Exclusive Interviews Only Found Here at MetalCore!
Marc Fischer is a person who did a fanzine way back when called Primary Concern in lovely Phila, PA. Well we hooked up on Facebook and I asked him for an interview and now read this awesome novel of an interview which brought back many old memories:
MC; Where did you grow up and did you come from a big or small family?
Marc Fischer (MF): I’m from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania – a suburb of Philly. I have one sister.
MC: When did music enter your life and what was some early music that you listened to?
MF: I was born in 1970. As a kid I remember quite a bit of Helen Reddy, Shawn Cassidy, Air Supply, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, 70s rock on the radio, Jim Croce, and things like that. My dad also loved older rock like Buddy Holly. Occasionally stranger things would catch my dad’s eye and enter the house; in the early 1980s I vaguely remember one of those ROIR tapes of underground New York bands but I was probably too young to appreciate it at the time. Apparently when I was very young I played the hell out of the Babatunde Olatunji album “Drums of Passion” as well as the soundtrack from the film “Exodus” but I don’t have much memory of that.
The first album I remember buying on my own was “Destroyer” by Kiss on cassette from the local Sam Goody when I was about eight years old. I had just seen the TV Movie “Phantom of the Park” on TV and was entranced. I distinctly remember going into the store, clueless, and asking the clerk which Kiss album he recommended and that was his suggestion. I never really stayed interested in Kiss after that, though. The next bands I remember being excited about were AC/DC, The Who, Rush, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Jimi Hendrix. Pretty generic stuff for a kid in about 1981 or 82. I went to the roller skating rink and video arcade and this was common stuff you’d here. It was far better, in my opinion, to hear AC/DC song or an Ozzy solo record at the roller rink than Stevie Nicks or J. Geils Band, but those things coexisted fairly comfortably.
My sister liked music but we rarely agreed on the same things. She somehow acquired a copy of “Frankenchrist” by the Dead Kennedys on cassette around when it came out and I swiped that from her because she wasn’t listening to it. I loved, and still really like that album. I was just beginning to develop my teenage political consciousness and Jello Biafra’s very dark and sharp political lyrics were deeply affecting to me at the time. I quickly bought the album on vinyl for the art and sent away to the label for the H.R. Giger poster which had been pulled because of their pending court case.
MC: Now when did the wonderful world of heavy metal enter your life? How did you discover this lovely form of music?
MF: It’s hard to remember – maybe Iron Maiden when I was about 14? I checked out the Dio solo albums but his earlier records with Black Sabbath were a lot more powerful sounding to me. I surely saw any metal videos that I caught on MTV and there was a local radio show, Metalshop that introduced me to some bands. My childhood friend Kevin was also getting into metal so I’d hear anything he picked up that I wasn’t aware of. I also remember a lot of trial and error – buying used records and tapes or cheaper promo copies of things and hoping that the next thing I tried was better than something like Kick Axe, or Queensryche.
MC: What were some of the early metal bands that you liked and got into? Did you get to go to many concerts back in the day and was there any record stores that you could go get your metal fix?
MF: By 1986 I was definitely listening to Metallica, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Exodus, Kreator, Voivod, Anthrax, Metal Church, Venom, Megadeth, Dark Angel and so many of the other great speed and thrash metal bands of that golden period.
Seeing Metallica at the Spectrum in Philly when they opened for Ozzy on the “Master of Puppets” tour was just mind-blowing. It was clear that they had accomplished something extraordinary without much mainstream radio support or interest, that metal was headed in a powerful new direction, and watching Ozzy perform weak songs from “The Ultimate Sin” after seeing Cliff Burton and company strut onstage in their street clothes and fully destroy the place, was just kind of tired in comparison. Other great shows I enjoyed from that around period when I lived in Philly were Metal Church and Anthrax at Pulsations, Slayer at Pulsations, The Ultimate Revenge 2 show at the Trocadero where Death and Dark Angel killed and everyone left before Raven’s set, and the Exodus, Celtic Frost and Anthrax show at the Tower Theater where I was kicked out in the middle of Celtic Frost’s set by an overzealous bouncer who got pissed off because I was standing in the aisle taking photos. I also saw a fair number of hardcore shows – bands like Cro-Mags, Ludichrist, Agnostic Front, F.O.D., Nausea, Verbal Assault, and others
A few record stores were important during this period. One was Wall to Wall Sound and Video in Suburban Square, outside of Philly on the Main Line. Despite being in the middle of such a conservative area, they had a great import selection and were always a reliable source of metal and some hardcore records. I have very fond memories of bringing a vinyl copy of Celtic Frost’s “To Mega Therion” to the counter when it came out and watching the young woman at the register recoil in horror at the cover art, asking, “What is THIS?!” I still have my various Voivod tapes, Kreator and Venom records, and many other things I got from that store. I also have strong memories of things I didn’t buy and wish I had. I remember looking at the cover of Poison Idea’s “Kings of Punk” LP many times and always thinking that it must just be a really bad punk rock record, not realizing until about three or four years later what a raging hardcore band they were who had just the right kind of metal influence in Pig Champion’s killer guitar solos.
The other store I forget the name of but it was in the King of Prussia mall. The bassist from McRad worked there. He was really nice and always had great suggestions. I remember when Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” came out and his expression of total awe when I asked how it was. Needless to say, I bought it on the spot and was as blown away as everyone else was.
I also bought records from Plastic Fantastic but the people who worked there were almost always such incredibly condescending assholes and even though they sometimes had good records, buying from them was never a good experience.
I can think of just two great things that happened at Plastic Fantastic. One was when I was about 13 years old and bought Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” on cassette. The clerk rang it up and we both were a bit taken aback when the final price, after sales tax, came to $6.66. My other good experience there was finding a pristine copy of the original pressing of Agnostic Front’s “Victim in Pain” on Ratcage for about $5.00 because they didn’t know that it was already a really expensive record in the early 1990s. Usually nothing at that store was a bargain, so it was a small triumph if you could ever get a good deal on something rare.
Later when I started listening to more hardcore and punk I was getting records from 3rd Street Jazz, Philadelphia Record Exchange, and Chaos Records in downtown Philly, and through mail order. Brubaker at Chaos Records was always really friendly and helpful.
MC: Now at what point did underground music come into the picture? Was it some of the bigger bands or was it more demo bands at the time or a combo of both? Do you remember the 1st underground music release that you bought?
MF: Around the time I picked up say… “Pleasure to Kill” by Kreator, or Voivod’s second album, I was feeling a bit lost in figuring out what to check out next. I probably took some cues from the demo and record reviews section in the mainstream mag Metal Mania, and I know I learned of some good records in the import mag Kerrang, but I was also trying out records by bands based on who was mentioned on the “Thank you” lists on records by the bands I liked, or what band t-shirts the groups were wearing in the photos on the backs of their records. I figured that anyone Kreator or Voivod or Cryptic Slaugher were friends with had to be playing some fast, heavy music. I was also buying just about anything on Combat or Metal Blade that looked reasonably good. If the people on the back of the record were ugly enough to have no chance at major commercial success, looked threatening, and wore shitty clothes, I figured it was probably a good record! I had no friends that listened to anything particularly underground so I had exhausted any suggestions from my small peer group.
The first demos I ordered were by hardcore bands after I discovered MAXIMUMROCKNROLL magazine. I distinctly remember writing away to the bands for demos by Corrupted Morals from the Bay Area, and the New Jersey noise-core band Psycho Sin. In some cases I began corresponding with the bands. Scott Helig from Total Thrash ‘zine was hip to all the great Japanese and Brazilian bands and even traveled to Brazil at one point to meet all of his pen pals in bands like Sepultura and Dorsal Atlantica so I got to hear that stuff early on through tapes he would make for me. I also started buying demos at shows and then once I started a ‘zine, the demo floodgates opened.
MC: Now when you listen to a song, is it more the guitar and the beat of the song that gets you blood flowing? In your ears what makes a good song?
MF: This is so hard to define, and I listen to many other kinds of music now – not just metal. It could be a thousand factors. What’s always fascinating to me in any great group is how all of the band members’ contributions merge together into a seamless whole.
MC: Did you ever do any type of tape trading back then as that was a big thing back in the 80s’?
MF: Yes, tape trading was an amazing phenomena. I recently revisited some trading lists I saved from back in the 80s and they are wonderful artifacts – filled with all that obsessive minutia like the particular rating systems people used to describe the sound quality of live recordings, whether the tape was the master or much further removed from the original source, the number of minutes for each recording so you could figure out how much material would fit on a 90 minute tape, and other little notes.
I was not a rabid tape trader – I didn’t feel the need to have a copy of every show a band played on a particular tour. But I did discover some things this way and I was really excited by the phenomena in general. I traded video tapes with some people as well – dubs of horror films or these outrageously low resolution fourth generation copies of something like an old Celtic Frost show where you could barely understand what was happening – but it was still exciting, particularly to a kid in the suburbs who hadn’t yet been able to see much live music yet.
MC: Now was this music like a drug that you just wanted more and more of and couldn’t get enough of it.
MF: By the late 1980s, after hearing the 5000th Slayer soundalike band, I’d say that I was finding that I could get enough of many types of metal and that I no longer felt the need to hear every hairsplitting variation of each type of sound. I’m still sort of this way. My tendency is to more want to hear everything by a band I love, rather than hear every single band in a given genre.
By about 1990 I was much more interested in hearing other things like underground noise rock, indie rock, soul, funk, hip hop, and jazz. College friends and college radio opened exposed me to all kinds of interesting music. I still liked loud, visceral, and ugly sounding music, but I was getting that thrill more from bands like Swans, The Jesus Lizard, The Ex, NoMeansNo, Dog Faced Hermans, Laughing Hyenas, Melvins, Come, and groups like that, than say… newer generations of speed metal, or death metal which I burned out on pretty quickly. I passed over most 1990s black metal completely and still don’t really like that subgenre.
MC: Now when did fanzines come into the picture and what were some early zines that you read?
MF: The first newsstand kind of ‘zine I discovered was Maximum Rock N Roll, which exposed me to a vast world of bands, record labels, zines, and contacts. In around 1987 I met Scott Helig when I bought a copy of his ‘zine Total Thrash at a Cro-Mags show at Pulsations. That might have been the ‘zine that said to me, “You can make something like this.” The writing, the photocopied production and cut and paste layout all looked like something I could take on. From there I probably ordered other ‘zines he reviewed, or bought ‘zines direct from their publishers when I attended hardcore shows, or from the few stores that sold ‘zines like Philly Record Exchange off of South Street. For local ‘zines I really liked Tim Hinely’s ‘zine Dagger. He wrote about bands like Killdozer, Swans, and Pussy Galore that I was still too young to check out because they only played in Philly bars, but I really liked his writing style, which was very sarcastic. Tony from Threatening Society ‘zine became a pretty good friend and I checked out every issue he published once I became aware of what he was doing.
MC: At anytime did the thought of playing guitar, drums, bass or singing ever enter your mind?
MF: I briefly owned a used bass guitar in the mid-late 1980s after having tried playing music in a band at an overnight summer camp, but I had no natural ability, didn’t seem to be able to move beyond extremely rudimentary playing, and gave it up quickly. Living at home would not have been particularly conducive to starting a band and once I went off to college, I did have friends who were musicians but I was completely consumed with visual art and trying to do the ‘zine on top of my school work.
MC: What steps led to you starting your own fanzine? Did you do any prior writing before you decided to start up your own?
MF: I had done some creative writing in high school but nothing like journalism or music writing. I think I was 16 when I started working on my ‘zine and 17 by the time I published the first issue. I felt like I was starting with pretty serviceable writing and design skills. I enjoyed writing and would really obsess over it. I still spend a lot of time picking at my writing. Nothing is written in just one draft – including this interview.
MC: Looking back, was starting up a zine harder or easier than you thought it was going to be and what was the hardest thing or part of doing one?
MF: It felt strangely easy. I was already artistically inclined so doing the layout and visualizing how it should look and read came to me without much struggle. I copied ideas from other ‘zines or came up with my own design solutions based on the art materials I had on hand or things I could find – like sheets of Letraset rub on lettering.
As with any creative idea, I think if you have a clear sense of what you want to make, the various pieces fall into place. It was also particularly exciting to see distribution start to take off once I made the first issue. I would send my ‘zine in for review or trade with other ‘zines and watch the mail come in – dozens of letters with a couple dollar bills in each envelope arriving from all over the place. I started taking copies to shows at places like Club Pizzazz and Revival and selling them out of my backpack. It’s strange to think back about how confident I felt bringing the thing around and selling it so directly but that’s what people did back then so it all seemed normal and expected. I also brought copies to Philadelphia Record Exchange and the couple other places in Philly that would take copies.
MC: Now when you got the idea to start up one, did you ask anybody got advice or just read other zines to pick up some ideas or what you wanted to do and some things you didn’t like?
MF: I was largely self-directed but surely gained useful insights from talking to other ‘zine makers later on as I got to know more of them. We’d talk about who to send copies to for review, and about which record labels sent out the most and the best promo material. I vaguely remember some exchanges about approaches to interviewing bands, like techniques for recording interviews off the phone.
MC: How did you come up with the name and were there any other names you were throwing around at the time? Did you any type of logo for the zine and if you did who did it? As far as covers go, did you use band pictures or did you have some type of drawing and if so who did those for ya and how did you come up with ideas for them?
MF: The name Primary Concern came about because I had the idea early on that each issue would be a benefit for some cause – so that cause would be the primary concern that would shift from issue to issue. So many ‘zine-makers back then, particularly in the hardcore scene, had this ethic that you shouldn’t be doing a ‘zine to make money – that it was wrong to draw any sort of profit. I did my printing for free thanks to my father who would let me sneak in on weekends and use the copier at the office where he worked, so I didn’t have to raise money to pay for copying. He’d also mail a lot of copies out for free using the postage meter at the office. I think he really enjoyed these little transgressions on my behalf. He was incredibly supportive and this support enabled me to charge $2.00 for a ‘zine and then give a dollar away to charity. I’d support things like anti-censorship causes, a group called the Freedom Writer that tried to debunk various religious cults, or I’d use the money to buy bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly and my friends and I would make big bags of sandwiches and walk around downtown Philly giving them out to homeless people.
I can’t remember if I considered any other names. I created the logo for Primary Concern myself. It was made quite simply from two different sizes of Letraset rub on lettering that I scratched up and degraded with an Xacto knife. The first issue of my ‘zine used my own art – a scratchboard drawing of a depressed looking monkey in a cage holding an American flag. Very heavy handed! This was one of the few high school art assignments that I employed in my ‘zine. The next cover was illustrated by a friend, Bryon Bruening, who was in college for art in Iowa. He was someone I met through my ‘zine, he offered a cover image that I liked, and he eventually came to visit me in Philly and stayed over at my parent’s house which was really nice.
Other covers where of imagery grabbed from old horror film books and magazines, or other found imagery. I hunted through the library or thrift stores looking for photos that I might steal or manipulate for use in the ‘zine. I was looking at stuff like the collage booklet Jello Biafra made for the Dead Kennedy’s album Plastic Surgery Disasters, as well as at Dada art that I was learning about in art history books. I went to museums and art exhibitions regularly and this impacted my ‘zine work at times. I was constantly checking out piles of art and photography books from public libraries.
MC; So tell me about how the coming together of your 1st issue came about. How long did it take from the start of it to complete it? What stuff was in the 1st issue, just some interviews and band reviews?
MF: I just picked up the first issue again for the first time in quite a while and it’s kind of shocking how ambitious it was. I think it was released in late 1987. It’s 54 pages, and has interviews I conducted with Exodus, Youth of Today, Ludichrist, Caligula, and Pagan Babies. Most of the reviews were of records and demos I purchased myself, but there are quite a few ads from other ‘zines and I had already connected with some other folks in the underground who helped write reviews and other content.
MC: How many copies did you print up and where did you get them printed up at? How did you start to get the word out and did you sell them at shows and through the mail? Did you print up a bunch of ads and have people that you wrote to spread them around for you?
MF: I think I printed between 225 and 300 copies of each issue. I can’t remember exactly. As I said before, I was mostly printing for free at my dad’s office. When I went away to college, the library copiers would take these copy cards that you’d buy value for. People were always forgetting them in the machines and I used to be on the lookout for copy cards with value left on them. Sometimes you’d get lucky and find one that had a few hundred or even a thousand copies left. That helped keep printing costs down.
I did everything you wrote: I made little cut out ads that people sent out for me with letters and with their ‘zines, I traded printed ads with other publishers, I sent ‘zines out to be reviewed and I reviewed ‘zines by other people. It never seemed very hard to sell the ‘zine and people usually gave my ‘zine positive reviews. One glowing review in Maximum Rock N Roll or Factsheet Five was usually good for thirty or forty mail orders. After a few issues I also started distributing through Tower Records. There was one guy there, Doug Biggert, who was in charge of ‘zine distribution. Doug would take about a hundred copies of my ‘zine and send out about two copies each to fifty different stores. He was reliable in paying for everything that sold and would return the very few copies that didn’t sell. I can’t imagine, given all of the paperwork, that it could possibly have been very profitable for Tower to send out copies to so many stores in such small quantities with such low cover prices but this is what they did and it was a great way of getting the ‘zine out all over the country.
MC: How many issues did you end up putting out/ Do you still have a copy of each issue you put out and is there any extra copies lying around? Have you ever seen your zine listed up on sites like Ebay?
MF: I made seven issues of my ‘zine, one compilation tape with a booklet (I think) and two additional issues with different titles that were more like journals. I’m a pack rat so I do have copies of each issue but aside from the covers or a page or two here and there, I refuse to let anyone look at them. I consider them my juvenilia and every issue has some content that I find embarrassing – particularly the later issues and the two side projects where I wrote some terrible personal journals while I was in college. I’m a lot more charmed by the stuff other people made when they were teenagers.
I’m not really in the habit of looking but so far I have never seen copies of my ‘zine for sale on eBay. I’ve challenged my friends that want to see my ‘zine to find copies on their own. So far none have. While I did save all of the ‘zines I acquired from other people, most people treated these publications – particularly the photocopied ‘zines – as completely disposable. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are fewer than a dozen copies of each issue of my ‘zine left in the world. I know that many of the things I saved were produced in runs of under one hundred copies and are tremendously scarce.
MC: Did you feel over time that it became easier do the zine? Did your circulation start to go up and did any bands or labels start to take ads out and did you do much zine trading back then? Did you ever get to the newsprint stage?
MF: The layout and writing came more easily over time. My writing skills certainly improved from just doing so much writing. Various systems and conventions started falling into place. People who make ‘zines today may not know that back then, but you couldn’t just set up the whole job in a photocopy machine, scanning all of the pages together, and then press print. Each side of each page had to be printed, one side at a time, and the paper constantly jammed when printing the second side. It often took several weekends at the office to get all of the pages done.
The back destroying work of sitting on the floor collating and stapling everything continued to take forever. My ‘zine was always pretty thick so this meant spreading all of the stacks of pages, maybe twenty-five different double sided pages, on the floor and then crawling around the room collating everything. Now the machine can do all of this but back then it was very labor intensive and tedious. I think for that reason I never tried to raise the print run. It stayed about the same for the entire run of the ‘zine. I never printed anything offset, though one of the later issues had a two-color cover because my parents got a little home copier and I bought a Cyan cartridge and did a pass on the cover with a second color.
I traded ‘zines with some publishers quite regularly – including you I think. I don’t remember ever getting money to print ads from record labels. I just gave them a few ads, and only for the records I liked, in exchange for all of the free promo stuff they sent. I frequently traded ads and reviews with other ‘zine makers.
MC: At what point did labels and bands start sending stuff to you for review and did it grow as time went by? Did you get much mail at the time and was it fun for you, like it was for me, to get mail from somebody whether it be a band or label everyday and that you opened the letter or package like a little kid?
MF: Probably by the second issue the torrent of music started showing up in the mail and it was pretty amazing. Combat and Roadracer and their other related labels like Roadrunner and Hawker just started sending piles and piles of records and tapes. Some of it was crap, particularly as the 1980s wore on, but there was a period when it was just this constant barrage of great metal records. Sodom, Sepultura, Holy Terror, Obituary, Pestilence, Dark Angel, Death, and on and on. Before long bands were sending their demos, hardcore bands were sending their 7”’s, and it was pretty fantastic to get to hear so much new music for free. What I didn’t like I sold at used record stores and took trade credit so I could get the things I wanted that didn’t arrive in the mail.
I corresponded with quite a few people – other self-publishers in particular, and would get at least forty or more pieces of mail a week. I particularly loved getting all of the mail when I was in high school because I had a limited number of high school friends and the friends I did have didn’t listen to interesting music. My social life through the mail was a lot more enjoyable and enriching.
Toward the end of my ‘zine someone put my address in a list of free resources for prisoners and this was something of a disaster as I started getting hundreds of requests for ‘zines from people in prison. The requests far exceeded the number of issues I printed. I fulfilled many requests but eventually it got to be too much. These letters from prisoners asking for ‘zines continued for years after I stopped publishing. I wrote the list asking to be removed but the damage had already been done. Prisoners and prison libraries hang onto materials for so long and there is such a desperate desire for any kind of interesting information, so once it was printed that I’d send out ‘zines for free, it was very hard to reverse that flow of requests.
MC: What were some of the bigger bands that you managed to get interviews with? What was your best and worst interview that you ever did?
MF: Some of the bands I interviewed were Slayer, Death, Dark Angel, Exodus, Youth of Today, Ludichrist, Prong, Nuclear Assault, Excel, The Accüsed, and a number of lesser known bands. I also interviewed people like Jennifer Norwood from the PMRC (which was a disaster because I was so unprepared) and Paul Wright, a prisoner and the publisher of a newsletter called Prison Legal News.
I look back at most of the interviews I did and don’t find them particularly interesting. In some cases I think they are dull interviews because of my young age. It’s hard to conduct a thoughtful interview that does more than scratch the surface when you are still a teenager and just starting to figure things out yourself. In other cases, I’d be disappointed that the people I was speaking to just didn’t have much to say. Many of the people I spoke to seemed far better at expressing themselves through music, or sometimes weren’t very generous in their answers. I was developing my interviewing skills as I went along and the later interviews were definitely better than the earliest ones but I don’t think any of them are all that amazing.
Some of the people were fun to talk to. Gary Holt from Exodus was particularly friendly and energetic. I also have fond memories of my interview with Jeff Hanneman from Slayer – not because it was a great interview or because he gave particularly interesting answers, but because of my anxiety about conducting the interview. It was arranged through the record label so he was given my phone number and he was directed to call me at a particular time. I was still in high school and living at home so I begged my mom not to pick up the phone at our agreed upon time. Jeff from Slayer was going to be calling and the humiliation of having my mom answer the phone for such an important call would have been unbearable. Thankfully she was a good sport and didn’t interfere.
MC: Did you get much mail from overseas at all? In any given week, how much time was spent doing zine related stuff and what did you like to do when you were not doing music related stuff?
MF: I got a fair amount of overseas mail from countries like Sweden, Germany, the UK, Brazil, and sometimes Spain or Mexico. Every now and then there might be something from Poland or Japan, and I had a close pen pal in Canada for a while. Connecting with people in other countries was always exciting.
In the last two years of high school all I wanted to do was work on my ‘zine. I quit school after school sports because it was so much less interesting to me than working on my ‘zine. Keeping up with the mail and trying to maintain a regular publishing schedule of doing a new, thick issue with a lot of writing every four months or so was quite demanding.
Doing a ‘zine got much more complicated after I went off to college in Pittsburgh. There I finally was making friends who shared more of my interests, I was studying art and spending many hours doing studio work, and also just enjoying the general social aspects of college, which was a lot more fun than high school. Also, going to see bands was a lot easier and Pittsburgh was a great place for live music between 1989 and 1993.
MC: Did you do any writing for any other zines and do you feel that your writing improved as time went on?
MF: Yes, in addition to my own ‘zine I’d sometimes do writing for other ‘zines. The main one I contributed to was Gray Matter in Texas. I never met the editor Chris Orloski in person, but we spoke on the phone and corresponded and I felt a strong kinship with what he was doing. I thought his ‘zine was easily one of the most intelligently written metal ‘zines I had encountered, and he just had a great work ethic and a very professional approach to self-publishing. We talked about doing a collaborative ‘zine called Primer Gray but it never happened for some reason. I’d be interested to know what Chris is up to now. I haven’t been in touch with him for well over twenty years.
MC: Now tell me about your last issue. Did you know at the time it was gonna be your last issue or did the zine fold after that was released?
MF: I published my last issue of Primary Concern in 1991. I knew it would be my last issue of that ‘zine and I announced in the issue that it would be the last.
MC: How sad were you when you folded the zine? What was the reason or reasons that you decided to not do it anymore? After the zine folded, did you do any writing for any other zines?
MF: I didn’t feel sad about ending the ‘zine. I felt that I had learned a lot from it but was ready to direct my creativity toward more of a studio art practice. I was in my third year in college and was just burnt out on trying do a ‘zine and be in school full time. I had a girlfriend, I was probably spending 50 hours a week in my studio making art, and I was just exhausted with trying to keep up with mailing out thirty or forty letters a week. In the last couple years of doing a ‘zine, I was getting many requests for copies from people in prison and some of those requests turned into intense and time consuming correspondences. I was spending a lot of time writing letters to guys who were locked up. Some of those pen pal relationships, while very interesting, were a lot of work and may have further contributed to feeling burnt out. Doing a ‘zine was becoming more administrative and less creative – which is always a risk in creative projects and something I struggle with in my art practice all the time.
MC: After the zine folded, was there one band or bands that you would have liked to interview, but never had the chance and the same goes for seeing a band live.
MF: There are a million bands I would have loved to have seen or interviewed but I don’t look back on that with regret and I’m just not going to go down that “coulda, shoulda, woulda” road. There are some things I just wasn’t quite old enough or didn’t know about soon enough to experience and that’s life. On the plus side, I’ve seen many amazing bands at their creative peak and met plenty of great people.
MC; Did you continue to follow the underground after the zine folded and did you really miss doing it at times or was it just time to move on?
MF: I’ve never stopped going to shows or buying records, but music is only one interest of mine and I don’t even pretend to have heard everything. As my taste in music has expanded, it has only gotten harder to know what the hell is going on at any given time. In the early 1990s I was listening to less metal and a lot more noise rock like Unsane, Laughing Hyenas, Head of David, and all of the great fucked up Australian bands like Lubricated Goat, The Scientists, and King Snake Roost. In the mid 1990s I liked a lot of garage rock bands that labels like Estrus and Crypt were putting out. By the mid-late 1990s I was fully into heavy underground Japanese Psych Rock like Keiji Haino and his band Fushsitsusha, High Rise, Mainliner, and stuff like that. I also started looking backwards and learning about all those great German heavy rock bands from the 70s like Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, Can, Neu! and Ash Ra Tempel. Now I listen to more metal again, but it tends to be stuff like Church of Misery, High on Fire, EyeHateGod, Khanate, Yob, Weedeater, those Electric Wizard records from the early 2000s and other heavy doom. If Harvey Milk played in Chicago every day for a year, I’d probably put my entire life on hold to attend every one of their shows. I’m less interested in the new bands that are trying to recreate the sound of mid-late 1980s thrash metal. I like the psych and experimental music influence that has taken hold in a lot of recent metal and the long immersive songwriting that has emerged with some bands. It’s a pretty amazing time for heavy music right now.
MC: So tell me what you have been up to say the last 15 years ha ha?
MF: I studied art in Pittsburgh and Chicago between 1989-1995. During that time I mostly was hunkered down in a studio, making paintings and drawings and other things that I’ll never exhibit anymore.
Since 1998, I have been part of a collaborative group called Temporary Services (www.temporaryservices.org). There are two other members in the group: Brett Bloom and Salem Collo-Julin. We collaborate on art projects together which take a variety of forms – including exhibitions, events, curated projects that include other participants, writing, and – most relevant to this conversation – we have made almost 100 different publications and a lot of printed ephemera.
We formed in Chicago in 1998 and made a free booklet to go with the first exhibition. Assembling it felt just like doing a ‘zine and this, along with some other art-related self-published booklets I made in the year or two before, got me hooked on self-publishing again. The content of our publications rarely has anything to do with metal or hardcore or music, but they do frequently function as a tool for building community and sharing ideas, opinions, and research, as well as documentation of our art and creative practice. We make publications that include the work of other artists and art-related groups, and we have done many interviews over the years with other practitioners including some musicians.
For an exhibit in Austin, Texas we devoted a small publication to the Texas punk band The Dicks and tracked down and interviewed their singer and bassist. We also made an interview booklet with Tim Kerr from the Big Boys, Poison 13, Lord High Fixers, and other great Texas bands. Another booklet focuses on the Japanese musician Kawabata Makoto of Acid Mothers Temple, Mainliner, and other groups.
In 2003 we started a project called “Prisoners’ Inventions” with an incarcerated artist named Angelo who wrote about and illustrated the different things he has observed his fellow prisoners creating – items like electrical cooking devices and battery operated cigarette lighters. Angelo is someone I met through my ‘zine – his cellmate at the time wrote me for a copy, and shared it with Angelo who then contacted me. We have been corresponding for well over 20 years now. This project also resulted in a book and an exhibition that has traveled extensively.
In 2007 we authored a book titled Group Work, published by Printed Matter in New York, which focuses on artists who work in groups and the challenges of how people collaborate in groups. We interviewed Pedro Bell who did the album art for Funkadelic for that book, a member of the Dutch band The Ex, and a number of artist and activist groups from the U.S., Canada and Europe.
The quality of these interviews is so much better than the interviews I conducted back when I did my ‘zine. They are longer and go a lot deeper than the kind of superficial interviews I did when I was a teenager. All three of us really enjoy doing interviews and they often mark the beginning of long and inspiring friendships with the people that we include in our publications.
Total circulation for the publications we make numbers well into the tens of thousands. When we started we usually only printed about 150 or 200 copies but now we usually print a thousand copies or more, almost always offset printed and often in color, and we’ve made several newspaper format publications with even larger circulations. Every exhibit we have is accompanied by some kind of publication. Right now we have an exhibit at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. For this we got some Danish Arts Council government funding because Brett from the group lives in Copenhagen, but they stipulated that we couldn’t use it to make a book. So instead we used it to make a giant fold out poster.
At the end of 2008 our group started a publishing imprint called Half Letter Press. The name comes from the format of a letter-sized sheet of paper that has been folded in half, since that’s the format we use most often. We’ve published four books through the press with a bunch more in the works. So far half are devoted to our own work and the other half are by other artists and writers. We also started a small webstore for distributing our own work and work by other people. I do pretty much all of the mail order for the group so as before, it’s a lot of mail going out, and quite a bit coming in. We trade publications with other self-publishers and other artist friends who publish books and booklets around their ideas, so in some ways it’s a lot like the ‘zine days. My library isn’t getting any smaller; that’s for sure.
In addition to all of this, I have been teaching art at various colleges and universities around Chicago since 2007. Right now I mostly teach at Columbia College Chicago. I regularly travel to give lectures, and for exhibits. I seem to spend about 50-60 days a year on the road for my work.
In late 2007 I started another project called Public Collectors (www.publiccollectors.org) which deals with trying to encourage people who collect the kind of subcultural and underground materials that museums rarely care about, to be more generous with their collections and to make these resources public in a variety of ways. I have an active blog on Tumblr (www.publiccollectors.tumblr.com) where I’ll often share scans from things like old music ‘zines, but also other kinds of printed material and ephemera.
In 2010 I got married and last year my wife and I bought a house in Chicago so we’ll probably be settled here for quite some time. In general Chicago is a good place for the kind of work I do. The art and music scenes often feel quite separate from one another but they do sometimes overlap in interesting ways. Likewise with many people doing political activist and community oriented work.
MC: Do you still follow what goes on in the underground these days? Does it amaze you in some ways how the music scene has changed with no more writing letters, no ads being spread, no more demos and now bands can send music through emails and same thing with emails as they get to the person in a matter of seconds now?
MF: I have musician friends, I go to shows, and I buy records all the time but I generally don’t feel like I have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in underground music. Usually a band has a record out by the time I’ve heard of them. I’m not hearing as many unsigned bands or demos. There are a number of scenes for underground publishing though – particularly in an art context – and I have a better sense of that than I do with music. In the internet age where everything is known about immediately, it’s not clear to me what “underground” exactly is anymore, but I can say that I certainly still care about culture that is self-produced and non-corporate. The artist group I’m a member of has never been represented by a commercial gallery and we don’t exhibit in those spaces. We represent ourselves and like to be directly accountable for our work and to the people that are interested in what we do.
My sense of music ‘zine publishing is that it’s not as vital or necessary as it once was. Anyone that wants to hear a band can find their music uploaded on YouTube or some MP3 blog and instantly know what it sounds like that way. I still enjoy reading music-related writing but reviews of records or shows don’t seem nearly as critical as they once were. I’ll always be happy to read a thoughtful and interesting interview. I like reading what creative people have to say about the work they do.
MC: Vinyl went away for a long time and now it is sort of making a comeback in some ways. Do you see that with cassettes at all ha ha? Do you think cds will go away and that eventually all music will just be on the computer?
MF: Actually kids in the experimental and noise music scene love their cassettes! There’s a huge resurgence of people making tapes. It’s pretty funny.
I’m not in a position to speculate on what will happen in the future. Personally I have really grown to dislike tapes and CDs. I like having music on vinyl and MP3 and can do without the rest unless it’s absolutely necessary. I still buy plenty of new and used records but avoid other physical media unless it’s something really special that has great packaging or that I just need and can’t find any other way.
MC: Now were have social media sites like My Space and Facebook, have you reconnected with many people from back in the day like me?
MF: Some. I value that time period for the many things I learned from it but I’m generally not interested in dwelling too much on the good old days. It’s interesting to connect or reconnect with people who know this world and bring what they’ve learned from it to other creative ways of working. I like sharing the stuff I have from 25 years ago with people who have never seen it, but I need to keep moving forward and expect others do too. I’m happy to hear what others from that time are working on now. It has been great to see people like Tony Rettman, who did a very crude little ‘zine called I4NI, go on to be a serious writer and journalist. There are a lot of people like that who have taken their early ‘zine publishing to a more substantive next place, or have kept some of their old ethics and ideals in place as they’ve gone on to do other things.
MC: Do you have packed away somewhere a bunch of old flyers, zines and stuff from the good ole days?
MF: I have sold or given away various promo records, tapes and demos over the years but I’ve also held onto a ton of this material and have at least several hundred ‘zines, boxes of old correspondence in my mom’s attic, and a pretty good size pile of flyers. Every time I visit Philly I try to grab a little more of this stuff to bring back to Chicago. Just some of the letters people have sent me are written on the backs of really great flyers.
I regularly share this material online through my project Public Collectors and if you visit www.publiccollectors.org or the Public Collectors Flickr or Tumblr pages, you can see a lot of the ephemera and ‘zines I’ve hung onto. I’m gradually working on creating an online inventory of all of the ‘zines I have, with cover scans, so that this can be a bit more of a resource should anyone want to meet up and look at this stuff.
MC: Do you have any rare stuff that you would never part with?
MF: I try not to get too hung up on things like rarity. There are things that are extremely rare, like ‘zines or demos that were produced in small quantities, that I save because I was or still am friends with the people that made them, but just because something is rare doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good! Most of my favorite things to listen to are records rather than demo tapes, and while some of these records might be difficult or expensive to replace, there are generally still at least a few thousand copies out there so we aren’t exactly talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Rosetta Stone.
But just for fun, I will tell you about one cluster of things that I’m sentimental about and will not part with because it’s one of my favorite stories from this period of my life. When I was 15 or 16 I went away to a Summer overnight art camp and while I was away, my parents took a trip to Zürich, Switzerland to visit some old friends of theirs. They asked me if there was something they could bring me back as a gift and without even a second of hesitation I said, “Yeah! Celtic Frost records!” I had “To Mega Therion” and I think I had “Emperor’s Return” but I couldn’t find “Morbid Tales” or the Hellhammer EP. I feel so lucky to have parents who would even consider buying a record depicting a shitty drawing of Satan with a huge penis on the cover for their son, but my mom and my late father are just those kinds of people!
So my mom and her friend were walking around the old city in Zürich and decided to check out a tiny record store in an effort to fill my weird request. Sure enough, the man working behind the counter was none other than Martin Ain from Celtic Frost, who was quite amused and delighted by all of this and not only provided my mom with copies of those records but also the “Tragic Serenades” picture disc, which is really hard to find. But it didn’t end there – he suggested a whole bunch of other new or very recent records he thought I might like. These included the first Coroner LP, DRI’s “Dealing With It”, “Mean Man’s Dream” by Gore, “Mad Butcher” by Destruction, and “Gluey Porch Treatments” by the Melvins. My mom brought back this amazing trove of records. Her generosity was just amazing. Later I met Buzzo from the Melvins and told him that I first heard his band because Martin Ain suggested that my mom buy his record for me. He got a big kick out of that.
Finally, about five years ago I was in Zürich myself and saw these old family friends. Their daughter, also an artist, is a little older than me and she is into a lot of great music. Since everyone who is creative in Zürich knows everyone, she was able to introduce me to Martin Ain when he happened to be in a bar that we visited. He was extremely nice. I told him this story, thanked him for suggesting such great records and he responded, “I’m sure you infected a few people as well.”
MC: What are some venues that you saw shows at back in the day?
MF: In Philly and the suburbs I went to places like Revival, Club Pizzazz (where I lost a tooth during a Government Issue and Verbal Assault show), Pulsations, The Empire Rock Club, The Arch Street Empire, the Frankford YWCA, The Trocadero, TLA, and a few other scattered places in the suburbs. When I moved to Pittsburgh for college I caught maybe one show at the Sonic Temple before it closed, a lot of shows at the Upstage, shows on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus, the Beehive, City Limits, Graffiti, Metrapol, and other more underground or short-term venues. When I’d return to Philly from school in the early 1990s I usually would check out bands at the Khyber Pass. I’m sad that place no longer exists. I saw some great shows there.
MC: Now you live in Chicago. How is the metal scene there and do you still go see shows at all there?
MF: I probably make it to two or three shows a month – though not all of them are metal. Chicago has a particularly vital metal scene right now. The metal scene also sometimes crosses over with the experimental and noise scenes. Local heavy bands I see with some regularity are Indian and Anatomy of Habit.
MC: Do you ever sit back when you’re alone and think back to the oldie days about how cool the underground metal scene was and how it was such a close knit group?
MF: I think communities for underground music are often just as close now as they were then and perhaps much more so due to the greater ease with which people communicate with each other via the internet, through the wonders of unlimited long distance calling plans, and travel. I have met many people in person after only knowing them through music discussion forums for years and when I have to travel for art exhibitions or projects, I often meet up with friends from music boards in other cities – and sometimes I’ll stay with them and their families.
MC; Do you ever go on-line and read any webzines?
MF: Yes, I’m still generally curious about music-related journalism, online or in print, though I seem to bounce around from one webzine to the next based on which band I want to read about, rather than which editor’s vision I’m most drawn to.
MC: Plug anything you want here, including your Facebook address and are there people you are looking to try to get in contact with from way back then?
You can find me on Facebook: Marc Fischer. My profile pic changes frequently and is usually some fucked up found image that doesn’t look like me, so keep that in mind. Other links for things I’m involved with are:
Temporary Services: www.temporaryservices.org
Half Letter Press: www.halfletterpress.com
Public Collectors: www.publiccollectors.org
My email address is marc [at] publiccollectors.org
MC: Marc, wow, it was great to re-connect with you after all these years and I guess we have to credit Facebook with that. Any last words to wrap this up and I am sure when I read it, it will be a great trip down memory lane.
MF: I’m sure I’ve said far more than enough! Thank you for the opportunity Chris. I highly doubt that anyone will ever ask me questions like this again, and if they do, I’ll just direct them to this ridiculously long interview. It has been a pleasure to work on and I appreciate your interest. I do not think the ‘zine I made way back when is particularly interesting or worth seeking out, but I hope some of what I wrote here is useful to people who are curious about how self-publishing worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and can maybe apply some of this to things they are working on now.