Q&A With Jeff Totten: The Project Independent Tour
Underground metal music has a new hero in its midst. His name is Jeff Totten of Celestial Entertainment/On-Stage Management. He is the main man behind The Project Independent Tour, a nationwide music event, showcasing some of the top un-signed metal acts from all over the country. The band I.R.A.T.E. out of Los Angeles, California is the headliner and are supporting their new album release Brothers Of The Same Struggle, currently available at Tower Records. A second compilation disc is included, featuring many of metal's brightest new talents. Jeff is a real busy guy and I thank him for taking time out to give me this cool interview.
Rocket: How did The Project Independent tour originally come about?
Jeff: WOW!!! You just come out with guns a blazing don’t you? So much for saving the hard questions for last. I’ve been working with I.R.A.T.E. for quite sometime now, during which time we’ve done quite a few U.S. tours. I.R.A.T.E. made a practice of contacting the local bands a few weeks before each tour. They would have all of the bands send them a song, and then start burning homemade compilations, which they would then pass out at venues along the tour route. In the beginning the comps weren’t really anything fancy. No label, just the word “comp” written on the CD with a black sharpie and stuffed in a plain white paper sleeve… but the kids loved them, and all of the bands were extremely appreciative. It truly made for awesome shows everywhere we went.Rocket: What exactly is your definition of "Independent" in the music business today?
Jeff: True Independence comes when the choices made “for” you… are the choices made “by” you.Rocket: You manage I.R.A.T.E. through Celestial Entertainment/Onstage Management. When and how did you first discover them?
Jeff: I’ve known Erik since he was a youngster. When referring to the history of I.R.A.T.E., you’ll often hear me refer to Erik, but only because he’s the lone existing original member. I, by no means, intend to take anything away from them rest of the guys. This line-up is the strongest it’s ever been. Anyway, a friend and I used to have a recording studio, and these guys hit us up to record some stuff for them. We did, and boy did they suck!! But, what the fuck?? I mean these guys were kids right? I started helping them out anyway that I could and eventually they got to be pretty damn good. One day, over a couple of beers and some bongloads, one of the guys said that I should manage them. I laughed and told them that I had absolutely no managerial experience, and that was that. A few weeks later, they formally asked, and I accepted. It’s been a learning experience ever since.Rocket: Do you manage any other metal bands?
Jeff: I’ve had a lot of inquiries, but nothing as of yet. There are a couple of bands that I work pretty close with. Let’s see…. There’s Grain, from Dallas… They’re on this Project Independent Tour and set to be our second release. I had the opportunity to manage them awhile back but turned it down. I like to have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and I didn’t feel as though that could happen with them being in Dallas. If I would’ve known then, what I know now, I would have accepted. They’re an awesome band and a great bunch of guys, and we communicate just as regularly as I do with I.R.A.T.E.. Communication is the key. Kritickill is another awesome band, Hostility, Hemlock… I could go on and on. To be honest, I’m looking forward to the feedback that I receive from this first Project Independent tour. I have a feeling that some of these local bands are going to be pretty awesome. Who knows, maybe I’ll find another band to manage after all of this.Rocket: What is it - from a personal standpoint - that attracted you to want to work with I.R.A.T.E.? What I like about them is they aren't some ridiculous death metal band or the over-hyped teeny-bopper mall metal act. They fall inbetween all of this. Yet they still offer up a gritty, real life form of brutal music.
Jeff: I have an “80’s metal” background. My favorites are Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Dream Theater… you know, bands that have singers who “actually” sing. I definitely wasn’t a fan of I.R.A.T.E. from the beginning, but I did have the luxury of watching them progress and mature, and the fact that it occurred in a very short time, got my attention.Rocket: There's so many killer underground metal bands that can be seen for a reasonable ticket price at any of these shows, from Grain, Demolition Pit to I.R.A.T.E. - roughly how many bands will be seen on this tour?
Jeff: Oh shit man… um….. (counting on my fingers)… a bunch! Somewhere around 70, I guess.Rocket: Where can people purchase tickets for a show?
Jeff: No presale tickets! First come, first served. Pay at the door.Rocket: How many dates total is the tour?
Jeff: 30 shows in 32 days. I think we hit about 14 states, and have only 2 days off. The tour ends in Lake Havasu on Memorial Day weekend, and then we have 2 months off before the Grain release. We’ll start the second leg of the tour in Dallas and include east coast and Midwest dates as well. That leg will probably be 45-60 day long.Rocket: Where can someone find the schedule of shows?
Jeff: You can see the tour schedule on any of the following MySpace pages:Rocket: There's been an ongoing battle over ownership of the I.R.A.T.E. band name with the east coast Irate out of New York city. There's even been some threats of violence from this well known hardcore acts fans. What is this all about?
Jeff: Ah Fuck Man!!!! You’re just trying to get me going, aren’t you? OK… here are my honest feelings on the matter. The fans of the New York based IRATE have been misled, misguided and/or straight-up lied to in regard to this. IRATE NY claims that we took them to court to win the name. IRATE NY claims that they used the name first. IRATE NY makes a lot of claims, but none of which hold water. I’ll give you my side of things but I’ll only tell you what I can prove. On March 26, 2003 I received a cease and desist from the law firm of Millen, White, Zelano & Branigan on behalf of IRATE NY. This came while both bands were having their applications for a United States Trademark investigated to determine which band existed first. Following their investigation, it was determined that IRATE NY had become established in 1996, whereas I.R.A.T.E. was shown to have been in business as early as April 24, 1995. Subsequently, we were awarded the rights to the trademark. What a lot of people don’t realize is that even after we were awarded the trademark, we told the New York based IRATE to continue using the name, but to add NY or NYC. In exchange, we offered to add the periods between the letters. We’ve used the periods ever since, even though our New York counterparts failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Again, these are things that I can prove, so if you want to see the documentation, just let me know. As far as all the threats are concerned… I guess there’s a part of me that wants to think that these are the words of little kids talking out of the sides of their neck, unfortunately it’s just not that easy anymore. People are getting crazier by the day, so we have to take nessecary precautions, and we have. Formal complaints have been filed with the FBI as well as several local law enforcement agencies. It’s a shame that it has to come to this. It’s very disturbing because these are the same motherfuckers that took DimeBag from us. This shit has got to end.Rocket: I.R.A.T.E. has a new album out entitled "Brothers Of The Same Struggle". It's currently available through Tower Records. How has that been selling so far?
Jeff: So far so good. I haven’t seen the first weeks numbers because I’ve been wrapped up in this tour, but I know that we did some pretty serious damage on release day. Website sales are through the roof and, of course, the guys always sell a ton at their shows.Rocket: The second compilation disc that it comes along with has unsigned bands featured on it. Is it safe to say that most of these bands will be seen on The Project Independent Tour?
Jeff: Each and every band on that compilation will perform on the Project Independent Tour and some of the more established bands will be making numerous appearances.Rocket: Give a shoutout to some of the people behind Project Independent that helped make this tour a reality?
Jeff: This is about the bands and the fans and breaking down the barriers between what we’re forced to listen to and what we want to listen to. The only way that this will be accomplished, is to inform the masses. Starting at the street level, there are so many people involved. The band, the fan, the street-teamers who pass out flyers, the internet junkies who post messages, the venues, promoters, media outlets, sponsors. Man, do you have any idea how much free gear was donated for this? Sonor drumsets, Schecter guitars, GHS strings, Aquarian drumheads. This has truly been a group effort and a lot of people deserve a lot of credit.
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