Oh, Tom Hazelmyer. I started writing him postcards and inquiries about his record label Amphetamine Reptile from my mom’s house in Southcentral PA back in the late 80’s. Responses were always jagged, always crass, and sometimes hilarious. Most everything I was able to gather about the label was thru Your Flesh (run by Tom’s best pal Peter Davis), Conflict, Forced Exposure and Siltbreeze fanzines. The rest was anybody’s guess. And that level of mystique did nothing other than pique my interest even more.
Early AmRep gigs I saw were either in Philly at the Khyber Pass or in DC at the DC Space or 9:30 Club. Surgery, Halo of Flies, Helmet, Cows, Tar, God Bullies, Vertigo, Hammerhead, you name it. I was terrifically intimidated about meeting bands back in ’90 or ’91 (luckily I would shed that nonsense away) so I’d just stand in awe as I watched these bands perform. Shirts and records were bought. Stickers were applied to every record crate in the house. Tom’s performing and ability to snag great bands was sterling. Yeah, you could say I drank the Kool-Aid.
As time wore on, Tom continued to put out spectacular records. The Dope, Guns series was a firebrand. Rock solid AmRep package tours solidified the label’s cache. 1991? It was a heady time, for sure.
In 1996, he signed his first band from Georgia, Servotron. On their first tour I tagged along and we did a show at the First Avenue opening for Man or Astroman? Of course, the entire AmRep tribe were there and the next day I met Tom. I remember he barreled into the room, looked at me sitting on a couch and said (something to the effect of) "Didn’t you say I should be selling records at the mall?" And that was my official face-to-face introduction to Tom. AmRep began advertising in Chunklet and, as years have gone by, I still continue friendships with people that have worked at AmRep at one time or another.
In 2001, my pal Dan Schlissel notified me that Tom wanted to talk to me about a project he wanted to start working on. Shortly thereafter, Tom and I spent hours on the ol’ dog and bone discussing said project: The AmRep Book. As a fan from the early years of the label, I was both flattered and confident in knowing that I was the man for the job. Tom flew me up to Minneapolis for a few days and we sat at his bar Grumpy’s and discussed everything under the sun from the label to Peter Davis (Creature Booking/Your Flesh), Tom’s gun collection to what it was like growing up punk rock in the early 80’s. I really did enjoy my time with Tom. He’s a master grade smart ass, but you know what? He’s got the chops to back it all up. No doubt about it.
Now, I neither fancy Tom, nor myself, as people that talk a big game and not follow through. However, the AmRep book has really yet to happen. Here’s why: We can’t find a publisher. Moreover, we can’t find a publisher that’d be willing to give us a budget for me to dedicate (I’m guessing) a year of my life. So if anybody knows where we could go, consider this an open solicitation to all reading this.
So 25 years after starting AmRep, I thought it best to interview Tom about the label that has defined NOISE for at least two generations, his signature drink the Dead Nazi, his new band HOF and, awkwardly enough, his recent (no joke) 39 day coma.
You started AmRep while you were a Marine in Seattle. Here it is 25 years later. Why are you celebrating the silver anniversary of what started out as a vanity label became a big indie label and is now back to being a vanity label? Do you find it a bit ironic?
Actually, not ironic at all. After a decade break from being a "big indie label," when I started doing small vanity projects I realized that doing just that was far more fun than attempting to rule the world. Well, maybe one small pond in it.
I remember talking to [John] Anglim (Halo of Flies’ drummer) and he told me that Amphetamine Reptile was the finalist for the label name. Can you remember any of the other candidates that were in the running?
I don’t recall thinking about it all that much. In my mind, we would be on Touch & Go, Dischord, Homestead or something soon enough and ditch the imprint. Fortunately, all listed took a pass. Their loss as they missed out on hundreds and hundreds of sold units. (ha-ha)
The AmRep logo is without a doubt one of the most distinct in the music industry. How long did you sweat over it? Was "NOISE" always incorporated in the logo even though the word itself isn’t part of the label name?
Yeah, NOISE was just used as a graphic, and as a reminder that you were not likely to be getting some sensitive singer songwriter bullshit (ha-ha). I spent quite a while on it, and then sent it to the bass player in Tar who was working at a architectural print house or something and he cleaned it up and did actual typesetting for it.
If you were to guess, how many t-shirts have been printed with the AmRep logo on the back? Would it be in the high five figures?
Easy. We were printing tons for bands and mail order, but any band on the label could use it freely on their own on t-shirts as well.
In all the years I’ve known you, Tom, you’ve always seemed to discount your own band although Halo of Flies were easily one of the most unique bands on the label, and one that very few even ever saw perform. Does all of this stem from that midwestern modesty thing or do you really not think much of what you’ve done?
Fair amount of it is midwestern modesty by far. I certainly felt more comfortable being behind the scenes than front and center stage. I don’t have the objectivity or concern to know where and why that band will/should/does fit into any overall big picture.
Although HOF shares the initials of Halo of Flies, it seems to have very little musically in common with its predecessor. Is HOF just your way of carrying your own musical legacy without having to come up with a new name?
In a nutshell, yes. Didn’t want to start completely from scratch, as the last time I did that (Gear Jammer) I realized how hard it was, but at the same time not sully the old rep, and distinguish the new version. So we became SSD, er, I mean HOF.
Record collector scum. Since the label started, you clearly have contempt for them. Since that is the case, why are you so calculated in how you punish them? Do you secretly relish it?
I’m a collector of many things so I certainly have a swollen collector gland, but also I think at times the music/art gets lost in the feral pursuit of objects. That’s the point where I can’t help myself from being a dick.
Like the fish that got away, were there any bands that you would’ve signed in a hot second but were snagged away?
Been asked this a lot, only a few come to mind. Brainiac, Jesus Lizard, Barkmarket, Bailter Space.
Mac (Tim ‘Mac’ McLaughlin, Halos bassist, AmRep "house engineer") was to AmRep what Martin Hannett was to Factory. Agree or disagree?
He was of incredible valuable service and a tremendous pain in the ass I don’t miss.
What is your take on the current musical climate?
What climate? I just hear mountains of luke warm rehashed genres and sounds already done better decades ago. What the fuck, youth? Make something new, the world DOES NOT NEED 17th generation punk, post punk, emo, whatever. Give me something NEW!!!!!!
I know you’re often asked what is your favorite AmRep full length or single, but to a lay person, what ten releases would you suggest to let people understand what the label is all about?
Cows "Cunning Stunts" kinda captured a bit of everything everyone was trying to achieve.
You’ve told me that the Cows were the quintessential AmRep band. If that’s the case, why aren’t they performing for the 25th?
Don’t know. Some weird thing/chemistry between Kevin & Shannon that I have no grasp of. I’ve tried as have others to no avail. Strangely no one knows of any bad blood, or at least not a significant enough amount of it to have them stop from doing something. Maybe in 5 years. (ha-ha)
We all know the line up for the 25th Anniversary, but what about bands that contacted you once you announced the line up?
Folks did come out of the woodwork once it was announced but due to time constraints it couldn’t be done.
The night of the 25th Anniversary Bash, you have two bands that haven’t released a proper record on AmRep (namely White Drugs and Gay Witch Abortion) which lets me know that you’re still actively listening to new bands. What other new(ish) bands have been turning your ear?
Not enough to mention, and that depresses me.
Any regrets with the label? Did you grow to fast? Sign a band you wish you didn’t? Hire somebody you wish you didn’t?
All of thee above. (ha-ha)
AmRep cage match at the AmRep 25th (by weight class): Buzz vs Haze. Mark Arm vs Mike Hard. Steve Austin vs Jon Spencer. Who wins? What’s the over-under? Who will be handling the money?
I’m only whoop yer ass, in public. I handle the money motherfucker. Them’s the rules.
I don’t know if you want to discuss this publicly, Tom, but you were very close to dying last year. Going into as much detail as you’d like, can you fill us in as to what happened?
39 day coma. Grand Mal seizure, meningitis, encephalitis, pulmonary embolisms, blood staph infections, and TONS more. Should’ve checked out 5 or 6 times easy peasy. I dunno, didn’t feel like it yet. Maybe next year. (ha-ha)
As somebody glancing from the outside, it seems like you’ve been going on overdrive since you’ve awakened from the coma. Would you agree? Why is that?
Rehab of sorts. I was told to take it easy. Said it would take me well over a year to function normally and get past the brain damage. I’m fucking incredibly stupid.
What drink will you be thrusting into my hand at Grumpy’s? Will it be the Black Nazi? What the hell is in that thing? Do you often choose that drink just because it’s got a funny name?
It’s called a DEAD NAZI, damn you journalist/writer types have crappy memories. I stick to whiskey these days.
And finally, so uh, what’s the story with the AmRep book we’ve been hearing about for the past ten years?
Fuck. You tell me, dickweed.
Gear Jammer – I Saw You (Video)
Gear Jammer – Two Tons of Chrome
Gear Jammer – Lock And Load/He Drinks
Gear Jammer – If It Wasn’t Me/Horsepower 2000