Monte Conner, Senior Vice President of A&R at Roadrunner Records, recently answered several fan questions regarding his career achievements and the newly released "Roadrunner United: The All Star Sessions" album celebrating the label's 25th anniversary. A couple of excerpts from the question-and-answer session follow:
Q: What are the main things that you look for in a band that would make you consider signing them?
Monte Conner: "The number one thing I look for is originality — a band with a unique sound doing something different from other bands. An example is FEAR FACTORY. They were the first heavy band I ever heard that combined guttural verses and melodic choruses. Everyone does it these days from nu metal bands to metalcore bands but FEAR FACTORY pioneered that approach, as far as I am concerned. Or look at Glen Benton of DEICIDE. No death metal singers were layering high-pitched 'demon screams' over brutal death metal vocals before that guy. When I first heard his crazed blend of vocals, I was floored. Originality is not an easy thing to accomplish — believe me. In conjunction with originality or often in place of it, I look for some sort of an angle — something that sets the band apart. As an example, when I signed SEPULTURA back in 1988, a death metal band coming from Brazil was unheard of. Just the fact that they were from Brazil opened up so many doors for us with the media — all the magazines were instantly interested in covering the band. People were fascinated with the simple fact that this band came from Brazil. So that allowed us to get our foot in the door and get people interested in the band and make them instantly stand out from all other bands. And look at OBITUARY. Here was a band whose singer did not sing lyrics but just grunted and used his voice to make guttural sounds that fit the music. The press freaked over that — they loved it. It got OBITUARY noticed. Of course, a great angle is a complete waste of time if the band doesn't have the killer music to back it up and that's a crucial fact to state. An angle just gets a band noticed — it doesn't sell records on its own — that's down to killer music. In the case of SEPULTURA and OBITUARY, both bands had the music to back it up after the angle initially helped get people's attention."
Q: Which act are you most proud of that you brought to the label?
Monte Conner: "It's impossible to cite just one signing but I'll name a few highlights. SEPULTURA were my first real success as an A&R person so I have to name them first. Another notable signing is TYPE O NEGATIVE. 'Bloody Kisses' was Roadrunner's first platinum album in the U.S., and it's also one of the top 10 all-time greatest Roadrunner albums — a masterpiece. SLIPKNOT is an obvious one as their debut record was the only metal record ever made that rivals 'Reign In Blood' as greatest metal record ever. And of course they are my biggest selling signing to date and one of the most important metal bands of the last ten years. Those are the three I would cite, but honorable mention must go out to FEAR FACTORY and MACHINE HEAD. TRIVIUM deserve mention as well since they are my latest success story. What amazes me is that Matt Heafy was just two years old when I started at Roadrunner. He grew up listening to the bands I signed, so by signing him, it's like things have come full circle in a way. Kinda cool to think of it that way, huh?"
Q: It seems to me that bands like TRIVIUM, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE [and others] all have a formated "screamo-vers/sing-along ref" formula that is the foundation of their music. Do you see the "pop influences" on metal as a sign of weakness for the metal genre and its audience? As these bands seam to be more and more dependent on simple melodies to expand their territory, do you think we in the end will reach a point where "metal" is all washed out? Where fashion and identity is more important than music?
Monte Conner: "Metal bands have incorporated singing and melody into their music since the beginning of time. But what has become very prevalent these days is the FEAR FACTORY pioneered idea of alternating between heavy vocals on the verses and melodic vocals on the choruses/refrains. Why do bands do this? It's done to set the choruses apart, to make them really pop and stand out - and it allows the bands to be heavy as hell for the most part but to still give their songs melody and a hook right where it counts — in the chorus. It's kind of like the best of both worlds. I don't see why singing and melody is a sign of weakness. Who said metal bands are not allowed to have melody? Nor is the word 'hook' a dirty word. When a song is over, I want to be able to remember the chorus. Look at what a huge hook the chorus of 'Roots Bloody Roots' is. The song is over and those three words are imbedded in your head — that's why it's SEPULTURA's best known and most popular song. Metal is like any other genre in that what matters are great songs and hooks — and bands who incorporate melody to make catchy, sweeping choruses like KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, have the clear advantage over bands whose singers just growl away the whole time. That gets old. It's no accident that KILLSWITCH and TRIVIUM are huge bands, and it proves that metalheads do appreciate melody — at least the ones that aren't narrow-minded or too cool to deal with singing. In the old days, we called those kids death metal weenies. They liked death metal and nothing else!"
Read the entire interview at this location.