Posted on by Oran

The mastermind behind, mostly likely, 80 percent of your record collection. A&R guru, Monte Conner joins us for a deep dive into the ‘Roadrunner United’ project which is officially released this Friday, March 10th via Roadrunner Records…

As far as any self-respected Metal head goes, the chances are that a good portion of your record collection would not exist, had it not been for one man in particular.

That man’s name is Monte Conner.

Monte’s influence on Metal is almost as important as the first tritone chords that one Mr Iommi struck all those many years ago in the back streets of Birmingham, which, according to many late night arguments, created the foundations for what we’ve all come to know and love as, “Heavy Metal“.

A highly esteemed judgement indeed, but it warranted seeing as Monte [who later became the VP of A&R at Roadrunner Records] inked some of the most legendary, and highly influential Metal artists to Roadrunner resulting in a slew of genre-defining albums from Slipknot’s debut to Sepultura’sChaos A.D.’ and more…

As we settle down for our conversation, the first thing that strikes me about Monte is his deep passion for music. As his eyes light up with each question, he fondly regales his tenure in Roadrunner, the rollercoaster ride of the late ’90s, and early ’00s when – “Nu Metal” was firing on all cylinders, and a heavier sound was making it’s way into the Metal universe…

OD – It’s hard to believe that Roadrunner United was 18 years ago! Before we get into it, are you constantly reminded of the passing of time with so many albums that you were responsible for reaching milestones?

MONTE – It’s really amazing because when we were making these records, nobody never thought that in 20 or 30-years time, people were still gonna care about it all. Had we known, it would have made us all very nervous.

When you’re dealing with something that you know is gonna be a bid deal, and still be regarded as some type of artistic statement, that is a pressure that almost freezes the importance of what we were doing, so it’s better that we didn’t know, because we were so much more free wheeling, and the true essence of creativity, and experimentation was always at the forefront with all these different bands.

But it really is amazing to see all of these albums mature over the years and are now regarded as ‘classics‘ by music fans from all over the world. The records that I was involved with mean so much to me. I know it sounds corny, but I look at them almost like my children, [Laughing].

I think some people who asked me to do interviews for Roadrunner United thought I would say no, since I don’t work for Roadrunner anymore, and I’ve got nothing to do with the re-issues, but I’m still invested personally.

Not to mention the younger fans that didn’t get the chance to witness the project from that era, now get the opportunity to experience the energy, and passion that can be heard from the live show.

OD – Cast your mind back to that period in time, and with the movement of crossover metal, or ‘Nu-Metal’ at an all-time high, was it a no-brainer to do this for Roadrunner’s 25th anniversary, or was it something that was floating around for some time, prior to actually putting it into action?

MONTE – The idea came together over a month or two. We knew that the 25th anniversary of Roadrunner was fast approaching, so we had a meeting with all the key players on the label to come up with something that could honour the label. I remember that a lot of ideas were being thrown around, and to be honest, most of them were tried and tested [boxset, book, documentary, etc] many times in the past, but Cees Wessels [Roadrunner Records founder] wanted something very dynamic, and different for this. So, it was left to me to figure out.

I called up my friend, Mark Palmer [who ran Roadrunner UK at the time], and asked him for any ideas, and he came back to me and suggested that we get a bunch of Roadrunner artists to get together and record a song. The idea was there, but it was just too insignificant. We needed something really groundbreaking. So, basically out of that idea came the ‘Roadrunner United‘ project, so it was agreed that we would set out to make an entire record that encompasses the history of the label, featuring some of the biggest artists on the Roadrunner roster, and some new up-an-coming bands.

It was a ginormous challenge, and by the time that we got the green light from Cees, it was Autumn of 2004, and we had just a year to make this all happen. It was unbelievable that we managed to pull it off. That’s where the idea of the team captains came into play. It was the only way to do it! We had to break it all into smaller pieces, and get team leaders to manage their part of it. Otherwise it was gonna be a logistical nightmare.

OD – When it came to selecting the team leaders, Dino [Cazares, Fear Factory], Joey [Jordison, Slipknot] Robb [Flynn, Machine Head], and Matt [Heafey, Trivium], were there any other names in consideration, or was it a lengthy selection process?

MONTE – Well, it was up to me to pick the team captains, so I just looked to the primary writers in some of the bigger bands on the Roadrunner roster. At the time, Joey was the primary writer in Slipknot, Robb is the main songwriter in Machine Head, as is Dino in Fear Factory, and so on…

The idea was for the captains to write the songs, so it was important that we had a solid team that was recognised by fans as being established songwriters for this project. The only ‘wild card‘ captain, at the time was Matt [Heafy of Trivium]. They were just coming up and he was, to be honest, a risk decision that I was willing to give a shot. He was the young face. What happened was I originally wanted Adam Dutkiewicz for that position, as Killswitch Engage were gaining popularity in the Metal community, and everybody knows Adam is a fantastic songwriter/producer. Adam just didn’t have the time, so he initially committed, but had to pull out, and Matt was the next obvious choice. Beside from those guys, we also wanted Max Cavalera also, but he was busy with other stuff,  so, other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of people that were considered for those captain positions.

OD – With the team captains locked in, did you have to build a Roadrunner Untied in-house team to deal with all the logistics

MONTE – Yeah, not only did we need team leaders, but we needed a project manager to coordinate all the flights, recording time etc, for each track. We hired the late, Lora Richardson [the ex-wife of producer Colin Richardson, who worked with Carcass, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Trivium], and she was an absolute drill sergeant throughout the whole project. A lot of people don’t know just how important Lora’s involvement with Roadrunner United was. I can tell you that if if wasn’t for her, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.

She [Lora] was very smart and totally understood the business, from A&R to the artists, so from the moment we brought her in, she fucking killed it from the start. I can confirm that without her, this would not have happened in the timeframe that was allocated.

So, huge respect, and admiration for Lora. May she rest in peace.

We were also meant to have a much lower number of artists take part in the project. The hype-sticker on the cover says that there was something like 57 artists, I can tell you there were more than that!! I would confidently say that it was about 60+ artists in total. Each captain was supposed to assemble a band, so, say if Dino was the captain, he was supposed to get a bassist, drummer, guitarist, and then a vocalist for each track [they had four tracks each], so that’s technically nine people. So, with that template times four, we were looking about about 36 people involved in the project.

OD – So how did it get to 60+ people?

MONTE – [Laughing] Invariably, Robb Flynn or someone else would say: “Hey, Monte, I have a great drummer in mind for this track, can I add them to the project?“, and then it just grew, and grew. It just meant more work for Lora to coordinate, but she was well able to handle it.

OD – With the sad loss of some of the musicians, Joey, and Paul [Grey, Slipknot], Peter [Steel, Type O Negative], and other bands now defunct, or certain artists leaving bands to venture to other projects, do you feel that this project captured a very special moment in the history of Metal?

MONTE – I know so! Just look at the significance that Roadrunner has had in the Metal world, and it really speaks for itself. I know there has been some great success stories with other labels, such as Earache, Century MediaNuclear Blast, Metal Blade, etc, but nothing like Roadrunner, who became very big, very successful, and was, at that time, competing with major record labels. There really hasn’t been another story like it in Metal record label history. I thought it was a really amazing way to celebrate the labels history.

I really wanted Nickleback on this album, but it didn’t happen for one reason or another. I wanted all the bands that had success via Roadrunner to feature on the LP, and be celebrated. It was a very special project, a very special time, and I don’t believe that anything will ever match the size of that project, within the genre of Metal.

OD – Giving the opportunity, would you every consider doing something like this again, perhaps with Nuclear Blast, or for a specific cause, or charity?

MONTE – [Pauses for a moment] There’s nobody left at Roadrunner to do this. That whole culture is just not there anymore. There are people that work for Warner that are still there, but that time is now gone. They wouldn’t have the staff, or the knowhow to put something together like this. Even looking at the new bands that are out there, I’m not sure if there’s enough on the Roadrunner label that could pull this off. Would Nuclear Blast do it? Well, they definitely have the legacy of artists to pull it off. We could easily do that, but it’s ironic that you bring up Nuclear Blast, because they put out a release ages ago, called ‘Nuclear Blast All Stars‘, in light of the Roadrunner United release.

When I saw it, I was laughing saying: “Look at this!” I was delighted they did that because ultimately, it’s for the greater good of Metal music, but they didn’t do it to the extent that Roadrunner had done with the ‘United‘ project.

The labels that have the legacy of artists, such as Metal Blade, and Century Media…there’s nothing stopping them from doing this, but it just wouldn’t be an original idea.

OD – Do you miss those days in Roadrunner?

MONTE – Oh yeah, I really miss those days. Life of Agony, Machine Head, etc… everything I was signing was just turning to gold. It was just so easy. It’s only hit me over time of just how special that era was, and how it’s actually very difficult for bands to get signed these days. Plus, Headbangers Ball is gone, most of the radio stations, and magazines that would be championing the bands. It’s a very different time now for bands.

Back when I was signing bands like Machine Head, Fear Factory, etc, Roadrunner was renowned for offering brutal deals. I’m talking seven album deals, part of their merchandise margins, owning the masters for life, etc. They were not my rules. It wasn’t my label! When I was trying to get Sepultura signed, nobody wanted them. So, put that into perspective. There was literally no competition within this genre.

In fact, I was the only guy that offered them a deal, and that was the same with Fear Factory! So, when I say it was “easy“, I wasn’t even having to try and negotiate deals, as there were no other labels in the mix. Now, a band like Fear Factory, or Sepultura comes along, the chances are I’ll be up against thirty other labels, all looking to sign the bands.

I couldn’t appreciate how great is was at the time, as I never knew how important all these albums would be. I’m just grateful that I can keep doing this. When the opportunity came up for me to work with Nuclear Blast, it was a perfect fit for me, as the label truly cares about Metal. But, yeah, that era in Roadrunner was so special, and unique. I have some of the most fantastic memories from that time in my life.

OD – Looking back on this live album that’s about to be released, what memories do you have of that night in Nokia Theatre, New York?

MONTE – I have to be honest. The one downer about the whole Roadrunner United project was that concert! I was just so nervous, and when we got to the venue, there was an open bar [Laughing]. Cees mentioned that he wanted me to speak at the event, and I was just nervous about the prospect of giving a speech, so with the open bar there…I just started pounding the drinks.

Now, you have to know that I’m a guy that barely drinks. If I get drunk once a year, that’s one too many, so I really don’t have a lot of memories of that night. Thankfully, we have the DVD is out there, but other than that, it’s all kind of a blank.

I do remember that the gig wasn’t even sold out. When it came to the show, it was a huge logistical event, that was also a huge expense. Thankfully, I was not really involved with the show itself, that was the work of Roadrunner’s touring department, and I know that they also hired Lora again for that event. Other than that, it’s all a bit of a blur. [Laughing]

OD – If you had to pick, what would be your go-to track off the RoadRunner United album?

MONTE – I would have to say ‘The Dagger‘. Robb is a brilliant songwriter, and honestly, I was very surprised that Robb didn’t keep that song for a Machine Head album. Howard [Jones, former Killswitch Engage vocalist] arrived with literally nothing prepared for that song.

Robb is usually so organised and has all his homework done, so I think he was a bit freaked out when Howard turned up with nothing. Regardless, he fucking killed it!!! Everything you hear on that track was written in the studio that day, and I have to say, it’s my favourite track from the Roadrunner United project. That’s why I put it as the opening track on the album.

I also love Dino’s track ‘The End‘, which has Matt singing. This is a very special track. Matt was not only a team leader, but also a guest musician. That track actually pre-dates all the other songs on the Roadrunner United album. When Dino left Fear Factory, I signed him to a development deal for a totally different project, with a different singer. It was more of a commercial Rock project, and we were funding that. So, that track ‘The End‘, that came from those sessions, and when we were looking for a track for the Roadrunner United project, Dino thought it would be great to resurrect that song, and give it a new lease of life.

OD – Having signed so many prolific artists over the years, what band has always been close to your heart after all of this time?

MONTE – Hmm… that’s a hard one. I get asked this a lot. But you know, it’s so hard to choose. I’ll have to name a few. Obviously, the debut Slipknot album. That’s the biggest thing I’ve been involved with, sales wise. It’s been awarded double platinum, and to date, that’s the only double platinum album I have. It was such a ground-breaking album and in my opinion, it’s up there with Slayer’sReign in Blood‘, as being a landmark metal album.

I’ll also have to say ‘Bloody KissesType o Negative, 1993. That album is just fucking genius. In fact, I don’t know if there was another band I worked with that were so talented as Type O Negative. Pete Steel was such a fucking genius. Not to downplay the rest of the guys, Josh Silver in particular who produced all the music, and gently extracted it from Pete’s head. All those guys, Kenny Hickey, Johnny & SalType O Negative was way more than just one person. Genius in every direction.

I have to add ‘Demanufacture‘ from Fear Factory on this list also. What an album!!! It still sounds as fresh, and cutting edge today, as it did when we put it out in 1995. Dino pioneered so much. The good cop, bad cop type vocals, that’s become such a staple of Metal, the way Dino’s riffs lock in with the kick-pedal. Also, they were the first Metal band to do a re-mix album, ‘Fear is the Mind Killer‘ [1993].

Oh, and then there’s ‘Burn My Eyes‘ [Machine Head, 1994] that goes hand in hand with ‘Demanufacture‘ as they both came out around the same time. Two very difficult albums that came in way over budget, but fuck it! They are albums for the ages! It’s amazing that Robb did it again with, ‘The Blackening‘  (2007), and also with the new album, ‘Of Kingdom And Crown‘ (2022). I would go as far to say that the new Machine Head album is some of the best work that Robb has ever done, even better than those old albums.

I’ve got to put a Sepultura album in there, and that’s ‘Chaos A.D.’ (1993). For me that was when Sepultura went from being a Thrash Metal band to a big picture Metal band. ‘Chaos A.D.’ is not a speed Metal album, nor is it Thrash Metal, it’s a straight-up Heavy Metal album. It’s loaded with some of their biggest hits, ‘Refuse Resist‘, ‘Territory‘, etc.

How do I not mention ‘River Runs Red‘ by Life of Agony, and Trivium’s debut album…. I could keep going all day long. [Laughing]

I have never taken my job for granted and have loved working on all the albums I’ve been involved with in the past. This new Roadrunner United ‘Concert‘ release is fantastic. It captures some incredibly special moments in time, and to have been able to work on such a huge project, is something that I feel truly grateful for.

Roadrunner United, ‘The Concert‘ is out worldwide from Friday, March 10th via Roadrunner Records. Order a copy from your local record store, or order online via this location.

Oran O’Beirne 2023. All Rights Reserved.