bestial Mouths, Mushy, Ben Chisholm – who plays in Chelsea Wolfe, etc. So it was obvious that they would be the first ones I would ask if they’d be interested in taking part in this very specific and intimate Project. They all responded very positively. So that brings us back in May 2012 and it all got very fast, telling them “Ok, I need to get all songs by the end of the year, last call” in order to release it in May, a year after that.
Michael – Yes, because there is a lot of symbols in my work and I wanted it to be released on Father’s day, which in Europe is the second Sunday of May.
So you decided to create your label as a tribute to your dad’s work. Did you just want to release this tribute or was already implicit the idea “Ok I’ll go forward with the label”?
Michael – It wasn’t my plan to go forward. To me, it was more of a one-shot, to release that double LP, but when you are excited about something and the response it gets – which I have to say was very good – I thought “OK, maybe I should go forward and try to find people in music I love, and maybe try to help them the same way maybe my dad would have loved to be helped, back in the days”.
Did you contact the bands for the forward releases or you got contacted first?
Michael – With such a list of bands featured on that tribute album, I had a good base of names to potentially work with, so I asked a couple of them if they were into moving on to another release, of their own music this time. So a few months later I reissued a split EP with Mushy and Meddicine originally available a year before only on tape. I thought that split deserved a vinyl edition, which we did.
How did you sign Linea Aspera?
Michael – I wouldn’t say “sign” because I was no one and nowhere in the record label world. Everything was only about my love for music, that was the main thing and still is to this day. So, about Linea Aspera, I saw them live for their very last show ever before they called it quits, it was in the Netherlands for the Grauzone Festival, and on that day I discovered something that shook me really hard. I started listening to everything they did and found out about that three-track EP II was only released on tape. Same as for the Mushy/Meddicine split EP, to me, it was a pity that it would just have a cassette treatment so I asked them if they were up to make a vinyl release of that one and, surprisingly, they said yes. I was very surprised because, as I was saying, they weren’t a band anymore. It was very simple, I asked them, they said yes. It was maybe the perfect timing for them, to release an ultimate record and move on to another thing.
What was the hardest part in starting with the label?
Michael – It’s hard to say because, to be honest, I was very surprised that everything was flowing so easily, I mean, I had already cool bands and all. But year after year that passes, it seems like you have to prepare your next release always more and more in advance. Plants and PR agents have so much work they can’t keep the deadlines. Finding a great PR agent is a nightmare because they all have so many clients they can’t take more. Which is really frustrating when you have a great record in the making but no one out there can work on a decent promotion…
… And then you kept on going, releasing names like Marie Davidson and Koban, for instance. You started being contacted by bands or it was always you that initiated the contact with the names?
Michael – Until the fifth release it was always me seeking for bands. Koban was actually the first band that got in touch with me with a demo that I really liked to a point I wanted to release their album. That was maybe a year after I started my work as a label owner.
How do you chose the releases you are going to release? Do you have standards?
Michael – I don’t have standards. Back in the days, I would say it had to be definitely about electronic, dark, minimal, but Koban was the first one that had this sound that took me out of my “standards” since they were more post-punk. The most important is to have a crush on, like everything in life, you know.
After Koban and a lot of other releases, I would like to know how did you release Drab Majesty 7’’?
Michael – Andrew/Deb of Drab Majesty asked a friend we have in common to send me the rough mix of his first album. He was telling me “so this guy is searching for a record label, I think this is up to your alley”. So I listened to it but I wasn’t completely sold… To be honest I was REALLY not into it. Then his album came out on Dais Records and despite the fact I never really showed my interest back in the days, the guy was still keeping in touch with me and that kinda intrigued me. So, one day, I don’t remember exactly how it worked out but I got to talk to Andrew online, and from the human point of view the exchange between us was very good and this changed totally my perspective on his music. From there it all clicked as I first got a great connection with the human being and the musician before liking his music, and that’s how we got working together.
So, usually, do you only release music you like?
Michael – Of course. I could not release anything I’m not into. Even if they are famous or whatever, I don’t care they’re selling thousands of records. I have to be honest with me at first.
Do you regret having said no to some bands?
Michael – Well, it’s hard to say. Sometimes yes. There is some music you love but it is just not the right moment, or it’s not exactly where you want to lead your record label to. There is indeed a band that came to me last year and still to this day I’m sad that I had to say no but that’s life, you can’t get everything. I’m just a man I can’t be everywhere at the same time.
How would you describe the Belgian music scene?
Michael – It took me a while to get into it. At first, I wasn’t into it because maybe I’m to close to it. Maybe I’m judging it but in general, I would say Belgian bands (with of course a few exceptions) are a bit too “soft”, not enough radical. I need something harsh that grips me and never releases me, and nothing like that was happening. But then I heard about Charnier, I saw them live with Whispering Sons, they were playing that show together sharing the same stage. First I was going there to see Charnier because I knew them personally, and that’s how I heard for the first time about Whispering Sons. It was way before they won the Humo’s Rock Rally contest, and again when I saw them going on stage, they were really young and the music kicked in and I felt something that was hard to describe. The power coming out of it, not only on a sonic point of view but their presence on stage was huge. And Fenne, their vocalist, has something you don’t witness too often. She has that deep and dark voice that dives directly into your soul and invades it all.
So after Charnier and Whispering Sons, you also released records from Animal Youth – another Belgian band – and most recently THOT. How did that happen, with THOT?
Michael – I’ve always seen Grégoire – the leader in the band – around here and there for quite some time although I didn’t know him not personally. He was the guy you’d see the face in the crowd but never got to talk to. Then in April 2017, he was there at that Gojira and Code Orange show and that was the first time in YEARS I saw his face. When I got back home, I opened my mailbox – which I didn’t open for a few days – and I saw this familiar name but couldn’t tell who that really was. I opened the email that had a link leading to a mix for an album that was almost ready to be released. The mix was insanely good! I just played it and couldn’t stop it so I listened to the whole thing from first to last second. But also, it was totally different from what I did with Weyrd Son Records. I was very interested but kind of afraid to say yes, because I didn’t know what to expect from the response my audience would give. So I checked a few of their live performances on Youtube and I recognized the guy that I saw a few hours before at Gojira’s show. To me, it was another sign of life, you know, and I believe a lot into this kind of things, and that’s how I encountered the music and said: “Ok let’s do it”. It wasn’t an easy decision, but that’s how it happens.
After Glaare, Ben Chisholm & Felix Skinner there come the time to release VOWWS’ latest work. How was that?
Michael – I got in touch with VOWWS thanx to Glaare. Glaare was releasing their album To Deaf And Day on Dune Altar – a US record label – but wanted me to do a European press of the record. This was another big crush… I became immediately a good friend with the drummer of Glaare and he said “Hey, you should listen to VOWWS“, and that’s how it all happened. Their album Under The World is the kind of album that you keep listening to over and over again and still discover so many things that move you. That one is definitely one of those!
What about Second Still?
Michael – Second Still is a band that was close to the guys of Whispering Sons after they created their own record label, Sentimental. They were working on a release on tape for their latest EP, Equals. I got the opportunity to book them in Brussels, and that’s how we met. We had good times together in Brussels and they sent me the demo and voilà, that’s how it all happened.
Besides the bands/artists, Weyrd Son Records is also known for its gorgeous vinyl designs and aesthetics. Where are you going to get inspiration?
Michael – I’ve always had a soul of a collector, and I’ve loved beautiful records, and beautiful artworks, design, layouts and everything. I’ve been a lot inspired by other record labels that were putting a lot of energy into their visuals and I knew I wanted to take that same direction as well. I studied fine arts at school so I’d say I’ve always had some kind of fan eye for design and all. Visuals always had a big part in my life, so obviously I wanted every release to be unique.
Six years have passed since the first Weyrd Son Records record was released. You started everything by yourself and then Grégoire joined you. How did that happen?
Michael – It appears that Grégoire is very good with communication, he is in charge of everything that happened to THOT, and the guy has a view that I sometimes don’t have myself. He sees things and has that ability to think it out of the box. After six years I sometimes had the feeling I was on autopilot and this is something I don’t want, I need something fresh – like a new look – and I think that guy was the perfect person to bring all those.
After these six years, what are you more proud of? What makes you happier?
Michael – It may sound very cliché to say that, but I’m proud of everything because a record is not another, a project is not another, there have been records I loved so much for the music itself, there are others I’ve loved for the human aspect. Every record has a story. I’m thinking about Animal Youth, which for me has a special place in my heart. They were nowhere when I met them, they just had one song I could find on Youtube. This release is a stone marker for me because I had to work even harder on this thing as no one knew them out there. It felt really special to read all those sick reviews, in Europe and US mags/blogs/webzines. Then a great friendship came out of it. Now, of course, if I had to tell you which one I’m the proudest of it would be the first one because it is related to my dad and his legacy. But again, every single release touches something very deep and dear to me.
What are your plans for this year?
Michael – It is a bit early to say. First of all, I’ve been taking some time for myself and for THOT, which I joined as an official and full-time member. After Spring I’ll go back to business with the label and release great artists. I’m not gonna share those names right now because things are maybe a little uncertain, but you guys will know more in the right moment.
Thank you so much for your time!
Interview by: Sónia Felizardo