SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS: Its Origin and Ethos (2002)

Empire of Doom
Behind the scenes of Hollywood’s one-man doom record label Southern Lord

by Jay Babcock

Originally published in the August 08, 2002 LAWeekly

The Lair of Doom lies on a Hollywood boulevard, upstairs from a Thai restaurant. There, above the ambulance sirens and Metro bus brake squeals rising like so many noxious sonic fumes from the street below, a single industrious man labors intently. Listen close, at almost any hour of the day or night, and you‘ll hear his hearty cackle and—something else: a strange clatter, like the rattle of bones in a plastic tumbler.

Actually, that’s just the sound of Greg Anderson, 32-year-old founder of Southern Lord Records and currently its sole employee, working the phone and tapping out e-mail.

“I‘m here all the time,” says the longhaired, affable Anderson, gazing lovingly at one of the sources of his endurance, a 72-ounce pitcher-bucket of Coke he’s constantly refilling at the 7-Eleven across the street. “But I‘m not looking for sympathy! This is what I like to do.”

What Southern Lord has been doing since its inception in April 1998 is “doom metal,” a certain species of heavy music whose ultimate ancestor is Black Sabbath. Basically it sounds like the product of a bunch of guys smoking a lot of pot and trying to play music slower than the Melvins: bands have names like WarHorse and Place of Skulls, albums have titles like As Heaven Turns to Ash and Supercoven. It’s low-end music for black-clad midnight masses.

But Southern Lord does more than doom metal (strictly defined). Another look at the Lord‘s roster reveals: Mondo Generator, a churning, rumbling post-SST racket led by Queens of the Stone Age/ex-Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri; SUNN 0))), which features dark, massive guitar sludgework by Anderson and Southern Lord graphic designer Stephen O’Malley; and Khanate, an O‘Malley-led band that Anderson characterizes as “black metal on ludes—it’s got that same grim evilness.”

With recent releases by the latter two ensembles, Southern Lord has begun to attract attention from new quarters. Acclaimed Japanese avant-garde noise warlock Merzbow mixed two tracks on SUNN 0)))‘s latest record, Flight of the Behemoth; Julian Cope has been an outspoken public champion (he’s called the just-released Rampton by Southern Lord supergroup Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine “an endless ambient Ragnarok”); and SUNN 0))), much to their surprise, found themselves being profiled this past spring by influential British artsy-music magazine The Wire. A recent East Coast tour by Khanate was attended as much by drone seekers and experimental music aficionados as the usual collection of stoners and adventurous metalheads.

Doom, it seems, is everywhere.

What follows are the Ten Commandments of Doom: both a how-to list for would-be micro-label operators and the slightly abridged tale, told in his own words, of how Greg Anderson found his grim calling…and followed it to the bitter end.

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The Way of The Riff: Contemplators Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Al Cisneros (Om) discuss roots, rock, rhythm and chess.

Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007).

Artwork by Arik Roper
Introduction by Daniel Chamberlin

My favorite story about Om, the bass and drum duo of Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius—the rhythm section of now defunct drone metal icons Sleep—takes place on the back patio of Los Angeles club The Echo. It’s a cool winter night in 2007 and we’re all gathered here—hippie goners, young punks, indie rock squares—to take in a few breaths of fresh air before the band takes to the stage inside. One group stands out from the crowd: two women and a guy who are having a whale of a time, gesticulating wildly and laughing like crazy. At one point the dude approaches a hipster who’s nervously dragging on a toothpick joint. Our man offers his flask to the young fellow and a confusing exchange takes place: I can tell that he’s looking to swap quaff for toke, but for some reason he’s having trouble communicating this. I catch on about the same time the stoner does, giving up the doobie to the guy and his gal pals: They’re deaf, this happy trio of Om heads. That’s how deep the band’s sensual, mantra-like music goes.

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