Monte Conner is the guy who signed Slipknot, Type O Negative and Machine Head, so when news hit that he'd vacated his post at Roadrunner Records after 25 years, folks in the metal community were certain he'd resurface somewhere else soon. This week, Nuclear Blast Records owner Markus Staiger announced a new partnership with Conner called Nuclear Blast Entertainment, which will operate in New York City in conjunction with the label's offices in Germany and Los Angeles.
Mark Palmer, who ran Roadrunner's U.K. branch until its recent closure by parent company Warner Bros., will open Nuclear Blast's first U.K. office. Warner's recent restructuring of the long-running rock brand's operations saw nearly 40 staff members let go worldwide, as well as the shuttering of several international offices. More than a dozen employees lost their jobs in the U.S. Roadrunner founder Cees Wessels departed less than two years after the completion of the sale to Warner.
As Senior VP of A&R, Conner's signings also included Sepultura, Fear Factory, Coal Chamber, Trivium, Biohazard and, more recently, Rush and Gojira. Nuclear Blast is home to Testament, Meshuggah, Exodus, Children Of Bodom and Dimmu Borgir worldwide, as well as Anthrax, Nightwish and In Flames in Europe.
"Nuclear Blast Entertainment is a new record label, a partnership between myself and Markus, that shares the same staff with Nuclear Blast," Conner explained to Billboard.biz. "The bands I sign go to that label, but they get worked by the Nuclear Blast Records team. To the outside world, it's business as usual."
Nuclear Blast was founded by Staiger in Donzdorf, Germany in 1987. Conner's first official day of business with Nuclear Blast Entertainment will be September 1. In Europe, bands signed by Conner will be released with the Nuclear Blast Brand. "Entertainment" will appear on the US versions only.
Conner's first job in the music business began in March, 1987 in the radio department at Shatter Records, which had an office not far from where Roadrunner is situated now in New York. The label's biggest act was Paul Di'Anno's Battlezone. "No one ever asks me about Shatter Records," Conner told Billboard.Biz, laughing. "It was my first job right out of college. They could barely afford to pay me. I worked practically for free. I lived with my parents so it was like an internship. It's the equivalent of the first three Pantera albums in my career -- nobody really knows about it. When you look me up online, you don't see anything about Shatter."
When Shatter "basically went belly-up," Conner was weighing offers from Metal Blade and Roadrunner. Seven days after he accepted the job at Roadrunner in December, 1987, he found his job description changing overnight. "The woman who hired me in radio promotion, Holly Lane, left to go start Mechanic Records with Steve Sinclair from Combat Records," he recalls. "I was one of the guys that really loved metal there. I became A&R by default. I was wearing like four hats at once."
Following the restructuring at Roadrunner, Conner's last day was captured in a video in which he's serenaded with heavy metal falsetto courtesy of King Diamond tribute singer Troy Norr. "I was reading a lot of stuff on the internet where trolls were saying, 'Oh, that's the best they can do? Why didn't they get the real King Diamond?' But what happened was that Troy, the impersonator, was a friend of [Roadrunner Video Commissioner] Rick Ernst. We made a fun video a year ago with him and me singing in it for Roadrunner.com. It was Rick's idea to have Troy back down on my last day to do it all again. It wasn't meant to be a serious sendoff. It was just fun last day shenanigans. When they posted it, it went viral. So the whole world knew it was my last day."
Conner says he's proud of his days at Roadrunner and harbors no ill will toward the company, nor Warner. "I will alway have Roadrunner red in my veins," he said, referencing the brand's classic logo. "I helped build that place, it was my baby for 25 years. I want to see the label live on, the same way you want to see your child grow up and become an adult. I didn't take anything that happened personally. I understand that nothing lasts forever. I'm not bitter or pissed off. It was the end of a cycle and this is the beginning of a new one. And now I'm excited about this new beginning for myself."
He said he was speaking with several labels following his exit, but ultimately settled on Nuclear Blast because of the people involved, such as Staiger, Label President Jochen Maass and US Label Manager Gerardo Martinez. "Any record label is only as good as its people. You have an owner who is a great person, very loyal to his staff and people that have been there forever. Jochen has been there 18 years, for example. Andy Siry, the head of A&R in Germany, has been there a long time. Gerardo has been the kingpin of the US operation for years. They are hard working, loyal people that just live for the music. The staff all live and breathe the music from Markus to the people running the mailroom. It is heavy metal culture in overdrive when you visit this company. We're all about the label winning. We're a team."
"I'm used to working at an international label, so this puts me right back into a similar situation," he added. "It's one of the strongest brand names out there. The name means something. It's the Slayer of record labels. The brand is bulletproof."